Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter solstice. Day-hike. Romero Canyon.

I hope this entry will not come across as obnoxious. What I mean is, I hope no one in more northerly climes will read this and think, "oh here we go--another one of those people in Tucson who just loves to remind the rest of us how wonderful their 'winter' is, all sun and golf, while the rest of us are shoveling snow..."

First of all, I don't golf. And while it is true that some here engage in mean-spirited winter-weather-schadenfreude, I am not one of them. My wife and I have been hearing from friends and family up in Washington state, for instance, in the last few days--all the snow! How fun it would be to be holed up in a cozy house with friends and family, drinking hot chocolate, and then going sledding or even doing some urban-snow-shoeing down to the corner coffee-shop...

Instead, on this first day of winter, the shortest day of the year, I went on a 12-mile-hike with a friend. No, it was not 'warm.' In fact, when I went to pick up my friend, his backyard thermometer read 29 degrees. And when we started on the trail, there was frost...But, yes, there was sun. (And, okay, yes, by the afternoon, it was in the 60's...)

So, tonight's entry then--some photos from
Romero Canyon, just north of Tucson in the heart of the Santa Catalina mountains. This is in in the spirit of 'sending a postcard,' wanting to share the scenery...
...a bit of 'Arizona dreaming on a winter day'...

The cottonwoods in southern Arizona are hitting their peak autumn colors--on this, the first official day of winter...In the desert, cottonwoods only occur along ceekbeds or riverbanks.

This trail in particular has lots of hiker-built cairns to guide the way...

...crossing Romero creek, which runs almost year-round, except during drought-years...

The 'Romero pools' are a popular hiking spot in the summer--one of the few natural swimming areas in Tucson...

The trail continues switchbacking across the creek for 7 miles into the heart of the mountains, leading up to a 6000-ft. pass. With the early sunset on this, the shortest day of the year, however, just one mile away, we had to turn back; we wanted to avoid scrambling down steep cactus-studded slopes in the we'll have to go back when the days get longer...

And tonight's flora-minutiae.
The nights haven't been cold enough yet to wither the bougainvillea, so when my mother comes to visit us in a couple of days, she'll be able to enjoy the blooms. The neighborhood grapefruit trees are heavy with ruby-reds; So this was yesterday morning's front-patio breakfast:

Okay, so maybe I am 'bragging' just a little bit about winter in Tucson. No--not 'bragging,' but just 'appreciating!'
It's still a novelty for us, to be citrus locavores sitting on a sunny patio in late December!
Encouragement. We're encouraging our friends and family to come visit. Come and pick your own oranges, lemons, or grapefruits. Come, go for a hike and get a winter-tan.
A hiatus from the snow. Tucson dreaming...

(And it's supposed to be cold and rainy on Tuesday, by the way.
Be thinking of us, then...)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

out of the classroom, a few hours later...

After work, after errands...the evening light on the season's first substantial snowfall on the mountaintops behind Tucson:

...the view of the central Santa Catalinas from our neighborhood...
...I love the verticality of climate and season in southern Arizona: from the cactus-zone to the grassland-zone up to the oak-and-juniper-zone to the wintry pine-zone, finally to the mixed evergreen forest above 8000 feet--all in one shovel-free 'backyard' view:


Actually, tomorrow is my last work-at-school-day before winter break, but today was the last day with the kids, and I just finished giving exams!!

And so, a celebratory phone-camera shot from my lunch-break classroom:

Yep, here in Tucson, in the 21st century, I'm still using good-ol' mid-20th-century technology: the overhead. That's "rétroprojecteur" in French, if you want to know. And I must explain: I inherited the Snoopy-vive-les-vacances poster. Corniness in the high-school-foreign-language classrom is inescapable, no?

I've been promised that a new "promethean"-board (one of those interactive white-bards, the darlings of progressive education) will be installed...but that was back in the summer, and here we are in December...but "vive les vacances!" all the same...
Another camera-phone shot:

I saw this sign while visiting some recently-arrived immigrants in an apartment complex. Just around the corner from where I teach, this complex houses people from places such as Iraq, Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, Chad, and Somalia.
Mystifying? We finally 'deciphered' it--evidently someone was trying to write "please don't touch" on a stairwell door. Surely, a lot to learn...
Okay, okay...lunch is over. Back to grades...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

coffee-diesel & year-in-pictures

Today's lunchtime reading:

Diesel, made simply from coffee grounds (ah, the exhaust aroma)
By Henry Fountain

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In research that touches on two of Americans' great obsessions — coffee and cars — scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno, have made diesel fuel from used coffee grounds.

