Monday, March 31, 2008

a few 'firsts' from this weekend...

The day before yesterday--out of the city, hiking in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum...

My wife saw her first rattlesnake-in-the-wild; it warned her as she walked by:

...later in the day we spotted our first blooming cactus of the season--a hedgehog cactus:
...and the first Ocotillos are sending out their 'matchsticks' on fire: the Desert Museum itself, my wife saw her first javelina--not a wild pig, but a closely related 'collared peccary:'
...and we saw a Harris' Hawk in flight--amazing birds; they hunt in packs, 'wolves of the air:'
...such intense eyes--can spot a cottontail rabbit from a mile away:

...these small wild lilies are actually wild onions:

...and this is a Mariposa Lily... June, this Saguaro's 'hand' will be covered in creamy blossoms; bats used to pollinate them, but now bees do the job:
...and I can never resist taking pictures of the unusual poses of these prickly giants:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Flora & fauna, near & far

Spring is ripening here in the Sonoran desert.
I'm continuing to learn, slowly, what the 'non-automatic' things on my camera will do,
if I fiddle with them just right...extreme close-ups can be fun...
Our citrus trees are blooming--heady in the warm afternoons...
No, it's not an undersea creature with clasped tentacles.
It's a lemon blossom, just before opening.

...and as soon as orange blossom petals fall away, a baby citrus orb reveals itself...

...I've never had a tomatillo plant before; my mother said that she remembers, as a child, having these in Korea as ornamental plants--nice flowers; they didn't realize that the tomatillos were edible!

...the first roma tomato of our patio garden...I love the 'peach fuzz,' noticeable when you focus this close...
...apricot desert globemallow...It was growing on the side of our street...
...and this is what it looks like in its natural state, on a trail in Saguaro National Park...
...a desert bluebell...
...and this little potted mini-barrel-cactus next to our phone just began blooming; the blooms close up at night...
...Monday moring, I was hiking around the Tucson mountains in Saguaro National Park, right as the sun came up...
This is cleftleaf wildheliotrope, also known as scorpionweed, growing beneath some brittlebush and saguaros...
...even though brittlebush is common, it's still amazing to see entire hillsides covered in yellow... mid-day, the desert is shimmering with color... section along Picture Rocks Road still has a carpet of Mexican gold poppies and lupine under the cholla...
...and these are desert chicory blooms...

...some fiddleneck staring at you...

...and some desert hibiscus...

...and another color variety of desert globemallow...

(incidentally, globemallow was used by native SW tribes as a poultice for wounds and also as a diarrhea remedy... )


Last week I drove down to Sierra Vista, where I lived as a kid...

Just four miles from my old house is the San Pedro River riparian reserve--it wasn't accessible to the public back when I lived there, but now it is a nature reserve--a corridor of cottonwood forest along one of the few remaining flowing desert rivers; it is one of the most important migratory-bird-routes in North America.

The high grasslands (four to five-thousand feet above sea-level) are still brown; spring is just barely arriving in this area, compared with Tucson, which is two to three thousand feet lower in elevation. The Huachuca mountains still have a lot of snow on their northern slopes...

The cottonwoods are just beginning to get a tinge of green above the river. (It's more of a 'stream' really, but in the desert, this qualifies as a river, since it flows year-round.) Until a couple of decades ago, jaguars would occasionally be spotted in this area, visiting from their more traditional habitat in Mexico! In the nearby Chiricahua mountains, there used to be a native species of thick-billed parrot...SE Arizona is truly an environmental crossroads...

...a great blue heron:

...and a red-tailed hawk...

...I've not yet looked up what this yellow-bird is:


...and that's it for this posting; a few of my points-of-view.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'morning bike ride'...or, 'why going to the gym is an exercise in A.D.D.'

I'm developing the habit of going to the gym several times a week,
in the early morning, to ride the stationary bike.
(I say 'developing,' because a 'habit', by one definition, only becomes a habit
after fifteen consecutive repetitions...)

The recumbent bike allows me to read in relative comfort while pedaling away.
Twelve miles, and the morning paper and a good chunk
of whatever book I'm working on get read.
I put the bike on 'random hill mode' to vary the intensity.
Yes, I do appreciate the ironical absurdity of driving in the car
to then go sit still indoors in a big-box-building while 'biking.'
But morning traffic and darkness make a pre-work bike ride less than practical...
and how else am I going to get to read the paper AND exercise all before 6:30 a.m?

