The initial challenge at the start of our recent camping and seed-collecting trip was setting up our tents in a sustained 40 mph wind. We arrived late, close to 5pm, and had just a few hours of daylight remaining. Without a decent windbreak for miles in any direction, erecting the tents was like unfurling a ship’s sail, and it took all five of us deckhands to wrestle each one into position. We staked the corners and then moved onto the complex arrangements of poles.The assembly is different for every tent, and even without the wind, it’s more of an intellectual exercise than a practical one. I’m sure tent engineers laugh until strawberry daiquiris shoot out their nostrils at the annual Christmas party when they watch hidden videos of people like us trying to figure them out. [Read more…]
The fleur-de-lis—lily flower in English—ranks up there with the Nike swish, the peace sign, and the one-finger salute as one of the most iconic symbols of all time.
From the scepters of kings eight centuries ago to the uniform patch of the City of Louisville swat team, it’s difficult not to find it incorporated somewhere in any locale with even a petit morceau of French history. It gets scuffed, scraped, and crunched on the helmets of the New Orleans Saints. It’s in all four corners of the Quebec flag and one corner of the flag of Montreal. A slightly modified version has been sewn on the uniform of every Boy Scout since 1919. And mother-of-pearl inlays of the fleur-de-lis are a common ornament on the peg heads of older Gibson guitars, banjos, and mandolins, though the French connection is more tenuous here. [Read more…]
In days gone by, cutting the family Christmas tree was an annual affair. Dad and the kids went into the woods with an axe, the dog, and picked out the perfect tree. It was a picture post card moment full of snow laden branches and Pendleton shirts. The dog bounded through drifts, the kids pummeled each other with powdery snowballs, and faintly, off in the distance, tiny bells jingled. Dad pulled the tree back to the log cabin on a sled while mom readied steaming hot mugs of cocoa for everyone. You could almost feel Norman Rockwell’s brush against the canvas.
Our family wanted to harken back to these good ole days. We wanted the relive the age before rows of overpriced conifers would appear each December in rutted and muddy empty lots, starkly illuminated under sagging strings of 60-watt bulbs. Or, even worse, before we were tempted to buy one from some dismal corner in a Walmart Garden Center. We wanted to reach back to a time before commercial tree farms spent seven to ten years growing and methodically shearing a tree that would later command a $75 price tag. [Read more…]
Years ago, I’m not sure when, I accidentally broke off the tail of a gecko. I stepped on the tip of its tail and it broke of quickly and cleanly without a spot of blood. The gecko scampered off a bit lighter, while its severed body part remained behind, gyrating as in the midst of a seizure. I stood there mesmerized and watched as this autonomous body part behaved like it was receiving rapid fire electronic shocks, which, in a way, it was.
For the first two minutes, the swishing of the tail was spasmodic and continued on one side then the other, flipping over upside down again and again from the momentum. The action was not unlike how a caterpillar reacts when being attacked by ants, or a game fish flexes while fighting the ever-shortening line that leads to the bass boat. The tip of the tail curled far up one side and then the other, jerking rapidly with yoga-like dexterity. [Read more…]
During the past few weeks, in my backyard, there has been a Two-tailed swallowtail or possibly a Western Tiger swallowtail (they look very similar) visiting every day. These giant yellow butterflies are drunken fliers, as are most butterflies, in general, and never appear to have any destination in mind, certainly not one that requires the shortest distance between two points. They would make for an effective graphic in a nature film if the “trails” of their chaotic and unpredictable paths could be preserved, like those of a sparkler waved wildly in pitch dark, leaving behind no doubt about its path. I’ve seen the same thing done with steel wool (substantially less incendiary) swung in similar circles while attached at the end of rope, generating friction each time it hits the ground, with resultant sparks and seemingly continuous flame, much to the oohs and aahs of onlookers whose eyes can’t separate the time lag between the actual time of the spark when the steel wool hits the ground and the residual spark that has over saturated the rods and cones of each participating human eyeball. [Read more…]
Yesterday, I came upon a small herd of range cows, maybe a dozen, who eyed me pensively as I jogged past. Some just looked at me, blankly, with that know-nothing sort of look that really doesn’t reveal what they’re thinking; I just know that they didn’t feel threatened enough to run. Others gave me a similar look but quickly turned tail, inciting a few of their nearby bovine compatriots to follow suit. It was two of these cows, trotting away from me with four stiff but rapidly moving legs, that did something I have never seen before.
