Granite Creek, Prescott, Arizona
Thirty Springs of Winter
The winds swept in as we sat under the pines and listened to the green ocean high above, swaying, roaring, twirling our hair and the heads of the Ponderosas into one giant tangled mess. This ocean smells of vanilla and butterscotch and sweetness of sap. Once in a while, a pinecone would tumble down on the roof, porch, into the creek, near my coffee and I would lift Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” on top of my head for protection. Last summer, a pinecone plummeted onto my head from what seemed the tallest pine in Latvia, and it nearly knocked me out. Kids laughed. I have this magnificent magnetism for bird droppings, pinecones, branches, mud and now cactus particles. I drag them around. For the rainy day.
Winter fruit on Tree Cholla, at Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona
Ponderosa pinecones are incredibly sharp, just like the rest in the high desert. Needles, bristles, thorns, prickles, spines, scorpion stingers… I even managed to get my finger poked on a crystal in a rock while climbing. We humans are so soft, vulnerable, unprotected. I marvel at rattlesnakes carrying their delicate bellies over these sandpaper rocks. I marvel at strong Ponderosas and alligator junipers as thick as windmills. The weakened ones send out their stress signals, and the bark beetles swarm in. They dig holes, releasing the stress, letting the sunlight in, reshaping the tree into something new. There are perhaps lessons in that.
Sunset and Ponderosas at Lynx Lake, Prescott, Arizona
We read poetry. Painted. Read cowboy poetry. Desert poetry. Juan Ramon Jimenez and his donkey. We made so many messes. Cleaned up. Restarted. Thirty springs popped here all winter. Crispy morning air opens up, springs into bright mornings and summery days, ice flows into mud and refreeze a few hours later, reshaped. Children spot furry tarantulas on the trails in the midday, and frozen ice ‘tarantulas’ in the morning at creekside.
Enjoying Snowy pines, Prescott, Arizona
We’ve been re-shaping ourselves too. The man with big shiny cowboy belt, at the gardening class ripped out a rhododendron from its cozy pot, pointed to its roots and instructed: do you think it wants to go from this, straight to the rock? Add some compost, some rhizomes, he said, let it slowly accustom. He was dangling that plant violently from its tops. It felt like me, dangled by the hair, ripped out from my 8 feet deep fertile Illinois prairies trying to lay root in the 8 millimeters of sand atop the rocks. I am needing some rhizomes. Pink dawn viburnum is blooming now, flavoring the air with lilac. Snakes are waking, birds migrating through the lakes, and the meadowlarks are splattering landscapes in yellow.
Meadowlark and Heron at Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona. Prescott hosts about 360 confirmed bird species.
Watching cormorants at Goldwater lake, Prescott, Arizona
Life of Foxes and Hummingbirds
I’ve lived with foxes for a while. They taught me how to bark, talk fox language, talk without talking, they teach me how to survive. They invite me into their dark cozy den of pillows and a blanket roof in the corner of the bedroom, but they let me know, I am not their kind. I insist on bath time in a plastic tub, but they prefer the creek.
When I get out of control with bans on crumbs and juices in the fox den, they cleverly use their rainbow powers, mud puppy powers, and tornado powers to transport me back to the kitchen, so they can fill their snow sleds with water, mud, pinecones and mix up some pine needle soup.
Seasons change, and the fox den gets converted into a bird’s nest, and then we are cactus wrens carefully hopping from saguaro to saguaro, and we are falling acorns tumbling down the bed, and we are javelinas being roasted, and we are rainbow ribbons tying up the mountains. Most often we are loud blue jays, playing tug of war with a worm. At bed time, energies gather as we morph into ruby-throated hummingbirds flapping our wings at fifty flaps a second. At Hassayampa river preserve, the upside down river as natives called it, because it peeks its head from under the surface just once in a while, twenty hummingbirds buzzed around our heads. A couple were getting into fights. Yes, even hummingbirds fight, said the little gray-haired lady as we watched. We have one, whom we call “Attila the Hummer”, she continued, he sits on the highest branch, and sneers at any other who tries to land close by. And so, we hum, and sip, and fight, like hummingbirds.
Mule deer at Sedona Red Rocks State park
A Cactus Whisperer
Prescott, Arizona, is a spot of nature’s incredible ingenuity. This is the land where worlds collide. It is a land of extremes: part high desert, part tundra pine woods, part lush riparian habitat. Willows, cactus, Cholas, pines, junipers, yuccas, enjoy their own space and cohabit in what seems almost unreal fashion to my untrained human eye. Someone said, Arizona is geography by day, and astronomy by night. Someone else added, that when the day and the night meets, it is biology extraordinaire, biology in action. Coyotes come out in packs. Javelinas sniff around mountain and town edges feasting on succulent prickly pear. Bald eagles circle the lakes, terrifying the ducks. Bobcat lifts her soft heavy feet in graceful dance. But the boy does not care about -ologies and -onomies. He cares little what that tiny mushroom on the side of the trail is called. He just likes the way the edges curl and the grey speckles. The way it leans toward the cactus. The way the snow shakes off the pines when the wind blows, in fast dropping puffs and in powdery swirls. The way cottony seeds spread. The way rocks split after millennia of water and ice, and the way they feel. The way the sun bounces off of them and the way lizard twists her tail. The way tree cholla fruits tint in winter. He worries that we do not step on baby cactuses, the size of acorns. He gets down on his knees, pets baby cactus, whispering something that is beyond my wave range. He is a cactus whisperer.
