Census , Covid , and the Arc of the Sun
By Judy Enron
I don ’ t seem to tire of writing about the different world we encountered by staying on the desert well into the summer this year . In previous stories , I ’ ve already detailed the cactus I had never seen bloom , the magnificence of flowers not only able to bloom in the impossible heat and dryness , but actually waiting to bloom until the heat baked the earth and the air . This is another part of the story . For many years we have lived on the desert of Terlingua Ranch from November through April . At the end of April and sometimes even a bit earlier , the heat intensifies , and we escape to the southwest coast of Washington state , where the coolness and moisture prevail all through the spring and summer . When the coolness and moisture of the northwest turn into cold and wet towards the end of October , we return to the desert which by then is no longer blazing with heat .
This division of the year is a balance we treasure and had planned for . We had constructed our life so that we would never have to endure the burning heat of the summer on the desert . And with this plan , we had constructed our home with ceiling fans to move the air but without air conditioning to cool it . Powering our house with only solar power means making choices about using large power consumers such as air conditioning . And since we intended to never be on the desert when such cooling was needed , we did not provide the power that would have supported it .
It all worked well for 27 years . 2020 was the 28th year .
2020 . . . the year of Covid . The year of Census . The year of a burgeoning drought . A sort of “ perfect storm ” for a very different desert experience .
Charlie and I worked for the 2010 Census and had greatly enjoyed the work , being part of trying to document and tabulate the elusive , reclusive population of South Brewster County . It involved driving the miles and miles of dirt roads where people trying to remove themselves from the mainstream settled . We had an old Jeep which was perfect transportation for the job . Working for the Census provided us the chance to travel on so much of the desert we had not explored , and to see the many unusual ways that people on this remote landscape choose to build their homes . We loved the work , and so when 2020 rolled around , we once again signed up to work in South Brewster County .
The timing could not have been better : training in March , assignment to be completed by mid-April . We would be free to head to Washington state as usual . We had our same old Jeep and began our fieldwork on March 16 , driving the dirt roads assigned to us . Delicious weather , beautiful areas , a sense of helping our community , just as we expected when we took on this Census work . Two days later we were shut down . Covid . And thus began our prolonged stay into summer on the desert . March ended , April came and went . No word about the Census starting up again , and it was our usual time to leave for the northwest . But living as remotely as we do , we elected to stay at our house , miles away from others , easy to feel safe from the spreading virus , rather than heading to our more populated area in Washington . And more importantly to us , having trained for our Census work , and believing strongly that it was important for South Brewster County to be counted , we felt committed to complete our work with Census . So , we stayed .
May began . Covid was spreading ; Census stayed shut down . The temperature was increasing , every day inching into the 100s . No rain to cool things off . Then May almost literally melted into June . It was hot , even into the night . We were beginning to wonder whether our Census work would ever resume , and we were
considering leaving for Washington and risking Covid rather than enduring the heat . And just then , our Census fieldwork was re-started .
Oh boy , it was hot , 110 degrees every day . These were not the work conditions we had signed on for , but our initial commitment to the Census prevailed . The Jeep was no longer an option , since it has no air conditioning . But our all-wheel-drive Subaru is air-conditioned and could mostly handle the terrain . Coolers loaded with ice and water , we began our work and by the solstice , we completed the project .
The solstice , June 21 , the longest day of the year . That brings me to the arc of the sun . . . Our bed is next to windows facing east , so we easily see the sunrise every morning . But it took a while to dawn on us ( so to speak ), how the sunrise had moved substantially to the north . We now had to crane our necks in order to see the sun come up way to the north of east . Never having been on the desert at this time of year to witness this change , we were amazed . The higher arc of the sun surprised us , too , when we did the wash and hung it as always on the clothesline to the west of our house — the clothes were never even touched by the sun until late into the morning . Then , at the end of the day , watching the sunset , the arc extended so high and long that the sun was setting over mountains far to the north of west . The dark of night did not arrive until quite late . It was daunting , since that also meant the air did not cool until deep into the night . The whole spectacle was impressive and an education , an education thanks to Covid and the Census .
I can ’ t say that I would like to repeat this experience . If there is a next time , we ’ ll have to have air conditioning and beef up our solar to support it . The heat was debilitating . But it was a whole new piece of desert life , being part of these changes in the sun ’ s position , and I wouldn ’ t have missed it . . . for anything under the sun .
30 Cenizo Winter 2021