Vegetative Construction Project

A re-post from Facebook:

Look carefully at this photo. It looks like a jumble of colors and lines, but camouflaged within are a couple of recent Peniocereus greggii shoots, AKA La Reina de la Noche, AKA Night-Blooming Cereus.

This particular plant is the first one I ever saw, over a year ago, so I was distressed when hungry jackrabbits without a shred of aesthetic sensibility ate the plant to the ground last winter.

About two weeks ago the plant mustered energy stored within a large tuberous root and, even though we haven’t had rain in over two months, managed to send up two roughly-designed shoots.

I can picture the scene in the plant’s construction headquarters. The foreman tries to rally the workers:

“Hey, guys, gals, and all of you asexual enzymes and proteins, we gotta get some sort of photosynthetic structure up there into the light, or we’ll all die. You wanna keep this job? Well, fuck symmetry — we need something quick and dirty. This chlorophyll won’t keep too much longer!”

Pardon the profanity, but cell-division crews are even coarser than drywallers and roofers! You ought to see what they do after hours!

Brand-new Shoots

Brand-new Shoots

Roadrunner Story

Here’s an interesting anecdote from John Forrey, a great photographer here who lives here in Cochise County.

A preamble: John was commenting on a photo by Charles Morton, another skilled photographer who lives just up the road from me. Here’s Charles’s photo followed by John’s comment:

05/26/16 Roadrunner carries his prize catch around! McNeal, Az

05/26/16 Roadrunner carries his prize catch around! McNeal, Az

“I saw one perched on a rock with a big lizard in his beak. I wondered why he wasn’t munching it down. After a few minutes another roadrunner came running and got on the rock with him. They immediately started to mate and the instant they finished she grabbed the prize from him and took off! Wish I had my camera with me. So that’s why the male walks around with a lizard in his beak.”


Giant Water Bugs As Food And Flavoring

I enjoy growing edible plants and reading about food about as much as I like cooking it and eating. Food plant origins and history, recipes from various cultures — it’s all grist for my mental mill.

This morning as the sun rose I was reading about a very peculiar Southeast Asian food flavoring. It’s a pheromone-laden secretion derived from certain glands in a giant water-bug, a monster insect which has flight muscles large enough to carve out as chunks of meat. The flavoring agent from that three-inch bug is known in Vietnam as cà cuống. The substance is used to flavor the family of Vietnamese soups known as pho.

So there must be people in Southeast Asia who are insect butchers! This fascinates me, as I come from a culture which values structures and traditions a couple of hundred years old, while in Europe and Asia “old” traditions tend to be more like thousands of years old.

A Wikipedia article about the Asian giant water bug:

Lethocerus indicus


Lazy Sapphic Afternoon

After talking with folks at the Bisbee Farmer’s Market, doing my laundry, and checking my post office box in Bisbee, I drove back to my desert home, hung out the laundry, and took a nap. I woke up after a while, finding that Dingo and the tomcat were sprawled out on the bed near me. I began to re-read Mary Barnard’s wonderful translations of Sappho’s poems.

I noticed a bit of distracting commotion; the tomcat seemed to have pounced on something — a fly, perhaps? Suddenly the cat jumped up, looking perturbed, and swiped at his mouth with one paw. He jumped off the bed and ran under it. I saw a moribund honeybee where the cat had been, picked it up, and flung it onto the floor.

I returned to my book after this mild domestic calamity and found this poem, one I’ve always liked, perhaps more so now that I am older:




Copper, The Pot-bellied Pig of Slaughter Ranch

Thursday was Field Trip Day at Echoing Hope Ranch. Various staff people and ten or so clients piled into four vehicles and headed east for a visit to a historic site known as Slaughter Ranch.

I had vaguely heard of Frank Slaughter, who served as a Cochise County sheriff and was part of the team of lawmen who tracked down Geronimo. He bought the ranch property in 1884 and was one of the first ranchers to run cattle in Arizona.

The ranch today is a marvelous place, blessed with abundant spring water and with well-irrigated grounds dotted with picturesque old cottonwood trees. Restored stone buildings serve as a museum complex. The centerpiece is an acre-sized pond with a stone wall bordering it.

Ramon, one of our ranch’s staff members, took advantage of a propane BBQ conveniently located by the pond and several picnic tables. He cooked the hot-dogs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers for everyone. After we ate my co-worker Mallory and I gathered up several clients and walked up a trail to a lookout butte where supposedly the ruins of an Army fort can be seen.

