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.


At the end of a long line

The goal: Reaching the voting room.

The goal: Reaching the voting room.

Arizona’s disastrous primary election of a week ago has again stirred up thoughts about America as a democracy.  Voters waited in long lines for up to 5 1/2 hours to cast ballots.  In addition there were ballot shortages and computer glitches.  Even for Arizona, this was a horrible example of a practice that has swept the nation, particularly in areas controlled by Republican legislatures.  It’s called voter suppression.

I was lucky.  I stood in line for only two hours and 53 minutes at the Church of the Beatitudes voting place in Phoenix.

Two of the last-known people to vote in other voting venues:  A state senator, Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix at 12: 20 a.m. on Wednesday and a native of Guatemala, Aracely Calderon at 12:12.

I had arrived at the back of a line at the corner of 7th Avenue and Glendale, the time was 2:08 p.m.  By the time I had walked along the serpentine line (see my hand-drawn map) and voted for the Democrat, Bernie Sanders, it was 5:01.

As I walked back to the street where Nebra was to pick me up in her car, the line was another 200 yards longer than when I had started out.  The polling places closed at 7, but under the law everyone standing in line at that time is allowed to vote.

My map of the serpentine line. The line of dashes is where the line was when I left to go home.

My map of the serpentine line. The line of dashes is where the line was when I left to go home.

Curious, I drove back to the polling place at 8:15 — and the line was now longer by maybe 50 yards.  I calculated the people at the end of the long line would not reach the ballot box until after midnight!

Not only that, but under Arizona law, voting results are made public by 8 p.m.  In no time, the media had projected the election winners.  I read the Associated Press made its projection at 8: 15. So many of those people in line knew four hours prior to their vote that Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican) had won Arizona by substantial margins.

That they stood in line knowing their votes would make little or no difference is testimony to their determination and perhaps errant thoughts of living in a democratic society.

Some came prepared for a long wait.

Some came prepared for a long wait.

This unacceptable situation occurred only in one Arizona county, the county for Phoenix. Maricopa County, for practical purposes, is Arizona when it comes to voting.  Maricopa carries 56.7 percent of the state’s population.  And it was there in Maricopa that the abuses mostly occurred.

The county Recorder’s Office and the elected County Recorder, Helen Purcell, a Republican, is in charge of County Elections which plans the Primary.   This year, for a reason that is unclear, the number of polling places was cut from 200 to 60 — for the Primary only —  not only leading to the gargantuan lines but jamming poll workers with an enormous amount of labor for a pittance of money.

The budget for the Primary was cut drastically by the Republican-controlled Legislature, and the Republic governor, Doug Ducey, signed off on it.

Karen Osborne, who heads up County Elections, was quoted as vowing to “. . . keep the presidential preference election as cheap as humans can do it.”

Besides the money issue, election officials said they planned on most of the voting to be done by mail.  If true, a major miscalculation.

Waiting and reading.

Waiting and reading.

Poll workers receive $100 to $125 for the day, and in the case of the Primary, some were at their stations for 18 hours.  That comes to $5.56 an hour for most poll workers and $6.94 an hour for premium workers with advanced training. That is far below minimum wage.  And it is the poll worker there on the front-line that takes the abuse while the real culprits lay low in distant buildings doing the “brain” work that so fouled the process.

Of all Primaries over the years, how could you sensibly cut polling places this year?  County Elections had plenty of fore-warning in a contentious presidential campaign.  Voter turnouts were up in other states with similar primaries.  Caucus states like Iowa are different.

Line grows as nightfall looms.

Line grows as nightfall looms.

Arizona’s Republic governor, Doug Ducey, has a typical right-wing Proposition, 123, scheduled for a special election on May 17. It is a controversial prop that Republicans claim is a boon to the education budget and also to reform pension programs in the public-safety sector.   It is not a wild dream to believe Ducey and his staff are behind the Primary debacle if only to exasperate voters so they will not participate in May.  It is a long-standing conclusion that Republicans and Propositions like 123 do best when there are low turnouts.

A hearing yesterday at the state House of Representative drew an impassioned and angry group.  They complained to the Elections Committee, run of course by Republicans.  The GOP has ruled the legislature for many years.  Whether these complaints will be addressed is up in the air.  My guess is that elections will continue as usual — unless the miracle of a Democratic wave takes over the Legislautre after the general election in November.

Anyway, I am glad I waited it out almost three hours and voted.  If it means nothing in the world of politics at least it mean a lot to me personally.  I say that even thinking that their is really no democracy in America, that in the case of the Primary, Party elites both Republican and Democrat have left us with much the same drab choices.

Change in Arizona is a long way off.  I suspect it is a long way off for America too.







Patience pays off

Mama Mallard and her orderly 8 children.

Mama Mallard and her orderly 8 children.

At  times, it is the photo that drives the post.  It is not necessarily that I have anything important to say beyond the visual.  This is true in my last two posts.  I thought the photos were decent and I decided to publish them amid some text.

