Four coyotes

I missed a great photograph yesterday.

Hiking solo near sunset along the Shaw Butte Trail in North Mountain Park, literally in the middle of one of the largest cities on earth, I was greeted by a sudden chorus of howls and yips.  I looked to the right to a small butte.  About halfway up I saw something that didn’t match the brush.  That something was light brown.  And it moved.

I yanked the binoculars from my backpack and homed in on the spot.  To my amazement there were four coyotes in plain sight, bunched tightly together on a ledge.  Three were in that classic “howling at the moon” position, heads uplifted to the darkening sky.  The fourth seemed to be looking in my direction, though I can not swear to it.  It was brushy up there and I caught the hint of a small cave off to the right.  I jotted down the time.  It was 5:20, about 35 minutes before official sunset.

In the dying sun, their furry coats were outlined in a yellowish-green, and I dug deeper into my pack to pull out a camera.  I was sure the shot of a lifetime was only seconds away.  But . . . .

The problem was this.  I was inept.  I tried to zoom in on the four, but kept losing them on the digital screen.  I finally located a landmark, a saguaro near the ledge and then another saguaro nearby.  It took about a minute to do this and when finally I had the spot nailed, they were gone.  Only the tops of two small heads with pointy ears could be seen.  I assumed they were cubs lying on the ground.

I heard the pack again at 5:48 and again at 6:08 and 6:12 before leaving the park.  I can only hope there will be a next time.

My personal 2012 Death List

My annual list of notable deaths for 2012 came to a whopping 65.  That compares to 45 in 2010 and 36 in 2011.  I’m unsure why the jump in numbers occurred.  Perhaps it was because as I get older I’m recognizing more and more of my contemporaries.  But more than likely the cause was simply randomness.

The average age was 79.17 years, or just above the U.S. average lifespan.  That’s considerably higher than the previous year’s 73.02, which saw an unusally large number of early deaths, like those of Apple pioneer Steve Jobs (56) and golfer Seve Ballesteros (54).  But 2012 lifespans were at the same time significantly lower than the 83.84 years posted in 2010.

But 2012 did have the oldest death in the three years I’ve kept track.  Jacques Barzun, the writer and culture critic, died at 104.

The five oldest besides Barzun over those years actually came to nine counting ties.  John Wooden (’10) died at 99, musician Mitch Miller (’10) and physical trainer Jack La Lanne (’11) died at 96.  Tied for fifth at 95:  Sargent Shriver (’11), actor Ernest Borgnine, comedienne Phyllis Diller, baseball executive Lee MacPhail and baseball union leader Marvin Miller all died last year.

THE 2012 DEATH LIST

(Listed chronologically)

Etta James, singer, age 73, of complications of leukemia, on January 20, at hospital in Riverside, CA.

Philip Vannatter, lead investigator in the O.J. Simpson murder case, age 70, on January 21, of cancer at Santa Clarita, CA.

Joe Paterno, legendary football coach at Penn State, age 85, of lung cancer, on January 22, at hospital in State College, PA.

Robert Heyges, actor, played Epstein in “Welcome Back Kotter” TV series, age 60, of heart attack, on January 26, at Edison, NJ, hospital.

Don Cornelius, creator of “The Soul Train” TV music show, age 75, suicide (gunshot to the head), on February 1, at his Sherman Oaks, CA, home.

Angelo Dundee, boxing trainer of Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, age 90, of unspecified causes, February 1, in Tampa, FL.

Ben Gazzara, film and stage actor, age 81, on February 3, of pancreatic cancer, in Manhattan.

Whitney Houston, singer, age 48, found dead on February 11 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, likely complications of drug abuse.

Carter, Gary:  Baseball Hall of Fame catcher for Expos and Mets, age 57, of brain cancer, on February 17, in West Palm Beach, FL.

Davy Jones:  Actor-singer in popular TV show, The Monkees, age 66, on February 29, of heart attack in Marin County, FL.

Alex Webster:  NFL player, coach w/NY Giants, age 80, on March 3, of lung cancer and emphysema, in Port St. Lucie, FL.

Mel Parnell:  Major League pitcher with Boston Red Sox, on March 20, age 89, in New Orleans, of pneumonia possibly a result of his lymphoma.

Mike Wallace:  Investigative reporter on “60 Minutes,” on April 7, age 93, in care facility in New Canaan, CT, of undisclosed causes probably heart condition.