The technique is not difficult, they report in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and there is so much coffee around that several hundred million gallons of biodiesel could potentially be made annually.

Dr. Mano Misra, a professor of engineering who conducted the research with Narasimharao Kondamudi and Susanta K. Mohapatra, said it was by accident that he realized coffee beans contained a significant amount of oil. "I made a coffee one night but forgot to drink it," he said. "The next morning I saw a layer of oil floating on it." He and his team thought there might be a useful amount of oil in used grounds, so they went to several Starbucks stores and picked up about 50 pounds of them.

Analysis showed that even the grounds contained about 10 to 15 percent oil by weight. The researchers then used standard chemistry techniques to extract the oil and convert it to biodiesel. The processes are not particularly energy intensive, Misra said, and the researchers estimated that biodiesel could be produced for about a dollar a gallon.

One hurdle, Misra said, is in collecting grounds efficiently — there are few centralized sources of coffee grounds. But the researchers plan to set up a small pilot operation next year using waste from a local bulk roaster.

Even if all the coffee grounds in the world were used to make fuel, the amount produced would be less than 1 percent of the diesel used in the United States annually. "It won't solve the world's energy problem," Misra said of his work. "But our objective is to take waste material and convert it to fuel."

And biodiesel made from grounds has one other advantage, he said: the exhaust smells like coffee.


And it's time for end-of-the-year re-caps of 2008.
So, for some photojournalism highlights, click here for the link to
the International Herald Tribune's 2008 in pictures


Local minutiae:
The Catalinas got their first substantial snowfall the past few days,
and we've eaten our first couple of oranges from this year's front-yard crop.
My students have their final exams tomorrow and Thursday, and then:
vive les vacances!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday afternoon, out front...

After work, after errands--the first thing I want to do when I get home is take my shoes off...

This afternoon, though, I kept them on, running inside to get my camera and then running back out to stay on the front patio for a few minutes: late afternoon light, bougainvillea, hummingbird:

I guess, growing up, I had taken hummingbirds a bit for granted--we would see them quite often in our backyard in Georgia...but then when I moved to Seattle and saw that even way up there, some hardy species would stay all year, even in the winter, that impressed me...and when I lived in France, it was pointed out to me that hummingbirds are native only to the Americas...In Nicaragua some of the species are so large that the locals call them 'gorrion' instead of 'colibri.'

Here in our tiny front yard, though, we have Calypte anna, "Anna's Hummingbird," which is a year-round resident in the Sonoran desert, just as it is even up in to the Pacific Northwest.

The light in the bougainvillea (wicked thorns!) was fascinating; I thought I would play with the 'color accent' feature of my camera:

The bright papery 'flowers' are actually the leaves on the end of each stalk; the actual flower is a tiny white bloom in the middle of each bundle of color.

And to round off tonight's minutiae, our citrus update:

Just a couple of weeks away from huge lemons and navel oranges. Our second winter here, and I still find it 'exotic'...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

To the Chiricahuas and back

This past Friday--"Black Friday"--we wanted to stay as far away from the malls as possible...So we decided to explore a little corner of SE Arizona we hadn't yet visited: Chiricahua National Monument, near the NM border.

The day before, it rained--only the 7th time in the past 50 years that it has rained on Thanksgiving in Tucson...and despite the forecasters' predictions, it didn't clear up completely by Friday. We ended up, then, driving through fog and clouds on the way...

When we finally got up to the top of the Chiricahua mountains, it was around 40 degrees and the greyness was low overhead--a stark contrast to the sea of sunny grasslands all around...

The wilderness area truly is a 'wonderland of fantastic rock formations,' to borrow the national park service phrase...

Copper and lime-green lichens covering improbably balanced boulder-towers and 'chesspieces' punctuating the pinyon, oak, and juniper forests...with the occasional 'grotto':
Perhaps the most famous rock formation--the "Cochise Head" profile on an 8000-feet peak miles away--was hidden for most of the morning...

