Up And Over

Lately I’ve become fond of a little park which just happens to be on the way to the Safeway store on the south edge of Bisbee. The park has a parking lot but hardly anyone ever goes there. It’s just a few acres in extent, but the park is sort of a microcosm of limestone-based Chihuahuan desert scrub, dominated by ocotillo and agave.

One of my favorite plants around here is a monsoon-blooming morning glory species, a sprawling plant with strap-like leaves and spectacular blossoms. The plant’s most common haunts are way up on the high canyon slopes, but this park harbors quite a few clumps and they are easy to find. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for a strenuous climb of several hundred feet!

Ipomoea longifolia has a tuberous root, giving the species a buffer against dry periods. This morning glory species sends out horizontal vines which snake their way across the rocky soil. These vines will climb, but not very far up. They don’t need to, as there is plenty of bare ground to inch their way across.

Yesterday I realized that I was almost out of toilet paper, something I do like having on hand. I’m spoiled by civilization’s luxuries, I readily admit! After visiting a friend in town for a while, I headed for the Safeway store. My curiosity got the better of me as I began to wonder what might be blooming in that little park. Ten minutes is sufficient to ramble around for a while with my camera, as the park is small.

This morning glory scene caught my eye. A vine had encountered a big chunk of limestone and rather than go around it, the vine went up the rock and over to the other side:


These morning glories are budded out (as you can see in the photo) and will probably be in full bloom within a week. You can be sure that I’ll stop and check on them while on a grocery run!


Disorder At The Border

A journal entry typed way, way up in the sky:

As I type this I’m in an Airbus jet somewhere over the Midwest, a mode
of transportation distinguished only by its speed. The constant noise
annoys me, and I do wish that one could see more than small oval
glimpses of the landscapes and cloudscapes we pass.

Three flights took me to Halifax from Tucson starting Monday night:
the first, a short one, to Phoenix, the second to Philadelphia, and
the third over the Atlantic to Nova Scotia.

Due to an unfortunate encounter with Canadian officialdom I’m now
reversing those flights. The Canadians refused to allow me to enter
Canada for more than one day, and they kept my passport in order to
ensure my compliance. I think they expected me to linger around the
airport and perhaps rent a motel room, but Bev and I drove north to
her place at Round Hill instead. We didn’t get much sleep, as at
about one-thirty in the morning we had to drive back to Halifax for my
expulsion at five in the morning.

The several hours of driving were worthwhile for both Bev and I,
though. I got to see what the Round Hill house and grounds look like
after all of Bev’s work this year and we were able to spend spome
bittersweet hours together away from the soulless ambience of the
Halifax airport.

When I get back to Tucson I’ll take a motel room for the night and
morning. This will enable me to e-mail my Bisbee friends, in
particular Liz, from whom I hope to re-rent the apartment I’ve been
living in for the past month. Somehow I have to shepherd my baggage
and myself back down to Bisbee. What a farce, escorting bundles of
clothes and cased musical instruments across a continent and back in
the course of two days!

I knew things were going wrong when the Halifax border official’s ears perked up when I mentioned that I was intending to play music with friends in Nova Scotia. The official was a woman, and I had heard the the female officials are more stringent than the males, but of course I wasn’t offered a choice of sexes! The official said:

“Hmm… a musician, eh? [she flipped through my passport] So you were here for a lengthy stay last summer, it seems. I think you will have go to the Immigration desk; it’s just down the hall.”

My heart sank as I trundled my baggage down the hall. Other Americans were gaily walking right by the Immigration desk, but I had been singled out. I waited for the one Immigration official to finish processing a mixed-race couple with backpacks. The official was a man, and my native optimism kindled a spark of hope. The backpacking couple moved on, and the official beckoned to me. I handed him my papers and passport and he scrutinized them.

“Hmmm… a musician. What do you play?”

“Irish dance music on the fiddle.”

“Oh, fiddlers are always trying to get in! Playing in pubs, making money… really, you are wanting to work in Canada, right?”

“I don’t play for money, even in pubs. This isn’t pro-level playing, I’m not playing gigs, it’s just music with friends!”

“They all say that. Playing for tips, no taxes involved… quite a sweet deal for you!”

“I’ve never made a penny playing music in Canada!”

“Maybe, maybe not. What you need is a work visa.”

