Tag Archives: Wildflowers (Other)

August 31, 2016

People on the desert long enough
on a certain day about this time
in August feel
and taste
and see
a shift in the afternoon light and
shadows and breeze, and the
oppression of heavy air
lifts off and away
from each

and they let out a sigh
and breathe back in
a new Season
under another
desert Sun

Day after day the temperature tries to reach 100 degrees, and I take it for granted that as a diamond is said to be, the Sonoran Desert Summer is forever. But then–there is a morning like this one come, when coffee in hand I slip into the patio in the dark and wonder what is wrong, what is different. It sinks in, the world has gone silent, no notes from Purple Martins echoing down from stars, all is still and empty, not even a cricket though as the Autumn will, when it comes to its own winding down, have nights again in cricket song. We can get pretty gladly through every afternoon now that still sizzles, every still mid-morning with its drenching humidity, for we know we’re on our way to one of those months whose weather the World must envy, months that bookend that hot time the snowbirds famously flee in panic. This year there have been few storms violent enough to alarm much, nor did the house get hit by lightning and neither did the power pole and lines so no blackouts of more than a few minutes, the WiFi box never got fried once much less its usual several times, no tornado-like microbursts to upend and throw the patio furniture around.

The wide drifts on every flat and mesa-top of brilliant yellow flowers of Hierba de San Nicolas (Thymophylla acerosa) aren’t making a grand show this year, though there are scattered plants low underfoot on Firesky Ridge and they are still in bud, seemingly staying in an arrested state. Neither have I noticed any vines of the naturalized, exquisitely blue Morning-glory, begin their climb through the branches of Creosote Bush along the roadside. In this area of Cascabel the rain accumulation is about an inch and a half less than last year’s Monsoon’s, could that be why we haven’t had this flower display that is one of the delights of late Summer? Or is it that the rains have come at the “wrong” moments? (Mason Pastures, only a few miles away, received much more rain as storm cells passed over them than has come to Ridge House, and their Native Grass Planting has come back to life and greenery spectacularly. It turned out all right to have taken that chance and not watered them from the irrigation well.) The crop of mesquite beans everywhere is no more than half its usual plenty, and many trees have no beans on them at all–another case of rain falling at the wrong time? Many local folk tell that a rain coming at the height of bloom will abort the work of those sweetly scented blossoms, or mold the anthers and pollen but also this year the cattle herd hasn’t gone after the pods on the ground in the manic and addictive way they always do. Perhaps the cows with their oh-so-discriminating palettes have warned the community we shouldn’t expect the flavor of this Fall’s ground flour to be any better than so-so!

At those Mason Pastures the brood of Ash-throated Flycatchers in the post have long ago hatched and fledged, and by tomorrow–September–they’ll have left for the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I’m filled with a longing to go with these birds when they leave for where Summer itself will be migrating too, let go all this Romance of Western Life …

After the Sun is up and I’m watering the flowers on the patio, what is unmistakably some vireo begins singing out on the Creosote Bush flats, and it’s one I haven’t heard before. Bob had listened to a differently-voiced vireo at his place a couple of ridges away and in much the same sort of upland desert country during Spring migration this year; he identified it as a Gray Vireo, one of the “uncommon and local” species sought out by naturalists who travel a long way to visit southern Arizona. The bird here stays close to the house a good while, long enough for me to find recordings of Gray Vireo songs on the Internet and play them right along with what was coming from a Palo Verde. The real and the recording matched note for note, and so a “Lifer” bird is delivered right to the house before I even get on all my work clothes!

Too many kingbirds on the wires with obviously notched tails, birds that haven’t read the field guides (as Ralph says)–that tail shape is supposed to be the mark of the Tropical Kingbird. They’re silent though, not like that bird at El Potrero that gave itself away with its chattering. In the study of natural history there must be art, intuition, science. Making of friends with the notion that there will be birds, butterflies and bugs, that will not be identified even if you hold them in your hand, also helps. To strive for a life solved of all mysteries is hubris.

