Nature

Morning Gifts

It’s Gratituesday! On Monday morning I wrote up this little missive and decided to wait and share it with you today. It sums up my gratitude for this week quite nicely.

I forgot to set my alarm last night, but my brain knew when time to wake up arrived and rousted me from dreaming anyway. Good thing, too.

It stormed a bit overnight, so the humidity soared and the desert heat cooled somewhat. Remnants of clouds still hung out on the horizon in every direction. I got some picturesque shots of the sun and sky dancing like they do some mornings. Corals, golds, a touch of silver with an azure backdrop.

A nearly perfect sunrise.

A nearly perfect sunrise, wouldn’t you agree?

Besides capturing sunrise photos, I keep my eyes alert hoping to sight an elusive family or two of Quail, or perhaps my favorite bird the Night Heron. The Hummingbirds have been extra active lately zipping about catching insects. It’s a typical morning walk for me.

Until it isn’t anymore.

Off to the right in a small pond, stood my friend the coyote. I see him about once or twice a week in different spots throughout the Preserve. He was standing half in and half out of the water, looking intently into the bushes to the north. It would make a nice photo, so I stopped to line up a shot.

The coyote bounded like a rabbit toward the bushes, playful and boisterous. I’d never seen him do that before. Suddenly he raced back toward the pond edge. Then he wagged his tail and pounced forward again. His head and shoulders clearly searching the brush for a glimpse of something. A leap, a tail wag, and more bouncing. Then he kept his hind quarters up and leaned his front end to the ground, like a pup ready to chase a stick. He was playing a game with something in the bushes.

Oh, for a better zoom on my tiny camera.

Oh, for a better zoom on my tiny camera.

I stood there mesmerized watching this coyote revel in a game he’d made up. Then, suddenly he pulled his tail between his legs and raced back to the water. Then he ran east, as if the game had come to an abrupt end. He wandered toward the back side of the bushes he’d been so interested in, when another coyote appeared. Larger, and looking somewhat menacing, ears back, body low to the ground and moving lower, as if ready to launch at some prey.

Uh oh. I thought. The younger coyote’s ears perked up, his tail wagged, he ran back and forth not ten feet away from the larger one’s attack stance. Then the ears perked up on the bigger coyote, the pup raced in large circles, jumping and dancing, prodding the other to play.

Mother and child. That’s what this was.

The younger coyote raced and raced, tail wagging, delight in every movement, until the older one slunk back into the bushes. They fell out of sight, momentarily emerging to race into the water briefly, then they were gone.

What a gift to see such wild abandon not a mile from my front door.

The rest of my ninety minute walk hummed with the joy of what I’d experienced. Sure, sweat dripped off my head and hair, ran down my back, soaked my clothes. And yet, a breeze blew down the path occasionally, working with the damp on my body to create a miniature swamp cooler bringing temporary relief from the morning’s desert heat. I welcomed every patch of shade offered, lost count of the rabbits and crossed paths with very few humans. I hesitated to end my walk even as the temperature rose and fatigue increased.

I didn’t want to let go of what I’d felt, what I’d seen in those rare and, yes, sacred moments between mother and child.

Nothing compares to that ephemeral time shortly before and just after the sun rises. The earth transforms from dark night to a brief otherworldly dimension of surprise and wonder.

Such a morning makes any shortage of sleep a very minor inconvenience and fills me with a sense of gratitude that ought to last a very long time.

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Categories: Gratitude, Gratituesday, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Smell of Hope

 

Nothing.

Nothing surpasses the scent of rain in the desert.

Raindrops meeting ground smell like hope.

Each droplet washes dust from the air.

Those first tentative splashes

hold every scent the sky has held.

Millions of them combine

to baptize a world hazy with heat and baked too long.

Life pours out of the sky

washing

renewing

cooling

calming.

As clouds loosen their purse strings,

Heaven sighs,

Earth relaxes,

and the two settle into each others arms

like a long married couple.

 

Paths fill with every scent washed from the air,

puddles grow and overflow with evaporated life,

temporary ponds hold every drop of love the sky bestows.

And the land

savors this elixir,

love potion extraordinaire.

Flooded water retention basin after a desert rainstorm.

Flooded water retention basin after a desert rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I created this poem in response to a writing prompt from WordPress: “What’s your favorite smell?”

The photo I took earlier this week after far too many months of no rain here in the Phoenix area. Normally, this scene is an open expanse of grass, but after an hour of rain, it became a temporary pond, drawing out every desert dweller in the neighborhood.