“But this isn’t work! It’s playing with friends in kitchen jams, things like that.”

“I’ll do you a favor; I’ll start processing a work visa for you, and we can get this formality behind us.”

“But I don’t want a work visa!”

The official, who wore a holstered pistol, peered at his computer screen. He said, with evident satisfaction,

“Well, what have we here? Why don’t you tell me about your criminal record?”

It was rather odd that he asked me that, as obviously he was looking at every trace my life had left on the legal system, right here in black and white on the screen.

“Well, I had a misdemeanor disturbing the peace conviction in Hannibal, Missouri a few years ago. My dog had gotten loose more than once.”

“Well, that one doesn’t show up here — must have been expunged at some point. I don’t care about trivial city-level offenses, though. What interests me is this Iowa thing.”

Oh, the curse of my life, which follows me around like an especially insistent stray dog!

“Okay, I did have a DUI conviction in 2011, but I managed to satisfy every legal obligation.”

“Yeah, I see… big fines, some jail time, all that stuff. Y’know, here in Canada we take a dim view of drunken driving. It’s a felony here, and so in our eyes you are a felon and we don’t want you entering our borders. We’re big drinkers up here and we have to be rather picky about drunk drivers.”

He went on:

“Now, Larry, I can tell that you are basically an okay guy, and you’ve been leveling with me pretty well. If I didn’t like you I could have you held in a cell overnight before we put you on a plane back to the USA. We have arrangement with the airlines. It they fly an undesirable into Canada they’ll pay for the fares to get them back to where they came from. Now, I’m going to give you a break. I know that your “friend” Bev is waiting for you. She’s already talked to some of our people. I’m going to hold your passport, and you can stay in Canada, preferably right here in the airport, but at five tomorrow morning you have to be here. I’ll be off duty, but two other immigration officers will escort you to the airline desk and see that you get your passport back, and that you are put on a plane back to your own country. Now if for some reason you choose not to show up, you will be a fugitive… and we have special operatives who will track you down and bring you back. They’re tough guys and you don’t want to mess with ’em.”

This was getting weird. Had I wandered into a spy novel? Such melodrama, and I could tell that the officer was enjoying this bullshit presentation.

Well, Bev and I decided to drive back up to her Round Hill place. We could spend a few hours together before driving back to Halifax early the next morning. She wanted to show me the progress on her house and grounds, and we both badly need some time together before I had to retrace my aerial steps, all the way back to Bisbee.

At five AM two uniformed and armed Canadian immigration officers showed up at the airport. I had to sign a paper stating that my passport had been given back to me, and the airline gave me free boarding passes all the way back to Tucson. I bade Bev goodbye and waited for the next flight to Philadelphia. Another day of flying, ameliorated only by talking with other passengers. This time I had a good story for them!


A Slimy And Incontinent Nocturnal Visitor

Tonight I had turned in early, but at about ten o’clock I was awakened by the welcome sound of gentle rain pitter-pattering on the tin porch roof. I got up and stepped out onto the porch to listen for a while. Such a sweet sound, especially at night!

As I stood there I noticed a rather large round pebble at the edge of the porch’s concrete floor. Odd, I thought, as the gravel which paves the courtyard is angular, not rounded like river gravel. Then I saw that the pebble was slowly moving.

I squatted down and encountered the first snail I’ve seen in the ten months I’ve been living in the Bisbee area. It was a rather large snail — its shell was over an inch long. The light was too low for photography, so I picked up the creature and took it inside. The snail immediately retracted its head and horns, probably thinking that it was about to be eaten. Many birds know how to winkle a snail from its shell.

I set the snail down on the other end of the piano bench which I sit on while typing these posts. The snail remained all retracted and immobile:


I went to the kitchen for some water and dribbled some around the snail. After a while it cautiously extended an eye-stalk:


I wondered what the small lumps towards the right in the above photo might be — was this snail pooping?


The snail seemed to revive after the water was puddled around it. It began to crawl, leaving a trail of slime and feces:


I enjoy watching a snail maneuvering its eye-stalks. What would it be like to have such mobile eyes? What does the world look like to a snail?

These questions being unanswerable, I picked up the creature and set it down outside where I found it.