A “bug” lands noisily on a shrub next to me, oh it’s large, frightening enough that no one would think of holding it in the hand to identify, or get too close to its mysteries. It is more than intriguing enough to demand being wondered over. Looks can be deceiving and that was what this insect unmistakably mimicking the Tarantula Hawk must be all about! I first take it for one of those Tarantula Hawks that are visiting the Graythorns but then see how its strong black legs bow out to the sides, then come back together and are held in a tight row where it clasps the stem (picture a scissors jack) and the head was that of a fly, not a wasp, with large and bulbous eyes sticking out at the sides. The colors perfectly match the wasp it must imitate–the same orange-red and black–and the pattern fools the eye of the human and I’d guess this insect’s prey. Much of the body is black, but it’s the very long, fat abdomen that is orange, rather than the wings. What the insect does on landing is fold those wings long and straight over the abdomen, the wings are clear with tiny black veins and see-through enough that it appears suddenly indeed that they are what’s orange like those of the big wasp! Have I been fooled myself all this time, or is this something appearing on this desert only lately? (Later I mention it to Kathleen, who tells she has been seeing this very monster insect the last couple of years at 3-Links and was also sure it is a Tarantula Hawk mimic. As it turns out we are not alone in seeing it, and it is indeed a newly arrived and spreading species come north from South of the Border. This “Mexican Robber Fly”, Archilestris magnificus, was first recorded north of The Border here only about 2007 and that first published photograph from Arizona then caused a sensation in the world of entomology. Lately it has suddenly crossed over from rarity to “oh, there’s another one” from Arivaca through Cochise County. It does not sip nectar or nip pollen like the Pepsis wasps, but is a voracious carnivore on the wing snagging bugs and insects who presume it is looking for either a flower or a Tarantula, not for them.

Nine teal drop out of the sky, skittering, falling, completely out of control but completely in control, land like cannonballs with such a splash that they cause a mini-tsunami against the bank of hard-grazed Barnyard Grass. One swims warily, quickly away from the truck, shows fully a wing speculum of cobalt blue … she reaches the far shore of Barnyard Grass, turns forty-five degrees and the gem of that speculum lights wildly into an emerald that would raise the avarice of a jewel thief eyeing the Topkapi. A Great Blue Heron is unmoving in this wild splash-down of Green-winged Teal though perhaps he’s grinding his mandibles over the fright it will have set off among what’s left of the huge Bullfrogs he hasn’t yet dispatched. Heron remains implacable, inscrutable. He has an image to maintain.

September, tomorrow, the month larger numbers of Great Blue Herons begin to arrive, northern birds that will stay for the Winter …

So when the shadows lengthen
leaves have turned to dust
first there’s Summer, then
I’ll let you in,
September,
when it comes …

I watch the clouds go sailing
I watch the clock and Sun,
oh I watch myself
depending on
September,
when it comes

–Rosanne Cash and John Levanthal, “September When It Comes”

October 19, 2015

When did we notice we weren’t noticing Monarchs any more?  At last! … yesterday Pat and I were returning to El Potrero over the uplands of our Cascabel Pasture and revelling in the splendor of this year’s range with thunderstorms round about the east and south horizons, when suddenly my attention was focussed away from getting toasted by a bolt of lightning to a single Monarch Buttefly sitting out on the tip of a Palo Verde branch.  Like many of us, I grew up with Monarchs: in mid 20th century they were as ubiquitous as white bread, so much so that a kid butterfly collector couldn’t be bothered with chasing, preparing and mounting one or giving one space in a display frame.  For Monarchs, all you had to do was look outside.  Who’d ever have thought that in our lifetime the taken-for-granted creature would become poster-bug of the environmentalist set?  Yet even I, who test for faddishness every threatened and endangered alarm that “trends”, was stopped in my and Loompy’s tracks by the shimmering and orange and black and leaded-glass window wings of old friend Monarch.  “Where have the decades gone?”, I asked him.  While I’ve watched and watched and watched over the summers and autumns, I was never able to turn any of our common Queen Butterflies into this now-charismatic Monarch.  I had forgotten how startlingly different the two species look one from the other, until yesterday when even from a good distance this butterfly was so obviously neither a Queen nor a Viceroy but yes, a Monarch.  It sailed off, looking for more nectar, which it sure won’t be having any hard time finding, the range is so in bloom and has been straight through from those first wildflowers of February to now even in October and likely on into November.  This seems to be another Spring for a number of those same earlier species!  I don’t see milkweeds in those uplands, however, though there is a boom in climbing Sarcostemma below in the valley bottoms for them.  We’re still riding Nimby and Loompy through gardens and seemingly arranged displays of pink Fairy Duster, purple, yellow, or blue “composites” in near overwhelming array, and even Ocotillo and desert Sumac coming back into flower.  It just fills one with wonder.

