Thursday, May 29, 2008

Quail. Cacti. Snow. Jogging in the park.

Finally, after living here almost a year, I've photographed one of the ubiquitous Gambel's quail. They're not hard to spot--they're as plentiful as squirrels--but I'd just never gotten around to taking a picture of one of those head-dressed birds, until yesterday, when I spotted one snacking on saguaro-nectar:
I was driving on the loop-road through the Rincon Mountain district of Saguaro National Park, on the eastern edge of Tucson, getting a preview of a possible summer-Saturday-morning-routine. A couple of friends of mine get together with a group of guys every Saturday morning, at 5:30 a.m., spring through fall, to go for a 20-mile bicycle-ride that takes them from suburbia (a McDonald's parking lot!) to wilderness...I'm planning on working up to that challenge, but I wanted to know ahead of time what I would be getting I drove the route. And then I bought an annual vehicle/bicycle pass for the national park, so now I'm committed...

More about saguaros later on...

Now, about the snow. Last weekend--Memorial Day weekend, the traditional 'beginning of summer'--Tucson had an unusually cool and late flirtation with winter. Mt. Lemmon got three inches of snow, the latest snowfall in memory, and the mountains to the east got a foot! The high-temperature down in the city was only in the upper 60's, after a couple of 103-degree days earlier in the week...But tomorrow we should hit 100-degrees again, with 105 by Sunday and three-digits as far as the forecasters can see...Summer is here to stay.

From the pool next to our place, we could see the snow on the peaks of the Catalinas:


Back to the saguaros, then...still in bloom all over the place...

This one caught my eye, since you can make out some of the 'internal skeleton' of the prickly giant:

...and after a few decades, I guess this one just got tired--all arms down, and all pointing in a clockwise 'dance':


For a few weeks now, I've been getting into another warm-weather habit: early-morning jogging. We live on a relatively quiet street near a park; why not take advantage of it?

So I start out on the street, heading north towards the mountains...and to Fort Lowell Park, which has a small fountain-pond with ducks, turtles and the occasional heron or egret:

...and as the name would imply, the park is the site of a "Fort." Back in the 1870's, a fort was established to protect the settlers (Mexican and Anglo) on the outskirts of Tucson from Apache raids...eventually a hospital was built, along with officers' quarters and parade my 'jogging route' takes me past some of those reconstructed adobes:
...and some not-so-reconstructed adobes; here are the ruins of the hospital:

...and the melting remains of the military kitchen:

The avenue of cottonwoods that the army planted has been restored--shade, always welcome...

...but the post-civil-war troops were not the first to settle here...also on the grounds of the park are some remains of pre-Columbian Hohokam pit-houses--this indigenous village-site (now under a pecan-grove, which dates back to the late 19th-century) dates back about a thousand years, when the nearby Rillito river actually flowed year-round and the people could farm easily...

...there's also a bit of bronze sculpture--a monument to the cavalry:

This past winter, my wife's parents came down for a visit, and while they were here, we took them to the little museum on the park-grounds, housed in one of the adobes that used to be officer-family-housing.

The museum-director was there and gave us a personal tour--my father-in-law, who looks a bit like Wyatt Earp, enjoys "old-west" atmosphere; he fit right in.

The director told us that a future project for the park is to construct another monumental bronze sculpture on the other side of the street, facing the horseman--an Apache warrior, as a counterpoint to the Anglo military presence. That would be a historically-delayed-yet-poetic way to frame the mountain view as the traffic whizzes by the park, no?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

...first 100's...and then a cool rainy end...

Tucson's average yearly date for the first 100-or-more-degree-day is May 26th. This year we hit it early--this past Monday and Tuesday the afternoons topped out at 102.

Today, the high was in the freakishly 'cool' 70's. As I'm typing this, it's raining (!) and in the 50's, with the occasional rumble of thunder. The mountain snow (!) level is down to 7500'. And today was students' last day of school.

As the school-year ends, my wife and I are approaching our one-year 'anniversary' here in Arizona--we arrived last summer, and with our first desert fall-winter-spring-cycle behind us, summer begins again, and the a/c isn't even on tonight. Bizarre.

