And in this corner the champion mourning dove

If sightings meant anything at all, the mourning dove would be the Arizona state bird, not the cactus wren.  For the previous eight years in the last 14 of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), the mourning dove has finished No. 1 on the state’s sightings list.

It is again on top this year as results of last weekend’s count are being tallied.  Observers have until March 5 to submit their lists from viewing sessions of February 17-20.

The cactus wren, which became the state bird in 1931, has never been close to No. 1.  In fact it has not finished among the top 25 species since 2005.  It ranks 35th so far this year.

Beside the mourning dove, the house finch, house sparrow and Gambel’s quail are perennial top 5 contenders in Arizona.

This year two relative newcomers are reaching for the top rung.  The northern shoveler is No. 3 and the American coot is 4.  More than one half of the shovelers reported were seen in the Prescott area, and more than a quarter of the coots were found in Scottsdale.

On the overall list, the mourning dove is the second most seen bird behind the Northern cardinal.  The cardinal has been on top of the sightings list since 2005.

Arizona is No. 4 in reporting the most species, trailing California, Texas and Florida.  And Tucson ranks 9th among localities in that same category.

All of which does little to explain how the cactus wren was accorded such lofty status in Arizona.  My bet is the wren hired a bigtime lobbyist to grease the skids at the Legislature.

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Wildflowers: A chance meeting

California poppies along Pass Mountain Trail.

Yesterday while hiking the perimeter trail around Pass Mountain, I ran into a welcome sight.  I was coming up to the saddle on the mountain’s west flank and there they were.  Patches of golden California poppies, one after another for the next mile or so, hugging the trail like crazy.

I say “a welcome sight” because I’d sped along ground I’d covered before on the mountain’s southern side, not much interested.  Just trying to complete the Pass Mountain Trail before dark.

By the time I hit the saddle and poppy heaven, the hike had taken me 3-4 miles from where I put in at the Tonto National Forest trailhead far to the east, at Meridian and McDowell.  If I been looking only for wildflowers and had known where they were,  I’d have struck out from the Wind Cave Trailhead in Usery Mountain Regional Park, coughing up the steep $6 a car fee.  Or better yet, I would’ve tried to find the short trail off of Usery Pass Road.

Sometimes the unexpected has its own rewards.  When you’re expecting something and have an idea what you want to see, the sensation is less, often much less.  Sometimes you’re disappointed.

In addition to the poppies and a few other kinds of wildflowers, the saddle and the “hidden” north side of Pass Mountain offered grand views to the city of Fountain Hills and beyond to the majestic Four Peaks in the Mazatzals.  And if you dare walk farther, as I did, to complete the loop, a view of the dramatic cliffs of the Superstitions appear at the east end, the cliffs a truly memorable view at sunset.

But those panoramic scenes will always be there.  Today the poppies stole the show.

The death of Marie Colvin

It is easy to get caught up in your persona.  Your image sometimes becomes more important than logic.  When that happens you act irrationally.   You have to wonder if that’s what happened in the case of Marie Colvin, the war correspondent who was killed February 22 in the besieged Syrian city of Homs.

Colvin by all accounts was a fearless and admired reporter.  She lost an eye covering hostilities in Sri Lanka.  She found a way to interview the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.  She had been in many tight spots.  At age 56, she knew the score.

“We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story,” she was quoted as saying in the New York Times this morning.  “What is bravery and what is bravado?”  Exactly.

I admit to a little anger with her death.  I think of all the valuable stories she might have done, and I think of Homs who some regard as one of the most dangerous places on earth.  Some say it compares only with the brutality in Chechnya.  I hope she was not trying to live up to her reputation for bravery.  The story of Homs needed to be revealed to the western world.  But was this the right time?  Apparently not.  The risk is too high.

Arizona’s Centennial: Putting the worst foot forward

The capitol's back there somewhere. Isn't it?

It is now three days after Arizona’s centennial “celebration” or whatever it was.  It has taken this long for me to come out from the shock of witnessing such a sorry spectacle.  I expected more, even from the dusty minds of Arizona legislators and officials or whoever the madman that designed this supposedly momentous occasion.