Dick Clark:  TV personality incl “American Bandstand,”   on April 18, age 82, in a Santa Monica, CA, hospital, of a heart attack [had stroke in 2004].

Charles Colson:  Watergate figure, aka The Evil Genius, on April 21, age 80, at Inova Fairfax Hospital in northern Virginia, complications from brain surgery.

Bill Skowron:  aka Moose.  Yankees first baseman, April 27, age 81, in Arlington Heights, IL, of congestive heart failure but also had lung cancer.

Junior Seau:  Retired NFL star linebacker, on May 2, age 43, in Oceanside, CA, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.

Nicholas Katzenbach:  Prominent government figure in JFK, LBJ administrations,  on May 8, age 90, at his home in Skillman, NJ, cause not known.

Carlos Fuentes:  Celebrated Mexican author, on May 15, age 83, of an internal hemorrhage, in Mexico City.

Donna Summer:  Singer and “disco queen,” on May 17, age 63, in Englewood, FL, of cancer.

Robin Gibb:  Singer with Bee Gees, on May 20, age 62, in London, of complications  that stemmed from colon cancer.

Orlando Woolridge:  NBA star and WNBA coach, on May 31, age 52, in Mansfield, LA, of chronic heart condition.

Richard Dawson:  TV host of ‘Family Feud,’ on June 2, age 79, Los Angeles, of complications from esophageal cancer.

Ray Bradbury:  Science-fiction writer, on June 5, at age 91, in Los Angeles of unspecified cause.

Rodney King:  Key figure in LA riots of 1991, on June 17, age 47, in Rialto, CA,  found in his swimming pool about 5 a.m.

Norah Ephron:  Author, screenwriter (Sleepless in Seattle et al), on June 26, age 71, in Manhattan, of complications from myeloid leukemia.

Andy Griffith:  Comedian, TV star, on July 3, age 86, at his home on Roanoke Island, Dare Co., NC, of unspecified causes.

Ernest Borgnine:  Film actor, on July 8, at age 95, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, of renal failure.

Richard Zanuck:  film producer, on July 13, at age 77, at his home in Beverly Hills, CA, of a heart attack.

Kitty Wells:  Country singer, on July 16, at age 92, at her home in Madison, TN, complications after a stroke.

Sally Ride:  Astronaut, first American woman in space flight, on July 23, age 61, at her home in La Jolla CA, of pancreatic cancer.

Sherman Hemsley:  Actor of “The Jeffersons,” on July 24, age 74, found dead at his home in El Paso, TX, of undisclosed cause.

Chad Everett:  TV actor, “Medical Center,” on July 24, age 75, at his home in Los Angeles, of lung cancer.

Gore Vidal, gadfly writer-commentator, on July 31, age 86, at his home in Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, complications of pneumonia.

Marvin Hamlisch, music composer, on August 6, age 68, in Los Angeles, collapsed after a short illness.

Johnny Pesky, baseball player with Red Sox, on August 13, age 92, at a hospice in Danvers, MA, of undisclosed cause.

Phyllis Diller, comedienne, on August 20, age 95, at her home in Brentwood, CA, of undisclosed causes.

Neil Armstrong, astronaut and first man to walk on the moon, at age 82, on August 25, (dateline Cincinnati) following “cardiovascular procedures.”

Hal David, lyricist, age 91, on September 1, in Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, of a stroke.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of Unification Church, at age 92, on September 2, Gapyening, South Korea, of complications of pneumonia.

Art Modell, owner of NFL Baltimore Ravens, at age 87, on September 6, in Baltimore, of “natural causes” but had history of heart problems.

Dorothy McGuire, of the singing McGuire Sisters, at age 84, on September 7, in Paradise Valley, AZ, of Parkinson’s Disease and dementia.

Andy Williams, singer, at age 84, on September 25, at his home in Branson, MO, from complications of bladder cancer.

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher of NY Times, on September 29, at age 86, at his home in Southampton, NY, after a long, undisclosed illness.

Alex Karras, All-NFL lineman and actor, on October 10, at age 77, at his home in Los Angeles, of stomach cancer and kidney failure.  Also had dementia.

Beano Cook, TV sports personality, on October 11, at age 81, at his home near Pittsburgh, of unknown cause but was diabetic and in failing health.