So tomorrow I return to school, student-less, to do some grunt-work. Exams are over and grades are entered, but I have to pack up and move from one classroom to another; the school is re-organizing itself for the 'smaller-learning-community' concept. I'm actually looking forward to it, but, hélas, I will have to say au revoir to my vue des montagnes:

Ahh, les montagnes--literally Tucson's backyard.

This past Sunday, which almost hit 100 degrees, my wife and I decided to escape the heat for a bit by doing what most Tucsonans often do during the summer--driving up into those mountains...

...the first scenic pull-off on the Catalina Highway offers this view of the city--surprisingly green beyond the flowering saguaro...

And about two-thirds of the way up, 20 degrees cooler, under the pines, the ferns are unfolding among the wildflowers:

I remember one trip up there, the spring of my first-grade year, when another family and mine drove up from Sierra Vista to picnic and pick those forest ferns--before they open, they are "fiddleheads," an edible delicacy commonly eaten in NE Asia and New England. My Korean mother delighted in picking the free 'spring vegetables' (go-sa-ree) and my father remembered them from his childhood in Maine--"têtes de violon" in good français canadien...

My wife and I were in the mood for a creekside hike, and at the end of the road, past Summerhaven, just below 9000 feet, we finally found it:

A few more late spring wildflowers... ...and dappled sunlight through the still-filling-in-trees...hard to believe that this deciduous world is only a 45-minute drive from the saguaros...30 degrees cooler, too...felt like walking on a New England forest trail:

The drive down is always fun, curving past 'hoo-doo' rock formations...

...and the occasional side-car:

We've been picking a few roma tomatoes from our patio garden for a week or so--and I noticed this "flower-print" on the top. I'd never seen that before on a tomato:

And with that minutiae, it is definitely time to sign off.
Let summer begin.
And--for the first summer in several years, my wife and I are so relieved that we don't have to move!
The summer of 2005 was the year we packed up and moved from Seattle to Nicaragua...summer 2006 we moved back from Central America to the Pacific NW, and last summer brought us here.
Home-grown tomatoes and heat--bring it on.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fire on the mountains on a cloudy day

This afternoon, the NE horizon of Tucson looked like this:

--my first time seeing a mountainside on fire...

...but then, after being informed, it wasn't as dramatic as I'd thought;
it's a controlled burn--the Forest Service's 'prescriptive fire' is a preventive measure--getting rid of dried-out undergrowth so that it doesn't later become tinder that might ignite and become a truly destructive wildfire later on...

Still, several thousand acres burning is impressive:

Officially, this is the "Agua Caliente-Reddington Pass" fire.

What can be surprising, too, is the predominant color of this desert--as you can see, it's green!
Most of the trees in this semi-rural/suburban landscape are native, drought-tolerant species such as mesquite and palo verde.

The Sonoran is no Sahara...

It was unseasonably overcast today, too--even 'spittling' a few rain drops--strange contrast with the smoky mountains...(The first 100-degree-day is supposed to arrive by the middle of next week.)

To put it in scale with the rest of Tucson's horizon, here is a panorama, from the central Santa Catalina mountains, on the north (on the left) all the way to the smoke around Reddington Pass, (on the right).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today's saguaro-photo-update

The green-giants up at Sabino Canyon are sprouting floral nodules.
Weird. But cool.
Today's view, from after work:

Monday, May 12, 2008

OMG, lemons grow on trees?!

The I-pod generation is becoming so divorced from their alimentary reality.

Last year, I had a student (bless her shallow heart) who, one day in class, yelled out "oh my gosh, lemons grow on trees?!"

Allow me to contextualize. I was discussing with the students how varied in climate France is: "for example, here in the south, it's kind of like California--there are palm trees, they grow olives, and there are lemon trees..."

That is when the sixteen-year-old blurted out her ignorance. Granted--Washington state is not a citrus-region, but come on, girl--how else do you think lemons grow!? I mean, you're SIXTEEN! You know how to upload free movies onto your I-pod, your thumbs blur across your cellphone as you text (note how that word is now a verb), but you don't know where fruit comes from?!

Half the class immediately busted out laughing. The other half (giggling nervously, so as not to be left out) were as clueless as she was. 'Well, then, how does spaghetti grow?' Really.

For the record, then, here is a lemon (just outside our bedroom window) and a lemmon-blossom, growing on a tree:
Smelling this lemon-blossom the other day reminded me of last-year's classroom citrus fiasco...which in turn reminds me of a more recent student-blurt-out, here in Tucson, from a couple of weeks ago.