...before finally coming into view:

Tilt your head to the right, and you'll make out a 'profile,' supposedly of one of the Apache chiefs:
This rugged area was one of the last strongholds of the Apaches in the late 1800's...
Looking off to the east are the deserts of New Mexico...
The park road goes by some 'named' rock formations, such as this one, the "Sea Captain":
...and also this one, known as "China boy"...
...and these are the "Organ Pipe" formations...

We ended up not hiking to the top of one of the peaks; we just hadn't anticipated how cold it would be up at 7000 feet, and with the low cloud cover, the 360-degree-view wasn't to be had...We'll have to head back another time--on a typical sunny day...

Anybody want to come? It's only a two-hour drive from Tucson, this preserve of volcanic rock and forest...

So, driving back, we at least got some spots of drizzle and dramatic light as we drove across the tawny landscape, before descending back to the desert below 4000 feet...

I never tire of driving on the arrow-straight roads of range-and-basin country:

Time for bed now. Blogging can be the insomniac's blessing and curse.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

French-in-Florida-in-the-1500's "Thanksgiving"

I'm always one for learning new factoids.
Especially during my lunch hour--factoids that I can then use for an impromptu cultural-history-lesson in my fourth-period class...

If you're about to have a 4-day-weekend...Enjoy!

========== from today's New York Times ================

November 26, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
A French Connection

TO commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America’s shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux. After all, the first European arrivals seeking religious freedom in the “New World” were French. And they beat their English counterparts by 50 years. That French settlers bested the Mayflower Pilgrims may surprise Americans raised on our foundational myth, but the record is clear.

Long before the Pilgrims sailed in 1620, another group of dissident Christians sought a haven in which to worship freely. These French Calvinists, or Huguenots, hoped to escape the sectarian fighting between Catholics and Protestants that had bloodied France since 1560.

Landing in balmy Florida in June of 1564, at what a French explorer had earlier named the River of May (now the St. Johns River near Jacksonville), the French émigrés promptly held a service of “thanksgiving.” Carrying the seeds of a new colony, they also brought cannons to fortify the small, wooden enclosure they named Fort Caroline, in honor of their king, Charles IX.

In short order, these French pilgrims built houses, a mill and bakery, and apparently even managed to press some grapes into a few casks of wine. At first, relationships with the local Timucuans were friendly, and some of the French settlers took native wives and soon acquired the habit of smoking a certain local “herb.” Food, wine, women — and tobacco by the sea, no less. A veritable Gallic paradise.

Except, that is, to the Spanish, who had other visions for the New World. In 1565, King Philip II of Spain issued orders to “hang and burn the Lutherans” (then a Spanish catchall term for Protestants) and dispatched Adm. Pedro Menéndez to wipe out these French heretics who had taken up residence on land claimed by the Spanish — and who also had an annoying habit of attacking Spanish treasure ships as they sailed by.

Leading this holy war with a crusader’s fervor, Menéndez established St. Augustine and ordered what local boosters claim is the first parish Mass celebrated in the future United States. Then he engineered a murderous assault on Fort Caroline, in which most of the French settlers were massacred. Menéndez had many of the survivors strung up under a sign that read, “I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to heretics.”

A few weeks later, he ordered the execution of more than 300 French shipwreck survivors at a site just south of St. Augustine, now marked by an inconspicuous national monument called Fort Matanzas, from the Spanish word for “slaughters.”

With this, America’s first pilgrims disappeared from the pages of history. Casualties of Europe’s murderous religious wars, they fell victim to Anglophile historians who erased their existence as readily as they demoted the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine to second-class status behind the later English colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth.

But the truth cannot be so easily buried. Although overlooked, a brutal first chapter had been written in the most untidy history of a “Christian nation.” And the sectarian violence and hatred that ended with the deaths of a few hundred Huguenots in 1565 would be replayed often in early America, the supposed haven for religious dissent, which in fact tolerated next to none.

Starting with those massacred French pilgrims, the saga of the nation’s birth and growth is often a bloodstained one, filled with religious animosities.

In Boston, for instance, the Puritan fathers banned Catholic priests and executed several Quakers between 1659 and 1661.

Cotton Mather, the famed Puritan cleric, led the war cries against New England’s Abenaki “savages” who had learned their prayers from the French Jesuits.

The colony of Georgia was established in 1732 as a buffer between the Protestant English colonies and the Spanish missions of Florida; its original charter banned Catholics.

The bitter rivalry between Catholic France and Protestant England carried on for most of a century, giving rise to anti-Catholic laws, while a mistrust of Canada’s French Catholics helped fire many patriots’ passion for independence.

