Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Podunk Pueblo

Wind storm, leads to dust storm, leads to zip failure and for once my hand was not attached to the offending item. I wasn't even in the vicinity. Our municipal site is sun shaded, but the understorey is denuded of modesty or of anything green. Rivulets of dust are running low across the surface, twisting and knotting just like river waters, collecting up píne needles and candy wrappers, then settling out in inside any crevice or bielded corner. Finding ways into book spines, screw tops and zip closures. Ears, noses and throats. Knickers, bearings and insanity. A dry powder that is hygroscopic, that attracts any moisture, dampness or sweaty body, creating a grinding paste of industrial strength and the question: will I ever get clean again?

From our vantage point we are blinded to any impending storm, relying on non-visual indicators like time and wind speeds. The last three days have unfolded to a similar scenario: late morning cloud magically materialises over any high point, starting to construct columns of thunder heads. Late afternoon these have acquired enough energy that they can now be released and allowed to roam freely across the low lands. Walls of wind precede the shedding curtains of rain, blasting the land with bolts of lightning all to thunderous applause.

So when late afternoon approaches and it starts to cloud over, we know that weve got some weather on the way. Still we are unprepared, caught unaware, totally blindsided. Fat, globulous, warm rain drops, hurled by a sudden blast of wind, spatter and pock mark the surface. A wet towel is ripped from the clothes line and dragged through a dirt that is instantly evolving into a glutinous slurry. We grab anything not tethered by pegs and retreat under the nylon, only to find a landscape of miniature sand dunes sweeping around our panniers, wet arrojos flowing around the stove. A soft flour of talc like dust has sifted its way through the fly screen and hangs as a miasma in the inner tent.

The rain eases off; the storm has only given us a glancing blow, but it's enough to dampen the ground and settle the dust, for a short while. Everything dries so quickly in this arid air.

It's a pre-dawn rising, the dust motes dancing in the torch beam. Every surface covered in a near invisible gritty scum. A short cycle run down into Cañon de Atuel, and we find the evidence of how close we came to a real soaking. New puddles are linked together by a thin dribble of rusty red water, damp shingle washouts stretch across the road, deep gutters have been hacked through the soft sandy soil. Another few hours and all the storm evidence will have evaporated away, returning the cañon to its accustomed aridity.
m writing this piece under further evidence of just how violent some of these storms can be. Once again were sitting out an afternoon of hair dryer heat, this time under a shade clothed car port. Not sun shade but hail shade. Those high mountains over there can conjure up some very interesting weather.