February 26, 2014

Snipe on The Cienega, creeping, hiding, like a mammal in green tussocks.

The blue-green Stockpond is lightly ruffled by Spring breezes, on it bob a pair of Mexican Mallards and a pair of Cinnamon Teal. The male teal is a color deep and rich, carnelian and that very rich cinnamon of theirs.  The black bill is set off by a red eye startling as a jewel set into the idol, Matrix, the Mother–Nature–from whence we came, to which we go, in which we are.

In what is called “Winter” here this landscape is as richly toned as the great black-and-white Hollywood romances of the 1930s–but that is gone by this last week of February, the Cottonwoods are already a splash of watercolor green and now they remind me of my mother tinting with Easter egg dye the black-and-white kodak snapshots of the 1950s (who could afford color film then?), green for a dress, red for her lips.  While Arizonans pride ourselves on toughing out some of the wildest heat on Earth, we also resist letting go of the precious cold, but the season is being overpowered before our disbelieving eyes.  It’s sinking in that we are not this year to have the dramatic canvasses to treasure of stark white Cottonwood trunks against a frigid blackening sky as snow flurries sweep in, no, not in this Winter That Never Really Was.  There will be no dawn of surpassing enchantment of Silver Fog this year, when a white cloud is snuggled down over the mesquites and rises in level blanket to just above the treetops, each tiny twig and large limb feathered with frost that picks up and holds within it the sunlight sifting down into the mist from an utterly clear blue sky above the roof of that fog blanket.  I realize sadly that neither are we to see the high double mountain to the south be draped for a day (or even two) in a stunning and surprising blanket of snow: no, Mae West will not be donning her white angora sweater.  It is 77 degrees, on the radio the KXCI deejay tells that orange blossoms are perfuming the air in Tucson, the flower buds of lilacs in Cascabel yards are showing color, violets have been in bloom since December in Pat’s dooryard garden at El Potrero, Bladderpods are in flower in our seldomly used #4 Pasture, and Loggerhead Shrikes are already wandering off and becoming more scarce–been weeks since I’ve seen one–and I expect they’ll move out soon to wherever it is they do go for their own Arizona Summer.  I already miss their sass and chatter and their cheery greeting and know that we’ll probably not hear much more of that until about the time the pastures are to be made ready in September for another Winter’s planting.  Into the ears of even those whose ignorance of the Earth’s climate change is willful are coming these whispers–and shouts–of the possibility we come to be driven out of this already challenging place that ever has been close to the edge of uninhabitability to begin with.  Or … will we find we are going to lose it all through one catastrophic change or another anyway, we who stay on here now and live in the wonder of how this naturalist’s and historian’s and cowboy’s paradise remains what we’ve wanted it to and what we love?  Freeway bypasses … bedroom community subdivisions … drone test range proposals … the road getting completely paved some day … and now: SunZia’s massive sets of high tension electric lines tall as a high-rise, the construction effects collateral that will come with the installation of those lines, the ongoing access needs to service them, with the vehicles to do so, the warning lights that will flash atop them in what was once a desert of darkness inviolate.  I am emotionally unable to watch this happen yet its coming is apparently unstoppable, with likely its first destruction flowing into this valley through the saddle between Mason Pastures and the Mae West Peaks, after the towers make that wildland pass from Willcox over which year after year we carry our grassfed beeves on the last trailer trip of their lives.  SunZia would be a pill deadly to each of us here in personally different ways; for me the gaul in it is that I am expected to surrender with grace and peaceable resignation what is left in my life to love above all things, surrender it to someone else who through power-sucking video games and consoles can only live through a screen’s virtual reality a life as exciting as the one I do in real reality.   My ranching existence as it presents in the Contemporary West will be sacrificed to someone else’s artificial existence as it presents in a fabricated Old West of, e.g., the gunslinging and fabulously popular, fabulously and deeply disturbingly violent game (complete with human gore oft-splattered onto the screen) set in an imagined Southwest borderland, “Red Dead Redemption”, which enthusiastic gaming reviews say “expertly captures the Wild West.”   What it really captures is the market demographic of young males who are the usual rattlesnake bite victims hauled off to the emergency room.  Cascabel and my life under the Mae West Peaks will be sold for a mess of wattage.

