Monday, August 29, 2011

Morning walk in Tucson . . .

We've been in Tucson about a month now and still haven't adjusted to the temperatures, though it's wonderful to be close to my sis. Yesterday morning we strolled out for our morning walk (you have to go early, otherwise it's truly just too hot, a high of 106, and in the upper 90s by 9-ish). There before us on the sidewalk, we spied this tarantula. He was out and about as well, and he was huge. It turns out he was a unique variety. A Blonde Tarantula. Too bad the females tend to eat after mating, that is, they eat the male. But still, both Allen and I broke out in a sweat. Just a few moments later, a couple warned us of a rattler up ahead.

We've been playing around with how to feed a hummingbird and finally have a family (I think) of cactus wrens dropping in throughout the day for bread crumbs (upgraded to bird seed today). The hummingbirds zoom and hover; the cactus wrens hop around and peek in the window, their little beaks open for water.

Our apartment is close to the Santa Catalina mountains, so we go down the hill to my sister's and are treated to views of these magnificent peaks. Monsoon rains bring thunderheads in the late afternoon. Que vista, baby! We're birding a little at local parks. Here's a view of Agua Caliente, a nearby desert oasis. We left the house at 6 am to meet up with local birders and beat the heat. I'm hoping for cooler weather in October. May the rest of your summer be reasonably free of wild weather.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

We're in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the home of Georgia O'Keefe's museum, a small brown adobe building near the central Plaza. We spent 2-1/2 hours here in this little museum, admiring once again the purity of her lines, the vibrant colors, the passionate love of nature in her paintings. Wikipedia has images and an overview of her life well worth pursuing as her images remain copywritten. Then we walked down to Shohko Cafe for exquisite Japanese salmon, miso soup, and green tea. Allen still hasn't mastered chopsticks.

Santa Fe requires all buildings to follow a code: adobe. Everywhere you look, it's a glimpse to the past. We sat in the Central Plaza and watched the division of spaces: Native American traders wrapped in Southwest blankets sat in the sun along the President's Palace, their turquoise jewelry glinting in the sun. The homeless had pretty much commandeered the central park, their dogs companionably napping beside them. Everyone seemed to have a cell phone. Santa Fe is definitely upscale: Young women passed by wearing knee-high leather boots, very tight dark blue jeans, layers of turquoise jewelry, make-up, perfume, cowboy hats with long blonde or brown hair streaming behind.

I don't know what Georgia O'Keefe would have thought of Santa Fe today. We're staying at the rustic Sage Inn, with lovely native blankets on the walls, red, and black and white crosses and trees of life, sacred colors for peace and sleep.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Of pinnacles and dunes . . .

Pictures do not do justice to the Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona. Apaches called this the "land of standing up rocks". We hiked 4.5 miles through this "sky island," meandering trails down into Echo Canyon, and appreciated the vista at every turn. Towering pinnacles and crevices reminded us both of the movie "127 Hours." We were not so adventurous in this land once dominated by fierce Apache fighters Cochise and Geronimo.

We next drove north to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico on our way to Albuquerque. This beautiful national park is at the tip of the Chihuahuan Desert where we could explore white gypsum sand dunes, the largest in the world. Since we are so far from snow (for now), we were fascinated by the purity of the sand, pure white.

The sand dunes continually move and yet a few desert plants have adapted with deep root systems that actually grow deep into the dune. We might be looking at just the top of a desert cottonwood that may have three-quarters of the tree buried in the dune. My favorite was the soaptree yucca with its delicate blossoms and spiky base. These pictures may give you a flavor of our hike. Without very clear trail markers, we would have been lost quickly!

White Sands National Monument

We're resting up in Albuquerque tonight and tomorrow to avoid the snow that seems to be everywhere. May the sun shine where you are!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

South to Buenos Aires . . .

How close to the Mexican border is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge? Our hike into this wildlife refuge was shaped by politics as the refuge (about 118,000 acres) actually runs adjacent to the US-Mexican border. Roughly three miles of the refuge closest to the border is closed to the public.

In our early morning drive down to park headquarters and then on to Arivaca, we could not avoid the issue of illegal immigration. Easily 150 Border patrol vans (white with a broad green stripe on their side) passed us and we went through two checkpoints, set up at random along the road.

I kept expecting a band of ragged immigrants or gun-waving drug runners to emerge from any of the numerous washes populated this morning by scruffy mesquite and cactus. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife reports, the number of immigrants has declined (300,000 crossed here in 2007, down to 20,700 in 2009). Humanitarian groups have (with fed approval) put in three 55-gallon tanks to minimize deaths from summer over-exposure. Over the last 8 years, some 25 people have died, but the number has dropped to 2 in 2009.

We walked the nature trail at Arivaca Cienega (meaning 100 waters), honing our beginnng birding skills to spot this Pyrrhuloxia and a Northern Flicker. Then on to Benson for the next day's hike along the San Pedro River.

