Category Archives: Arizona

Desert Poppies

It’s easy to ignore common plants, just as it’s easy to ignore people en masse. The eye becomes surfeited easily and novelty is required to revive our flagging attentions.

This tendency can be fruitfully resisted, I’ve noticed. Magnification helps. I’ll shoot a few photos while out walking, then later find unexpected aesthetic delights lurking in the bundles of pixels disgorged into a USB cable.

The California Poppy is a common spring flower here in Bisbee. Our sub-species (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana) is a strong clear yellow with just a hint of orange, unlike the orange-yellow form found in California. The plant grows from sidewalk cracks where there is sufficient sun. The foliage is a distinctive shade of blue-green. So far I’ve seen just two clumps in bloom, but I’ve noticed hundreds of plants girding their vegetative loins for the big reproductive push. The plants bloom sporadically for a month or two, but eventually the severity of the midsummer sun will sear the ferny foliage into green dust.

A couple of morning shots:

Poppy-2013-1

Poppy-2013-2

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

A Late Spring In Arizona

Phenology is an old-fashioned discipline, dependent as it is upon an observer staying in one place for several years. Who does that any more? I did for quite a few years, but for the time being I’m unmoored.

You could think of phenology as a blend of chronology, accounting, and natural history. It boils down to keeping records of when certain natural events happen each year in a certain place. The observer, of course, must be able to differentiate species of plant and animals; otherwise the records would be completely subjective and difficult to share with other record-keepers. Linnaeus’s wonderful idea lives on!

In the pre-computer era (most of human history) phenological observations were kept in notebooks. Aldo Leopold and his family wrote their observations in the day-squares of a large calendar, another common approach. A year-end task was transcribing those notes to a notebook so that the calendar could be disposed of.

I must confess that any phenological observations I make are a byproduct of photography. How fortunate that digital photographs, like all computer files, are intimately associated with their date of creation!

Here’s my slender contribution to Southeast Arizona phenology.

The desert spring is quite unlike those of northern climates. Many of the trees (including many oaks) are evergreen here, so there isn’t the dramatic budding, unfolding, and awakening I grew up with. Many of the plants here wait for the late-summer monsoon rains to make their growth. Still, there are a few spring ephemeral plants. One of them is the Golden Corydalis (Corydalis aurea), a beautiful and dainty plant closely related to the Dutchman’s Breeches and Bleeding Hearts common in Eastern woodlands and gardens.

I first saw and photographed this Corydalis last spring, and I had a vague idea or hunch that the flower bloomed earlier last year. Sometime in early March, I was certain, but only the existence of the photos I shot last year provided me with evidence of the flowering date. Here’s a close-up I shot last year on March 6th:

corydalis-2

This year the plants waited two weeks longer to bloom; I shot these photos a couple of days ago, on March 19th:

corydalis-3

corydalis-4

Naturally I wonder about the possible reasons for the delay. We did have an unusually chill and snowy winter. Many spring ephemeral plants bloom when the soil has warmed sufficiently. Now I wish I had records for previous years!

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

March Morning Sky

This morning I was sitting in front of the computer, reading posts at Metafilter and following links from Arts and Letters Daily. Bev had been out walking Sage; she came into the house and said, “Larry, you ought to take a look at the sky this morning!”

I put my shoes on, grabbed a camera and enacountered the best morning sky we’ve had this month. Most of the canyon was still shadowed but the higher slopes glowed brownish-orange as the sun’s rays swept across them:

morning-3-04_2

Some of the sky’s tints were reminiscent of those in a Maxfield Parrish painting:

morning-3-04_1

There was just a brief period when the eastern horizon exhibited impressive colors and patterns:

morning-3-04_3

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Photos

Helicopter Tour

[the scene: a muddy airstrip in rural England. A pilot dressed in ragged khakis shepherds a group of assorted tourists to his waiting helicopter. Some of the tourists seem reluctant.]

[pilot] Step right up, folks, this this is the best chance you will ever have to get a bird’s-eye view of the magnificent rolling hills of Yorkshire! Just twenty bucks, a price that can’t be beat!