 

Categories: Hope, Nature, phoenix | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Color My World

I bring my binoculars out walking lately hoping for some fun sightings. I saw a coyote frolicking in one of the ponds last week, but that was twelve feet away. And I’ve heard there’s a bobcat in the area. That’d be fun to see from a distance. And you never know when some odd or unfamiliar bird will be flitting about.

All of today’s delights were up close and colorful. That’s surprising because the high temperatures have crossed the century mark. I think of summer here in the desert as drab black and white and gray. Even the color of sand seems to bleach out in the heat after a month or two. This morning’s walk through the local riparian preserve proved me wrong.

When I saw these tiny bursts of yellow with their brown buttons looking perky and bright I caught myself smiling.

photo 2-2 copy 9These fuchsia blooms won’t last much more than another day in such heat.

photo 4-4 copyLike pearls on a vine, these puff-balls diffuse the sunlight and capture the eye with a humorous elegance.

photo 1-5 copy 3A smallish black bird with christmas red markings under its wings showed up along the trail, but flew off before I could get my camera focused.

Red Penstemon tempt the hummingbirds and brighten the landscape.

photo-24 copy 2This gray rabbit dug a trench in the gravel and cradled himself in its coolness. His coloring and the rock colors match almost perfectly. If not for his face twitching and his dark distinctive ears I’d have missed him lying there. For all the hundreds of bunnies I see every time I walk here, I’ve never seen this behavior before. Reminded me of how a dog will splay out flat on tile to chill its body down on a warm day.

photo 4-3 copy 3Orange makes it mark among pale greenery, showing off in a concentrated saturation of color.

photo 2-3 copy 3The Saguaro are blooming with bright white flowers, still open even in the bright light of day.

photo 3-4 copy 4And here a tree sports yellow puff-balls, like dollops of paint splattered about by a rambunctious child.

photo 5 copy 2I nearly stumbled into a white Egret looking every bit as angry at being spotted as I delighted in sighting him. He stayed put for my photo, so I figure he must have had his eye on a juicy fish or he’d have flown off the minute I walked along.

photo 3-5 copy 2These brown cattails seem so foreign in a desert environment. But then, I have to remember I’m walking in a riparian area, with an abundant and consistent water supply. What a brilliant and delightful way to reclaim water and refill an aquifer.

photo-23 copy 3Green, of course, plays a dominate role along my entire route. Thank goodness for that. I’m not sure what I’d do without green growing things in my world.

photo 1-4 copy 6I didn’t expect to see blue, except for the sky, while on my walk. Blue flowers just don’t occur very often. But then, wandering down to the water’s edge, two fluorescent blue dragonflies chased each other across the water’s surface. Not much bigger than an inch in length, a photo of them wasn’t a realistic possibility. But, I did capture the scene where they played among the reeds and rocks and water.

Every color I could hope for showed up today as I walked. I’d call that a promising start to my day, wouldn’t you?


“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” ~ e.e. cummings

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A Simple Solution in a Latin Phrase

I ran across a most interesting Latin phrase yesterday.

Solvitur ambulando: “it is solved by walking.”

Stumbling on that phrase coincided with conversations I’d had with two different people hours and miles apart. All three converged into a kind of signpost toward an answer.

photo 5 copy“Exercise isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it’s rest. But I can think of few situations that wouldn’t be improved by a nice walk outside.” ~Kettie Olsen

photo 4-3 copy 2“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

photo 1-4 copy 4“If you seek creative ideas go walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” ~ Raymond I. Myers

If you can’t find me, I’m probably out walking.

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A Little Bit of Everything Makes it Nice

It’s Gratituesday! Today I’m grateful for the amazing variety I find in the world.

There's nothing like an Arizona sunset.

There’s nothing like an Arizona sunset.

Yesterday MSH and I took a sunset walk through my favorite local sanctuary, the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. I’d worried it would be too hot, as the temperatures had been in the nineties all day, but a good breeze kicked in and some clouds danced about keeping things pleasant. Add in the shade inherent in the low angle of the early evening sun and we had perfect conditions for a stroll.

I used to walk here every single day for a year or two. I laid claim to certain aspects of the place. I recognized some of the photographers that regularly wandered about. I noticed differences in duck families and became well acquainted with a gaggle of geese that acted like they owned the place. I knew most of the daytime locations of the night herons, recognized shifting water levels, and avoided visiting at times when crowds would be there.