I’m not a big fan of cows, particularly when I seem them in the mountains munching on what’s left of a grass depleted range, nor do I enjoy dodging the crusty piles of excrement that they leave behind. I don’t eat their flesh, but I do wear the shoes made from their hides, so I have a grudging appreciation for their existence. This group of cows was on a private ranch, or, rather, they were supposed to be. [Read more…]
Superior, Arizona, just a couple of miles east of the BTA, sits at the base of a geological formation known locally as Apache Leap. The cliffs of the Leap are composed of a dark volcanic tuff squeezed from the earth’s bowels around 25 million years ago. In the hills beneath the cliffs, one sees layered bands of gray sedimentary rock – once a seabed but now faulted limestone – having originated during the Carboniferous Period. In this limestone, one finds the remnants of organisms that populated the ancient seas – mostly brachiopods, bivalves, and crinoids.
My partner Lori and I hiked up to study a few of those limestone outcroppings. We found a slab about 30’ long and 8’ high, composed mostly of a dense conglomeration of fossilized shells. We walked along that wall, brushing our hands thoughtfully across a solidified expanse of time. [Read more…]
It rained and the desert seems softer now. The warm temperatures and moisture have caused some of the plants – like brittlebush – to bloom early.
This morning I decided to hike around the “back forty” of the Arboretum. Up the steep slope that empties itself against Arnett Canyon, I waded through damp beaten grass and marveled over the brilliant green spikemoss (Selaginella arizonica) growing low against volcanic tuff. Few animals were around; only my shadow and small twittering birds flitted amongst the shrubs. Along the crest of the ridge I stared directly across to Picketpost Mountain and down into the Arnett drainage where autumn still hung on the yellowing leaves of cottonwoods. No breeze, no passing jets. I imagined that there was some tone – some deep humming accumulation of life and geology – that I couldn’t quite hear. [Read more…]
This week brings St. Valentine’s Day which has been so-named for a historically murky Catholic saint who was supposedly murdered (and not by Love) on this self-same day. In my opinion, this was not a very good way to start a holiday that celebrates romantic love. Being the skeptic I am, I also have to arch a brow in the direction of “romantic love” since that is a term strongly suggesting an unrealistic view involving desire, possession, and general human frivolity. (Imagine how fun I am at weddings!)
I feel the same eye-rolling bemusement over the notion of the heart being the repository for our romantic emotions. To me, this is a strange denial of our most species-unique organ, the brain. We all know deep-down that the heart has nothing to do with emotions – it pumps blood. But I have gotten into arguments with people who are absolutely convinced that the heart has some control over our ability to “experience emotion”. These people get upset when you intimate that the brain is the actual seat of those “finer” feelings. The brain is a trouble-maker, I’ll readily admit, but it is also the three pounds of neurons that puts our world in some kind of order and allows us to fall in love, depending on mood, hormones, and financial status. [Read more…]
In the middle of summer, when daytime temperatures are often 110 degrees, there is a palpable tension in this shimmering desert landscape, accentuated by the high-pitched trill of small cicadas that cling to the limbs of mesquite. When the sun is at its highest and shade is reduced to its least accessible form, only lizards and ants seem unaffected by the heat. Before the monsoon season empties its heavy clouds, the desert seems to go into hibernation. The plants are rooted in place, slightly shriveled, and must tolerate the sun as best they can. There are few blooms; you may find, beneath a canopy of spines, the small wilted pink flowers of chain-fruit cholla. Most animals have adjusted their activities to night. All the living things await rain. [Read more…]