Encanto Walk #1

Swans head for a siesta in the shade.

Swans head for a siesta in the shade.

It is a Tuesday, early afternoon in sunny Phoenix.  Temps in the low 90s.  On my way to the town’s best cheeseburger at the Encanto Golf Course cafe.  Encanto means “charm” in Spanish.  Just looked it up.

I pass the residence in Palmcroft where I first saw my first-ever purple-flowered artichoke. The plant is pretty much shot but the flowers still dazzle.

The park is dead. A pair of lovers lie in the grass under a shade tree. Only one picnic table being used.  Dozens of pigeons and doves feeding on the ground. Everywhere.

A bridge I've crossed over many a time.

A bridge I’ve crossed over many a time.

The swimming pool is filled now.  They began running water into it on the 16th.  The surface is roughed by a stout west wind.  Pool probably opens this weekend. Someone is cleaning up the Snack Bar.

A man in his 60s waves a puny metal detector over a grassy spot near the lagoon.  Looking for coins and other lost valuables, I assume.  I ask how deep the detector can go.  Unsure, he stops to look at a screen on his gadget.  “About 8 inches” is the reply. “But I never find anything that deep.”

An American flag flutters in the wind by the meeting hall.  Reminds of a recent trip I made down Car Row on East Camelback.  Enormous flags flew over four dealerships.  Dealers dig big flags. The bigger the better.  Phony patriotism but good for business.  Two of the flags at half-mast, Honda and Toyota.  Not so at the two U.S. places. Japanese have to fight harder for the dollar than domestics.

Lots of geese and swans floating around in the large lagoon.  One Mallard and a Coot also.

Cafe is all but empty.  Two elderly duffers sit behind me talking golf.  Out the barred windows I see the driving range.  No hackers today.  See only four guys with smooth swings.

A stranger. Not sure what it is.

A stranger. Not sure what it is.

Order the cheeseburger with pot salad and all the fixings.  Lettuce, mustard, pickles, tomatoes and onions. Pepper’s on the table.  Cheese. Swiss or American? I make the patriotic choice. But really. Hate the big-holed Swiss. Comes to just over $7 with tax.  I slip a dollar bill into the tip jar. Service is quicker than usual.  A new female cook.  I tell her about my recent unimpressive visit to at the ShakeShack at Uptown Plaza.  She seems pleased that I like her cooking better than that new “cool” place she’s never heard of. Better food here, bigger portions, less expensive.

Stood by a bench and watched a dozen or so racist pigeons fight over a piece of bread on the ground.  Scrap over a scrap. A grackle and starling finally give up.  Chased away every time.

Checked my pedometer when I get home.  Picked up about 5,000 steps of my 10,000 daily quota. Makes me feel good. I’m much the slackard lately.


A quiet battleground

Bird of Paradise near the swimming pool entrance.

Bird of Paradise near the swimming pool entrance.

It’s been the same now for a while.  When I feel desperate for the best cheeseburger in town, I head out north from my house to the Encanto Golf Course cafe.  A short walk.  One and one-tenth of a mile by my GPS. Round-trip, it eats about 30 minutes of my usual languorous noon-hour.

The now well-worn route of mine takes me through the old-money neighborhood of Palmcroft and on up to the quiet battleground that is Encanto Park.

Encanto by description offers the best of city living.  A large park with room to roam among the shadows of palms and other tall trees, a large swimming pool, numerous basketball and tennis courts, a patch of sand for volleyball, a softball and soccer field, picnic tables, a large lagoon with a wide array of waterfowl, a boathouse built in 1936 for paddlers, a meeting  hall, parking lots and an 18-hole, grass-green golf course with driving range and practice putting greens.  And a small cafe.

Filling the swimming pool.

Filling the swimming pool.

The tension comes like this.  Encanto is surrounded by several historic neighborhoods like Fairview, Palmcroft and, yes, Encanto where home owners increasingly like their peace and quiet.  This at a time when an increasing Phoenix population of mostly-young Hispanics and their families are drawn to the park’s soccer field and weekend picnic tables.

Add to that a sizeable number of young black basketball enthusiasts who flock to the courts at night.

The city has countered this activity on weekends with blocked residential streets on two sides of Encanto where it is easiest to park.  “Local traffic only” signs bar entrance.  And as far as I can tell the signs are obeyed.  Park lights go off at 10, just when youth gets rolling.

The Boathouse, built in 1936.

The Boathouse, built in 1936.

Whether this irritation at Encanto is measured by decibel, lumen or skin color I do not know.  Perhaps all three.  I do know there is a growing resentment in town toward the dark races, particularly Latins.  As the trend continues, whites in Phoenix will be the minority in a few decades.  The salvation, some whites seem to think, is Trump’s Great Wall along the border with Mexico.

