Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Spa

This is Monsoon Season. Lately, the afternoons at the cave feature a swiftly passing lightning show complete with deep rumbles of thunder and a drenching downpour. From our vantage point, we can usually see everything headed our way in time to take cover, as well as hold visitors under the exit shelter until the lightning goes away. When things calm down again, we are better able to hear the sound of rockfall.

And so I endure. Sometimes I'm in the cave with twenty people, feeling perfectly safe. Sometimes I'm able to hide in the ranger room. Sometimes I watch the show from the grotto, unwilling to budge until I feel safe. And then, I begin my descent to the Visitor Center, surveying the trail for evidence of rockfall and any other effects of the storm.

Yesterday, to my great delight, I happened upon a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos bathing in a two-inch puddle in the W's. The W's is an area of the cave trail with several switchbacks. I stood still, not wanting to crash the party. And it was a party! These birds were whooping it up and splashing about as if there could be no greater celebration than this particular gift from the heavens. When hikers approached, the juncos dropped down off the cliff side of the trail. After a few quiet moments, their heads peered over the edge to see if the coast was clear. By this time, I had perched on a nearby rock myself, trying to blend in so as not to be a bother.

At first, the juncos would take a few steps here and there, gingerly testing the pool. The prancing and high-stepping became more vigorous. Sometimes the tail feathers would dip back into the water and the beaks would stab forward into the water. Feathers fluttered. These were glorious moments and I felt as if I was spying upon a more intimate, yet playful setting with skinny-dippers. I didn't mean to intrude, but I couldn't tear myself away. These birds were saying, "Ahhh, THIS is why I live for July!" My favorite part was when one of the birds just sat down. Just sat down and got as much of its belly and breast into the refreshing water as possible. This bird was radiating some sort of ecstasy, I tell you.

I finally decided to resume the hike down. I thought of those little Dark-eyed Juncos seizing the moment and reminded myself to do the same. Rather than dread the more dangerous parts of these storms, I should look for the gifts. I'm sure the birds were thinking, "Yeah, wind and rain and lightning can be a bit harsh, but just wait until we hit the spa afterward!" Good times, good times.

When I got home, I appreciated my shower a little more than usual, although I can assure you, there was no prancing or high-stepping.