Agave Stalk Mystery

Last spring I felt the need of a walking stick. I thought a third leg would be helpful while negotiating steep canyon-sides and rocky washes. Luckily Southeast Arizona is well-supplied with several plants which have flower-stalks eminently suitable for use as walking sticks: the Agaves, the Yuccas, and the Sotols. My favorite is the stalk of a recently-deceased Agave palmeri. The stalks are light, easily cut, and last for at least a season of walking.

When I moved out to our unfinished cabin in the Sulphur Springs Valley I brought with me an agave stalk I had cut up on Juniper Flats. After a couple of hot and wind-swept months I retreated to the relative comfort of an apartment in Bisbee, complete with such amenities as a kitchen, internet, a shower, and a toilet, where I recovered my digestive equanimity and played a lot of music.

Meanwhile my agave stalk was shut up in the cabin through the months of July through October. Early this month I examined the stalk before setting out on a walk. Oddly enough, the stalk was studded with filmy tubes which spiraled up the shaft, delicate one-quarter-inch-long structures with thread-like filaments radiating from their ends:

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A closer view:

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What creature could have left these husks behind? Perhaps moth larvae which spent their summer happily feeding upon the pith which fills agave stalks?

There were several areas on the stalk which had the husks arranged in a spiral, as if the mother who had laid the eggs had wound her way around the stalk, methodically depositing eggs as she went:

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I’ll have to ask questions of some naturalist friends, as this phenomenon puzzles me. Google certainly was not much help!

Larry

Birth Of An Electric Bass

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It may seem like I’m overextending myself, but the fact remains that while I’ve been working on the Chinese upright bass I’ve also been assembling the components of an electric five-string fretless bass.

For a long time I’ve wanted to work with one or more of the woods in the Cupressus genus, the group which contains the true cypress species. My first choice was Arizona Cypress, a local wood, but the trees are scattered and rare, and I’m reluctant to deprive this mountain-and-desert region of even one of its iconic trees.

I turned my attention to one of the coastal species, Cupressus nootkatensis, commonly known as Alaska Yellow Cedar or Nootka Cypress. After some Googling I happened across the web-site of a Canadian violin-maker who mills instrument wood as a sideline. The shop is in southern Alberta, not far from the mountainous habitats of several coniferous tree species.

I ordered a few pieces of Nootka Cypress from the shop — clear, quarter-sawn old-growth wood. The parcel of wood meandered across the continent, for some reason passing through Toronto before heading west again.

Nootka Cypress only grows in a thin coastal strip extending from Alaska, down through British Columbia, and petering out in Oregon. The species is being stressed by the warming climate, as its shallow roots need snow cover to avoid damage during the coolest period; during recent decades that snow cover has been scanty. Many dead trees are now available, so that makes me a jackal feeding upon the corpses of northern forests. I can live with that! Here’s a photo of the glued-up body blank, the neck, the Pau Ferro fingerboard, along with the neck reinforcement pieces:

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There is a Tlingit legend about the origin of killer whales which involves the yellow cedar tree. I read several English translations of the legend on various First Nations myth web-sites, but the Wikipedia version I think is the clearest and most succinct:

The tale begins with a young warrior Natsilane who is destined to become chief due to his skills, intelligence and generally pleasant demeanour. His brothers are extremely jealous of this, and plot to depose him. The brothers take Natsilane out to sea fishing, taking him further away from the shore than they have ever been before. As he becomes concerned, the brothers throw Natsilane overboard and row away.

As Natsilane is beginning to drown, he is found and rescued by Sea otter, who floats him to a large island saying it is too far back to the mainland for Sea otter to help him back. Instead, he promises to look after Natsilane and shows him the best hunting and fishing grounds. Once Natsilane is settled on his new island, alone, Sea otter confers one last gift to him, a pouch of seeds, and instructs Natsilane to sow them. Natsilane does so, and over the years the seeds grow into a bewildering array of different types of tree, all of which are now native in the Pacific Northwest. Natsilane uses wood from the trees to carve tools and a boat.