Arlen Specter, ex-Senator from Pennsylvania, on Oct 14, at age 82, at his home in Philadelphia, of complications of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

George McGovern, 1972 presidential candidate, on Oct 21 , at age 90, in Sioux Falls, SD, hospice, of numerous medical problems.

Russell Means, Sioux activist, on Oct 22, age 72, at his ranch in Porcupine, SD, of cancer of esophagus.

Jacques Barzun, writer and culture critic, Oct 25, age 104, in San Antonio, TX, of undisclosed causes.

Emanuel Steward, boxing trainer, on Oct 25, age 68, in a Chicago hospital, of undisclosed causes.

Darrell Royal:  Former Texas football coach, on Nov 7, age 88, at an assisted living home in Austin, TX, of Alzhimer’s after a recent fall.

Lee MacPhail, former president of American League and a ex-GM of the Yankees, on Nov 8, age 95, at his home in Delray Beach, FL, of undisclosed causes.

Larry Hagman, actor and star of Dallas TV series, on Nov 23, age 81, at a hospital in Dallas, of throat cancer.

Hector (Macho) Camacho, former champion boxer, on Nov 24, age 50, at a hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico, of gunshot to the head.

Marvin Miller, headed baseball players union, on Nov 27, age 95, at his home in Manhattan, of liver cancer.

Rick Majerus, longtime college basketball coach, on Dec 1, age 64, at a hospital in Los Angeles, of heart failure.

Dave Brubeck, jazz pianist and composer, Dec 5, age 91 (one day before 92), in Norwalk, CT, on his way to cardiologist.

Daniel K. Inouye, longtime Hawaii senator, Dec 17, age 88, Walter Reed National in Bethesda, MD, of respiratory complications.

Robert H. Bork, controversial Supreme Ct nominee in 1987, on Dec 19, age 85, at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, of heart disease.

Jean Harris, famed murderess, on Dec 23, age 89, at assisted living center in New Haven, CT, of undisclosed causes.

Jack Klugman, actor who played Oscar in the “Odd Couple,” on Dec 24, age 90, in Woodland Hills section of LA, of undisclosed causes.

Charles Durning, character actor, on Dec 24, age 89, at his home in Manhattan, of undisclosed causes.

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, led Gulf War forces, on Dec 27, age 78, in Tampa, FL, of complications of pneumonia.

Harry Carey Jr., character actor, on Dec 27, age 21, at a hospice in Santa Barbara, CA, on “natural causes.”

An idol gone

I hadn’t thought of Stan Musial for a long time.  I was startled last weekend to learn he had died.  I don’t know why I was startled.  Maybe I thought he was already dead.  But most likely I was startled because I thought he would probably live forever.

It’s unclear when I first heard the name “Stan Musial.”  It was sometime in grade school though, not long after World War II.   Listening to the radio, I suppose, and picking up a St. Louis Cardinals baseball broadcast for the first time.

In those days, baseball was king.  Television hadn’t arrived.  You couldn’t even find an NFL score in the newspaper.  And pro basketball, well, I barely knew it existed except for the occasional mention of the bespectacled George Mikan, who looked more like a scientist than a ballplayer.

Musial was not only the best player on the Cardinals but a perennial baseball All-Star in a sport that was called “America’s favorite pastime.”

My home was in a small Kansas wheat town, an hour’s drive south of Wichita into what the rest of the world might call nowhere-ville.   I lived in a flat land where nothing much stood out except the local Co-Op grain elevator and the water tower.   There were only two or three big happenings in a year or two.  Like the unexpected death of so and so, or the high school team winning a big game.

But “Stan Musial” and the Cardinals, now that was excitement.  The Cardinals were the only pro team west of the Mississippi, so they were “our” team.

Two nearby radio stations carried almost every Cardinals game.  KSOK (kay-sock) in Arkansas City and WBBZ in Ponca City, Oklahoma.   The stations had decent audio reception during the day, but for night games you had to fight with static to even hear a few words from Harry Caray, the play-by-play guy.   My friend Fid and I would sometimes score the games together, listening in front of the big console radio-record player in my dining room.

For a year or two, I kept Cardinals stats on tablet paper using a pencil and eraser.  If I missed scoring a game, I couldn’t wait to open up the morning Wichita Eagle’s sports section and find the box scores of the previous day’s games and update my entries.  Two problems.  One, the Eagle would invariably screw up and not run a box, so I would be forced to spend some of my allowance on a Sporting News, which carried all box scores.   The second and ultimately fatal problem was the tablet paper.  After numerous erasures and new pencil marks, the paper would wear through, and I would be faced with the big job of copying all the stats down on a fresh piece of paper, which I often was reluctant to do.