The gym has many TVs of course.
From where I sit, I can see nine screens turned to nine different channels.
So I can glance up from the paper to learn that Barack Obama is related to Brad Pitt.
(This is "news?")
Then I see that there is actually a "Miss Bimbo" website aimed at 12- and 13-year-old girls.
Today's high in Tucson will be in the mid-80's.
The bike next to me suddenly is occupied...and after a couple of minutes,
the person asks me--"how long do you have to pedal before this thing starts?"
I reply--"um, you actually have to push the 'start' button."
There's a pile of celebrity gossip magazines next to my bike.
Which I shun.
Of course.
(After I've scanned the 'headlines'.)
I find the TVs both fascinating and annoying. I fancy myself in 'anthropologist-mode.'
Oh, and now CNN says that Hillary Clinton is a distant cousin of Celine Dion.
(mental flashback to "Titanic" and SNL skits...)
And up, there comes the sun over the Rincon mountains out the window to my left...
Letters to the editor decry the coming development of one of the few remaining areas in Tucson where the water table still allows year-round springs to flow.
(When the first Anglo settlers arrived in southern Arizona,
they only had to dig 50 feet to hit groundwater.
Today, you have to go down over 350 feet to have a productive well.)
My right shoelace has come undone. Drat.
Walter Mead Russell is an engaging, if somewhat biased, historian, when it comes to explaining the 'whys and hows' behind the rise of the Anglo-American world power in his book "God and Gold."
I'm glad we live close to a branch of the library--I love how they just deliver my 'wish list' to the local branch, and I pick it up for free, after I've typed in titles on their website-search-page.
But nothing beats the serendipitous finds of aisle-browsing.
Like the Nicaraguan-vase I saw at Bookman's yesterday afternoon.
I think the next book I pick for my bike-read will have to be a novel; 't's been a while since I read some good fiction. I'm getting pickier?


Not just some stream-of-conscious-gibberish, although the blog is often a forum for that...but I'm saying that my gym-experience is hardly mind-clearing.

Some people exercise to hit 'the zone,' where they focus on breathing and rhythm, and de-stress from thinking about stressful things. I rather enjoy, though, the haphazard mental volleying that occurs when I go to the gym.

Perhaps I'm a bit A.D.D? When I younger, I was able to keep more focused...perhaps going to a high-school that had a seven-period day, with the option of half-period electives, gave me enough variety to keep my attention. But I can focus...when I want's just that I enjoy darting about as well. I can sit at the piano, occasionally, and play for long chunks of time...but while I'm in the shower, I'll often feel the impulse to look up a word in the dictionary...(What IS that word in Spanish for 'click and drag'? And in Korean?)...That's what bathrobes are for, no?

Yes, self-diagnosis can often be the worst kind. Misleading. Narcissistic navel-gazing maybe. Omphalocentric. Inaccurate.

So much in today's society is teaching us to have short-attention spans. Commercial breaks for everything. Talk-show hosts asking a panel of 'experts' to give us 'in thirty seconds or less' a definition to a complex issue. Political soundbites. Txt msgs on the small screens of cell-phones. The three-minute pop-song. (What? I have to listen to a symphony that lasts for over half-an-hour?! really, I'm 'just jk-ing.' Ay.)

At times I wonder if perhaps I have too much empathy for my distractible students? Channel the mental volleying, have fun playing with it, but keep it in the game, I guess...(I'm horrible at tennis, by the way.)

But on the recumbent bike, I can burn calories...
and when I go early in the morning, I feel energetic the rest of the day...

Sunrise keeps getting earlier and earlier. Like it does every spring.

(Please don't analyze this posting.)

Spring break just ended here in Tucson...
The Monday after Easter is a day-off from local schools, too, since many many families travel back to Mexico for the holiday to be with family.
So, I went hiking in the mountains on the western edge of the city on Monday--lots of spring wildflowers.
Photos coming soon...

Then I drove out to Kitt Peak and its forest of white domes and telescopes at 7000 feet above the desert.

In parting, for today, then,
a random cartoon, e-mailed to me...
well, not overly random, I guess--the cacti are 'local:'

Always take extra water with you into the desert.
In mid-summer, the ground can heat up to literally 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

border-day.... & truly a 'laptop'-posting

To begin, on this first full evening of spring,
I post an "almost-live" view of where/how I am typing this:

I've never truly used my laptop as a "laptop"--more as a small desk-top-machine instead...
But the comfort of the couch has beckoned...and an out-of-town-relative
has taken over the second-bedroom where my desk is, and so here we go...