Mama and Child

Mama and Child

This photo of the eight Mallard ducklings trailing Mama across a pond at Encanto Park the other day is case in point.

After a late breakfast at the golf course cafe, I walked back through the park, camera in hand with the usual attachment, a 24-70mm lens.  My expectations weren’t high until I caught sight of movement in some debris that had collected by the shore.  Moving closer I counted a Mallard hen and her eight unruly babies.  Mama was busy searching for food.  The babies searching for fun, which can be the same thing as mischief.

Mama and brood approach the bridge.

Mama and brood approach the bridge.

My idea was to photograph all nine of them together.  It wasn’t easy.  There were always two or three babies that would leave Mama’s clutch for a few moments.  As I walked along with them as they passed under a bridge and into a more open area of water, I was losing patience.  It was Primary voting day in Arizona and I wanted to make connections with Nebra before I did.

Suddenly my luck changed.  As Papa Mallard approached, all the babies got into a line behind Mom to cross a wide section of the pond, and there I had it, the photo I’d been looking for, but in not the best of light and almost too far for my short lens to reach them.  But I shot anyway, and this is what I came up with.

Pappa approaches.

Pappa approaches.

Somehow it made me feel good to see such a brood together, although I’ve read the average is nine eggs for Mallards.  If nine, where was the other baby?  Didn’t want to think about that.


Awash in yellow

Brown-Eyed Susan

Brown-Eyed Susan

March Madness strikes the Sonoran Desert too and lasts about as long as the basketball tournament.  Every year about this time, a riot of colors tinges the arid valleys and mountain slopes with yellow.   ’tis the flowering season.

A mountain park I frequent here in Phoenix almost blinds with its brilliant yellows from Palo Verde trees, the Creosote, Brittlebush and cactus like the Compass Barrel and Buckhorn Cholla.  But my favorite is the magenta flower of the Engelmann Hedgehog cactus.

Engelmann Hedgehog

The hairy Engelmann Hedgehog

For most of the year, this Hedgehog languishes in unspectacular clumps.  It spreads out in small, rounded lumps with sharp and hairy spines.  It is also known as Saints Cactus or Strawberry Cactus (red flowers).  I often see dead ones that are as black as black can be.

This Hedgehog is named for botantist George Engelmann, an emigrant to the U.S. from his native Germany.  He explored Arizona in the 19th Century and catalogued many of the cactus here.

The Engelmann was the first cactus to bloom this year in North Mountain Park, followed in short order by the Buckhorn and the Compass Barrel.  The barrel cactus is so named “compass” because it tends to list to the southwest.

Brittlebush Blooms

The prolific Brittlebush.

I was particularly struck by the vibrance of several Black-Eyed Susan bushes atop the north dam in North Mountain Park.  I did not see them growing anywhere else.

Bust is now I would describe the wildflower season.  I have seen no fields of golden Poppies.  Just a few, scattered and lonely.  Unfortunately, many measure the quality of the wildflower season strictly by the numbers of poppies.  Many other wildflowers like Fiddleneck (yellow flowers), Blue Dick and Phacelia (purple) are more abundant.

Later in the spring and summer the Saguaros will sport their white flowers.  And the Ironwood tree will be decked out in gorgeous pink blossoms.  But nothing compares to March.

Compass Barrel Blooms

Compass Barrel

If you miss March in the Sonoran Desert, you miss most of the flower season.



A morning routine

A puzzling place in the diningn room.

A puzzling place in the dining room.

I have just a few moments ago finished solving the Tuesday crossword puzzle in the New York Times.  It was a struggle.  But there was the satisfaction that I’d been able to work through a morning incapacitation of my brain. I tapped my head.  It sounded woody.  But, struggle or not, it is a routine I’ve come to enjoy.

I do the NYT puzzle almost every morning, usually first thing, seated in my comfy chair by the dining room windows.  At my side there is a cup of heavy black coffee.  Usually the java is placed on a stone coaster on a nearby table — unless my elderly cat Obie needs space and objects with a squawky meow.  Then I take a risk and move the cup to the arm rest.  In the far bathroom,  I hear Nebra getting ready for work, radio tuned in softly to NPR.

Aaah, the routine of it all!

The theme of today’s puzzle, “interior designer,” did not strike home until it was all over.  The answers contained the names of famous designers.  Like the answer “barn animals” with “Armani” in the middle, or, aha, the interior of “designer.” Clever, clever.

Other woes:  Who was the Queen of Sparta?”  Well, I didn’t need to know “Leda” because I was able to answer the surrounding clues.  Another was the clue, “Any of the Filipinas.”  First thinking it was a female living in the Philippines, I jotted down “ella.”  I eventually realized the puzzle constructor wanted the country itself, a land of islands.  So I changed it to “isla,” Spanish for island.  Well, I had two letters right.  But it is messy that way.  I do my puzzles in ink pen.  They look nice only if I don’t make mistakes.