Arizona’s founding fathers would bow their heads in shame.

Of the many blunders made by organizers, I can’t think of a more stupendous one than hiding what should have been the main attraction.  The old capitol building.   Yes, it is small.  But it’s a handsome small with that a pretty and symbolic copper dome and Lady Liberty rotating above it.  And what’s more, it actually has historic value unlike what appeared on the huge platform stage in front of it.   As it was, you wouldn’t have given a thought about the capitol until they shot off fireworks from the roof.

Current events, little history.

Imagine the Gin Blossoms on Saturday night and Wayne Newton on Centennial Day, the 14th!  And the aging Newton singing of all things, “Vive Las Vegas” to open his act.  Vegas was nothing 100 years ago.  It’s probably no big deal either that the Blossoms’ lead singer said “shit” for all to hear.  Again no historical value.  The vulgarism wasn’t in use at the time of Arizona’s birth in 1912 and didn’t become popularized until World War II.  So there.

The history tent along “Centennial Way” on Saturday night was far out of the limelight.  It held many interesting snippets on the state’s past but few visitors.  There was Father Kino to Cochise and the late great Jack Swilling,  the first governor George W. P. Hunt and to Barry Goldwater.  Of course, as I wrote earlier, it was a farce in a way, not mentioning, much less praising, the federal government for providing the state with its ultimate need, water.  It was fed dollars that built the dams and Central Arizona Project, that long straw siphoning off river water from the Colorado to quench the thirst of Tucson and Phoenix and farmers in between.  Without that money you wonder where Arizona would be today, if at anywhere

The one thing done right was hiding the Bomb Squad truck in semi-darkness at the side of the capitol.  No need to remind us on such a festive occasion that life has changed for the worse in the last decade.  We live in fear now, waiting for the next terrorist act, the “pioneer spirit” of the old Arizonan long gone.

Carl Hayden Memorial
What would Carl Hayden have thought?

And farther back in darkness, behind the Bomb truck, the shadowy statue of Carl Hayden, the former U.S. Senator and, really, the “father of modern Arizona.”  It was Hayden, the one most responsible for the Central Arizona Project, who would tell then governor Paul Fannin to let federal dollars build the CAP and hold tight to Arizona’s money.  That of course is one good reason to keep the Hayden memorial in the dark zone.  This is a time when “federal government” is a dirty word to most Arizonans.  We continue to take fed money, then slap it in the face.

1912 Ford should've been front and center.

Had I organized the Centennial I would have put the makeshift stage and its less than electric entertainment across the street in Wesley Bolin Plaza.  I would have lit up the capitol building like never before, even though the ugly highrise tower behind it is now the functioning capitol.  The old capitol would’ve been ground zero, the star.  I would have had a fireworks show to end all shows, not the thrifty one that unfolded —  and put that across the street too.  In front of the capitol I would have had skits about Arizona’s past, using the best of the state’s actors.  I would have taken some of those antique cars, like the 1912 Ford, and displayed them in the street right in front of the capitol.  I would have had people dressed in the styles of a century ago walking through the crowd.  I could go on for a while.

But of course no one asked me.

This, I believe, was the guiding light of the organizers:  “Let’s get this over as quickly as we can, and move on to important issues like building the border wall with Mexico and making sure every college student has a gun in his holster when he attends class — and do it all as cheaply as possible.”

Happy Birthday, Arizona.

Arizona Centennial Day and “Vive Las Vegas”

Wayne Newton headliner for Arizona Centennial Day.

There he was, singer Wayne Newton, soon to be 70, on center stage for Arizona’s Centennial Day celebration today at the capitol.  This is who Arizona wants to put in the spotlight for its 100th birthday?

Newton is far past his prime, his voice embarrassingly croaky and off-key, his face bloated to the point it looks like his dark skin has melted.  His hair is darkened to a deep black and slicked down.  He is trying to be 40 again, the King of Las Vegas, a flush time when he had so much money he came close to buying the Aladdin Hotel.  And, a bystander said, Newton opened his Centennial performance today, not with even “Happy Birthday, Arizona,” but with “Vive Las Vegas” what else?  Unless seriously mistaken, I believe Vegas is still in Nevada.  Well, you might say, it’s in the West anyway.

