The Greening of the Desert

After the rains, after the cleanup and the repairs, after the bulldozers push rocks and dirt into breaks in the roadways, after everyone sighs and takes a breath, after Hurricane Kay moves off of the Baja Peninsula – the greening begins.

Almost overnight, or at least it seems as so. The crackle-bone-dry desert landscape of a 5-year drought springs into life. Grasses push up from the crispy earth. Cireos naked spines flesh out in coverlets of tiny leaves. Barrel and other cactus burst forth in flower. Arroyos raging waters diminish to a trickle, and up-canyon, narrow rocky slots carry mountain waters through granite channels laid bare by the earlier rushing waters. Yellow and orange butterflies flutter on light breezes. Dragon flies chase the oh-so-not-loved mosquitos born in standing water. Range cattle, horses and loose goats chomp on grasses sprouted on the edge of the road. The world alive again. The brown desert carpeted in green.

The Aftermath of Kay

Hurricane Kay’s arms extended 600 miles

Water water everywhere. That’s Kay’s swan song, with arroyos washing out roads along the entire peninsula. She wasn’t even a strong hurricane – a category 2 in her heaviest moment – but she was grand – huge arms nearly 600 miles across. Her winds ran as high as 72mph in various locations, but her water. The rain. The desperately needed rain came all at once, the ground crusty dry. No way to absorb, but rush and run down the mountain faces and arroyos.

Multiple towns took hard hits. The Mulege river once again breached its banks, flooding everyone and thing in proximity. San Felipe, usually a dry sandy desert, found itself with streets of rivers, more suited to kayaks or canoes.

The major effect of Kay was on MEX 1 the transpeninsular highway that transits between Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas. The road cut in so many places that traffic and commerce were actually halted for three days. Today, the 13th of September, most roads have some measure of passage, and the large double tractor trailers could be seen heading south. Below, some photographs, borrowed from various posts and publications, communicate what my words lack.

Close to home, or the home I cannot yet reach, the highway between Insurgentes and San Juanico washed out first in Insurgentes, and then the bridge was obliterated over the wash a few miles outside of town.

The townspeople came together, and with shovels and arms full of rock and mud, began the process of crafting a crossing. It’s this spirit of ‘can-do’ which continues to fuel my love for Baja.

Hurricane Kay – September 2022

Figures they’d name the late season hurricane after my mother, Kay. Although to be honest, my mother was nothing like a hurricane. More like an ebb and flow tropical storm, most of the time delightful, oftentimes windy and unpredictable. Always Mom, gone too soon for me, and now, as the storm edges up the Baja peninsula and bends the palms toward the ground, her memories churn inside my head like the uprooted branches flowing down the arroyo.

It wasn’t easy being her daughter. She was vivacious, charming, a sparkling light in whatever room she occupied. She inhaled the air in a room in the same way, decades ago, she inhaled the swirling grey smoke of a Pall Mall cigarette, or the condensation laden glass of her icy evening scotch. She was Girl Scout President, PTA President, Community Chest President. She was always in front of the train. Dressed impeccably. Coral colored lipstick smudge-free. A full-mouthed smile, even though she hated a front crooked eye-tooth that looked like a ragged cat.

I could never quite measure up, and yet she was my greatest cheerleader. In the belongings she left behind, a folder of clippings, all my newspaper columns for ten years. She was always there, even in the middle of my life when her drinking shadowed the woman I loved and make our relationship so damned difficult. Our own stormy decades.

1:49PM – September 7 2022

Hurricane Kay, not quite her alter-ego, is only 12 hours old. Much much to come, with the bulk of the winds due to hit Loreto sometime around 3am tomorrow, the 8th.

Last weekend, the cone predictions (area of effect) lined straight up the middle of the Baja. by the end of the weekend, the trajectory had moved westward, and by yesterday, even more so. The predicted landfall of lower Baja shifted, and now only the tip of Guerrero Negro is in the sights of the spinning ball of wind and rain. A wet storm, rain has fallen in Loreto since yesterday. Light and then downpour, back to light and downpour. And we are only at the beginning of the storm.

Yesterday I drove from the Pacific west coast back to the east coast and the Sea of Cortez. A number of reasons, but shelter and power were the primaries. The drive was rather harrowing, with moments when the water pouring from the sky was so heavy it required lowering speeds to 15mph, or simply stopping. The road between San Juanico and Insurgentes has been under renovation/reconstruction, and the day before, a large swath was as yet unpaved. I was extremely grateful that the workers had pushed forward and laid the asphalt on the last stretch. Otherwise, the deep mud on both sides would likely have found my truck up to the axles. The photo below shows Highway One between Insurgentes and Loreto with river-like lakes on both sides. An idea for you, of the amount of water falling.

Mex 1 – Day BEFORE Hurricane Kay – just a little water both sides of main highway

Mom didn’t much like inclement weather, which another area in which we were quite different, odd on it’s own, since we shared a birthday 22 years apart. She was a sunshine and blue sky kind of gal. While I am quite happy in sunny beach weather, I get a thrill out of storms. As long as there is no loss of life or widespread damage, when the heavens let loose and the winds whip up the sea, it’s as if some wild child has been unleashed. An aliveness that is tamped down when weather is too calm or normal.

Anyway, this storm, this storm called Kay, has me racing from childhood, to young adulthood, to motherhood (her grandmother-hood) and into her senior years, now chased by my own.

My mother was always optimistic, and that trait I did inherit. She suffered her own dark days and losses, as have I. But always, her words still ring in my head. “It’s going to work out fine,” she said. Even when it’s tough to see through a storm to the potential rainbow on the other side, I hear her. “Everything will be alright.”

Sea of Cortez, Afternoon, September 7, 2022
Tropical Storm Javier – September 2, 2022