Then life happened and my visits there dropped to almost never. Once every three months or less. Last night I realized I hardly recognized the place, particularly with its late spring green rush making everything so bright and perky.

My walks used to happen in the early morning hours, before the sun even broke across the horizon, so seeing it all in early evening very literally made me see things in a different light.

I couldn’t seem to snap enough photos. From the pink Prickly Pear cactus, to the rare leaves and flowers on an Ocotillo, the variety stood out. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean. Plenty to be grateful for around here, as far as I can see!

The world continues to surprise me with its resilience, beauty and variety. Even in the desert, as the temperatures hover near one hundred, nature delights me with her wonders.

“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.” ~ William Cowper

 

Categories: Gratitude, Gratituesday, Nature, phoenix | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wild Ones and Volunteers

African Daisies still going bonkers in a few spots.

African Daisies still going bonkers in a few spots.

My wildflowers reach the end of their life cycle this month. MSH keeps insisting I just need to water them. To appease him, I have drenched the poor worn out plants with copious amounts of the precious resource, to no avail. Well, that’s not exactly true. The weeds appreciate the extra moisture and show their appreciation by growing a foot in a day, or at least it seems they do.

No, sad to say, my wildflowers have simply reached the stage in their life cycle where they produce seeds and then let the winds scatter their progeny willy-nilly. By time a healthy seed head appears, the plant itself has given its all, nearly five months from peeking out of the ground to now.

This seed head looks promising.

This seed head looks promising.

Now’s the part of the wildflower process where the hard work kicks in. If I want to share any of the seeds, which I like to, then I gather the puffs of seed heads into a bucket and distribute them into Ziploc bags. These little guys, African Daisies, will grow in almost any climate, even in a regular garden bed during late spring and summer, as long as they get the full sun.

It’s a little trickier gathering the California Poppy seeds. They form in long pods after the flower bloom ends. The seeds aren’t much bigger than a grain of sand. I gather the pods before they open and let them dry out in a container. When the seeds are ready the pod splits open on its own and releases the seeds where they fall to the bottom of the container.

The other much harder part of wildflowering in my rock covered desert landscape is that every plant must be plucked from the ground and disposed of. Usually I pull a few plants a day as they slowly die off, which isn’t too difficult. But this year, there are more plants than ever and we had a really hot patch of weather last week that sped up the process of end of life.

So I’m faced today with the task of cleaning up the dead and dying. It’s a little sad. The yard starts to look bare and desert-ish again. My flowerpots in the shade of the front porch provide my only color fix out there.

Yet in this undertaking (excuse the pun) I have hope, because hundreds or probably more like thousands, of seeds have fallen among the rocks and next years bloom looks promising.

I suppose what I love about wildflowers lies in their self-propagating properties. They voluntarily show up, without any work on my part.

If you aren’t familiar with gardening terms:

“a volunteer is a plant that grows on its own, rather than being deliberately planted by a farmer or a gardener.” ~ Wikipedia

I once had a tree seed blow in and grow in the middle of a series of garden beds. Turns out it was a Brazilian Pepper Tree that grew very quickly. In a matter of three years I had a tall, full tree that provided shade for a south-facing kitchen window. Another time, in the middle of a compost pile, I had a cantaloupe vine grow that gave out the sweetest fruit I’d ever tasted.

Unplanned, yet perfect, colors in my garden.

Unplanned color in my garden.

All winter I had meant to plant vegetable seeds in the open spaces of my back yard flower bed; combine utility with beauty for a perfect combination. I set in a few tomato plants, but that’s all. The deliberate planting never happened. Life and death and illness took hold for a while and got in the way of my good intentions.

And yet, almost miraculously, my back yard flowerbed overflows with nearly all volunteers this spring. Some flowers simply survived the very mild winter, with only one night of below freezing temperatures covered by a sheet. The red Penstemon apparently throw out seeds because they’re spreading and blooming proficiently. A few Sunflower seeds planted themselves from last years batch and have made themselves comfy among the Romaine lettuce and Petunias. Marigolds reseeded themselves as well and threaten a yellow takeover once they start blooming. And Cosmos, with their feathery stalks have already flowered in neon pink, the children of last years few seeds I tried for the first time.

Looking out the back window provides a view of this unplanned but stunning flowerbed at all times of the day.

