The Museum of Paleontology at the University of California confirms what we high desert dwellers already feel in our bones, especially in winter and early spring: the Great Basin desert is different than most deserts in that the Great Basin desert exists at a much higher altitude than the "hot and dry" deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico. The Great Basin is thus considered to be a semiarid, nearctic "cold desert" with limited snow and rainfall caused by the wall of mountains we call the Sierra Nevada. Each winter the Sierra gathers most of the moisture coming from the Pacific causing the famous "rain shadow" that keeps the eastern lee side of the mountains so much drier.
It seems this rain shadow makes all the difference. The plants, the animals and insects have evolved to match the lower levels of moisture held back by the high mountains. Even the people have adapted. You can see it in how gardeners here react to a spring rain. On the coastline of northern California, gardeners long for and rejoice at the arrival of sunny days in the spring, hoping that the sun will warm and dry the soggy ground enough to sprout the seeds and energize the stock. Gardeners here long for and rejoice at the arrival of clouds with drenching rain to soak the soil enough to sprout the seeds and give drip lines, watering cans and garden hoses a day off.
This week we have a forecast of chance of rain and this morning rain is actually making it to the ground. What a perfect time to turn the soil, scatter the wildflower seed mixes and initiate springtime planting. It's so rare that we find this chance to actually get our heads wet! Even if the rain is only symbolic, it still makes us feel good, psychologically replenished. Of course, we can't forget that we're in the desert, that our lives are intertwined with this ancient xeriscape. We know it's the subsequent dryness that we can actually rely upon. And as this photo of hardy alyssum shows, the rain we received overnight didn't really soak the ground.