dust devils

Scientific American calls dust devils “mini-weather systems.” They arise on hot, calm, clear days. In Calimesa, where we lived, we didn’t watch the weather report for months and months. We knew exactly what were going to have. Hot. Calm. Clear. Every. Day. The air was still. Lizards shifted between baking rocks. Sometimes I’d catch the babies, let them tickle the palms of my hands before letting them go. The field in the center of my father’s property was all brown, dusty earth and tumbleweeds. The tenant kids and my sister and brother and I congregated in the field and waited. The sun washed over us, hot, and we squinted into it. We never wore the sunscreen I now slather on my kids before they go outside in the summer. We could count on part of the ground heating up, creating the necessary invisible column of hot air. We could count on the calm being broken by a gust of wind, forcing cooler air to collide with the column, forcing the dirt below to swirl up and form a dirt tornado, as we called it. We didn’t know any of the science. It was pretty and exciting and a little bit magic. It was summer and there was nothing to do on Roberts Road, a street we shared with a farm, a junk yard, and a horse ranch. Nothing much happened here. We ran towards our miracle of weather, a rough pack of kids with dirt under our nails, joyful, yelling. You have to close your eyes in the center of those storms, or dust and twigs and bits of trash get into your eyes. But it’s hard to contain your smile, so when the devil dies down as quickly as it started, when your hair is all whipped up around you and sweat is running down your face, and you can feel your heart beat and your skin is warm, you slide your tongue across your teeth to discover the layer of grit you expect. The taste is not unpleasant.

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