Not being in too much of a gardening disposition this past winter, I’ve been lucky to have so many plants volunteer to brighten my life. Sometimes, in spite of lack of attention, or maybe because of it, nature sends surprises to delight and lift and cheer.

Categories: Gardening, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Target Practice for Birds

Lovely shade tree with potential messes abounding.

Lovely shade tree with potential messes abounding.

Bird droppings! One of the hazards of a lovely shade tree that covers half of your driveway.  Installing a bird bath with daily fresh water probably adds to the number of birds that visit my yard and tree and consequently, my red vehicle. I know, I know, six months ago I had cleared my garage enough to park my little truck inside it. But we got a different car and MSH (and, yes, I) have once again helped fill up most of the garage, this time with an ancient couch we recently replaced with a newish one.

Looks like a fierce specimen, yes?

Looks like a fierce specimen, yes?

As I was hosing off some bird deposits from my car today, the spray ricocheted off the windshield and gave the cactus a pretty heavy pelting. A small bird head popped up among the spines and gave me the evil yellow eye. Clearly he or she meant to indicate ‘I’m an idiot getting the nest and resulting eggs inside wet and could I move on to doing some other chore.’

Apologizing to the bird, I aimed my hose a different direction. I did my best to avoid disturbing the cactus and said nesting critter while finishing my little chore. After polishing up the windows of the car,  I explored a bit to see if I could get a good view of the nest. On closer approach the bird flew off to a tree two houses down and looked on. Old nests and new nests look the same to my untrained eye and that cactus apparently serves as a roost for many a bird, or it has at some time.

Not sure if this is the current nest or not.

Not sure if this is the current nest or not.

I want to know how they, the birds, manage to fly in and out of that prickly, spiky, spiny spot without getting impaled. Seems downright impossible if you ask me. Do they have special radar or something? Or does getting poked and pierced multiple times a day come with the job description?

Look how sharp those needles are! Ouch!

Look how sharp those needles are! Ouch!

I’m going to avoid sermonizing here. I’m not even going to mention the parenting parallels. No symbolism, nothing at all. I’m simply wondering how birds do it. I guess I could Google it, but that would take away some of the mystery and the magic of nature that I so adore.

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A Recipe for Spring

We didn’t get much of a winter around Phoenix this year. I think I covered plants to protect them from freezing one time. I’m not complaining. Flowers still bloom and in fact thrive from last fall’s plantings.

Today’s post is in homage to spring, or what few weeks we have left of it here. It’s not long before the heat locksteps itself into its summer encampment. So I’m reveling in what I can.

If you’re still cabin-bound with snow and ice and freezing temps, maybe this can give you hope of things to come.

Here’s this year’s version of my recipe for Spring.

To one small plot of ground add the following:

photo 2-2 copy 8

Fresh jalapeno’s

Fresh jalapeno’s,

Cilantro

Cilantro

Cilantro

Tomato plants. (These have some petunias nearby for a dash of color and interest.)

Tomato plants. (These have some petunias nearby for a dash of color and interest.)

Tomato plants

Basil, comes in handy for more recipes than this one.

Basil, comes in handy for more recipes than this one.

And don’t forget Basil

I used Romaine, but any will do.

I used Romaine, but any will do.

Newborn tiny lettuces, which hopefully grow quickly before the heat makes them bolt could liven up the flavor of your spring.

Newborn flowers, also known as seedlings if you forget what kind you planted there.

Newborn flowers, also known as seedlings if you forget what kind you planted there.

Add some newborn flowers of various types. (Hopefully, unlike me, you mark which kind you planted where so you know what they are when they sprout.)

Time, patience, kindness, love, they're interchangeable, really.

Time, patience, kindness, love, they’re interchangeable, really.

Mix well and water often and gently.

Bake for a little bit of time and with some patience thrown in for good measure.

Grapefruit, still a few unpicked on the tree, and  their blossoms, bring a particular sweetness to this recipe.

Grapefruit, still a few unpicked on the tree, and their blossoms, bring a particular sweetness to this recipe.

Top off with some fragrance as well, like grapefruit blossoms, which in the evening become particularly intoxicating on the cool air.

photo 4-2 copy 5

Serve on a platter of surprising wildflowers, this pink one showed up among the yellows and oranges, all by itself and makes a sweet addition.

Gnome 1

Gnome 1

What garden is complete without a gnome?

