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!

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



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”!


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


First Monsoon Storm!

This time of year residents of Southeast Arizona are weary of hot, dry days and clear blue skies. The rains almost always come by midsummer, but when?

Monday evening (June 22nd) I was watching a storm building over the San José Mountains in Sonora, just seven or eight miles south of our cabin. One leg of a rainbow contrasted nicely with the blur of falling rain, and I fetched my camera. This first shot was taken at about 7:00 PM, while the sun was still shining here. Along with the rainbow fragment there were interesting cloud structures forming:


First Monsoon Storm #1

The storm seemed to be moving towards me rapidly. As the sun began to set lightning and thunder gave a portentous feel to the scene, but the rainbow was still visible. An odd hole in the clouds was forming. A few drops of rain began to fall and I managed to capture part of one lightning-strike. Notice the little curl of inter-cloud lightning in the upper-right corner:


First Monsoon Storm #2

The roundish hole or opening in the clouds looked like a portal to another world. The wind was picking up and I backed into my doorway.


First Monsoon Storm #3

A violent storm! The wind was gusting at over 50 mph and the hole in the clouds moved in closer. I took one last shot and raced to get my windows closed:


First Monsoon Storm #4

After all of the tumult of the storm I only received perhaps an eighth of an inch of rain, but with any luck this first storm of the season is a harbinger of more!


The Lizard King

A re-post from Facebook, where the post and accompanying photos drew quite a bit of attention:

This afternoon as the sun was beginning to cast long shadows I encountered a Long-nosed Leopard Lizard sunning itself in a sandy wash. Luckily for me, one of this lizard’s defenses is freezing. I shot one of these photos standing right in front of the creature, then I assumed Photographer’s Yoga Position Number Three (the Snake Position), which involves stretching out prone while peering through the viewfinder.

This is the biggest lizard species I have encountered around here; its body was about eight inches long and the tail about a foot. After a while the lizard, wearied of my attentions, abruptly turned around and sped away, running on its hind legs with forelimbs off the ground. My dog Dingo chased it briefly, but soon gave up.




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:


A closer view:


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:


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