In appreciation of Sea otter, Natsilane then tries to carve a new totem. He tries all the trees, but settles on using a large Yellow Cedar tree and carves a huge fish from it, and leaves it on the shore for Sea otter to find. The next morning when Natsilane goes down to the shore, the fish carving is gone and in the bay is swimming Blackfish, the first killer whale. With a boat and supplies, Natsilane travels back to his home, guided by Blackfish. When he arrives, he finds his brothers out fishing again, squabbling. He orders Blackfish to destroy their boat and drown his brothers which it does immediately. When it returns, Natsilane orders that from this day forward it must never harm a human again, and that when it finds a human in trouble at sea it must help him. He then sends the whale off to sea. Natsilane returns to his village, which had been terrorised by his brothers, and becomes chief.

This legend inspires me to call the electric bass I’m putting together the Orca Bass. Perhaps I’ll carve an orca outline on the body of the instrument — perhaps wood-burned. A fantasy comes together in my fertile mind: Someday I’ll have this bass on board a whale-watching excursion boat, perhaps on a meander through the Queen Charlotte Islands. From the boat I’ll engage in a call-and-response exchange with a pod of orcas!

Larry

Chinese Bass Project

I play music quite often here in Bisbee with various local musicians. My main instrument is the fiddle, and playing fiddle is second nature for me these days. Bisbee has quite a few fiddle players, and sometimes there are more than enough fiddlers at a music session — but good upright bass players are in short supply.

Pondering this less-than-ideal situation it occurred to me that if I had an upright bass I could probably get up to speed on the awkwardly-large instrument and even things out a bit. After all, a double bass is just a fiddle writ large, and the tuning and intervals would be close to what I’m accustomed to.

So — off to the internet to see what might be available. I had recently decided to give up on the button accordion. I realized that I would never become a good player of that free-reed contraption. The dealer in Massachusetts from whom I’d bought the accordion agreed to buy it back from me, so I had some money to work with.

My options soon became clear. Buy a beat-up plywood student bass, or look to the Chinese workshops, actually small factories with CNC capabilities, and see what they had to offer. The violin I play these days was made near Shanghai and I’m more than satisfied with it. I looked at the Ebay store of a dealer who handles the output of the same factory which produced my violin and found a tempting deal.

I found an Ebay auction for a partially-completed 3/4-size upright bass. It has plywood sides and back, made seemingly of some species of poplar, a solid-spruce top, a maple neck, and an ebony fingerboard. No bridge, tuners, tail-pin, or soundpost, though. The price was right, even including the necessary accessories which I got from other Chinese vendors on Ebay.

Last week I walked down to the Bisbee post office to check my mail. I had Dingo, my dog, with me on a leash. After attaching Dingo’s leash to the bench out in front of the post office I walked in and unlocked my box. A notice within told me that I had a large parcel to pick up.

I walked up to the desk and spotted an enormous cardboard carton, six feet tall and three feet wide, standing near the shelves full of parcels. What else could it be than a bass?

I walked back to the apartment, indicated to Dingo that she should jump into my truck’s cab, and we drove back downtown.

The clerk at the PO let me use their dolly and I backed out of the building with the carton. A friendly man helped me to load the bass into my truck’s bed.

Once I had manhandled the large box up twenty-five steps and into my apartment I quickly opened up the cardboard carton, which had been very well packaged. Amidst a litter of cardboard prisms and sheets the body of a bass was soon revealed, along with a massive neck with the fingerboard glued on. All I had to do was put it together!

I enlisted the help of my co-tenant C-Sharp a day later. I bored a one-inch hole in the bottom of the bass while C-Sharp straddled and steadied it. I had a foam pad under the bass. Then I carefully reamed the hole to a taper which matched that of the end-pin. Being unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars for the proper reaming tool, I made do with a round surform rasp and a half-round file.

The next task was to glue the neck to the body. The neck came unattached so that the bass could be shipped via air freight to Bisbee for a reasonable sum. C-Sharp helped me with this task, and here is how it looked after a frenzied scramble with hot hide glue, a bar clamp, and a band tie-down:

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After the clamps were removed and the bass had been restored to its more comfortable upright position:

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The bridge and soundpost are the next challenges!

