As a musician, I’m baffled by the way words are visual objects to me rather than aural objects. I can always spell words but I have to work at it to remember pronunciations. I’ve noticed this during the course of this winter, as I’ve been exposed to common place-names around here which I still have to deliberately pronounce. The sounds don’t come naturally to me; presumably my Swedish and Scottish ancestors were never called upon to utter such sounds.
These place-names have a hybrid origin, as they are Native American names transliterated into Spanish. They simply aren’t pronounced as they are spelled; perhaps if I knew Spanish I would have an easier time with them.
Bev became frustrated with my halting attempts to pronounce words such as Huachuca and Chiricahua, the oft-used names of two prominent mountain ranges here in Cochise County.
“Damn, Larry, when are you going to get these right? It’s painful hearing you try to say those names. I suppose I’ll have to write the names out phonetically, as I’ve had to do for certain other visitors.”
She grabbed a pen and quickly wrote these phonetic versions of the names on a sheet of paper and handed it to me:
One fine day last week we decided to venture west to Ramsey Canyon, a biologically-favored cleft in the Huachuca Mountains. The canyon is owned by the Nature Conservancy and it has a reputation in the birding community as a wonderful place in which to see a plethora of bird species. We aren’t birders, really, but the descriptions I’d read sounded interesting.
The Ramsey Canyon property shares a border with Ft. Huachuca, a U.S. Army base. When world-views collide … wouldn’t it be interesting to see the reaction of an Elegant Trogon just arrived from Guatemala when it first encounters an unmanned drone aircraft? Or the reaction of the drone’s remote handlers?
[a crew-cut enlisted man dressed in fatigues peers at a brightly-lit LCD screen. He beckons to his commanding officer, saying:]
“Hey, Sarge, c’mere and take a look at this. Some sort of small aircraft with weird trailing streamers, and it appears to be taking evasive action! Can I try out the flechettes? Please?”
Bev and I drove up a mountain road and entered the preserve property. A visitor center staffed by friendly folks relieved us of some cash and escorted us to the door leading to the trail which follows the canyon. The trail was a civilized one, with occasional benches facing arrays of hummingbird feeders. It was a bit early for hummers, though, and we saw nary a one.
It’s interesting how most natural areas assume a distinct character in the human mind, and that character seems to be given form and shape by the nature of the vegetation growing in the area. Ramsey Canyon’s character is formed by the numerous contorted sycamore trees lining the rocky creek-bed, and by the Arizona Madrones and Alligator Junipers along the path.
The Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii) roughly resembles the Eastern Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), but only to the extent that you can intuit that they are closely related. Both species have flaking multicolored bark which grows in layers, but the leaves have markedly different shapes and the growth habits are very different. The eastern species tends to grow straight and tall, with only a hint of the fantastic contortions exhibited by the branches of the Arizona species.
The Arizona Sycamore seems to have a protective trait which makes the tree have little appeal to loggers and humans in general with their practical and pragmatic urges. The species rarely grows a straight trunk, thus it is largely ignored by people with needs other than the strictly aesthetic.
Here are a couple of photos which illustrate the fanciful curves drawn by this species of sycamore:
It seems that these sycamores change the growth direction of their branches for the least of reasons, as if they were saying, “Oh, the breeze changed direction — I’ll veer off ninety degrees!” or “A bird has alighted upon that branch — oh, what should I do! Perhaps I’ll dither a bit, waver back and forth, before I decide which direction to grow…”
A couple more shots — the species is so photogenic, especially on a clear day with a blue sky!
Another characteristic tree species growing in that canyon is the Arizona Madrone, another lucky tree without much economic value. The madrones are distinctively Western trees, and they probably reach their vegetative and aesthetic peak in California and Oregon. The Arizona Madrone (Arbutus arizonica is the easternmost species in the genus. The tree has distinctive leathery leaves with pinkish-orange leaf-stalks. In less favored localities the tree is barely more than a shrub, but in Ramsey Canyon the species seems to have found a place where it can grow unfettered by environmental limitations. The madrones there are tall, and they have trunks with girths as wide as two feet. The leafy branches along with a glimpse of the bark:
A contorted madrone trunk firmly grasping stones:
Another tree species which contributes to the general ambience of the canyon is the adaptable and versatile Alligator Juniper, a dry-land relative of the Eastern Red Cedar.
Here’s a shot of Bev standing partially behind an uncharacteristically straight-trunked juniper:
Finally, I’ll present a view of one of the canyon slopes:
I’ll certainly revisit this canyon later in the year!