Although Musial did not play every game in spring training, it was wonderful to hear those games in Florida while stuck in the house due to snow or rain or frigid air in February and March.  I can still recall Caray’s intro to those games.  Something like “This is Harry Caray with Gabby Street (or later Gus Mancuso) from beautiful Al Lang Field in Tampa . . . .”  And Harry would go on to describe the warm sunshine reflected on gorgeous Tampa Bay, transporting you out of the harsh and glum Kansas winter.

I became a fanatic over Cardinals baseball in a very short time and remember crying bitterly one Saturday night in the bathtub after St. Louis lost a doubleheader in what Harry called “The Blood on the Moon Series” in Brooklyn against the hated Dodgers.

Remembered too was the doubleheader in the Polo Grounds in New York against the Giants when Musial hit five home runs, a record at the time I believe.

In the summer of 1952, my dad gave me the best gift a father could.  He took me to St. Louis in July to see the Cardinals play the Dodgers and Giants at old Sportsmans Park.

We left early and arrived in St. Louis in the evening during a torrential rainstorm.  I feared every game would be postponed.  But the Cardinals, no doubt, knew there were kids like me on their way to the ballpark and got all four games in.  One against the Dodgers, without Jackie Robinson and three versus the Giants and Dusty Rhodes.  It was one of the highlights of my life.  We traveled by trolley to the ballpark and one morning got up early to visit the famed St. Louis Zoo.

For a while I had decals of Musial and other Cardinals players like Country Slaughter, Slats Marion, Red Schoendienst and Harry The Cat Brecheen pasted to a mirror in my bedroom.  I was living and dying with the Cardinals in those days.

It said a lot for my allegiance, I think, since it was a team that seemed to struggle always to rise above mediocre.  Everyone except Musial.  He hit for average, had power and would knock in runs when they counted.  If only he had played somewhere else beside St. Louis, for the Yankees or Dodgers, or had he been less the gentleman, he would’ve been the toast of the world, even more famous than Mantle or DiMaggio.

I no longer remember when I lost complete interest in the Cardinals.  It was a slow process.  I stayed with them well into adulthood.  But I always vividly remembered Musial and the excitement he brought to my life when I was a boy.

Stan Musial died last Saturday, the 19th, in Ladue, a St. Louis suburb I had never heard of.  He was 92.

While it’s true he’s gone now in one sense, Stan the Man will live on in my mind until the last breath.  He is like a synonym for my childhood.

Catching up with Noam

I do not like the idea of privatizing what is in the public domain.

I am for instance against privatizing our schools and Social Security.  I think that is a rip-off.  One leads to teaching for profits and even more brainwashing of American students.  The other would lead to the greatest transference of wealth in the history of man, from regulation by the U.S. government to manipulation by Wall Street bankers.

It was not until I watched today the documentary, “Noam Chomsky:  Rebel Without A Pause,” that I considered another black star against privatization.   According to Chomsky, sometimes referred to as the rock star of intellectuals even now at age 84, it is a way our government and particularly the right-wing of America tries to control us, its citizens.

“It is,” Chomsky says, “part of an effort to break down human solidarity and sympathy.”

Divide and conquer, promote selfishness is the idea here.

Take schools.  Chomsky says privatization encourages us to focus on our children, not someone else’s child from, say, across the street or in another part of town.  Why, then, should we pay taxes to educate someone we don’t care about?

Privatizing Social Security is much the same.  Worry only about our nest egg.  Why should we pay into a system that helps others, even those who are destitute and ill?

If we the millions care nothing about others, we are at the mercy of the few, the controllers.

I am many long years behind on Chomsky.  But I figure it is better to catch up with his ideas now than never.

Frost Patrol: Winners and losers

Our most frigid weather in 34 years is apparently behind us.  It is all blue skies today with temps stretching for 70 F.   But while our Frost Patrol duties are behind for the coming week or so, our plants suffered much damage in the yard and driveway here in central Phoenix.