One is tempted to buy into this youthful farce out of kindness and for old times sake, but the bad voice ruins it all.  Like Glen Campbell only worse.  “Aging can be cruel,” Newton said between songs, not referring specifically to the mutilation of his vocal chords.  But that’s what he meant.  And he’ll keep the paycheck, thank you.

Several hundred showed up for ther performance.  I didn’t take count but it looked largely like the older set, those among us who want to turn back the clock and reminisce about way back when.  When life was really good.  You know, before Obama.

Newton does have his Arizona ties.  His family moved to Phoenix when he was 10,  He stayed a while and left us.  The Newtons transplants just like a zillion others in this state.  But, really, Newton is identified far more with Las Vegas than anything in the Grand Canyon State.

So what were they thinking of, you might ask of those Centennial officials who hired Wayne Newton for such a momentous occasion?

I have a theory.  The Newton audience was exactly the same crowd the Republican-controlled state Legislature plays to everyday of the session.  Old folks and others on the ultra right with dusty ideas, if any at all, who want to drag us back into the 1950s and beyond.  Maybe even to the Dark Ages.  This game is called “Keep Your Constituents Happy.”  Forget a joyous and meaningful Centennial celebration.

“Vive Las Vegas!”  What else can you say?

Et al, et cetera

The flap over the Susan G. Komen for The Cure foundation struck home recently.  Our neighbor, M.R., said she “resigned” from the Phoenix Affiliate because of Komen’s right-wing agenda to defund Planned Parenthood because it wants to appease the anti-abortion people.  “I control my uterus,” she said.  “No one else is going to.”  M.R. claims to have raised $20,000 a year for the Komen breast cancer cause and the Affiliate’s annual 60-mile “Race for the Cure.” . . . I had one brief but meaningful telephone conversation in 1982 with Angelo Dundee, who died February 1.  Dundee was the most noted boxing trainer of his time.  I was researching a story on the use of painkillers by professional athletes for the Arizona Republic.  I reached Dundee at a training facility in Tampa, and he told me his former protegé, heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, could not have fought later in his long career without the use of painkillers for chronic pain in his hands.  I subsequently talked by phone with Ali, who strongly denied he ever took any kind of painkillers. . . . The Arizona centennial celebration on Saturday night, Feb. 11, was a bust.  Only several hundred were on hand for the Gin Blossoms rock concert and fireworks shot off from the roofs of the capitol dome and the House and Senate buildings.  Arizonans have little knowledge of state history and, what’s more, they don’t care. . . .

Arizona and federal dollars: The truth that no one wants to see

Arizona’s centennial arrives tomorrow.  The state has come a long way, baby, thanks, we are told, to the 5 Cs.  Copper, cotton, citrus, cattle and climate.  The myth-makers have left out one thing.  The big “F.”  Federal government dollars.

Nowhere along Centennial Way during last weekend’s celebration did you see mention of “federal dollars” as the largest contributor to what modern Arizona is all about.  It’s politically incorrect to say so.   Arizonans largely believe in the myth that they are remnants of the 19th Century Wild West, gun-totin’ and independent.  Even if you’re originally from Cleveland, you believe that.

The truth is something else.  Arizona is and has always been a government welfare state.  Federal dollars have given arid Arizona its essential necessity, water.  Those dollars built the dams and the Central Arizona Project, the huge canal that carries Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson.   Without federal support there would be no farming industry, no water for irrigating thirsty crops like cotton.

From the very beginning the “pioneering spirit” of Arizona was a myth.  It was the federal government that bore the costs of keeping a military presence in Arizona Territory.  And it was the military that subdued Cochise and the Apaches, action that allowed Arizona to develop its resources and made white settlement possible.   It was the military that built the first roads, erected communications with the outside world via the telegraph, that established farming and ranching industires by paying settlers for cattle, horses, grains, flour et al.

Even today for every dollar Arizonans pay in federal taxes, $1.10 or more is returned.

Until Arizonans begin to face reality and see they are a dependent land, the state will continue its unfortunate path into a Wild West the state’s pioneers never knew.