[tourist, a querulous elderly man] How do we know this machine of yours is safe?

[pilot, smarmily ingratiating] Never had a mishap, and I’ve had ‘er up hundreds of times!

[A portly German man wearing a curled white wig approaches the pilot, huffing and puffing]

My good man, I understand that you have a pianoforte on board your craft. Can that be true?

[pilot] Why as a matter fact, I do! It’s just a spinet, but I’m sure it will agree with you. I do keep it well-tuned and tempered!

[The German man pays his fare and the passengers are escorted into the helicopter by the pilot. Once the aircraft has gained elevation the pilot banks the ‘copter over the rough terrain]

Not as green as it usually is down there, but we’ve been enduring an oven-like drought!

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Food, Stories, Video

Dream Of Convenience

fart-air

Last night I made a very delicious apple cake which we ate with vanilla ice cream. It was remarkably tasty, but about an hour later, just before we went to bed, I began to feel a tightness in my abdomen, which I presumed was due to an unwelcome accumulation of intestinal gases. Perhaps the cake and ice cream had reacted with the pad tai we had eaten for supper.

Oh, well! Gas happens from time to time, just another reminder of our biological nature. I fell asleep easily while Bev stayed up for a while roaming the internet. Her Imac is next to the bed and she possesses an uncanny ability to read sideways.

Meanwhile I was immersed in complicated dreams. I experienced a false awakening, one of those deceptive dream-sequences which mimic true awakening. In the dream I was lying in bed, on my side and facing away from Bev’s side. Somehow I knew that Bev had taken her collie outside to pee or whatever. The gas in my bowels was insistent, and I thought “A perfect time for a fart or two! The noxious fumes will have dissipated by the time she returns!”

It is such a pleasant feeling to release unruly farts which have been confined for too long. Three quick poots and my digestive system was in equilibrium once again.

Then I really woke up and sensed that Bev was actually in bed, and awake. I was sheepish as I turned and saw her shrink back. I explained my dream delusion and we laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Bev said, “When I heard those farts I thought, ‘He must be asleep! Surely he wouldn’t fart so shamelessly if he was awake!!'”

I thought about that portion of my mind which acts as my dream director. I could imagine him mischievously contriving the situation, saying, “Larry really does need to fart — let’s see, I’ll plant the idea in his head that he is alone in the bed. This should be fun to watch!”

By the way, Bev came up with the title for this post.

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Essays and Articles, Stories

Crevice Oak

About one thousand feet from this canyon-side house is a limestone formation known as Dragon Rocks. A jagged dike of limestone was somehow extruded from a matrix of hot schist many years ago; a row of pinnacles remains as evidence of the geological tumult. The spine-like dike runs down the slope to the creek-bed, then back up the other side.

I like to walk in that neighborhood. Ferns cluster around the rocks and there are many deer and javelina trails to follow. Those well-adapted mammals have found the best cross-slope paths and they manage to keep the paths open due to their frequent wanderings.

Here’s a view of Dragon Rocks from the north. An agave stalk which has shed its seeds bisects the picture, and some of the canyon houses can be seen in the background.

dragon-rocks_agave_scene

Yesterday afternoon clouds were beginning to move in, harbingers of the rain which fell last night. I was scrambling from one limestone pinnacle to another when I saw a charming scene. A seedling oak, probably an evergreen Emory Oak, had sprouted a couple of years ago in a shallow crevice in the stone. A large Emory Oak grew nearby from the base of the formation and this tree most likely contributed the acorn.

There was only a couple inches of humus in the crevice, some of it contributed by coatimundis. Like raccoons, coatis like to poop on some sort of prominence.

The tiny oak’s leaves were a pleasing shade of mauve or violet and the under-surfaces were pale. Perhaps the reddish pigments protect the chlorophyll in the leaves from the intense summer sun. I imagine that by now the oak’s roots have blindly sought out minute cracks in the limestone at the bottom of the crevice.