Larry

Dog Paradise

This morning I was up early, as usual. I have a new resident in my apartment, a local musician who had been all but homeless before I offered him a spare bedroom, and this time it was with the full consent of my landlady! I’ve been helping this guy get his financial situation in order, but the effort has been draining. I needed to get away from Bisbee for a while — much as I like this canyon town, sometimes things get weird and complicated, leading me to think my life is some sort of Truman Show soap opera.

I’ve been needing to see how the rough lane back to our cabin has fared after the recent torrential monsoon rains. My new dog Dingo (formerly Lydia) has never been back to the valley after her forced exile to Bisbee, the result of an unfortunate poultry-killing incident. So the dog and I headed out of town in my truck, bound for the Sulphur Springs Valley.

The lane back to the cabin was in remarkably good shape. The rains had actually made the road better, filling in persistent holes and in general evening it out. I parked by the cabin and marveled at how green the landscape was, very unlike the nuclear test zone appearance it had early in the summer. The dog leaped out of the truck and if she could talk, she might well have said “Larry, I don’t think we’re in Bisbee anymore!”

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Dogs and desert washes are a natural match. Dingo raced up and down the intricate mazy networks of washes, surely smelling many exotic odors.

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I walked down a few washes myself, looking for what plants might have been enjoying the copious rains. Here’s a succulent plant which I haven’t identified. This plant forms ephemeral low-lying mats of purple-green vining stalks with tiny reddish flowers:

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Later I came to the conclusion that the fleshy-leaved plant was Portulaca umbraticola, or Wingpod Purslane, a native relative of the common European garden weed.

Plants which grow in the washes shed their seeds into the sand and gravel. The next big rain, which might be during next year’s monsoon season, will transport the seeds to new downstream sites.

The Devil’s Claw plants look like miniature trees, with fat trunks resembling those of the Baobab trees of the African continent. The fat green pods are fully developed now. When they dry out during the next inevitable dry spell the pods will split and assume their devilish seed-dispersal form, hooking on to any passer-by clad in either clothing or fur.

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The area in which our lot is located was once laid out in a grid of four-acre lots. The boundaries are still visible in satellite photos. The lots were marketed in nationally-distributed magazines like Organic Gardening and Mother Earth news back in the sixties and seventies. “Retire in the sun! Inexpensive lots for your dream retirement cabin!” The lots were cheap and people all over the country bought them, only to find that no utilities were available. Many reverted back to the county due to unpaid back taxes.

Times have changed, solar electricity is cheaper than it’s ever been, and more people like Bev and myself are willing to put up with some minor inconveniences in order to avoid crowded cheek-by-jowl communities. The developer way back when even made a cursory effort to put culverts in the washes. These culverts are still around, but they were much too small to serve their intended purpose. Monsoon floods plugged them with sand and silt and occasionally groups of them can be found:

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I can just imagine the expression of the hopeful developer who paid to have these culverts trenched in — once he had seen their fate! Dreams fading to ashes…

Larry

Clouds Over Sonora

I like the name of the Mexican state Sonora. It sounds musical, like the word sonorous,but the etymology is a bit confused. Was it just Spanish Catholic bullshit, perhaps derived from some female saint’s name? Nobody will ever know for sure. The name has been used, though, for hundreds of years, and it’s here to stay.

Yesterday afternoon I drove to the Safeway store on Rt. 92. As the vista across the border opened up before me, I noticed an appealing clump of cumulus clouds burgeoning up from behind one of the Sonoran mountains in the distance. I parked in the Dollar General parking lot and tried to find a view without too many interfering wires and other evidences of civilization. I propped my camera on a high fence, a barrier which prevents invasion of the Dollar General territory by Ace Hardware barbarians, and got this one shot:

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I love these Southwest sky scenes. What could that small dark-gray object be appearing towards the right? It looks like a crude flying saucer prototype, perhaps part of an R&D project undertaken in secret by the Mexican Air Force.

I got back to the truck and found Dingo, my dog, calmly waiting for me on the passenger seat. She is very tolerant of my inexplicable eccentricities!