I come away from this part of the trip with a sense of the desolation of the desert, a formidable natural barrier to those seeking a better life in the states, and an appreciation for the tenacity and courage of these immigrants. My family is a mix of English, Scots, and Native American, divisions too fine to be counted, but we have traveled in too many Spanish-speaking countries not to feel a sense of kinship.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On the road again . . .

Last night in the shower, I reached for the soap and screamed. There, nibbling on the soap was the biggest dark brown blob I have ever seen. I got out of the shower, put on my glasses, and looked at him. He looked at me. This American cockroach was so big, about 2 inches, he should have had a name.

But all is well. We're packed and ready to drive south to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Preserve, hopefully leaving Bubba behind.

Meanwhile, this week's grand accomplishment: we hiked 5 miles along the Bear Creek Trail in Sabino Canyon and were rewarded not only by actually reaching the seven falls (where water still flowed), but we saw this incredibly beautiful Northern Cardinal, perched on an ocotillo. May your week go well.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Hot and cold in Sabino Canyon . . .

Tuesday, we headed out to Sabino Canyon early for a nice hike on the Phoneline Trail, some 5 miles along the ridge line above the canyon floor. We weren't sure we could take on this big a hike, but we were ready to try.

Just by the visitor center we spotted this beautiful and unusual bird, a Pyrrhuloxia, a kind of cardinal, but red and gray, and unique to the Southwest and Mexico. I'm always thrilled when we can see, identify AND photo the bird! He seemed to know I really wanted to take the pic.

After shivering for three days without heat in the house, it seemed just right to shiver along the trail. Here the Saguaro cacti grow so tall against the mountains and sheltered from the wind, some must be nearly 200 years old. Each arm on the Saguaro may take up to 75 years to grow. Other cactii cling to the sides of rock walls, like this cholla (teddy bear) cactus. The trail was somewhat challenging but only to test our stamina, not our fear of heights. Note the white line behind the cholla -- that's the trail that winds along the ridge line, in and out canyons and down to the floor of Sabino Canyon.

At the end of the day, we returned home to a warm house, foot-weary, but far from snow. Today will be a quiet day in our desert retreat. This morning on the patio we saw a lovely pair of Gamble's Quail, a house finch brilliant red, and a curved-bill Thresher. Only two weeks and we're back on the road in the great Southwest.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

On hot and cold in Tucson . . .

Last week, I was innocently making breakfast in this mansion above the Tucson valley, happily scrambling eggs and burning toast. Yes, there was a little smidgen of bread stuck down in the toaster that I forgot about. I could smell it burning and was just about to get it out after the toast popped up when the klaxons went off.

I'm not talking about a smoke alarm. I'm talking about a three-klaxon-deafening blast. A fire alarm. Which went directly to the security company and (unbeknownst to us) the fire department. The security company called the owner. Meanwhile we are running around this multi-level house, trying to find the fire alarm which continued emitting its ear-piercing blasts when far away, we heard the tinkle of my cell phone.

"We'll get it after we stop the noise," said hubby. And so we did. A few, very few minutes later, he's on the cell talking to the owner, when the front door bell goes off. The firemen had arrived. There are no words for how embarrassed I felt. Rich people don't burn toast.

We go down the hill to help take care of my sister.

Record lows hit Tucson. Tuesday night dips into the teens, breaking low temperatures for 106 years here in Tucson and freezing the lovely desert plants just beginning to bloom.

Wednesday, again after breakfast, we're sitting in the little breakfast nook, when I hear rushing water. Not the sweet sound of rain, but the horrible the-side-of-the house-is-going-to-be-washed-out-by-a-torrent sound. Again, we frantically run around the outside of the house to discover where we shut off the water (after I grab the coffee pot and fill it with fresh water, 10 cups).

The water gushes. We can't find anything. Hubby is on the cell again with the owner. We finally find one shut off (but it's not the right one). While we're standing there studying how to turn the darn thing off, a foot long PCV pipe splits right next to us, full of popsicle ice. Meanwhile, the torrent on the side of the house continues, soaking under the house. The owner contacts the previous owner and finally, the water is shut off. We go down the hill to take care of my sister, unwashed but happy. Disaster has been avoided.

The next morning, I'm up early and starting to make breakfast when I can't turn the stove on. The gas is at a low ebb. We go online. Southwest Gas posts an alert. Record low temperatures everywhere in the country has affected the flow of gas to Arizona. Everyone is supposed to ration and our neighborhood (along with 14,000 other households, I kid you not), has no gas. That means no stove, no hot water, no heat. That was yesterday.

This morning, the sun is shining. It's a cool 51 degrees inside this beautiful home. The city has set up warming shelters, and the gas should be restored within the next 3-5 days. I'm thinking we'll go down the hill to my sister's after a nice hot breakfast at McDonald's. And Super Bowl Sunday, I don't care if the Packers or the Steelers win. My sister has heat.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tucson morning . . .