This miniature scene cheered me; I always enjoy glimpsing lives which are lived in a vastly different time-scale than my own.

oak_seedling

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos

The Lone Madrone

It’s easy to think that observing the world around you is a simple natural function, a survival trait inherited from Pleistocene ancestors. Over the years I’ve noticed that there seem to be several modes of observation distinguished by varying degrees of granularity and attention.

Here’s an analogy from the digital imaging world. As the resolution of a digital photo is decreased, blockiness or pixelization becomes evident. The amount of detail, which is equivalent to the amount of information, decreases along with the resolution.

Our attention to detail while observing the world around us varies widely depending upon previous experience and one’s general state of mind. When your mind is abstracted and distracted you don’t perceive much, usually just a blocky low-resolution version of the world. I call this minimal form of perception the Cartoon World. Every scene, object or organism in that blocky world exists as a stripped-down simulacrum of the “real” world, leached of all but the details essential for navigation and survival. This version of the world is crude but functional, and seems to be the pattern used by developers of real estate in this country. Expanses of anonymous green vegetation with smooth vehicular paths winding through them. But who wants to live in an environment which resembles a video game from the ’90s?

Sometimes “running on autopilot” is welcome, such as when driving along a lightly-traveled and familiar road. One part of your mind can dream, reminisce, and speculate while another part monitors the road, looking out for quickly-approaching objects and other anomalies. While taking a walk the penalties for immoderate abstraction are less severe and one’s fancy can be given free reign. Nevertheless, while I’m walking there is always a part of my mind looking out for unusual visual patterns which might signify a plant or other organism which is new to me. Of course, you can’t notice anomalies unless you have a basic knowledge of the creatures which share the landscape with you!

Readers might well welcome a return to experiential accounts rather than idle theorizing. Here’s an example:

The other day, one of those balmy, sunny winter days common in these subtropical latitudes, I was traversing a canyon slope not far from our house on the north edge of Bisbee. I enjoy seeing how the vegetation changes as I make my way up the slope. At about seven thousand feet the manzanita begin to taper off and the piƱon pines, alligator junipers, and ocotillos begin to appear among the ubiquitous evergreen oaks. Radial clumps of thorn-tipped agave, sotol, and yucca are scattered between the clumps of short and gnarled trees, but much of the surface is barren, crumbling expanses of decomposed granite and schist which only support plant life during the monsoon season..

I was on a deer and javelina trail when I encountered what seemed to be yet another multi-trunked oak, with widely-extended branches hugging a precious pool of shade. Something didn’t look right, though. The leaves were too long and their color unfamiliar, and the bark of the smaller branches showed curling red patches which reminded me of manzanita bark. Gradually it dawned on me that I was looking at an Arizona Madrone, a species I have mostly seen along creeks and rivers accompanied by sycamores. Later I learned that madrones grow on dry oak-juniper scrub-desert slopes as well as along streams. The stream-side trees are tall and straight, like most conifers, while the desert members of the species grow much like contorted scrub oaks.

Here is a shoot with buds and leaves. The leaf-stalks and branchlets always have some shade of reddish-brown shading into peach tones, a pleasing contrast to the greens of the leaf surfaces.

madrone-1

The bark of the trunks is gray and blocky, resembling the bark of certain oaks, but as the branches ramify and become smaller patches of red and orange appear:

madrone-2

The bark peels and curls just as the bark of the closely-related manzanita does. It’s as if the outer bark conceals vital reddish flesh within:

madrone-3

This arboreal encounter made my day, and as I walked back my mind was filled with speculations. Why is there only one madrone growing on that entire expanse of canyon slope? Were there more at one time? Perhaps the species was favored by firewood-cutters back in the day?

I was almost home when I saw a familiar corner post, a section of telephone pole which someone had laboriously embedded in the rocky slope back when sure-footed cattle risked their lives for what little grass grows here. I stopped and examined the weathered top surface of the pine pole, which was pleasingly illuminated by the afternoon sun. The weathering process, mostly just strong sunlight, had abraded away the softer spring-wood portion of the annual rings, leaving ranks of sharp blades of summer-wood. A pleasant miniature landscape to explore for a while!

madrone-4

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Essays and Articles, Natural History, Photos