Gnome 2 (they won't tell me their names)

Gnome 2 (they won’t tell me their names)

I added two as a nice garnish.

Bird. This one's pretty quiet.

Bird. This one’s pretty quiet.

Although real birds will visit, I also garnish with a little bird of my own.

Some new leaves on a tree add a nice touch.

Some new leaves on a tree add a nice touch.

Serve alongside anything else you might want to add: new leaves, penstemon, or even a bird bath.

Penstemon comes in many colors, choose your favorite.

Penstemon comes in many colors, choose your favorite.

I think you’ll enjoy this recipe, or any variation you decide to make of it.

Note the bird bath in the corner, attracts birds and toddlers alike.

A bird bath attracts birds and toddlers alike.

You can never go wrong with Spring. It’s fresh, lively, invigorating, and full of hope.

Dig in and enjoy as soon you can!

Categories: Gardening, Hope, Nature, Outdoors, phoenix | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Poetry of Gray Infused

photo 2-2 copy 2Some days lean toward solitude and slowness. Quiet settles in like dust in every crack and crevice.

photo 4 copy 4Color appears as the exception, with gray predominating. Even the green leaves shows variations of gray.

photo 2-1 copy 8Gray in all its hues and tones permeates the sky, the mood, my heart. Even the hopeful nest of a bird feels emptied out and uninviting.

And yet.

photo 3-2 copy 2Color insinuates itself into a scene, here and there. Flamboyant, amid the pale winter green of leaf and stem.

photo 1-1 copy 2Out of sleeping branches,  unexpected bursts of life demand notice and appreciation.

photo 1 copy 8Against my need to wallow, the gray begins to dissipate around each slow corner I turn.

photo-20 copy 18And at its close, the day again asserts its hold on me with waves of color singing me to sleep.

Categories: Nature, Outdoors, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sunday Afternoon Magic

So, here I sit out front, fuzzy black slippers on, in my porch swing. My computer sitting on my lap. I thought, maybe, being outdoors would somehow prompt some inspiration or insight or intelligence. All “in” words, which is contrary to being “out” here.

photo-19 copy 17

If you look closely you can see a reflection in the water.

Still, there’s something comforting on the breeze. The cooler air smells different, fresher, promising, tentative. A couple of hummingbirds hover at the feeder that I’ve let run dry in the past day or two. I should get up off the swing and make up some nectar to fill it. Then the tiny chirps would sound less insistent. Two house wrens, make that three,  jump from bush to bird bath, taking turns dipping into the water, drinking, checking, drinking, checking.

The bush they flit about in needs a good trimming. It’s overgrown and leaning to the east. Every time I’ve thought of getting out the trimmers for a little shaping the bush is in full flower, purple over the entire outer surface. The unkempt look of the bushes matches the wildflowers which are getting taller in sporadic and uneven places. They look more like weeds than ever. I’m not sure where I’ve put the “Wildflowers Under Construction” signs. I should locate and set those out so the HOA knows not to fine me for weeds.

Leaves skitter down the road from time to time as the wind picks up occasionally. Drifts of orange curls settle in crevices and under bushes and between stepping-stones. Then here and there a rain of tiny gray-green leaflets fall from the boughs that oversee almost the entire front yard. I ought to get the blower/vac out tomorrow morning and clean things up a bit, before the garbage truck arrives. But I probably won’t. Let the rest of the leaves from the trees on our street finish their deleafing, then I’ll “clean up” what ought to be left out for crunching footsteps and mulching gardens.

Still with a lengthening to-do list growing in my head as I swing I find a sense of okay-ness out here.

Maybe it’s the family groups that walk or bike the perimeter of the park.  Maybe it’s the sound of children playing on the swings across the street. Could be the chips and cheeps of unseen birds or the blue softness of the sky. It could be the ease of a Sunday afternoon spread out languidly before me. Nothing but a diet Coke to work on.

Choices abound. I recognize how amazingly lucky I am to have the option of being comfortably inside or outside in December. That I live in a place with room for a porch swing feels almost decadent. That growing things surround my home and provide homes for birds and rabbits and an occasional stray cat helps me feel more of life in my days. Healthy and able to walk or dance or bake or spend time with MSH or my children seems like something I shouldn’t ignore or presume.

Yes, pending loss cracks open the shell of the universe, hearts border on breaking.

And yet, somehow goodness and beauty soothe and succor. Something about the outside world gentles the  pounding in my heart and hushes the worry circling my head.

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