Larry

High Water Abounding

I guess I forgot to post this! A selection of photos taken on a walk around Bisbee before the recent rains!

A diaphanous Coprinus cluster, well-hydrated:

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Perhaps a species of Lepiota growing from decaying cottonwood roots, near a three-foot-wide stump:

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Notice how this cluster of mushrooms has engulfed an Ailanthus leaf, which nevertheless continues its photosynthesis:

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Drainage canal shots:

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A mysterious door on Mayer Avenue gushes forth water:

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Three shots of Brewery Gulch, still taped off but after six dump-truck loads of gravel and debris had been hauled away:

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Larry

To The Charleston Bridge And Back

It was the evening of September 19th, last Thursday. Several of my musical cohorts had gathered at my apartment to play a few tunes. Of course these occasions are social as well as musical, and occasionally we would take a break and talk.

Jim, one of our bodhran (Irish drum) players works for the federal Bureau Of Land Management. The BLM manages quite a bit of wild and semi-wild land in our area, including much of the watershed of the San Pedro River. Jim loves that river and his job requires that he spend a lot of time in and around the stream. He has been excited lately by the record high levels of the river’s flow after the recent monsoon rains. Jim said to me:

“Larry, tomorrow morning you really should drive over to the Charleston Bridge over the San Pedro. The channel narrows in that reach of the river and the water should be really roaring!”

I can take a hint! The following morning I got up early, drank some coffee, and ate some eggs fried with chile peppers and onion. Just as dawn was lightening the eastern horizon I was driving towards Juniper Flats, a miles-long flat-topped granite mountain just outside of Bisbee. Mist shrouded the eminence and the whole scene was surreal. The cell-phone towers on top of the Flats were barely visible:

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I found a spot where I could pull over as morning traffic whizzed by. More mist swirled around the towers until they were barely visible. An imaginary scene from an old novel imperfectly remembered took form in my mind:

Frodo and Sam, cloaks wrapped around them to counter the chill morning breeze, gazed in wonder at the scene before them. Sam said:

“Could those be the towers of Minas Tirith, Frodo?”

Frodo’s eyes narrowed and his look of melancholy determination made him seem older. He said:

“I’m afraid so, Sam. Saruman awaits us in his dark tower!”

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The sky began to lighten as I descended into the broad San Pedro Valley. The river is bordered by cottonwoods, an undulating dark-green ribbon bisecting the valley. I crossed the highway bridge, then after a few miles turned on to Moson Road. The landscape in that morning light was simply stunning. Mist swathed the Mule Mountains in cascading layers of white and gray. I had to pull over or run off the road. I shot a few photos that charmed morning:

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A pickup truck passed me, going fast, and I pulled out behind it. There were no speed limit signs, but I figured that the truck was probably driven by a local rancher, and he probably knew the local speed limit. I was buzzing along at fifty-five or so when I passed a parked sheriff’s car. “Hmm”, I thought, “I wonder what he’s waiting for?”

Me, it turned out! The sheriff, with blue and red lights flashing, promptly pulled me over into some high grass on the road’s shoulder.

I’m a bit skittish about having run-ins with law enforcement officers. I’ve had some unpleasant experiences and I hoped this wouldn’t be one to add to the list!

The sheriff seemed to be in a good mood as he walked up to me from his car.

“Y’know that there’s a speed limit of 45 miles per hour on Moson?” he asked me.

“I really didn’t know! I didn’t see any signs.”

“Well, I’m just givin’ ya a friendly warning. Try to keep your speed down, okay?”

Just then another armed and uniformed man walked up and stood beside the sheriff. He was from the BLM. He said:

“Hi! Was that you parked by the side of the road back there a ways? Havin’ some trouble, were ya?”

“No, no trouble. I was shooting photos of the Mules…”

“Yeah, that mist is somethin’ else this morning, isn’t it! Where ya headin’?”

“I’m going to the Charleston Road Bridge to see the floodwaters, take some photos.”

“Well, have fun! I might see you over there later!”

Both the sheriff and the BLM guy seemed cheery, almost ebullient. Not too surprising, as they were being paid to be out and around in this splendid landscape!