Today, we took said out-of-town-relative down the road for a foreign-lunch experience;
Tucson is only about 60 miles north of the Mexican border and the twin-towns of Nogales AZ and Nogales Sonora. (Trivia: I-19, which links Tucson and I-10 to Nogales, is the only metric highway in the U.S.; there are kilometer-postings instead of mileage, although the speed limit is still listed in mph...)

On the way, we stopped for a quick glance at San Xavier Mission, built during the last days of the Spanish Empire of the SW, a final flowering of New World baroque, pared down for its desert surroundings in the 1700's:

...some of the smaller barrel cactus in the garden are beginning to sprout their 'crowns-of-flowers':

(I've always found it curious that the prominent handle on the front door to the mission church is in the form of a serpent:)

(The addition of a rattlesnake to the door--an environmentally correct ornamentation, perhaps, but theologically 'challenged', no?)

A large vellum manuscript, dating also from the 18th century can be found in the small museum.
The artist seemed to have problems getting the proportions right.
This capital "L" is adorned with a bloated baby...I guess the truly gifted manuscript-illuminators didn't make it all the way to the Sonoran desert...

This recent addition of a quail-family running along the base of a wall is, arguably,

Then...back on the road down to Mexico.

Or, more accurately--the road down to the border, for Nogales is not a true sampling of Mexico.

It is truly a shame that for so many Americans their first and perhaps only impressions of Mexico come from visiting border-towns--Tijuana just south of San Diego, Ciudad Juarez across from El Paso, or Nogales, the principal point of entry from Arizona. The desperation of the third world crowds up to the U.S. frontera, and a skewed vision of Mexico is the end result. Throw in increasingly anti-immigrant sentiment and the whole debate about immigration-reform, and a simple walk across a line on the way to lunch can become a meditation on geo-political conflict steeped in lack of empathy, with envy, condescension and resentment thrown in.

We did, though, enjoy our meal in this restaurant recommended in an article in this week's Chicago Tribune, (really worth reading!), which I stumbled upon just the other day:

The dining room is buit into the side of a rocky hill, (thus the name "La Roca") and it overlooks a colonial-style courtyard:

Across from the restaurant is a gallery/gift-shop, full of some of the finest handicrafts from all over Mexico. This room, with a broken talavera-pottery-wall and massive mesquite furniture, is particularly striking:

And then to cross back to the U.S., you leave the elegance of upper-class Mexico, walk back along a 'colorful' bar-and-'massage-parlor'-lined street to end up waiting in line to go through immigration control. There, a legless-man in a wheelchair is selling gum and letting all the people standing in line know, in Spanish and in English, that there are three lines once you get inside the building...

But the hour is getting late, now, for a border-meditation.

The boundary between 'local color,' and arbitrary unjust 'fate' is a fine line...enough to put one in a pensive funk.

The guacamole was, truly, good...The humanity and lack thereof, on the other hand--makes you want to cross on over, keep moving...but even that act--the division between 'legal' and 'illegal', entry permitted and entry denied, with gross inequities as a spotlight--is proof of the funk-inducing nature of the Mexican-American border.

The old (inherently curmudgeonly, if not xenophobic) adage--'fences make good neighbors' comes to mind. It should be changed to "fences make neighbors weird." Or maybe "fences un-make neighbors"...or, "Good fences will make neighbors go away." But they don't. They never have. Not when the neighbors need work. And not when this side of the fence has more 'fruit' than the other...just watch out for the snakes...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

in today's paper...

With my morning coffee,
I saw this photo on page
B2 of the Arizona Daily Star:

click here to go the Tucson paper's photo gallery website:

I'm "published!"
--a small thrill, but a thrill nonetheless...
The paper publishes, daily, a photo from its readers.
And today, my mountain-lion shot from back in January made it...

And so--would you characterize it as "nice kitty,"
or "scary kitty?"
It might depend on who you are and where you are from...
See the following article from today's IHT.

East and West part ways in test of facial expressions
By Eric Nagourney
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How do you know how someone is feeling? For people in Western societies, it is usually easy: look at the person's face.

But for people from Japan and other Eastern societies, a new study finds, it may be more complex, having to do not only with evaluating the other person's face but also with gauging the mood of others who might be around.

