Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dust Gets In My Eyes

We had a little dust storm here the other day. I even heard people on the radio saying with awe, "The sky was brown all day." It was dusty enough that a little haze was in the air when I looked across the street.

Made me almost homesick.

New Mexico in the fall is glorious--green pines, gold aspens, red maples, an orangy oak here and there. Spring is ..... not so much. March is the month of dust storms. It is still cold. The wind blows hard. It's not unusual to have difficulty seeing across an intersection. Sometimes, rain clouds form over the wind and dust, and it rains. We get, yup, we get mud. Midair, honest-to-God mud of reddish caliche dirt that stains clothing badly. We kids always thought mudding was funny. Our mothers, grimly working on the stains in the wash, weren't as amused.

A bad duststorm can sometimes limit visibility to the point getting out is dangerous, and folks mostly stay in unless they have to get out. No running to the grocery for a head of lettuce, for instance. Not as extreme as Texans with snow days, but similar.

I fondly remember a duststorm day when I was in fifth grade. The school I was attending also housed the junior high where my mother taught. We all came to school, and it was a particularly bad duststorm. And it was cold. And the furnace was broken. After about an hour, they dismissed school. One of my classmates had both parents at work. My mom called her mom and took her home with us for the day. Mom lit a fire in the fireplace. We sat on the floor in front of it and played board games. Mom fixed lunch. Seems to me hot chocolate was in there somewhere. I would look out the window at the desolate, windy, brown landscape and listen to the wind whoooing down the chimney, and I felt so happy and lucky and warm. And then I would go back to playing with Kay.

To my disappointment, one day was all they needed to fix the furnace. The next day was still brown and windy, but not as bad. The school was warm. (sigh) So we went back to our schoolwork again.

An old high school friend told me he loved the duststorms so much he would walk out in the desert in them. Personally, I think he was nuts, but duststorms in New Mexico are part of the spring. The fruit trees bloom in late February, then we cross fingers that they don't freeze in March. April is fickle, sometimes sunny, sometimes windy and dusty. Iris and daffodils draggle out here and there. May is temperate, days are sunny and everyone's roses are blooming. To get there, however, there's the dust of February and March, and maybe April, which won't commit.

In West Texas and in the Panhandle, they get real duststorms. An elderly friend told me she was in nurse's training in Lubbock 70 years ago when a duststorm came in so thick and dense that the sky turned nighttime black by 4 p.m. She recalls going out on a date to visit friends at a farm outside town. When they started back to town, a duststorm came up, and the dust was billowing across the road. The young man couldn't tell where the road was. So she got out of the car and walked in front. He turned on the lights and could see her. She walked to town with him following in the car. She has told me this story several times. The mileage varies.

You don't breathe very well in that stuff, even if you aren't allergic to dust. I hear the terrain and temps are similar to Iraq, if less intense. New Mexicans have established some pistacchio farms in the Tularosa Basin. They market the nuts, often soaked in green chile salsa. Very tasty.

So, yeah, brown skies make me sigh. And smile a little bit.

1 comment:

JPG said...

Oh, yes. Claro. You summon up memories of springtime in El Paso and Hudspeth Counties in West Texas, Otero and Dona Ana in Southern New Mexico. It evokes the dust in the back of my throat and the achingly sweet smell of the greasewood after a spring shower.

You captured it, spot on.

I really need to try those pistachios en chili verde.