As late as 1844, Philadelphia’s anti-Catholic “Bible Riots” took the lives of more than a dozen people.

The list goes on.

Our history is littered with bleak tableaus that show what happens when righteous certitude is mixed with fearful ignorance. Which is why this Thanksgiving, as we express gratitude for America’s bounty and promise, we would do well to reflect on all our histories, including a forgotten French one that began on Florida’s shores so many years ago.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of “America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation.”

===== and a cartoon from today's =====


And, finally...courtesy of The Washington Post, I found a 'reprint' of one of the best "franglais" columns ever, by Art Buchwald:

Le Grande Thanksgiving
By Art Buchwald

This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .

Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts' content.

They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.

In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.

Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.

It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :

"Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.

"I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui etes pain comme un etudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."

Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable tres emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l' etonnement et la tristesse ).

At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)

Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ( Chacun a son gout. )

And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.

No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fete and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

lunchtime reading: Robocop a reality...

So--programmable ethics?!

Robocop is becoming a reality--manufactured 'ethical judgment centers,' coming to a battlefield (or a civilian zone) near you...

War is becoming a easy it is to just send out a drone to kill.
Just think--we can 'save lives!' using robots instead of soldiers...

This'll make the lunch go down easy.

======Below, the article from today's

Can robots make ethical decisions in battle?
A soldier, taking orders from its ethical judgment center

By Cornelia Dean
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ATLANTA: In the heat of battle, their minds clouded by fear, anger or vengefulness, even the best-trained soldiers can act in ways that violate the Geneva Conventions or battlefield rules of engagement. Now some researchers suggest that robots could do better.

"My research hypothesis is that intelligent robots can behave more ethically in the battlefield than humans currently can," said Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech, who is designing software for battlefield robots under contract with the Army. "That's the case I make."

Robot drones, mine detectors and sensing devices are already common on the battlefield but are controlled by humans. Many of the drones in Iraq and Afghanistan are operated from a command post in Nevada. Arkin is talking about true robots operating autonomously, on their own.

He and others say that the technology to make lethal autonomous robots is inexpensive and proliferating, and that the advent of these robots on the battlefield is only a matter of time. That means, they say, it is time for people to start talking about whether this technology is something they want to embrace. "The important thing is not to be blind to it," Arkin said. Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist at the University of Sheffield in Britain, wrote last year in the journal Innovative Technology for Computer Professionals that "this is not a 'Terminator'-style science fiction but grim reality."

He said South Korea and Israel were among countries already deploying armed robot border guards. In an interview, he said there was "a headlong rush" to develop battlefield robots that make their own decisions about when to attack.

"We don't want to get to the point where we should have had this discussion 20 years ago," said Colin Allen, a philosopher at Indiana University and a co-author of "Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong," published this month by Oxford University Press.

Randy Zachery, who directs the Information Science Directorate of the Army Research Office, which is financing Arkin's work, said the Army hoped this "basic science" would show how human soldiers might use and interact with autonomous systems and how software might be developed to "allow autonomous systems to operate within the bounds imposed by the warfighter."

"It doesn't have a particular product or application in mind," said Zachery, an electrical engineer. "It is basically to answer questions that can stimulate further research or illuminate things we did not know about before."

And Lieutenant Colonel Martin Downie, a spokesman for the Army, noted that whatever emerged from the work "is ultimately in the hands of the commander in chief, and he's obviously answerable to the American people, just like we are."

In a report to the Army last year, Arkin described some of the potential benefits of autonomous fighting robots. For one thing, they can be designed without an instinct for self-preservation and, as a result, no tendency to lash out in fear. They can be built without anger or recklessness, Arkin wrote, and they can be made invulnerable to what he called "the psychological problem of 'scenario fulfillment,' " which causes people to absorb new information more easily if it agrees with their pre-existing ideas.

His report drew on a 2006 survey by the surgeon general of the Army, which found that fewer than half of soldiers and marines serving in Iraq said that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect, and 17 percent said all civilians should be treated as insurgents. More than one-third said torture was acceptable under some conditions, and fewer than half said they would report a colleague for unethical battlefield behavior.