New generation of pines dancing
People of Arizona
Boy falls face forward into the snow, on the trail, and eats a mouthful. This is a very good dinner!, he says. He recalls how that cowboy sliced roasted prickly pears and ate the slices off his boot. So he eats snow off his boot, pretending it is prickly pear. I smile thinking of the horse man in Trader Joes. He carried a worn white plastic bucket and set it on the conveyor belt next to his baguette. Good, you remembered it! smiled the checkout lady. The man in dusty boots and wide plaid shoulders, as wide as his smile, nodded quietly, modestly. He smelled of horses. He placed his baguette into the bucket, and carried it to his pickup, dusty roads, home on the range.
Snow eater in Prescott National forest, Prescott, Arizona. Fresh snow, good to search for javelina tracks
When snow accumulated and lingered under the pines, I walked over to my neighbor to offer my help shoveling. Twice my age, lean and pink-cheeked, he smiled, danced a bit with his snow shovel, and told me some stories of the lover of his life. The lover that called him to move here. The lover so grand, so complex in her layers and yet simple in her flowing ways, so deep, so breathtaking, it will steal your heart, rip it open, and lay it under the skies to let the starlight pour in. Grand Canyon. He said he goes to the Canyon’s North rim in February, and skies forty miles across the snowy woods, climbs down, climbs up. His eyes sparkled with the bright morning snow as he talked, every color of the Grand Canyon reflecting in his pupils. We talked and let his love and sun melt the driveway.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, after the snowmelt in December
Prayers for the Rain
The creek by the house was dry all December, and then over poured, and shrank again. As we gathered vanilla scented raindrops, boy built dams, and islands of pine needles, rocks, mud and pinecones. He dug and engineered, diverting the water, fighting against the current at times. His boy-made channels dry up first. He then proceeds to make pinecone catchers.
Granite Creek, surrounded by Granite Dells, February in Prescott, Arizona
Many riparian areas had been wiped out by development. About 80 percent of species here depend on these beautiful riparian areas, where water flows. Arizona sycamores tap directly into bed streams. The draught lasted for two decades and wildfires destroyed endless acres. Anne Lemott wrote: “If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the dessert”. We humans tapped into every aquafer we could, trucked the water in, engineered ways to not die of thirst. We figure out way to quench immediate thirst. It is the blessings of the desert that still escapes us.
White ghostly winter sycamores drinking up Oak Creek waters at Montezuma Castle, 800 year old Native American dwelling, the bones of which are sycamores
Saguaro cactus towers over the driest acres of Sonoran desert. It reaches the heights of 60 feet, yet it consumes 3 quarts of water per day (compare that to a neighboring Tucson human averaging at 360 quarts per day). Tohono O’odham people used to pick Saguaro fruit in June, using 10 foot long poles made of saguaro bones. The fruit is the only source of sweetness this time of year. O’odham would boil the fruit into syrup, ferment it into wine, and then dance for the rains to come. Most pickers are gone now. Wine is gone. Rain dances are gone. With rain dances vanished, the ground had split, opened into its deepest wounds yet, and curious onlookers travel miles to peek at these man-made canyons.
Small Saguaro cactus and a friendly Joshua tree at Granite mountain footsteps near Yarnell, Arizona, where wildfire of 2013 claimed over 8,000 acres of natural habitat and lives of 19 firefighters.
This morning boy peeked out the window, and announced in amazement: It is flowing! My channels are flowing again! I knew it would work! He flitters his hummingbird wings fanning the fires of my faith with each flip.
Willow Lake, Prescott, Arizona, before storms move in
A local rancher and cowgirl poet Carole Jarvis of beautiful Wickenburg, Arizona, writes:
I turned my eyes toward cloudless skies so often, Lord,
Just watchin’ for some sign, or scent of rain.
Sometimes thinkin’ that I heard the sound of thunder,
Far away, across a distant plain.
I watched the water tanks turn into mud holes,
Saw grasses dry and wither in the sun.
Stirred a trail of dust behind my pony,
And dreamed each night, the summer rains had come.
Then this mornin’ as I woke, I felt a change,
And lookin’ toward the west, clouds filled the sky.
And soon the lightnin’ and the boom of thunder,
Combined with rain to form a lullaby.
And no one knows no better than a cowboy,
What moisture means to life in this terrain.
And though I know You always planned to send it,
I had to tell you Lord,
Thanks for the Rain.