A tangential reward is discovering facts you can not live without.  Like the origins of the popular 1980s band,  REO Speedwagon.  Or who the hell is Aaron Sorkin?   I now know that the REO Speedwagon was named after a popular vehicle prior to WWII.  And the “REO” stands for the company’s founder, Ransom Eli Olds, of Oldsmobile fame.

Sorkin, I learned, is the playwright who created Broadway’s “A Few Good Men.”  He sold the film rights, and it became a successful movie with Tom Cruise and Demi Moore.  I now know the plot came from a phone conversation with Sorkin’s sister, a lawyer who was representing two soldiers in a hazing incident at Gitmo.  To what parts of my mind this stuff has been disseminated, I haven’t a clue.

My puzzle work space.

My puzzle work space.

Although The Times, publishes the solved puzzle the next day in a corner of the new one, I do not have to wait nearly that long to check my answers.  I can find them on the Internet as early as one minute after midnight and no later than 7 a.m. of the same day.  Rex Parker, who describes himself as “the 9th Greatest Crossword Solver in the Universe!” is my go-to guy.  He lives in Binghamton, NY, I believe. His blog is entertaining, even if you don’t come away with the smug feeling of having solved the puzzle.

I remember doing crosswords as early as my college days.  In the fog of time, I see myself sitting in the Student Union over lunch, doing a puzzle in the college newspaper, sometimes after reading the editor’s column, “Infallible Fallacies.”  And, yes, swilling coffee but no cat to boss me around.  So the crossword habit has enveloped me with its charms for many years.

I have often thought of trying to create my own puzzles.  But that is a lot of work and the pay for constructors, about $200 a puzzle or $1,000 for the Sunday puzzle in the New York Times Magazine, does not measure up to even my simple lifestyle.

An average solver.  That’s how I rate myself.  Shouldn’t I be better after all this passage of time?

The NYT puzzles, edited by the veteran Will Shortz, are the best in the business and get harder to solve as the week goes along.  By Saturday I’ve been brought to my knees.

Oh, the anguish!

There must be better ways to start the day.  I don’t have all the answers to that either.




An umbrella in cactus land

Umbrella shielding cactus.

Umbrella shielding cactus.

A few days ago, while ambling along my usual route around Colonnade Mall, it began to rain.  No big deal.  The weatherman predicted it.  The unusual thing is that it stayed and stayed.  Even more unusual was that I purchased an umbrella for the first time ever.

At first, the manager at Old Navy couldn’t find one.  Then, after a brief search, she discovered a small collection tucked away on a shelf.  It certainly wasn’t the featured product you would find in a Nordstrom’s in Seattle.

“After all,” I said trying to reassure the manager, “this is Arizona isn’t it?”  A question that is now up for grabs.

Rain fell that night and into the next day. Then yesterday and again today.  Four days, one and a quarter inches. As I write the rain gauge riseth as doth the water in the basement.  This is impressive for an arid land that receives about 8 inches for the entire year.  Noah would be impressed.  Is that hammers pounding on freshly-sawn wood?  I don’t want to miss the ark.  When I board there will likely be a red and black plaid umbrella with me, grasped as tightly as can be.

I have a terse history with the umbrella.  Usually I share one.  But never buy.  Until, worried some, this week.  Some of the bright colors fascinate me and at the same time its construction frazzles my nerves.  After the purchase at Old Navy, I stood outside in the darkest corner of the mall, hoping stranger-eyes would not notice how much I struggled to open my new, bright acquisition.  The strap was pretty easy.  Velcro.  But stretching it out, that was something else.

Free use of umbrellas at the Masq Hotel.

Free use of umbrellas at the Masq Hotel.

The last time I remember fiddling to open an umbrella was in France, in September.  Nebra and I were in rainy, windy La Rochelle, a port city on the Atlantic.  The weather turned blustery on the 14th, rain driving into us like nails.  Our downtown hotel, The Masq, was more than prepared.  In the lobby by the front desk was a container of orange umbrellas, free use by guests.  You did not need a weatherman in La Rochelle to explain the climate there.

Nebra keeps an umbrella or two about the house and at her office.  I suspect they are mostly used for shade from the piercing summer sun.  And she keeps losing them.  One of her recent posts outlined the communal spirit of owning an umbrella:  “I’ve heard it said that there is really only one umbrella and we just keep misplacing it, so the next guy picks it up, etc etc.”

Anyway our wet weather is to continue.  Another series of El Nino storms is due, I hear, sweeping in from the Pacific.

My last experience with incessant rain came during a stint in the military many years ago near Tacoma and Seattle.  It rained almost everyday until summer.  And I got used to it, even got to the point of liking it.  All that without ever owning an umbrella.

Now it is here, the Seattle rain in Cactus Land, weather only a seahawk coud love.

As for opening my umbrella, well, Nebra is usually around somewhere.