Rabbitbrush Rambler: Holding our breaths


While I was remembering children’s stories lately, it was impossible for me not to think about some of the legends that grownups tell. We adults sometimes have a hard time deciding which ones are fact and which are fiction.

Take, for instance, fossils of whales that turned up in Egypt in the early 1900s. Paleontologists actually found scientific evidence that whales once were swimming in what later became the Sahara Desert, one of the driest places on earth. In fact, about 50 million years ago an ocean existed there and there were whales.

But some of us doubt the one about Jonah surviving for three days and nights in the belly of a whale. It’s easy to believe, though, that he preached at Nineveh, a large city that had a reputation as a really wicked place, with a need for serious sermonizing, like come places I can think of right now.

Nineveh was real. Its location was near what later became Mosul in Iraq, on the banks of the Tigris River. We’ve read quite a lot in the news about Mosul in recent months.

Then, we have trouble picturing the Great Flood with docile lions and lambs and hyenas and Democrats and Republicans obediently lining up to board Noah’s Art. That one definitely is a stretch.

Still, we have a hard time when we desperately are wishing for a weather forecaster or a fairy godmother to solve our precipitation problems. Take Wolf Creek Ski Area where some snowflakes finally fell, but our hardworking farmers and ranchers in the Rio Grande Basin are still worrying about the inadequate snowpack.

The hard fact is that we live in an arid part of this continent. When rain was scarce in Hopi, Zuni, and Mesa Verde country, the inhabitants there believed it might help to perform rain dances to propitiate the powers in the sky that would send rain to make the corn, beans and squash grow. Out came the dancers with drums that sounded like thunder booming in the sky and gourds and feet that sounded like rain pattering on the ground.

Then did the rain come? Well, sometimes yes, but apparently not for many decades until people at Mesa Verde finally gave up and moved to other places where streams were a bit more reliable for irrigating crops.

Some of the settlers in the San Luis Valley also had a lot of faith but not much rain. They performed rituals intended to help their crops grow. Wooden statues, called bultos, were carried in processions to fields to encourage the seeds to sprout, and sometimes the necessary rain came and sometimes it didn’t.

In case San Isidro or the rain clouds were not paying attention, acequias did a good job of distributing water from streams onto the fields, unless the creeks themselves dried up in a bad year. Next, homesteaders came along and let artesian wells flow copiously all over the ground, and then farmers constructed dams and reservoirs to use when the watershed proved to be insufficient. And then we piped water from the seemingly bottomless underworld to spray on fields that blew away in the wind, and to sprinkle on lawns that flew away in the breeze, until someone pointed out that the aquifer was sinking beyond reach.

Which brings us now to late January of 2018, when we are praying for a deeper snowpack on the mountains. It’s looking like we may need to start practicing our dance steps and chants again, and turn off the faucets while we brush our teeth.

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