The Patrol, which consists of Nebra and me, covered for the first time this winter many of our plants with sheets and gunny sacks during the unprecedented wave of Arctic cold.  The blast struck on four successive sub-freezing nights, Jan. 12-15, hitting  31, 30, 30 and 29 degrees.  Very cold indeed for the Sonoran Desert, the first time since 1978 that sub-freezing temps were recorded on this many nights in a row.   In addition, we watered all of them before the storm.

The biggest losers were the Bougainvillea, Wedelia, sweet potato and Lantana.  Almost all were destroyed or drastically hurt.

Survivors of note:  Vinca,  roses (uncovered), geraniums, petunias, Dianthus, ice plant, ferns, Gazania, marigolds, English ivy,  red and purple Salvia, Golden Fleece and a few others.  Plus of course all desert plants.

Films: Serious and making money and yet . . .

It strikes me we are in a good place right now with our movies.  As A.O. Scott, the New York Times film critic, pointed out in a rare Page One article today, “What strikes me about this year’s Oscar nominees is how many of them invite, or even force, their viewers to think, and making thinking part of the pleasure they offer.”

To my mind, thinking or rather not thinking, is the biggest problem in America.  This country needs to think more, argue less, and try to get along.

We are talking here about critical thinking.   It is not enough to just attend “Lincoln” or “Zero Dark Thirty,” and say, aha, we now know the facts of important historical moments.  No, it is thinking about the accuracy of the “facts” presented and trying to understand what they mean.

In “Zero Dark Thirty” we are led to believe the killing of Osama bin Laden was the result of brutal interrogation by the U.S., torture that included waterboarding.  Yet most knowledgeable sources say torture had nothing to do with finding bin Laden.  It can’t be both ways.  At the bottom of the debate is right-wing, pro-George Bush policy adherents.

In “Argo,” the Ben Affleck film about the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, the viewer is clearly given an American point of view.  As I discussed in a review of the film, the Iranian view is absent.  And, thus in my opinion, the film is seriously flawed.  In fact, the film so angered Iran with its prejudicial view that it is planning to make its own film, “The General Staff,” to counter “Argo.”

It is not enough to think as a patriot about the Iranian hostage crisis.  Hopefully, if nothing else, “Argo” will spur you to seek truth.

A search for truth is our salvation as a people, as a nation as a world.

Yes, it is nice to have serious filmmakers.  But if moviegoers are not astute enough to process what is before them with a critical eye, it makes little difference how serious the film.  All is lost, and we are back at the same old square one.

A hiker’s diary: January 2013

Latest entry first.

Big pool along Christiansen Trail left by recent rains.

Big pool along Christiansen Trail left by recent rains.

January 29, Tuesday:  Shaw Butte Trail, North Mountain Park.  It was 55 degrees and breezy and I could see nothing but shade ahead as I trudged up the steep incline on the Shaw Butte summit trail.  So miserable that I turned around and headed back into sunshine.  Good thing that I did or I would’ve missed the coyotes on the other side.  It was about 20 minutes before sunset when I heard the howls and yips from a distance and found four coyotes with my binoculars.  What a thrill! [I’ll write a separate article about the coyotes later].

Is there a more beautiful color than Chuparosa red?

Is there a more beautiful color than Chuparosa red?

The trails were wet still from the recent big rain, but that didn’t stop hikers, bikers and joggers.  I even saw a young man on a scooter, first time ever in the park.  Disgusting.  Thought all motorized vehicles were illegal on these trails.  The rider putt-putted up the Christiansen Trail toward the Pointe Tapatio Cliffs resort.  Probably out-of-state.  But he had a little smile on his face that seemed to say, ha-ha, I’m getting away with something.  Saw a verdin, two Gambel’s quail and an unidentified bird I liken to a fat mockingbird.  No, it wasn’t a Curved-Bill Thrasher.

Sunnyslope Mountain on southern edge of North Mountain Park.

Sunnyslope Mountain on southern edge of North Mountain Park.

January 25, Friday: Sunnyslope Mountain, North Mountain Park.  I had driven along Dunlap many times and given only a cursory look to the hill with the large white-washed “S” on its southern slope.  Every year, I read, freshmen from nearby Sunnyslope High School are assigned to slop more paint on the small rocks.  For months now on the way to hike in North Mountain Park I’d eyed the contour trail that led up to the “S” from the west.

"S" Mountain is the hill on the right as seen here from northwest.

“S” Mountain is the hill on the right as seen here from northwest.