Not that I haven’t thought of leaving, or haven’t tried to leave and more than once, but … well, I’ll go, but will this be the year like 2001 when wildflowers bloom spectacularly again, so I ought to wait and see if they do, I mean, that can’t be missed … oh but then the warblers are soon to pass through after that, well, I can stay at least long enough to enjoy migration one more time, and the arrival and singing of our Mexican bird specialties … and calves! who’d want to miss the calves? … and oh yes, scattering the herd on the range, well I want to do that one more year, give one more go at it, I can hang around that long … the sizzling Foresummer, with all the world looking to the sky for the first grand thunderheads to form … the season of delicious and beautiful red Saguaro fruits … no, can’t leave when the Monsoon is about to make every creature human and otherwise happy, and excited, and bring raging washes and flashfloods to liven up the day, or night … wait, the Barrel Cactus are really going to go nuts with flowers this summer, you can see all the buds and it’s so much fun to ride out and compare them all one to the other … ah, no, better not leave now, maybe I’ll go next month, can’t do it with the skies of September about to bless us with their O’keefe cloudscapes and dazzling huge moonrises … oh hell, leaving can wait until after we watch the pastures we’ve seed-planted sprout and thicken and become as emerald as Ireland … got to see the snow return to the high country around us in all directions, then I can go … but look, there are so many millions of wildflower seedlings, this could be the best year yet for The Show though it had better rain damn soon or we’ll lose it …  I’ll leave after that!

[…]

Sunset is fire, and lilac.

February 25, 2014

Much cooler today of a sudden (only in the low 70s, hah!) but this makes for a heart-singing ride on range for Pat and me to check on cows whose calves will be coming as Spring progresses.  The Ocotillo are in the most spectacular bud we’ve ever seen: “It’ll be quite gaudy!” says Pat … “Sure will!” say I.  But all is already become gaudy, with the blues and violets of Lupines, white of Desert Chicory, White Pincussions, yellows of the subtly beautiful Desert Dandelion, Bladderpods, shining golden Blazingstar, Creosote Bush in its own bloom of Chinese yellow, yellow Evening Primroses–most everything the color of Sun who has come home to Its desert fastness.  There are splashes of many other colors, too: Three-awn Grass in bloom, and purple Phacelia, the bright green of Acacia coming into leaf, the pale green of “Pale Face” Hibiscus’ new leaves.  Both the Christmas Cholla cactus and the low, round Mammilaria are gloriously decked out in their red fruits.  The incredibly fleet of foot Zebra-tailed Lizards shoot off in different directions as we help our horses place their feet in spaces between flowers, those lizards popping and whip-jumping their tails around in the air over their backs like cats do when they stare at something on which they’re about to jump.  We come to Fenceline Drinker to water the horses (I remember one of my old cow bosses saying, “Never pass water without offerin’ ’em some!”), find the bright green water scattered as with the petals of apple blossoms but what is a-swirl on it are little pink moths, some flapping their spread out wings in sad effort to lift off the surface they’ve fallen into.  Most are already still.

In the evening at Mason’s, a bat comes flying down The Lane to The Stockpond I’ve just filled, and laps the fresh water …

 

February 22, 2014

Crescent Moon looks like an illustration in a children’s book, distracts me from the dream I’ve just awakened from in which a Screech Owl was in her bare, spare tree-hollow, reaching up, being fed by her mate a Bewick’s Wren.  One is a Rancher, one an Environmentalist.  Will they be fertile?  The offspring from this pairing coming to fledge is the only hope The West may have as a place to be authentically occupied.

 

Broad-billed Hummingbirds are sipping at the nectar feeders of El Potrero, Cottonwoods are now a glowing green that equals the glitter of the little birds.

 

A pair of what must be Mexican Mallards are there when I reach Mason Pastures, and around the edges of The Stockpond in the mesquite branches are Ruby-crowned Kinglets, now appearing in greater numbers with the movement of the birds north out of Mexico.  The sprouts of Toloache are a few inches high, there near the bank, and out on the Cascabel Road.

 

At lunchtime–another pair of the Mallards joins the first, each set of birds perfectly matches the other: in both, one of the partners has a bill of lovely olive green with black nostrils and a black hook on the end, the other an orange bill saddled across in black.  These look to be ducks very much devoted to their mates, as if they are true male/female sets but since none of them look at all like a male Northern Mallard should at this time of year, I wonder if these bill colors can’t be found along an intergrade between the two forms that formerly were considered separate species.  I’ll let the canard illuminati continue their squabble over that, and their endless lumping and splitting of the two mallards, Mexican and Northern.  The legs of all of these are bright coral-colored, drawing the eye sharply to them.

