Sunday morning around 10:30, Jim ambled in from taking the guinea pigs outside and said: “It’s misting, but I think they’ll be okay. The hutch is pretty sheltered.” I agreed. Morning rain rarely lasts in Albuquerque.
The mist stopped misting about a half hour or so later. Soon Jim and I were peddling our bikes along our usual route through our neighborhood, admiring the neighbor’s flowers.
Colors get particularly intense on just the right sort of cloudy day. This was one. We’re moving into the time when crepe myrtle, rose of sharon, and various other perennial shrubs are in perfect form, reds and pinks complimenting the yellows of wild sunflowers and the pale orange of globe mallow.
We’d just rounded a corner and were chuckling at three small kittens out playing in front of an open garage door, as their mother sprawled on the driveway keeping an eye on them, when the mist returned. In less than half a block, it was raining, not hard, but with enough force that we were getting decidedly damp.
We pulled up under a small tree and waited for the rain to stop. It always does. Except this time it didn’t. It got harder. We moved to the shelter of a somewhat larger tree. Two young girls we’d seen over on another street splashed by on their own bikes, delighted to be getting soaked. The rain got harder. We realized it wasn’t going to stop and turned for home. Because of the twistings of our route, we were only a half mile or so from home, but we were completely soaked by the time we got back.
And for the next ten hours or so, the rain didn’t quit. Oh, it would stop for an hour or so (we brought in four damp guinea pigs during one break), but the sky never cleared. By early evening, Jim recorded two inches of rainfall since that morning. We had probably gotten more, since the rain gauge was full and, anyhow, it isn’t a very good one. (Who needs a good rain gauge here?)
To put this into perspective for those of you who don’t live in the Albuquerque area, our average annual rainfall is seven and a half inches. Annual. That means in ten hours we got over a quarter of our annual allotment. Now, to be fair, the late July monsoons are when we get most of that rain. The other time is a spell in mid-September and another in late December, but even so this was remarkable. Our part of New Mexico averages 300 sunny days a year.
Rainfall can also vary widely in various parts of town. A friend who lives a twenty minute drive away reported only a little over a half inch over the three days that included our flooded Sunday.
Years ago, when I still lived in Virginia, I wrote a science fiction novel called Smoke and Mirrors (published in 1996 from AvoNova books). Smoke and Mirrors begins on a frontier planet called Arizona. Arizona was actually inspired more by my readings about the Arabian desert than by the state of that name. It was certainly not inspired by New Mexico, which, at the point when I was writing the book, I think I’d only visited once.
(Never make the mistake of equating copyright date with writing date! There’s often quite a lag, especially with a new author. I just checked the contract. Smoke and Mirrors was sold in January of 1995. I wrote it in full before it was sold. It wasn’t released until June 1996).
Anyhow, I made the planet Arizona what it was because dry, desiccating desert was about as far as I could get from wet, lush south-central Virginia. And, ironically, here I am, living in a dry land of sunshine and almost no rain. I’m living in my own alien world.
Local newspaper columnist Jim Belshaw wrote once that New Mexico is the only place where he has ever lived that when it starts raining people get up from their desks, drift to the window, watch the rainfall, and then drift back, quietly smiling. I find myself doing the same thing. On Sunday, I stretched out on the sofa, watched the rain fall, and found myself grinning ear to ear.