In the land of cotton

State flag.  Motto:  "We dare defend our rights"
State flag. Motto: “We dare defend our rights”

Nebra and I returned a few days ago from a week in Alabama.  The trip began a long time ago, at least in my mind it did.  It was to be a search for my family’s history.  The clan of my father’s came from The South, that often-maligned land in America which was home to slavery and the racism that still exists today.

It all began with “Peter” in South Carolina.  He appeared in the first U.S. census in 1790.  “George,” his son, and “James” who was George’s son, were farmers in Alabama.  In particular James, my great-great grandfather, was near the center of my blood-line radar.

My idea was to stand on the land of cotton that once belonged to George and James.  I did not know precisely where this land was. I just knew it was near Montgomery, somewhere to the southeast.

But as our first excursion into this part of Dixie unfolded, there was much more to this beautiful state than originally met my jaundiced eye.

In the days ahead I hope to publish a few posts of our adventure “way down yonder,” as the song goes.

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The girls in Bisbee

Lynn (Basinger), going back to Bisbee.
Lynn (Basinger), going back to Bisbee.

There’s a throw-away line in one of my favorite movies, “L. A. Confidential.”  Finally that line hit home last night while watching the film for maybe the 10th time.  That the line is about Arizona, where I live, makes it all the more amazing I never got it, never understood why “Confidential” is ultimately so unfulfilling.

The line comes out of a tender scene, the pillow talk after sex.  The brutal detective, Wendell “Bud” White, is lying in bed with the Veronica Lake look-alike, Lynn Bracken.  It is a homey moment.  Bud is checking out Lynn’s “Arizona pillow,” the one with “Bisbee” and “Phoenix” on it along with the state flag.

Bud (Russell Crowe) strangely asks Lynn (Kim Basinger) about Bisbee but not Phoenix.

“I grew up there,” she says.  “I’m going back in a couple of years, open up a dress shop.”  Pause.  Them smiling, “The girls of Bisbee need a little glamour.”

Detectives and love rivals, Ed Exely (Guy Pearce) and White (Russell Crowe).
Detectives and love rivals, Ed Exely (Guy Pearce) and White (Russell Crowe).

How sweet. But what does all that nonsense have to do with a film about police corruption in Los Angeles?  Nothing.  It was the director, Curtis Hanson, wanting to inject romance into a story where romance clearly was not needed.

At best, Lynn Bracken should have been a minor character, and in the end got her ass killed off like just about everyone else in the film.  But here again Hollywood’s fear of a box-office bust came into play.   They wanted insurance the movie would make money.  Enter Kim Basinger who, while truly beautiful, is no Bisbee girl.  She could never return to the little sleepy town southeast of Tucson to live happily ever-after with Bud.  She’s  there for one reason.  To draw customers.

The love angle was a distraction and led to a silly, sputtering end that didn’t make sense.

Why not keep it simple and focused?   Like “Jaws,” when director Steven Spielberg chucked the novelist Peter Benchley’s love story for a direct approach:  Man vs. Shark.

Too bad. For the longest time “Confidential” (1997) was almost up there with Roman Polansky’s “Chinatown,”  probably the best-made American movie of my time.

Night views from the mountains

To the east, Piesewa Peak surrounded by light.
To the east, Piesewa Peak surrounded by light.

In the last week, I have hiked up two mountains to view and photograph Phoenix at night.  There are plenty of choices.  The long string of peaks called South Mountain.  The popular Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak are others. I chose Shaw Butte and North Mountain, several miles north of downtown in North Mountain Park.

Shaw and North require relatively short hikes of two miles from the park’s Visitors Center.  And, since both summits sport cellphone towers, good service roads make for easier traveling in darkness.

At 2,149 feet, Shaw is by a scant margin the highest of the two but the view is partly blocked by its sister peak to the southeast.

North Mountain's towers.
North Mountain’s towers.

Not completely satisfied with Shaw’s views, I decided to hike up to North’s summit on a recent Sunday evening with Nebra.  I carried a camera, telescoping tripod and shutter release to the top.  North is more than 700 feet above the surrounding terrain and about 1,000 feet higher than downtown.  Good enough to see most of this sprawling metropolis in the desert.

It was after sunset when we reached the summit not far from the towers.  The only thing missing was the moon, here one day after the full phase.  It would not rise until we were on our way home.

I set up the tripod and shot some photos in all directions.  Nebra held the light from my new headlamp so I could adjust the settings.  The new digital cameras are amazing with their high ISOs allowing you to shoot in the darkest of conditions.  In the old days you flirted around with 100 ISO or so.  But my Canon T3i goes up to 6,400.  Higher end cameras even to higher, to 10,000 and above.

String of lights that is Shea Blvd.
String of lights that is Shea Blvd.

It was getting on to 8 o’clock when we loaded up and headed back toward the parking lot.

In this short jaunt to the summit, I discovered that these dark mountains I had come to think of as empty at night were not empty at all.

Descending on the asphalt road, I saw a dozen people, mostly young men and women, gathered at lookouts high on the mountain.  Also, we passed maybe a half dozen more ascending.  The mountains are very much alive at night.

And for some reason that made me feel good.

Breaking up a home

Cid and her eggs under the lamp shade.
Cid and her eggs under the lamp shade.

How can you care for a spider?  I don’t know exactly why but I do.  Much of it, I think, stems from humanizing it a bit by giving it a name.

A few months ago, I gave a Daddy Long Legs the name of Cid.  I spoke to it every morning when I turned on the floor lamp behind my reading chair in the dining room.  Cid built a web under the shade, a mere six inches or so from my head.  We got along fine.  I read the morning newspaper without thinking of Cid.  Daddy Long Legs are harmless to humans, I read.  And Cid does a good business there in the shadow of a light that draws flying insects into its clutches.

But something unexpected happened.

Cid became pregnant.  It was a she after all.  A dozen or more white and brown eggs exuded from what I assumed was her head.  She was so still I thought she might be dead.  I tapped the web.  She moved.  Relief.

But her pregnancy, to my unhappiness, was the turning point.  I moved the reluctant Cid to a dark corner of the garage.  She can have her babies there.

I feel heartless in a way.  Even in that tiny insect brain, I know by uprooting her Cid felt stress and the danger.

Twice I have looked for her in the garage but no sign yet.  The last I saw of her she was scurrying up the ladder with eggs in tow.