The Bird Watches Over a Drying Rio Grande

The Bird (by the artist Irot) watches over a drying Rio Grande

The only thing better than a tailwind on the bike ride home up the hill from the Rio Grande is an air conditioned bus on a hot afternoon.

Tailwinds are great, but stories happen on buses.

Riding my bike to a meeting with folks trying to figure out how to cope with climate change seemed appropriate signaling, but mainly bikes are fun, as my friend Charlie likes to say, and I pretty much ride mine everywhere I can.

After the meeting, I took the long way home, which involved a dirt trail through the riverside woods along Albuquerque’s reach of the Rio Grande. It was shady and cool on a hot afternoon, but the glimpses of the river were painful. Sometime around midday flow dropped below 300 cubic feet per second, which probably means nothing to most everyone, so I’ll put it this way – it’s just a hair above one tenth of the normal flow for this time of year.

We are having a very bad year.

The Bird, painted by the artist Irot on a bridge piling beneath the interstate, was looking out on muddy sandbars where a river used to be not that long ago. I’ve written about Irot’s work before – his Silver Surfer on a plywood panel downtown became an icon of pandemic survival for me, when all I could do to keep my head about me was ride my bike. I always stop to say “hi” to his Bird when I’m on this stretch of the riverside trails.

I wore a mask all day at the meeting, so I guess the pandemic fog is still hovering, but it was good to see friends caring deeply about working on a problem. So there’s that.

But lordy the gut punch of climate change as I looked at that river today.

Off the river trail and on to a bus, because, as I said, the only thing better than a tailwind on a hot afternoon like this is an air conditioned bus. The crosstown blue buses have become a staple. Did I mention climate change?

On the ride home, a story: a person sitting on the seat across from me, head in hands. Their cell phone ringing. Pulled it out, looked at it, put it down. Rang again. Stopped. Again. Stopped. Again. Head in hands.

I got off the bus at the university and swung through the Student Union Building to refill my water bottle before the last leg home, took a big long drink.

We’ll be OK. We’ve got no choice but to use less water. But this won’t be easy.