on 18 may 1980 i was caretaker at Canelo Hills Cienega, a nature preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. "canelo" is spanish for cinnamon, the color of the soil in the juniper-oak woodland, and "cienega" is spanish for marsh. permanent streams and upland marshes were historically common in the grasslands bordering the sonoran desert, until overgrazing by spanish cattle, later mexican cattle, later american cattle, removed the ground cover sufficiently to allow soil erosion and a lowering of the water table. Canelo Hills is a relict habitat, an oasis for scores of migratory bird species, and home to many rare or endangered plants, reptiles, fish and animals.
we (my then-wife, my toddler son and i) lived in the historic two-story adobe ranchhouse on the property. the adobe walls were two feet thick, affording fine insulation in all seasons. there was also an adobe bunkhouse (which we restored to include a visitor center, guest room, storeroom, and stained glass studio), and an adobe barn nearby.
in may, morning in southern arizona is already a scorcher, even though our temps were ten degrees farenheit lower than tucson, 65 miles to the northwest. i was in the small kitchen when the news came over the tv -- mt. st. helens in southwest washington had erupted. st. helens was one of dozens of usually-dormant volcanos in the pacific ring of fire. the spectacle of its eruption, triggered by a 5.1 earthquake, was caught by chance on film, and replayed for days. the blast cause a massive landslide down the north face of the mountain, preceded by hurricane-force winds which leveled the surrounding forest. the ensuing, monumental ash cloud disrupted life across much of the pacific northwest and the northern great plains.