The sheriff indicated that I was free to go. It’s always a relief to hear that!

After a few miles more of driving at 45 MPH I turned right on Charleston Road, which would take me back to the river and the Charleston Road Bridge, my destination. There was a parking lot near the bridge, and angled across the river was an older iron bridge. I parked and let Dingo, my dog, out. Dingo followed me onto the old bridge, where I encountered a woman with her young son. We peered down at the brown torrents raging below.

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I said to the woman “This is amazing! Have you ever seen the San Pedro so high?”

“Yeah, a few times, but I’ve never seen it last this long!”

The young boy petted Dingo while we watched the water rush on past.

I decided to walk down to the edge of the riverbank below the bridge. Dingo followed me and the dog was soon invisible in the rank streamside vegetation.

Then the woman, still on the bridge with her boy, shouted down to me:

“Your dog! Your dog! It’s in the water!”

Oh, no! that current would snatch that dog away, and who knows where she would end up! I couldn’t find Dingo anywhere. Then the woman shouted to me again:

“Your dog’s up here with us!”

I looked up towards the parking lot, and there was Dingo, prowling around and doubtless soaking up new and strange scents.

I shot a few more photos of the torrential river water:

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I was ready to head for home, as I felt I had adequately recorded the scene. I headed back up Charleston Road. Perhaps because I was watching my speed carefully I missed my turnoff on to Moson Road and ended up at a busy Sierra Vista intersection. The morning rush was in full swing. Damn, I thought. I really don’t like driving in heavy traffic. I saw an opportunity to drive the long way back, south on Rt. 92, so I took it and sped out of town.

That drive was frustrating, as there were incredible scenes of morning light illuminating the cloud-swathed Huachuca Mountains, but traffic was heavy and it was hard to find a place to pull off. I finally found a place, parked, and shot some photos. In the next photo Rt. 92 can be seen stretching out across the San Pedro Valley, headed for the Mule Mountains and Bisbee:

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Another shot of the Mules nearly obscured by clouds:

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I was tired after all of this and took a nap after I got back to the apartment! So did Dingo.

Larry

A Simple Walk Becomes Complicated

My new companion, a mixed-breed yellow dog named Dingo, really, really, likes to go out on walks. If I so much as start to put my shoes on, don a hat, or slip my wallet into my back pocket, she becomes excited and spins around, emitting squeaks of anticipation. This is good for me, I admit. I’m probably walking twice as much around town as I did before Dingo arrived here.

Yesterday afternoon the sky was cloudy and the temperature cool, perfect walking weather. Dingo and I descended the twenty-five steps to Brophy St. and endured the gaze of my downstairs neighbor Sue’s cat, whose coat is almost exactly the same color as Dingo’s. The two animals regarded each other, reminding me of the recurrent scene in the Seinfeld show: “Hello, Jerry!” “Hello, Newman!”.

Brophy St. descends steeply to its intersection with Tombstone Avenue. Looking down the hill, the view partially obscured by blown-over giant Arundo reed stalks, I saw a familiar black-and white feral cat toying with something in the street. I think my neighbor Sue feeds that cat, but it can’t be approached.

The cat fled as we approached, and I saw something like a short snake crawling around on the pitted concrete. A closer look revealed that the creature was a half-grown Madrean Alligator Lizard:

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Oh, why had I left my camera up in the apartment? I keep telling myself “There are no boring walks — something interesting will always be encountered!” I turned around and trotted back towards the steps. Dingo thought “Hmm, this new master is proving to be a bit erratic! Why are we going back up the stairs? I swear, I distinctly heard Larry utter the magic word ‘walk’!”

By the time we got back to the scene of the feline crime that cat had resumed its torments. The beleaguered lizard was wheeling about and snapping viciously at the cat, who didn’t look very threatened. I ran up and tried to kick the cat away but it fled into the giant reeds.

What a moral dilemma! I knew that if I left the lizard, the cat would be right back. I knelt down and closely inspected the lizard’s injuries. The right front leg seemed to be broken and useless, and a bite had been taken from the creature’s flank right next to that leg. This lizard probably wouldn’t survive. I made a tentative effort to pick it up by its tail, but with surprising and disconcerting swiftness it snapped at me like a snake striking.

