Drought Victim


I’m continually beguiled by the contorted and very sculptural shapes of the long-dead chunks of mesquite and acacia which I gather this time of year, as the nights and mornings become chill and the moderate Southeast Arizona winter sets in.

These weathered and twisted pieces of wood are legacies of a prolonged drought. They are mere schemata, all but the fibrous cellulose soul having been eroded to dust by years of much sun and little rain.

Yesterday I picked up a three-foot-long stick of mesquite. It was too long for the wood-stove so I sawed it in half. I examined the cut end of one of the halves. The newly-revealed growth rings I saw on the orange-brown surface were very narrow and closely space, mute testimony of slow growth in a harsh and rocky environment. The stick was two inches in diameter and I counted fifty growth rings. I roughly estimate that the branch had been dead for at least twenty years. Let’s say that the mesquite branch died in 1996. That branch might have shot out from a bud just after World War Two, several years before I was born.

Of course the numbers I came up with are conjectural, mere guesswork, but plus or minus five years they are probably close to the truth. 1996, the year I’m guessing the parent mesquite clump died, was near the middle of the prolonged drought which afflicted this county during the last two decades of the 20th century and which continued for a few years into this millennium. Judging by the sheer quantity of dead wood which litters the stony ground in my neighborhood, there must have been a mass die-off of scrubby trees as a result of that drought. This area must have looked quite desolate twenty years ago. Some would say that it still looks that way!


Michel de Montaigne invented the personal essay in France way back in the sixteenth century. The word “essay” back then meant “attempt”, and that is just what Montaigne and his numerous successors have been trying to do: attempting to describe a certain phase of a writer’s life.

My favorite essayists are Montaigne, Thomas Browne, Henry Thoreau, and E.B. White. They have taught me all I know about the form.

I’ve been writing essays for many years, and I’ve gradually formulated some guidelines which, if followed, help to keep me out of trouble. And I’ve seen a lot of trouble; things that I’ve written have caused me a world of woe, including divorce, eviction, and lost friendships!

So, for your edification if you feel inspired to write an essay, here are my personal rules:

1: Don’t get too personal, as Too Much Information puts off readers. Nobody want to know the color and texture of your stools!

2: Be careful about writing about Real People who co-inhabit your world. I’ve lost friends by writing about them in too much potentially-embarrassing detail. Most people are more private than I am!

3: Don’t brag! Self-deprecation endears a writer to his or her readers, as we all have human flaws.

4: When you are really happy, maybe even ecstatically so, tone down the purple prose, as readers have only so much tolerance for reading about people happier than they are.

That’s it! Feel free to add any more rules you might think of in the comments.

By the way, this is a personal essay!

Yet Another Juniper Flats Excursion

I love driving up the steep and switchbacked road to the level top of Juniper Flats, a massive granite flat-topped mountain just a mile or so north of Bisbee. I’ve been trying to organize hikes up there lately, but it has just been so hot. What people don’t realize is that at over seven thousand feet in elevation above sea level, it’s always cooler up there.

This morning the only person to show up was John Beland, a musical and horticultural friend of mine who lives over in the Other Valley, on the other side of the Mule Mountains from where I live. His and Marcia’s place is not far from Echoing Hope Ranch, my home away from home.

Here’s a selection of photos I shot while John and I were up there this morning.










A tortoise, and peanuts too!

Living alone as I do most of the year, I have few dependents. Just an orange Desert Dog and a couple of Van-pattern cats. I needed one more genus of creature to fill out my life here, so I ordered a Sulcatus hatchling tortoise from a reptile breeder in Sacramento. The little reptile should be shipped to the ranch within a day or two. The species is the third-largest tortoise still existing in this world, and could eventually grow to three feet in length.

This morning I met a neighbor and friend out on my road. Michael wanted some silty sand, and there’s a big pile along my road, left there by another neighbor when I had my road refurbished earlier this year. While Michael shoveled sand into his truck, we talked. Michael said:

“Ya know what, Larry? You guys at Echoing Hope Ranch oughta be growing some peanuts.”

I was intrigued, and this afternoon I ordered a quarter pound of peanut seed from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Maybe next year we’ll be making and selling peanut butter!


More Russian Kale Dialogue

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Baby Kales Talking/caption]

“Hey, here comes that guy that waters us. I could use a good root-soaking!”

“I’m kinda wondering about that guy, truth to tell. Look what he’s doing over in that carrot bed!”

“Shit, he’s pulling up half of the plants! What’s got into him?”

“Y’know, I saw a documentary about plantopathic gardeners. They get some sort of sick thrill from pulling up plants, plants just like us, by their roots! It could be that Larry is a serial thinner!”

“Oh, no, here he comes!”

“Hey guys, I gotta do this, but it’s for your own good. You are growing too thickly. Some of ya have to go! I should tell you that most of you are destined to be eaten by humans.”

“Oh, Larry, is that why you planted us? I thought it was just because you like plants! All of my illusions are being shattered!”

I’ll omit a description of the sad carnage which followed this exchange! Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!


Up On Juniper Flats Again

This morning I was parked in the Old Divide parking lot, waiting for some fellow hikers to show up. I had planned an excursion to some favorite localities way up top, where the piñon pines and Toumey Oaks grow.

