I’m continually beguiled by the contorted and very sculptural shapes of the long-dead chunks of mesquite and acacia which I gather this time of year, as the nights and mornings become chill and the moderate Southeast Arizona winter sets in.
These weathered and twisted pieces of wood are legacies of a prolonged drought. They are mere schemata, all but the fibrous cellulose soul having been eroded to dust by years of much sun and little rain.
Yesterday I picked up a three-foot-long stick of mesquite. It was too long for the wood-stove so I sawed it in half. I examined the cut end of one of the halves. The newly-revealed growth rings I saw on the orange-brown surface were very narrow and closely space, mute testimony of slow growth in a harsh and rocky environment. The stick was two inches in diameter and I counted fifty growth rings. I roughly estimate that the branch had been dead for at least twenty years. Let’s say that the mesquite branch died in 1996. That branch might have shot out from a bud just after World War Two, several years before I was born.
Of course the numbers I came up with are conjectural, mere guesswork, but plus or minus five years they are probably close to the truth. 1996, the year I’m guessing the parent mesquite clump died, was near the middle of the prolonged drought which afflicted this county during the last two decades of the 20th century and which continued for a few years into this millennium. Judging by the sheer quantity of dead wood which litters the stony ground in my neighborhood, there must have been a mass die-off of scrubby trees as a result of that drought. This area must have looked quite desolate twenty years ago. Some would say that it still looks that way!