Notice in the above photo the clear line separating the patterning of the body and the single color of the tail. This is a sign that some other predator bit off the tail some time ago. A new one grew back, but without the original colors and patterns. This lizard was born under a bad sign!

Two more photos:

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So I left the doomed lizard to its fate, a grim one most likely involving that merciless cat.

Just opposite the Brophy St. hill is a pleasant vacant lot shaded by tall and stout cottonwood trees. This lot borders the drainage canal which gathers up flood waters and conveys them who knows where. The water probably ends up in Mexico. Several Palmer’s Agaves live in that lot, and one of them had intercepted falling cottonwood leaves with the wickedly-sharp spines which terminate every leaf. A couple of photos of this agave, scenes which charmed me:

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Just two days ago the waters roaring and churning through the canals were reddish-brown with silt and sand from the canyon slopes. Yesterday the flow was clear, and the numerous waterfalls and riffles reminded me of a mountain stream. How nice, that at certain times Bisbee’s main drag is bordered by such a picturesque series of streams!

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A closer view:

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One of my goals for this walk was to see how the flow had changed on Wood Canyon Road, where Bev and I lived for two winters. Dingo and I walked up past the fire station and turned across the canal bridge onto Wood Canyon. The flow had gone down since I had last seen it the day before. Then the road was a river, from curb to curb, but here’s what it looked like Sunday afternoon:

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As we walked back down Tombstone I wondered if the lizard would still be there on the Brophy St. hill. Perhaps only a mangled corpse would be left. I saw nothing; presumably the cat devoured the poor lizard.

Larry

A Celestial Retrospective

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I’ve been writing for this blog for over ten years. That’s a long time in the often-ephemeral blogging world! My early output, from the spring of 2004 to the spring of 2010, was lost to a hard drive crash — oh, well, that’s what having no back-ups got me!

Faithful commenter Joan Ryan saved many of my early photos and burned them to CDs. I’m still grateful for her gesture!

Since June of 2010 this blog has been hosted at commercial server farms, for a while a free one, but these days I pay for the service. Currently there are over six hundred posts on this blog and thousands of comments. Every now and then I will delve back into older posts. It’s fun to see what was on my mind a few years ago! I woke up early this morning; nothing much was happening on the net, so I began to read a series of posts I wrote just before my fateful move to Arizona. These posts involved meetings with gods and deities of various cultures. I can’t really remember how I got on that subject! It might have been the influence of Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite modern writers. Here are links to those short posts in chronological order; you might find them amusing:

Deity Encounter

Another Talk With Eos

Eos Gets The Blues

Meeting Another Deity

I Meet Atropos

Kokopelli Shows Up

Charon

A Visit From A Snow God

Thor

Loki

Quetzalcoatl

Ares and Eros

An Anomalous Visit From Poseidon

A Visit From God

Oh, No, Not Lucifer!

A Poker Game

Poker, Part Two

The Earth Mother Visits

A Visit From Cronus

The nature of blog posting is such that each new post appears at the “top” of the blog. These posts from 2011 are displayed in backwards or reverse chronological order if you click on the right sidebar link for “Eos Stories”. I restored real chronological order in the above links so that the little tales read sequentially. I hope someone out there enjoys them! I like them, but then I’m biased.

Larry

A Striking Bisbee Stairway

Three houses down from where I live in Bisbee is a house nearly hidden by vegetation. I always stop for a while and look at a set of steps which looks like it might have been transplanted from a villa in, oh, say Minorca or some other Mediterranean locale, the workmanship a remnant of the British colonial era when brilliant native craftsmen could be hired for a pittance.

The slightly run-down appearance contributes to the entrance’s charm.

An arched iron trellis supports a couple of trained apricot trees, and this time of year apricots are still hanging from those trees. Fallen fruits glow orange, scattered across the steps. Yesterday morning before the rains set in the light was just right and I snapped some photos, while Dingo the dog patiently awaited the resumption of our walk. Without further commentary, here is a sequence of photos for your delectation:

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Larry