The differences may speak to deeply ingrained cultural traits, the authors write, suggesting that Westerners may "see emotions as individual feelings, while Japanese see them as inseparable from the feelings of the group."

The findings are based on a study of about three dozen students in two groups, one Japanese, one Western, who were shown a series of drawings of five children. The volunteers were told that the drawings were going to be used in an educational television program and that the researchers wanted to see how realistic they were.

Sometimes the expressions of all the children in an image were the same, but more often they varied. The participants were asked to look at the face of the person at the center of the picture and rate it on a 10-point scale for happiness, sadness and anger.

The Western students did not much change their assessment of a character's mood no matter what was happening with the other characters. But for most of the Japanese participants, it made a measurable difference. If the figure in the center had a happy face but those in the background were sad or angry, they tended to give the happy figure a lower score. If everyone was happy, they gave the figure in the center a higher one. When the images were shown to two other groups of students wearing equipment that tracked their eye movements, the researchers found that the Japanese spent more time looking at the children in the background of the pictures.

The study appears in the March issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. While the study offers hints into how different the world may look to people from different cultures, it raises as many questions as answers. "We don't know exactly what's going on," said the lead author, Takahiko Masuda, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Still, the study fits squarely in a longstanding body of research into differences between Eastern and Western perceptions of the world around us.

Researchers studying paintings from the 16th through 20th centuries, for example, have found that in Western portraits, the subject took up a larger portion of the picture and was painted in a way to make the subject stand out, the study said. In Eastern portraits, the subjects tended to be smaller and to blend into the background.

Even now, the differences often remain. When Masuda and other researchers handed students cameras in an earlier study and asked them to take portraits, the subjects filled more space in the frame of the photographs taken by the Americans.

Many researchers have suggested that East Asians take a more holistic view of the world.

In the new study on faces, the findings may also reflect social differences, said Kristi Lockhart, a lecturer in psychology at Yale who has studied both cultures. Where Western societies tend to promote individuality, Eastern ones emphasize the needs of the group. So when a Japanese sees a happy person amid sad ones, it may be a bit unsettling.

He may adjust his view of how happy that person is "because of his real desire to fit in with the group and to not be different," Lockhart said.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

desert wildflowers...architecture

This afternoon--a walk in Sabino canyon,
where the spring wildflowers are just beginning...
(no carpet of poppies like up at Picacho peak, like in the posting from two week's ago, where it's been the best wildflower display in a decade...)
...a few areas of color are popping up among the cacti--mainly yellow, like these brittlebush:

...and a few purple things--I think this is wild heliotrope?
(It's our first spring here--all new names to learn...)

...and some fairydusters atracting bees...

...and in the midst of all this spring renewal--a skeletal reminder of mortality:
When saguaros die, after a lifespan of up to 200 years, their internal architecture sticks (ahem) around for a while longer...

My wife and I love the architectural nature of the vegetation here.

This particular saguaro--among the tallest I've seen, caught my eye.
--a multi-armed conductor, directing the symphony of wind in the foothills.
(How's that for bad poetry?...)

I do wonder what makes certain arms turn down in their growth...


The other day I came across an article about the new crop of
next-generation-high-rises being built, almost exclusively in Asia.
and this depiction of a projected skyscraper in South Korea captured my attention,
since it reminded me of a giant stylized cactus:

(link to more information about the Pusan Millenium Tower)

When finished, it will be the tallest building in East Asia, over 1400 feet tall.
Pusan, which has always played 'second fiddle' to Seoul, will have it's definitive landmark,
rising above its hills and harbors...

In neighboring China, a post-modern building-boom is taking place as well,
in preparation for this summer's Olympics...
and one of its most audacious buildings is the future headquarters for China Central Television:
(link to CCTV building information)

Pretty heady stuff, no!?
..and the architect who designed it is Rem Koolhaas, the same guy who designed the
Seattle Public Library a few years ago:

I took this photo when I went in the library the first time a couple of summers ago, after our year in Nicaragua--from colonial Baroque Spanish architecture, in picturesque decreptitude, to THIS--a postmodern shock of a 'public space.' It is the asymetrical jewel of Seattle's downtown--a fitting landmark for what is ostensibly "America's most literate city"...

No such imaginative modern architecture here in Tucson...

but we do have a few international storefronts on strip-malls, such as this trilingual sign on a Middle-Eastern restaurant on Speedway Boulevard:


We're more than just cactus and chimichangas, then.

Hummous and tabbouleh are here for the taking as well.