In any case I am drawn to this tinge of tension as I stroll through the area armed with only my trekking pole (protection from unleashed dogs), a camera and a backpack loaded with reading materials, notebooks and writing tools.

I plan to post regularly from my walks up to the city’s best cheeseburgers.  I will tentatively, maybe permanently, call these posts, “Encanto Walk.”


Lies of our fathers

From almost the moment of birth, we are bombarded by lies and half-truths.  And by the time we die, one might say most of our lives amounted to nothing more than a dream mixed with a dab of reality.

I was reminded of this today in reading a NYT article, “Author Now Doubts His Father was in Famed Iwo Jima Photo.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/04/us/iwo-jima-marines-bradley.html?_r=0

The author of “Flags of Our Fathers,” James Bradley, was duped in believing his father, John, was one of the six fighting men seen atop Mount Suribachi, raising the American flag.  The photo by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press — shot on Feb 13, 1945, as WWII wound down — has become a symbol of patriotism and America’s fighting spirit.  The photo earned Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize.  President Harry Truman and the U.S. government promoted the photo, helping to enrich American coffers with war-bond money. Yet it has been known for many years now that the photo was a lie.  Rosenthal’s photo was the second flag-raising and staged.

Doubts were raised about John Bradley’s involvement two years ago in an article that appeared in the Omaha World Herald.  Two amateur historians studied the pants, headgear and cartridge belts on a photo taken of John Bradley at the first flag-raising.  They discovered the items did not match “John Bradley” in the second photograph.

Why it took James Bradley, the son and author, all this time to question the authenticity of his father’s role is not fully known.  The obvious reason is that the author did not want to admit his own glaring error.

The arid lands did not go without its own “hero” at Iwo Jima. There was an Arizonan in the famous second photo.  Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian whose home was on a reservation just south of Phoenix, was identified as the last Marine in line, the one with his hands off the flag.  He came home a hero, though I doubt he believed he was one. The highest mountain in the Estrella range southwest of Phoenix is named in his honor.  No evidence has yet revealed that he was not in the famous Suribachi photo.

Living in America is smoke and mirrors.  You never know for sure what is truth and what is a lie.


That artichoke thing

SCC's Artie the Artichoke

Artie the Artichoke

While I relish eating the “meat” of an artichoke leaf, particularly when  dipped in hot, melted butter, that is about the limit of my endearment.  Except for its pretty bluish flower, the artichoke is one of plant world’s also-rans.  Even the taste is bland if eaten plain.

So, one of the amazing things when I first moved to the arid lands was to learn of a local college team named the Fighting Artichokes.  After laughing, I grew disgusted.  How can anyone degrade the most sacred shrine of America that is its sports teams?

The real thing.

The real thing.

Scottsdale Community College’s student body in a moment of anguish over the school’s budget in the 1970s, grasped  onto the artichoke in hopes to embarrass the institution which seemed to outlay a too generous portion to athletics.  Anyone who follows community college sports knows that almost no one attends the games, and that athletic departments can not support themselves without public financing.  At that level of play, community college sports are welfare projects.

So, out of this mess was born the team mascot, Artie the Artichoke.  And as camp as it sounds, the student body has embraced him, apparently in defiance of all logic and heavenly standards.

I personally have never seen a sports contest at Scottsdale CC.  I think I will put it on my schedule for a football game in the coming season.  Just to see the mascot at work, and listen for the opponents yell  “Go, ‘chokers.”

Delta's Fighting Okra

Delta’s Fighting Okra

The one game I would pay dearly to watch is Scottsdale v. Delta State University.

Delta, a four-year school in Cleveland, Mississippi, has a mascot that was ranked No. 1 by toptenz.net as the worst sports name in our fair land.

The Fighting Okra.

Scottsdale CC finished at lowly No. 4.  Hard to believe.


Umpiring by sound

Home plate umpire watches and listens.

Home plate umpire watches and listens.

If you go to the ballpark for a game, you are almost sure to hear a heckler yell to the umpire, “You’re blind as a bat.”

Having umpired more than 1,000 baseball games from kids to pros, I discovered the ear was as valuable as the eye.

Take a close play at first base.  The umpire has his eye on the runner’s foot to see when it touches the bag.  And at the same moment he listens for the ball to hit the first baseman’s glove. Then he makes the call.  Which got there first, foot or ball?  So it is not so much a bang-bang play as a thud-thud.

It is the same with the home plate umpire.  A manager storms out to question whether a batter was hit by a pitch.  “How can you possibly see a 90 mph fastball clip the loose end of a batter’s jersey?”  The answer is, no, I didn’t see it.  I heard it. And the batter is awarded first base. A pitched ball makes a “tic” sound when it touches the shirt.  You will rarely see a catcher argue those calls.  He hears what the umpires hears.

