the natural world
Egret, the oldest independent
U.S. journal of nature
Egret, Vol. 65, #2
recent nature writing,
natural history and guidebooks with Book
to the best of the environmental
new age CDs discovered by the Outrider
Most naturalists accept the claim that the
Sonoran Desert has more seasons (five, not four) than most places. So
in central Arizona, spring (mid-February to April) is followed by the
arid foresummer (May and June); then the monsoon summer (July to
September) is capped by a two-month fall (October and November), topped
off by winter (December to mid-February).
the Rains Come
A Naturalist's Year in the Sonoran Desert
by John Alcock
University of Arizona Press, 2009
This book follows the plants and animals of Arizona's Usery Mountains in the Sonoran Desert
during the drought year of 2006 when the annual wait for rain went on
far too long, detailing their responses to the dry spell and how they
responded when the rains finally came down.
Authored by naturalist John Alcock, who has hiked the area
for 30 years and is one of its most knowledgeable observers, the text
follows the cycle of one year's seasons chronologically. Each month is
worth a couple essays about the changes occuring during that time of
year. These changes, he explains repeatedly, are related to and
stimulated by the presence or absence of rain.
"Only very special plants and animals can survive and reproduce in a
place that may receive as little as six inches of rain in a year," he
points out, "a place where the temperature may rise above one hundred
degrees each day for months on end."
When it finally drizzles one day in December, after many weeks of total
dryness, Alcock hurries out to the desert and finds a colony of ants
piled up several bodies deep around the entrance to their nests. Down
on his hands and knees, he peers closely and sees that "many of the
ants have small droplets of water adhering to their head, legs, or
thorax, which supplies me with a hypothesis. Perhaps they have formed a
rain-collecting brigade, using their bodies to intercept the droplets
of drizzle before the water can reach the gravel."
Throughout the book, Alcock makes similar observations about the
alarm calls of round-tailed ground squirrels, the mating competitions
of male digger bees, the communal hunts of Harris's hawks, the adaptations of peccaries' reproductive cycle to the seasonal rains, the
effects of urban sprawl, and more. Illustrated with the naturalist's
photographs - many showing side-by-side versions of the same location
ten or twenty years apart - the result is an impressive and highly
readable document of the man's intimate knowledge of the place.
A professor emeritus at Arizona State University, Alcock also wrote the
John Burroughs Medal winner In a Desert Garden as well as Sonoran
Desert Spring and Sonoran Desert Summer, all revealing the surprising
diversity of the desert's ecosystem.
to The Nature Pages