It is spring, and I am kneeling with a few friends in front of the composted soil of the hillside terraces in my orchard-garden in the desert borderlands of Arizona. It is planting day, and as we place each variety of pepper plant into the moistened earth, we say its name aloud, as if reciting a prayer in the face of uncertainty: Chiltepin, Chile del Arbol, Tabasco, Jimmy Nardello, Datil, Beaver Dam, Yellow Hot Banana, Chimayó, Sweet Chocolate, and Sheepsnose. We hand-water each member of this tribe of peppers, place a frost-resistant row cover over it like a monk’s hood, and move on to the next, hoping for the best.
If you have farmed or gardened in the desert for any length of time, you sooner or later learn—in a thousand humbling ways, as I have—that you are not in control of even half of the most essential variables that most converge if you are to return in late summer to harvest a crop. In the face of accelerating climate change, my capacity to control critical factors and predict the outcome of my labors seems ever more limited.