The same could be said for foul balls.  A runner attempts to steal second base as the batter swings at a high pitch that eludes the catcher’s mitt.  Everyone but the umpire and catcher think the runner will now be safe on second base.  But the umpire has heard the “tic” of the ball grazing the bat, and the runner must return to first base.

Maybe the heckler should yell, “You’re deaf as a rock.”



No bobcats, but . . .

The preserve’s west valley with Teddy Bear in foreground..

I hiked the Bobcat Trail yesterday.  It is a small trail in a small preserve.  It is also a long way from my home in Phoenix.  Twenty-five miles north to be somewhat precise.  It is always worth the drive, though, particularly this time of year when desert blooms come to life.

Buckhorn bloom everywhere.

Buckhorn bloom everywhere.

To get to the Bobcat from Desert Vista Trailhead on the south side, you walk along two other trails, the Hawk’s Nest and the Dixie Loop.

The Hawk’s Nest was particularly aggravating today.  It is steep and then boring too.  It has a lot of what I call stumble rocks.  They range up to 3″ in diameter.  I had sprained an ankle in mid-December and so was wary of them.  But on reaching the saddle at the end of the Hawk’s Nest, I looked out on a valley to the north that seemed to offer plenty of photo ops.

To reach the valley, you have to do an “S” around a small peak.  Even on this short arc, I found interesting stuff.

Beneath a creosote with shriveling yellow flowers and clusters of gray seedballs, I found numerous holes in the dirt.  I assume some small animals had dug them.  Their midden I assumed was directly under the creosote.  Antelope squirrels perhaps.  Later on I saw a similar structure, again under a creosote, only this time the midden was protected by a wall of sharp-thorned Teddy Bear Cholla balls.  That meant it was likely home to packrats.

Doesn't look like any of my old crates.

Doesn’t look like any of my old crates.

About a mile and a quarter from the trailhead where I had begun this hike, I came across the hull of an abandoned automobile.  It was rusted and old, a 1950s model I estimated.  Immediately, a few of my own cars came to mind.  A 1939 Plymouth, in need of a muffler, that I drove to construction sites in Kansas.  The other a 1940s Dodge sedan that I purchased with an Army buddy at Fort Lewis in Washington state.  Great strategy was required to operate the Dodge.  It needed a battery we could not afford.  Parking it on the downside of a hill was essential.

To start it, the stick shift was placed neutral, and after manually pushing it a bit, one of us would jump in the driver’s seat while the Dodge gathered steam downhill, slam the gear into 2nd and pray the engine would start.  Usually it did. Equally important was the person in the driver’s seat wait on his buddy before driving off to Tacoma.

Finally in the valley, I started bumping into, not literally of course, the flowering Buckhorn Cholla and Compass Barrel cactus.

To my surprise, I saw a Teddy Bear in bloom.  Amazing, in all my years of hiking, I had not seen or noticed a single Teddy Bear flower.  I guess I assumed they did not bloom. The blooms are a yellowish-green, almost the color of the plant itself.  Ah, my first photo of a Teddy Bear in flower.

Teddy Bear Cholla.

Teddy Bear Cholla.

The last mile of my 3-mile, one-way traverse of the preserve was the unspectacular Bobcat Trail.  Nothing exciting here to see.  Just a flat trail through mostly Creosote, Brittlebush and Palo Verde.

I did not mind the Bobcat was so ordinary.  No bobcats either.  Not even a field mouse a bobcat could eat.

But I had seen some beautiful cactus flowers along the way on the Dixie Loop Trail.  And now I was going back, hopefully to the nest of a Great Horned Owl.

Another gorgeous Sonoran Desert sunset.

Another gorgeous Sonoran Desert sunset.

The long drive out had been more than worth it.

Owl’s nest blues

Mama owl eyes the photogrpaher.

Mama owl eyes the photogrpaher.

Finishing a 6 1/2 mile hike yesterday north of Phoenix, the lords of Naturedom rewarded my efforts with a photo-op.

I was photographing a blooming Teddy Bear Cholla, when a jogger came down the trail and, seeing I had a serious camera in hand, suggested I might want to  shoot an owl’s nest with a mama and three babies.  My ears perked up.

“I may have to cut my hike short,” I told the man and thanked him for the tip and the history;  The bird, a Great Horned Owl, had returned to the same spot for at least the last three years to raise her young.  Two babies last year and three the year before.

As bird's nests go, this one is metropolitan-sized.

As bird’s nests go, this one is metropolitan-sized.

Unfortunately I did not cut the hike short. I returned later to the spot the jogger mentioned.  It was near sunset and while I could see from a distance the ears of Mama, the youngsters were out of sight, snuggled no doubt at the base of a very large nest of sticks.  The nest was cradled in a good-sized Saguaro.  I edged forward and click, click.

The few photos would normally find a place in the Trash Bin.  But I had hiked so far, gone up so many steep places in the trail, I thought, “Why not?”  So I hit the Publish button.

So much for setting priorities.