Liz is a friend from whom I’ve been renting this place for the past month. I assure you, Liz, if you should happen to read this, I cleaned up that piano bench. You won’t find small piles of snail poop after I leave!


A Poppy By Any Other Name…

Across a broad swathe of the Southwest, all the way from Texas to California, Kallstroemia grandiflora brightens up the landscape after summer rains. Many folks know this plant as Arizona Poppy, but it’s not in the Poppy Family (known on formal occasions as the Papaveraceae). A more appropriate common name is Arizona Caltrop. The plant is related to Creosote Bush and both are in the Caltrop Family. Later on, just to complicate matters, another plant which is in the Poppy Family shows up.

The California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana) blooms in the late winter and early spring. The plant’s flower strongly resembles the Arizona Poppy in size, color, and shape. The leaves, though are gray-green and dissected, quite unlike the leaves of the Arizona Poppy.

So why should this matter to the majority of people who aren’t botanically inclined? Hmm… I suppose that such people might be glad for the botanical diversity, which gives them cheery yellow-orange flowers at two different times of year. That said, I think that in general it’s good to know something about your neighbors!

At a web-site called Desert USA David B. Williams wrote this about the habitat and habits of Kallstroemia grandiflora:

The Arizona poppy is common to profuse in flat, sandy grasslands from sea level to 6000 feet. A summer bloomer, Arizona poppies begin to appear with the rains and in particularly wet years, their display rivals spring wildflowers. Even if Kallstroemia dominates an area one year, it may be rare or nonexistent the next. Seeds remain viable for at least three years and germinate at irregular intervals. Although the flowers lack any fragrance, they are visited by at least 46 species, including bees, wasps, flies and butterflies. Insects find the flowers and get directions to pollen and nectar from the ultraviolet reflecting patterns of the flowers. Areas that are not reflective appear dark and indicate either the location of the nectar or act as guides that point to the sugar source. The great variety of visitors utilize the flowers in four distinct ways. Unlike many insect visitors to plants, three groups do not play a role in pollination. One group avoids the anthers and stigma by being too small. A second group, including honeybees and larger wasps, extract nectar from under the flower. A third clan only stops by for nectar. A fourth group gathers pollen and nectar from within the flower and contributes to both cross- and self-pollination. Researchers hypothesized that the non-pollinating visitors “contributed to the economy of the plant by reducing the quantity of available nectar so that the pollinators have to visit more flowers to get their full nectar supply.

Out in the Sulphur Springs Valley Caltrop flowers are springing up all over. The monsoon rains give them their big chance of the year to have progeny.


Here’s what a pollinating insect sees as it flies into the maw of the flower — a realm of yellow-orange sex. Notice how this flower has already been well-pollinated. The pistil seems well-satisfied. Pollen grains are carelessly strewn about, the aftermath of a cross-species party.



The Ghost of Samuel Dale

This morning a fine drizzle was falling, still such a novelty after the dry months. I was meditatively ambling through patches of ocotillo and agave in a small park tucked into a wash here in Bisbee. The ground was strewn with chunks of limestone, possibly a reason the little tract of land had never been developed.

There are so many leguminous trees and shrubs in the Chihuahuan desert-scrub landscape that it can be easy to overlook the less common species. I see compound leaves with many opposite leaflets and tend to think “Oh, more mesquite and white-thorn acacia…” On this walk, though, a small shrub caught my eye; I could tell it was something different. I squatted down and shot some photos. Rather than having yellow or pink fuzzy balls or cylinders for flowers, this species had pea-like flowers with prominent sprays of fine hairs. Subtle, easily-overlooked, but quite beautiful in a modest way. The shrubs were just eighteen inches tall, with woody stems:



After I got home I determined that my shrub is called Featherplume (Dalea formosa) Back when I roamed the tiny prairie remnants of the Midwest I was fond of two non-woody species of Dalea, Purple Prairie Clover and White Prairie Clover, legumes which once nourished vast herds of buffalo in the tall-grass prairie, that region which now nourishes Monsanto. The Featherplume is a desert relative of these plants.

The genus Dalea was named for Samuel Dale, an early English botanist and geologist who died in 1739. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, must have either known the man or known of his work, as it was Linnaeus who named the genus after Dale. Here’s a portrait of Samuel Dale, flowing locks and all:


A walk which admits me to the company of an organism new to me is always welcome!