The first hiker to show up was Willow, a Bisbee woman I’ve known casually for a few years. Willow has been caretaking Matt the stonemason’s house on West Boulevard, right below the Old Divide. Then Jamie showed up in his old white Toyota, probably tired from working the night shift at a residential care facility.

We waited a while for three more people who had said they would come, then gave up on them. Jamie drove his truck, and Willow and two dogs ascended the rough switchbacked road in my truck.

Our first stop was a rocky ledge overlooking Rt. 80. The cars down below looked miniscule, like matchbox cars. Jamie immediately noticed a remarkable amount of developing cones on the Border Piñon trees. I’ve never seen so many on those trees, which eke out a living growing right from crevices in the granite.

This photo shows Willow and Jamie looking at the piñon cones:


Jamie and Willow

The next two photos show the piñon cones and a tree bearing male flowers.


Developing piñon cones


piñon male flowers

This last photo is a view looking over the Mule Mountains into the San Pedro Valley, where I work most days. The Huachuca Mountains,which border the San Pedro Valley on the west, can be seen, blued by haze.


San Pedro Valley

The heat was beginning to build and the dogs were panting, so we headed back to the trucks. On the way down the trail we had passed a couple of women out hiking, one of them being strikingly beautiful. Jamie later told Willow and I that the pretty woman was his ex-wife. He said “I hope she doesn’t vandalize my truck!”

When we got back to the trucks we discovered that someone, most likely the ex-wife, had shattered Jamie’s rear truck window with a rock, which was still there in the truck bed. What a mean and spiteful thing to do! It had to have been Jamie’s ex.

Our next hike will likely be in the northern Mules, where Deb and Dennis Moroney have a ranch.


Hot Saturday In The Borderlands

It was a hellaciously hot Saturday yesterday in Cochise County. I was at the Bisbee Farmer’s Market early, and met up with my musical buddy James Wahl. We talked about music session politics, always an issue, and listened to a family bluegrass band from Douglas.

I had bags of laundry in my truck, but I lacked cash and decided to stop in at the Double Adobe Campground Monday at some point and do the laundry then.

I bought some Scotch Eggs from an Italian woman who is a marvelous cook. Hard-boiled eggs baked with a sausage casing — that food sustained me until later in the day, when I was at John Beland’s place playing music.

Late in the afternoon I finally got home again after a lot of hot driving. My truck has AC, but it struggles to compensate for one hundred degree temperatures.

Last week I bought a used evaporative cooler from a friend in Bisbee. I hadn’t tried it out, as I was unsure as to whether my home-brewed solar panel/inverter system could handle the load, 4.5 amps. I managed to drag the bulky semi-portable unit into the cabin, tipped three gallons of rain-barrel water into it, and fired it up.

It didn’t work. The fan blew, but I could detect no moisture in the flow. I pulled the back panel off and found that a hose running from the pump to the drizzlers up top had become disconnected. I fixed that, and now the cooler is my very good friend.

Spot, my female cat, was curious about the new addition to the cabin’s furniture. Soon she was perched atop the vibrating unit and I got this shot as she glanced outside to see what Dingo was up to.

The other photo is of the sibling cats out on the porch step as, blessedly, the sun began to set.

My Cats

My Cats



Looking East as the Weather Changes

This photo is from a few days ago, when the possibility of some pre-monsoon rains was becoming evident.

I had been cooking some ramen noodles with tuna that evening and I was waiting for the food to cool a bit. I stepped outside and saw a fragment of rainbow forming, grabbed my camera from my truck, and got this scene.

Evening Eastern View

Evening Eastern View


A Pre-sunrise Photo, and Thoughts

Another re-post from Facebook:

June Pre-sunrise Cluds

June Pre-sunrise Cluds

This morning was blessedly cool, such a change from the hot afternoons lately. While my morning porridge was slowly simmering, I stepped outside to relieve my bladder.

Such a subtly pleasing sky! Not one of those mind-blowing scenes of pre-sunrise clouds, just a pleasant stack of rosy clouds which might be a harbinger of rain to come. We all anxiously await the monsoon season around here. Will we get some nice soaking rains? Will my road flood? Will some wash change into an impassable barrier? We shall see!


The Dog Behind The Bar

Sunday evenings between seven and nine I can almost always be found at at the Copper Queen Saloon in Bisbee. Several friends and I play Irish dance music along with some other eclectic tunes from various genres. I’m the fiddler in the group.

I almost always bring my dog Dingo with me to music sessions. There is nothing that dog likes better than riding with me in my truck to a music session.

Dingo is a very social dog, and as we play she circulates around the bar, receiving affection from all and sundry.

This evening we were playing a fine old reel called “The Maid Behind The Bar”. There actually was a “maid” behind the bar, a woman working shifts for Chris, our usual bartender. Chris is out east visiting relatives these days.

After we finished the tune I noticed that Dingo was not to be seen. It’s a small bar and it didn’t take long for me to determine that she just wasn’t there. I walked over to the hotel front desk and asked the clerk if he had a seen a dog trailing a clothesline leash walking by.

He hadn’t. Could Dingo have gotten outside and run off? Had an amoral customer made off with her? Puzzled, I walked back into the bar-room and asked my fellow musicians if they had seen her.

Then Dingo, probably hearing her name spoken, walked out from behind the bar with a sheepish grin on her face.

Of course that led to joking references to that “Dog behind The Bar”!