As I struggle with my writing, every morning begins anew. The words don't come, so I walk out on the patio high above Tucson, the sun just lifting over the mountain, blue sky above, birds calling, bright morning everywhere.

And then she comes, as if I were invisible, a small green hummingbird. I stand still. She flits from branch to branch, then settles for long moments, tiny green in the brush. She stares at me, through me. Only her small brown head moves, checking everywhere. She stares at me again, and then she is gone.

Around me, the arroyo teems with life. Other birds fly by: a male Anna's Hummingbird preens nearby; a House Finch brown and blush-red balances atop a bare-limbed tree. Several Saguaro stand sentinel nearby, their limbs punctuated by holes, little nests for burrowing birds, an occasional owl, a cactus wren. Down in the valley, cars stream along ribbon roads. Back to the den I go, all enclosed, the outside world fades, invisible, and I write.

Today's prompt comes from Sunday Scribblings, prompt number 250! An amazing writer's blog. Visit to write or read on . . .

Saturday, January 15, 2011

At Tohono Chul Park . . .

Yesterday we walked through Tohono Chul Park, rather small at under 50 acres, but a delightful meandering through desert plantings, particularly the Saguaro cactus, pronounced Sa-hwa-ro), considered a person by the O'Odham tribe. It's a little early for the wild flowers, but the sun was warm enough that we didn't need sweaters. I was buzzed by a bright green hummingbird, maybe because my hat had flowers on it.

Tucson, Arizona

We saw Monarch butterflies, and delighted in pincushion cactus, barrel cactus (their buds just coming on), and bunny ear cactus (more like Mickey Mouse). We were fascinated by the history and interplay between the native peoples and the Saguaro cactus, which is very slow growing, often living up to 150-200 years. Not only a source of water (in a single rainstorm, it can absorb up to 200 gallons of water), the Saguaro can weigh up to 8 tons fully grown (90% water!). The O'Odham tribe, before modern times, were nomadic and their calendar was organized around the flowering and fruiting of the Saguaro. The seeds of the Saguaro are very small and thrive best near the protective branches of the palo verdes (green stick trees), seen everywhere in the desert here.

Also at the park, I was drawn to the vivid prints of Gerald Dawavendewa, who works with symbols from the Hopi and Cherokee tradition, especially his print of four bright green circling hummingbirds. Much to see here in sunny Tucson that is good.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tucson update . . .

Wednesday night we slept for the first time in this modern, very formal adobe mansion, high enough for a sweeping view of Tucson, yet snuggled against the Santa Catalina mountains. This four-bedroom, four-bathroom house is designed almost concentrically, enfolding circles on itself, so that surprising nooks and crannies abound. We counted (in addition to the living room, and excluding the master bedroom, which appropriately is off limits), five sitting areas.

Outside, palo verdes (thorny green stick trees) surround an immense patio with a swimming pool and additional nooks for gathering people together. At night, with stars so close, the desert air sharp and cold, and the lights of Tucson below, the house seems to float. The large screen TV is currently stuck on ESPN News to Allen’s delight, but the internet works beautifully. It's quiet here and a very good place to write.

Yesterday, Allen fell asleep on the patio in the sun with his newspaper. The dining room is now cosy with cyclamen and four chairs instead of six. I brought in our camping dishes since I could not find any mixing bowls and do not want to cook with bone china. What if I dropped something?

Each day I drive to my sister’s and try to help as I can. She has recovered from surgery and her spirits are good. Her desire to move about and do things is recovering just a little faster than her stamina and her body. So we are now “home” in Tucson until the end of February and then will be back on the road.

Sunday, January 02, 2011


Philadelphia, January 2011. A city of crowded expressways (not freeways), downtown skyscrapers lit with holiday lights, Boathouse Row twinkles by the Museum, its columns all golden at night. Drivers don’t hesitate at stop signs or narrow streets. The city is a constant stream of people, cell phones pressed to their ears, lights, motion, the jazz drummer on the corner playing frenetically, no gloves despite snow pushed to the side. Out in the neighborhoods, along City Line, Manyunk, Roxboro, Society Hill, Chestnut Hill, stone houses, themselves lit with color, are softened by snow everywhere, and dusk is just falling.

Past the reservoir next to City Line and Belmont, we stop to watch Canada geese. A group of eight or ten birds circle and lift and splash down, their cries reassurance they have found a rest stop on their journey south. They call the next group down just for the night, and they call to each other and splash and settle down. A third group flies low in the dusky night, their cries fill the night, and they circle and come down onto the water. An occasional bird cry, and all is still. Even the city seems still.

Fiona Robyn and Kaspa started a river of stones, a blog that asks participants to commit to write daily through January, some small reflection from the day. Since we are on the road for the next while, I thought it would be fun to post these "stones" to mark our journey.