Before we left Ramon tried to give us additional cheeseburgers. “I just hate to waste food!”, he said. I politely declined but Ramon cajoled Mallory into taking one.

I walked ahead with a couple of clients. Later Mallory and her clients caught up with us. She had a half-eaten cheeseburger in her hand but seemed disinclined to eat it.

“Larry, you won’t believe what just happened! We were walking along and Jim spit tobacco juice on this cheeseburger! So disgusting! I can’t eat this, and I’m full anyway.”

Jim (not his real name) is older than most of the clients, perhaps in his mid-forties. He’s a big slow-moving guy and chews tobacco incessantly. Usually he has a pop bottle to spit in, a bottle which looks quite nasty towards the end of the day. Jim works for the garden crew in the mornings, so we know him well. I said:

“Why don’t you just pitch it into the bushes? Something will eat it!”

“Oh, I hate to just waste it. I know! I’ll wrap it up and tuck it into my cowboy boot! I’ll give it to Copper the pig when we get back.”

She did that; the little parcel fit right in the boot next to her ankle.

I should explain that the ranch has a free-roaming Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Copper, a friendly beast which knows that a picnic means dropped food.

After looking at the low ruins of the Army fort and appreciating the wonderful view of the thinly-inhabited San Bernadino Valley, we made our way back down to the pond and the rest of the group. As we were packing up to leave I ran into Mallory. I said:

“So, did you give that cheeseburger to Copper?”

“Oh, it was so funny! I had forgotten all about that cheeseburger. Copper found it, though! She was snuffling at my boot and that reminded me of what was in there! Copper ate it in one bite.”

Somehow in the turmoil of getting ready to leave on that field trip I forgot to fetch my camera from my truck. The ranch site offers numerous photographic opportunities, so next time I visit the ranch I’ll be better prepared!


Elephant Garlic Harvest

I’ve decided to re-post Facebook posts here, partly for archival reasons and also so that those who avoid Facebook can read them. Here’s the first one:

Last week the garden crew at Echoing Hope Ranch dug up two patches of Elephant Garlic with the help of some of the resident clients, all of them guys in their early twenties. It was a pleasant experience for all of us. My boss and I loosened the deeply-rooted bulbs with shovels and the clients pulled the garlic and loaded it into a cart.
The garlic bulbs are drying in one of the greenhouses, loosely stacked in slat-sided wooden boxes. This morning I noticed that some of the bulbs had snake-like scapes, the flower-stalks, erecting themselves and blindly rising towards the light. The flowers-clusters had expanded and burst their papery shrouds, leaving oddly comical hat-like remnants. Before I succumbed to practicality and snipped off and discarded the scapes I shot a few photos:

Characters And Dialogue

Lately I’ve been enjoying Richard Russo’s new novel “Everybody’s Fool”. I first encountered Russo’s work over twenty years ago, when I checked out a novel called “Nobody’s Fool” from the Edina library in Knox County, Missouri. I was delighted with the novel, a character-driven story of flawed but likable ne’er-do-well people in a languishing small town in upstate New York. I was reminded of Anne Tyler’s novels of eccentric inhabitants of Baltimore.

When “Nobody’s Fool” was published I was about forty years old. The main character in the novel is Sully, who was sixty during the events of the novel. To me at that time, Sully was an old man, and his exploits as recounted in the novel I saw as a sort of cautionary tale — I didn’t want to end up with such a fate!

Now I’m sixty-two, while in Russo’s fictional universe Sully has only aged ten years. Sully at seventy is much the same as he was at forty, while I can only hope that during the intervening twenty years I’ve learned more than he has!

Richard Russo, like Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, and Elmore Leonard, is a master of writing true-to-life dialogue, a skill which is more difficult than it looks. I learned this years ago when I worked the overnight shift at a convenience store in Hannibal, Missouri. During the wee hours I would have these great conversations with down-and-out night folks, and the next morning I would try to transcribe the conversations and present them in my blog, an ancestor of this one. I would jot down brief notes after the customer left, but turning these notes into readable and concise written dialogue was not easy. But it was fun!

“Nobody’s Fool” was made into a movie starring Paul Newman back in the early nineties. It’s a good movie, but, as is true most of the time, not as good as the novel.