Troops who were stressed, angry, anxious or mourning lost colleagues or who had handled dead bodies were more likely to say they had mistreated civilian noncombatants, the survey said (PDF). (The survey can be read by searching for 1117mhatreport at
"It is not my belief that an unmanned system will be able to be perfectly ethical in the battlefield," Arkin wrote in his report (PDF), "but I am convinced that they can perform more ethically than human soldiers are capable of."

Arkin said he could imagine a number of ways in which autonomous robot agents might be deployed as "battlefield assistants" — in countersniper operations, clearing buildings of suspected terrorists or other dangerous assignments where there may not be time for a robotic device to relay sights or sounds to a human operator and wait for instructions.

But first those robots would need to be programmed with rules about when it is acceptable to fire on a tank, and about more complicated and emotionally fraught tasks, like how to distinguish civilians, the wounded or someone trying to surrender from enemy troops on the attack, and whom to shoot.

In their book, Allen and his coauthor, Wendell Wallach, a computer scientist at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, note that an engineering approach "meant to cover the range of challenges" will probably seem inadequate to an ethicist. And from the engineer's perspective, they write, making robots "sensitive to moral considerations will add further difficulties to the already challenging task of building reliable, efficient and safe systems."
But, Allen added in an interview, "Is it possible to build systems that pay attention to things that matter ethically? Yes."

Daniel Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at Tufts University, agrees. "If we talk about training a robot to make distinctions that track moral relevance, that's not beyond the pale at all," he said. But, he added, letting machines make ethical judgments is "a moral issue that people should think about."

Sharkey said he would ban lethal autonomous robots until they demonstrate they will act ethically, a standard he said he believes they are unlikely to meet. Meanwhile, he said, he worries that advocates of the technology will exploit the ethics research "to allay political opposition."

Arkin's simulations play out in black and white computer displays. "Pilots" have information a human pilot might have, including maps showing the location of sacred sites like houses of worship or cemeteries, as well as apartment houses, schools, hospitals or other centers of civilian life.

They are instructed as to the whereabouts of enemy materiel and troops, and especially high-priority targets. And they are given the rules of engagement, directives that limit the circumstances in which they can initiate and carry out combat. The goal, he said, is to integrate the rules of war with "the utilitarian approach — given military necessity, how important is it to take out that target?"

Arkin's approach involves creating a kind of intellectual landscape in which various kinds of action occur in particular "spaces." In the landscape of all responses, there is a subspace of lethal responses. That lethal subspace is further divided into spaces for ethical actions, like firing a rocket at an attacking tank, and unethical actions, like firing a rocket at an ambulance.

For example, in one situation playing out in Arkin's computers, a robot pilot flies past a small cemetery. The pilot spots a tank at the cemetery entrance, a potential target. But a group of civilians has gathered at the cemetery, too. So the pilot decides to keep moving, and soon spots another tank, standing by itself in a field. The pilot fires; the target is destroyed.

In Arkin's robotic system, the robot pilot would have what he calls a "governor." Just as the governor on a steam engine shuts it down when it runs too hot, the ethical governor would quash actions in the lethal/unethical space.

In the tank-cemetery circumstance, for example, the potentially lethal encounter is judged unethical because the cemetery is a sacred site and the risk of civilian casualties is high. So the robot pilot declines to engage. When the robot finds another target with no risk of civilian casualties, it fires. In another case, attacking an important terrorist leader in a taxi in front of an apartment building, might be regarded as ethical if the target is important and the risk of civilian casualties low.

Some who have studied the issue worry, as well, whether battlefield robots designed without emotions will lack empathy. Arkin, a Christian who acknowledged the help of God and Jesus Christ in the preface to his book "Behavior-Based Robotics" (MIT Press, 1998), reasons that because rules like the Geneva Conventions are based on humane principles, building them into the machine's mental architecture endows it with a kind of empathy. He added, though, that it would be difficult to design "perceptual algorithms" that could recognize when people were wounded or holding a white flag or otherwise "hors de combat."

Still, he said, "as the robot gains the ability to be more and more aware of its situation," more decisions might be delegated to robots. "We are moving up this curve."

He said that was why he saw provoking discussion about the technology as the most important part of his work. And if autonomous battlefield robots are banned, he said, "I would not be uncomfortable with that at all."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Today's Tucson Cartoon

From this morning's Arizona Daily Star editorial page:

People do tend to pin unrealistic hopes on politicians, no?


It is a picture-perfect day in Tucson--ideal for the annual "El Tour de Tucson" bike races, the yearly event that disrupts traffic all around the city...