Every day, "Channel One" is broadcast during the school's announcement-period. One of the recent news-pieces was about the growing world-wide food crisis...and so riots caused by rising rice-prices were mentioned...and I heard a student ask another student--'so, what is rice--is it like pasta, do you make it from something else?'

Wow. This, here in Tucson, where a good chunk of the populace eats arroz y frijoles daily.

But then again, this being the desert, there are no rice-paddies here.
So, I thought--this is a teachable moment, and although rice-agriculture is not technically part of my curriculum, I have a moral obligation to set the kids straight.

Paddies, people, paddies. It grows in water. Rice is not made from something else--it is a grain, like wheat--the seed of a specially-domesticated grass. (Believe it or not, I'm not condescending to my students; I've yet to be hit with spitballs, so I guess they don't hate me.)

The summer between 8th and 9th grades, I spent a month in this village south of Seoul, where my grandmother was living, and I became intimately acquainted with the humid, green, terraced paddies:

Several years later, I returned in the autumn and saw the entire countryside, paddies dry, covered in fields of gold--rice, waiting to be harvested:
I asked my students--hey, just for 'fun,' ask around, ask your classmates and friends "hey, do you know where rice comes from?" A couple of my students, a couple of days later, reported that very few are paddy-aware.

(I also asked them, no joke, 'how do beans grow?' on trees? I demonstrated the facetious harvesting-technique--and not everybody realized right away that I was joking. "jk" in their text-parlance.)

Alas, they are of the generation who have grown up with this evolutionary paradigm:

(cartoon from a New Yorker a few months ago)

I have a bit of botanical-ignorance of my own to fess up to, now.
I didn't know that lettuce, when left alone, will eventually produce these pretty yellow flowers:

Yep, I'm still being an at-home-camera-nerd in our little patio-garden...and our salad-greens have gone to seed.


To end these edu-culinary-ruminations on a lighter note--here's a magazine ad for a cable-tv-food-show that caught my eye a few weeks ago while I was 'biking' at the gym:

Yes, I tore it out, brought it home, and scanned it into my computer.

I love it.

Cuy--the Andean Spanish word for guinea pig. Originally domesticated to be a meat-source, à la chicken.

And yes, I've tried it. You guessed it--tastes like chicken.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Lunchbreak at work...browsing newspapers online...
came across this cartoon from yesterday's paper
in Nicaragua:

Viva bipedal autolocomotion.
No choice for so many...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Up to Phoenix and back

The largest cities in the U.S. are now:
1-New York
2-Los Angeles

This past weekend we went up to Phoenix, and Sunday morning, in their local paper, I saw this map:

The designation of "megalopolises" has been around for a while, but I'd never seen the phrase 'megapolitan nation.' Driving from Tucson to Phoenix on maxed-out I-10, you can see what economic and demographic forecasters are talking about--they estimate that by 2030 the desert corridor between the two cities will fill in with several million more people! Where's the water? No matter--build it and they will come/they're coming so we have to build it.

Phoenix is often disparaged as "Los Angeles without the beach;" freeways, bad air, endless sprawl. (The city covers FIVE HUNDRED square miles but it's still searching for a downtown soul and a decent skyline.) A person who lives there said, "well, actually, we DO have a beach--lots and lots of sand--just no ocean." Driving around, my wife and I often felt like we were in southern California--the lush landscaping, the tony shops of Scottsdale...

Tucson seems to affirm its desert identity; lawns are rare and man-made lakes hard to come by.
Phoenix engineers its way, at least for now, out of its desert reality--office parks and condo complexes with acres and acres of man-made lakes and fountains dot the suburban landcape.

I'm not meaning to judge (although there is a strong rivalry between Tucsonans and Phoenicians)--I'm just saying, it is what it is.

But the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix do make for a lovely walk. The mutated cristate saguaros were fun to spot:

Back home, after work I went for a walk in Sabino Canyon--full of prickly pear cacti in bloom; I continue to find single 'paddles' with two (or more) colors of flowers sprouting from the thorns:
And the cholla are putting on their pollination-show as well:

A while back, this cartoon (New Yorker) caught my eye...and the increasing price of filling up the gas tank made me think of it:

One day...freedom.