February 14, 2014

Spring in the air, spring in our step as we the more lightly for our joy in the season swing into stirrups, go see what the herd is up to on the mesas and arroyos, and what the drifts and sweeps of wildflower seedlings are up to. The first Vermillion Flycatcher returned from the south burns and flames at a mesquite tip at El Potrero, after a little more than three months absent. On range the Barrel Cactus fruit bowls are beginning to be picked over, and some are even emptied now. Poppies are showing their colors and are unfurled when the thermometer hits 85 degrees, and Fiddleneck is in bloom, and the Ocotillo wands hold masses of porcelain buds at their tips–but the rains have withdrawn, enough to jolt realism into those high hopes that we every year carry for color to blanket the hills and lush Fillaree be there for our wildlands cattle.

February 7, 2014

A sudden rain awakens me in the Cowboy Caravan, is brief, gone, Venus rises and is a spectacle. The deep dust outside isn’t much ruffled by the big drops.

Before sliding into chaps, buckling on spurs and saddling horses with Pat to ride for cows on range, I speed down to the winter green fields to set the day’s watering. A Gray Fox with orange-red legs and a red head is out on one pasture, staring and staring, or sneaking up to the burrows of one critter or another … mice? gophers? jackrabbits?

On range we find the wildflowers much progressed, so much so that it seems we’re promised a colorful Spring. It’s often prematurely announced that there will be! but–the Bladderpod are fat, healthy, and are even showing flower scapes already, and this gives hope.

February 5, 2014

Tansy Mustard, in bloom already at the pastures’ edges. There is much marveling in Cascabel over the many plants coming into flower weeks earlier than anyone remembers. And now a “Polka Dot Beetle” with twelve spots … which should I suppose be well and truly called Cucumber Beetle, whatever the identity of the earlier, fewer-spotted ones. Will it be a thirteen-spotted one tomorrow?

True evening Winter splendor tonight … the Galiuro ramparts are dark, all the ridges that rim, protect and tell us what is our “Cascabel” are dark, and alone out of the middle of this vast shadow-world rises Sierra Blanca from Saguaro-Juniper’s high ranges to the northeast, dazzling for some moments in the last full rays of Sun, as white as a sand dune and shaped like one, the shadows on its peak milky-green. I turn away from this grand mural hung before, over and around me, and see that Bobcat has come to join me in the pasture. It lounges, serenely, like an odalisque behind the bar in an old cow town saloon. As if a switch were thrown darkness comes, and the hovering mirage of Sierra Blanca vanishes in an instant.

January 30, 2014

Bob comes to help dig mesquite, and reports there are Mexican Mallards on The Stockpond and while we are working, he finds the first Filaree in bloom with its flowers of an odd hue of magenta washed with blue. A brown and russet young Harrier patrols around us on tilting wings.

The day warms … and warms … … 78 degrees … … and out come more Bronze Dragonflies and even Sulphur Butterflies. Well so much for Winter, which I’ll declare has lasted all of six weeks and two days, and began the day after I marked the end of “Fall” when the last of the Sulphurs were a-wing in mid-December on the last day of that month that had reached 75. My shirt is soon darkened by sweat as I dig out those T-posts of the fence long ago so buried in silt and gravel of sheet flooding that Mycha can lightly step over it and get loose on the Cascabel Road if the top wire isn’t raised by another two feet to that optimum 48 inches. Already chores like this one are nagging me, that I’m afraid won’t get done before Summer but better well be. There’s not much I hate more to hear than a voice on the phone telling, just as I’ve put feet up, “Um … your cows are out.”

January 23, 2014

The wildlfower seedlings on range are making it, despite no rain for more than a month! From high on our horses the billions of plantlets look so tiny, so fragile, but a green haze steals across the mesa tops and bajadas. That great hope of most every Southwestern stockman of these tierras calientes, that gives extra strength to the graze of Winter and Spring–the Filaree (a naturalized species of Stork’s Bill “geranium”)–is promising to save us from bringing the herd down sooner than we’d like. The broad flats of it could all disappear tomorrow, though, in just the way they have time and time again during other Springs when the Pacific fronts and their equipatas rains were their fickle selves and uncaring of the wants of us no account humans.