Memorial Day 2021 started as a beautiful day with mild temperatures and pretty skies. I curled up on the chaise tucked on the covered porch, a book in one hand and a glass of rose in the other, listening to the vibrant yard around me. Bees and hummingbirds were happily buzzing the abundance of spring flowers and lizards flitted about. A variety of songbirds serenaded from the trees and feeders. It really was a perfect day!
The first few clouds gathered in the far distance and were greeted with cautious optimism. In the desert, we learn not to get too excited about clouds – especially before the summer monsoons set up later in the summer. The distant sound of thunder was another lovely background noise. It gradually became louder, the clouds grew darker and ominous, the breeze strengthened and I thought, “An afternoon shower! Wonderful!”
At first, the shower was quite lovely – a gentle patter of raindrops to give the critters ample time to find shelter. I continued reading my book while enjoying the sounds and scent of rain that are such a rarity around here these days. It gradually strengthened and I paused to appreciate the fact that we might actually get a measurable amount of precipitation – something we sorely needed. I closed my book and wandered to the edge of the porch to enjoy the rain and thunderstorm, still contentedly sipping wine.
And then it hit! At first, as the pea-sized pellets of ice fell in small quantities, I did not worry for it is not unusual to get a little hail early in the season at this altitude. But it kept coming – growing in strength, size and amount. The wind kicked up something fierce, further hurling the hail down upon the trees, the flowers, the garden. Anything in its path caught in its ire. Before long, it had become a mixture of heavy rain and hail driving against the ground and the house. The sound was deafening! Within minutes six inches of hail accumulated against the front doors and flooded the house entryway. It drove against the garage and flooded that as well. It clogged the drains, causing floods throughout the yard, the street, the entire area. The veracity of the storm was surprising and frightening as we scrambled to shovel the accumulating hail to allow the rain to drain away from the house and minimize the flooding.
When the storm finally relented, we stood in ankle-deep slush, surveying the damage. We were absolutely heart-broken to see the remains of our vegetable garden. An hour earlier it had boasted bushy tomato and pepper plants, bean vines, squash, okra, cucumbers, an artichoke bush, cardoon, and abundant herbs. It was now a desolate waste of mush and stems. Every leaf was stripped from every plant. We had spent the winter doubling the size of the garden, hauling dirt and compost, building a fence and borders, planning and anticipating the fruits of our labor. All of that was gone in less than an hour. Everywhere we looked showed signs of mass destruction: trees stripped of leaves; my gorgeous flower beds – the food of the bees and hummingbirds – pummeled into oblivion on the ground; bushes completely denuded. We were devastated but relieved that there was no serious damage to the house or cars. And, most importantly, we were all safe.
Within a few hours, there were posts on social media from the local farmers showing wide-spread destruction throughout the area. Grow-houses were reduced to skeletons – their plastic sheeting torn to shreds. Fields were completely destroyed, along with the livelihood of the farmers and their staff. All of that hard work gone in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, the freak storm impacted only a small part of the area – a micro-storm within the larger storm system – and most of the farms along the Rio Grande were not wiped out. The close-knit farming community banded together and helped out their fellow farmers by providing new plant starts, labor, equipment and anything needed to get back on their feet. That is what community is all about! Instead of viewing each other as competitors, they see themselves in their neighbors and they work collectively to overcome adversity and continue feeding our community.
We, too, replanted a few new plants and crossed our fingers because the triple-digit temperatures were due to hit within a week. We could not bring ourselves to pull the old plants even though we were certain that they were completely dead; they really did look like bare sticks poking through mud and they were tender plants not adapted to handle the cold ice. The crazy thing is that they rebounded! Most of the plants began sprouting new growth within a day and are now approaching their former glorious selves! They are tenacious – even with the sweltering heat. Life is like that! Not everything survived, but it looks like we are going to have an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash. Even the cardoon bounced back! We’ll keep our fingers crossed that locusts do not descend or that an unnoticed tomato worm does not completely destroy the plants while we are on vacation. One of the best gardening lessons is that you simply must roll with the punches! What else are you going to do?
Pepper – June 2021