A friend of mine who went to help out some racers this morning saw Greg Lemond , former 3x Tour de France winner, trying to 'sneak in' to the race, trying to bypass the registration system...Incidental.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Phoenix Falling?--lunchtime reading...

Another lunch-break-find: High Country News, a non-profit
current events/environment/politics/etc. magazine about the West.

An article called "Phoenix Falling?" by Craig Childs caught my eye;
click HERE to read the article.

Will Phoenix continue to boom … or bust entirely?
The answer may lie in the ancient Hohokam city buried beneath.

The perennial boom-and-bust cycle of Western cities is striking.
And in the midst of current financial crises, with lay-offs and rising unemployment,
the fragility of water-based civilization in an arid land looms larger...

Archaeology backs it up. Look underneath to look ahead.

Monday, November 17, 2008

sunday drive...

So yesterday we drove down toward Nogales to run an errand...

On the way back up, I stopped at a highway rest-area to take a couple photos of the western end of the Santa Rita mountains, where I went hiking in Madera Canyon last weekend...

These are probably the last of the summer wildflowers before the first winter freeze--which usually arrives in late-December...

The distinctive lower peak to the right is Elephant Head Rock, 5641', between Mt. Hopkins on the right and Mt. Wrightson in the middle.
No less, ahem, 'picturesque,' is this mural back in Tucson:

Note how elegantly it captures the desert sunrise over the grid of city lights...with the liquor drive-in window perfectly placed on the left. Yes, 'drive-in liquor.' Scenic and Salubrious.

I think this is my favorite, though:
On the corner of Craycroft Avenue and Speedway Blvd., about a mile and a half from where we live, is this gem. A florally-crowned blonde Gaia-esque figure bestows much-needed water on the desert, with a mysterious golden pearl floating above her palms...
For months, I've wanted to pull into the little parking lot to take a photo.
In all fairness, Tucson does have some good murals.
But this one is a perfect example of

transatlantic immigration worries...lunchtime news gleaning...

On my lunch-break, I came across this graph in a French newspaper; I'll translate the questions:

Do you share the view that...
"Immigration does not increase the crime rate"
"Immigrants take jobs away from citizens"

(--link to full article from today's Le Monde: click here.)
...interesting to compare what the general public in the U.S. and Europe thinks...
Do you use a cell-phone? A lap-top? Recall the phrase 'blood-diamond?'
Well, now there's blood-tin-ore!
It's almost impossible to escape collective-unintentional-guilt in anything we consume...
The continuing exploitation and violence in Congo is linked to the metals necessary for our electronics:
click here for the International Herald Tribune article...
Now, back to work...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

a couple dozen shots from this past Saturday

...a perfect, perfect autumn day in southern Arizona, I even have the day off, and I'm stuck inside with a cold!! The injustice, oh the injustice...

This past Saturday, before getting sick, I spent the day out of the city. I finally made it down to the Santa Rita mountains, about 40 miles south of Tucson, after living here almost a year and a half. The dawn drive down to Madera Canyon was chilly--in the 30's...

Before heading into the canyon, I noticed the sun was already illuminating the granite spire of Baboquivari peak, off to west. (Baboquivari, 7734', is the cosmological 'center of the world' in Tohono O'odham legend.) Ah, desert morning--it's not often you get to stand in the shadow of a mountain at sunrise and watch that shadow retreat rapidly towards you as the sun finally peaks over the ridge behind you and washes over your shoulders...

The desert slopes gently up from the Tucson basin to the mouth of the canyon, so that by the time you start hiking up the oak-and-pine-covered slopes, you're already over a mile high--a good 3000' feet higher than the city off to the north. (looking back toward Tucson and the Santa Catalina range from Madera Canyon, from about 6000' )

Finally--I was up in 'them thar hills,' the 'opposite view' from the one below:

(looking south from the Catalina Highway on Mt. Lemmon, toward the Santa Rita mountains; Mt. Wrightson, on the left, is the tallest peak, 9453', between here and Mexico.) Madera Canyon is in between those two highest peaks.

The term 'sky islands' is so appropriate to describe these mountain ecosystems in southern Arizona--when you're hiking up in the forest, looking back at the decidedly un-forested desert floor, you really get the sense of how isolated these mountain oases are, almost worlds unto themselves--where bears and mountain lions still live, due to the cooler and lusher ecosystem that elevation provides. It would seem that inbreeding would be an issue in those animal populations...