Today, wanting to hike a new trail, I decide to search for an access point that would provide a shortcut to the summit.  Rain is in the air.   While combing through the neighborhood on the south side of the hill, trouble occurs.  An angry middle-age man in a car confronts me.  He is yelling at me at the top of his lungs as he stops.  I roll down my car window.   “This is private property,” he screams.  “What are you doing here?  You’ve driven through once and now you’re driving through again.”  Obviously, he thinks I am a thief casing the area.  “I don’t owe you an explanation for anything,” I say trying to keep cool.  He threatens to call the police and even takes a photograph of my car before driving off with more admonitions.  “I’m tired of getting ripped off,”  he says, adding, “I work for a living.”  Finally, seeing no easy route up to the trail from here and not wanting to get my tires slashed while hiking, I drive up to the park’s 7th Avenue lot, don my backpack  and head out with no clear route to “S” Mountain.  At the southern retention dam, I survey the land below.  A faint trail contours around the hill.  I’m sure the “S” is on the far side of it out of sight.  And I’m right.

I come out at the bottom of the “S,” then scramble along the letter’s west side to the summit.  Nothing much to see here.  Some graffiti, several empty plastic bottles.  The top is fairly flat.  Small outcroppings of rock jot up here and there.  It is beginning to sprinkle when I start back.  Although there were no great sights, I feel a small sense of accomplishment.  I have solved a mystery.  I have found a route to “S” Mountain on my own, no map.

IMG_2254

A pastel eastern sky at sunset.

January 23, Wednesday:  North Mountain Summit.  It is about 20 minutes before the 5:52 sunset when I reach the summit of this small mountain that looks out to metro Phoenix in every direction.  I was up here just three days ago, on the 20th, with Nebra.  Today I’m traveling solo.  An uneven chunk of granite serves as a seat while I chew on a deli sandwich bought at a QT gas station.  It’s delicious.

A-Bomb cloud in west.

A-Bomb cloud?

I’m waiting on the sunset.  It should be nice.  Scattered clouds in the west and east, nice for photos.  I count about a dozen others up here, waiting.  Most have cameras.  I shoot photos and eat, then head down to the paved part of the trail that will take me back to the Visitors Center in about 50 minutes.  It is a wonderful evening.  Temps have risen to about 80 F. and the city’s bright lights of reds, oranges and yellows are starting to emerge along major streets.

Different Point of View restaurant with Shadow Mountain behind.

Different Pointe of View restaurant from North Mountain.

Across the way in the distance to the northeast, I zoom in and take a photo of the pricey hilltop restaurant called the Different Pointe of View, at the  Hilton Pointe Tapatio Cliffs Resort.   Nebra and I are thinking of going there to celebrate our 27th anniversary.  It is dark by the time I move off the pavement.  Now the trail is dirt and rock, undulating above busy 7th Street.  The way is lit nicely by a waxing gibbous moon, only two days from full.  Just past the saddle, a jogger comes by from behind, trying to negotiate the rockiest section of the trail, down to the Trupiano memorial bench.  Later I make way for a cycler, lights ablaze, coming up from the ravine behind me.  It is almost 7 when I get back to the parking lot, after about a 4-mile roundtrip.  I feel like I’m starting to get in shape again after a sparse period of winter hiking.

January 9, Wednesday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  Sometimes when I hike trails I know as well as the back of my hand, I think up crazy stuff to do.  Today, on my first hike of the new year, I set out to find the exact spot on the Christiansen Trail where I can no long see the transmitter towers atop Shaw Butte.  But it is an impossible task.  As the towers recede behind a buttress to the Butte I can not tell if I’m still looking at the tippy-top of one of the two towers I saw clearly from the Visitors Center or a saguaro. Which?  I chalk up the experiment as a work in progress.  Next time, if there is one, I’ll pull out the binoculars, find the spot precisely and send the results off to Science magazine.  One thing is for certain.  It is a flawless winter’s afternoon.  Sunny except for heavy cirrus building in the west, 70 degrees and so calm you can hear voices of hikers on the North Mountain summit trail a quarter mile away.  I sneeze loudly and wonder if I’ve startled someone a mile away.  As nice as it is, I count only 24 others on my two-mile jaunt.  Sixteen walking, five biking and three jogging.   It’s only as I near the end of my hike that I hear Gambel’s quail gabbling in the brush out of sight.  Big storm coming.  Rain and then the most frigid temperatures we’ve had in a couple of years.