Just a couple of weeks ago, in Madera Canyon, a cougar had to be shot; it was getting too 'used to' people. In other words, instead of fleeing from humans, it was beginning to stalk them. I thought about that as I passed a deer hindquarter on the road. Seriously--a rear leg and part of the ribcage--it didn't look like roadkill, and it looked fresh. Either a mountain lion or a group of coyotes must have gotten to it overnight...As I reflected on the scene's carnivoral reality, just a few yards up, I saw a half-dozen or so deer, peacefully grazing by the side of the road. Hmm...

A few minutes later, when I got to the parking lot by the trailheads, there were already a few other cars, and I could hear a few hikers and birdwatchers, so I figured it wasn't too isolated--I really didn't want to meet the creature who had recently breakfasted on the deer--and that I would be safe...About halfway up the trail, the sun finally began to pour into the upper canyon, and the temperature rose quickly. I only went up as far as Josephine Saddle, 7080', about 2400' below Mt. Wrightson's pinnacled top:
Some locals had told me that Madera Canyon was a great place for wildflowers, but that this late in the year, there would probably be few left...
...but it hadn't frozen yet in the canyon, so there were just a few spots of color remaining:

Three years ago, there had been some forest fires up on the ridge:...seems to be recovering nicely as a meadow...

"Clear, blue sky" <--a non-imaginative cliché, perhaps, but how can you be more exact? A glorious morning...

I like the Korean expression for autumn: 'the sky is high and the horses are fat.' So, a 'high sky' for a November day...

Southern Arizona mountains, full of oak, juniper & pine, are not known for 'fall color,' (although at the very highest elevations, stands of quaking aspen can sometimes be found), so I thought I'd try a bit of black-and-white photograhy:

...but there are occasional spots of color to be seen:...and down along the creek bed, the Arizona sycamores put on a nice show, with their smooth bone-like trunks and papery orange leaves...Back down by the parking lot, I saw a few desert evening primroses still in bloom, including this one 'with room for two:'

After all morning in the relatively narrow canyon, it was good to get back out to the open grasslands...

But even out there, the lower canyon continues with its microclimate ecosystem; look at the line of bright green in the middle of this view--those are the tops of tall cottonwoods, along a deep creek-carved ravine:

...and in that ravine are little rapids and this fern-lined waterfall:

...a riparian oasis full of dragonflies in the afternoon light...

...and now something colorful: cochineal--the erstwhile source of most purplish-colored textile dye. I'd heard of it before, but never seen it. Well--now I know what it looks like. This white fuzzy stuff growing on this prickly pear cactus pad..

...when you scrape off a bit and crush it on a rock, you get this deep crimson-purple:

And that's cochineal. Cool, eh?


Instead of driving straight back to Tucson, I thought I'd drive through the Santa Rita foothills, through some open range country...

...and 'open range' it is; watch out for cows...

...back to paved road again on the other side of the mountains...

...and a little adobe ruin. So much boom-and-bust out wonder what the stories are, behind each pile of wood and mud, slowly melding back into the landscape...

Frequently, along roads and at trailheads in national park and national forest land near the border, you run across signs like this:Whatever happened to Smokey the Bear and 'only you can prevent forest fires'? Well, now Smokey is also a border patrol agent, it seems...The realities of coyotes smuggling both desperate people and astronomically-profitable drugs over the border have become commonplace even in, and perhaps especially in, wilderness areas...

Earlier in the day, when I was up at Josephine Saddle, I was climbing through the undergrowth, off trail, trying to look for a clearing, to get an unobstructed view north toward Tucson and south toward Mexico...I never did succeed in getting that 'perfect panorama'...But I did get this view, through the branches, looking south to the hills and mountains of Sonora, Mexico:

And then a few minutes later, a few steps way, I noticed what must have been an unofficial overnight campsite--spots in the pine straw where people had obviously slept, ashy remains of campfires, a sock here, a plastic wrapper there, and then:

No empty "Gatorade" bottles here--instead, Mexican anti-dehydration formula. Sobering evidence of migration and non-recreational camping...

A beautiful, quiet, away-from-the-city, autumnal day in a majestic mountain setting... most memorable image, though, is this empty bottle of strawberry-flavored suero. Ay ay ay...