Birth Of An Electric Bass

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It may seem like I’m overextending myself, but the fact remains that while I’ve been working on the Chinese upright bass I’ve also been assembling the components of an electric five-string fretless bass.

For a long time I’ve wanted to work with one or more of the woods in the Cupressus genus, the group which contains the true cypress species. My first choice was Arizona Cypress, a local wood, but the trees are scattered and rare, and I’m reluctant to deprive this mountain-and-desert region of even one of its iconic trees.

I turned my attention to one of the coastal species, Cupressus nootkatensis, commonly known as Alaska Yellow Cedar or Nootka Cypress. After some Googling I happened across the web-site of a Canadian violin-maker who mills instrument wood as a sideline. The shop is in southern Alberta, not far from the mountainous habitats of several coniferous tree species.

I ordered a few pieces of Nootka Cypress from the shop — clear, quarter-sawn old-growth wood. The parcel of wood meandered across the continent, for some reason passing through Toronto before heading west again.

Nootka Cypress only grows in a thin coastal strip extending from Alaska, down through British Columbia, and petering out in Oregon. The species is being stressed by the warming climate, as its shallow roots need snow cover to avoid damage during the coolest period; during recent decades that snow cover has been scanty. Many dead trees are now available, so that makes me a jackal feeding upon the corpses of northern forests. I can live with that! Here’s a photo of the glued-up body blank, the neck, the Pau Ferro fingerboard, along with the neck reinforcement pieces:

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There is a Tlingit legend about the origin of killer whales which involves the yellow cedar tree. I read several English translations of the legend on various First Nations myth web-sites, but the Wikipedia version I think is the clearest and most succinct:

The tale begins with a young warrior Natsilane who is destined to become chief due to his skills, intelligence and generally pleasant demeanour. His brothers are extremely jealous of this, and plot to depose him. The brothers take Natsilane out to sea fishing, taking him further away from the shore than they have ever been before. As he becomes concerned, the brothers throw Natsilane overboard and row away.

As Natsilane is beginning to drown, he is found and rescued by Sea otter, who floats him to a large island saying it is too far back to the mainland for Sea otter to help him back. Instead, he promises to look after Natsilane and shows him the best hunting and fishing grounds. Once Natsilane is settled on his new island, alone, Sea otter confers one last gift to him, a pouch of seeds, and instructs Natsilane to sow them. Natsilane does so, and over the years the seeds grow into a bewildering array of different types of tree, all of which are now native in the Pacific Northwest. Natsilane uses wood from the trees to carve tools and a boat.

In appreciation of Sea otter, Natsilane then tries to carve a new totem. He tries all the trees, but settles on using a large Yellow Cedar tree and carves a huge fish from it, and leaves it on the shore for Sea otter to find. The next morning when Natsilane goes down to the shore, the fish carving is gone and in the bay is swimming Blackfish, the first killer whale. With a boat and supplies, Natsilane travels back to his home, guided by Blackfish. When he arrives, he finds his brothers out fishing again, squabbling. He orders Blackfish to destroy their boat and drown his brothers which it does immediately. When it returns, Natsilane orders that from this day forward it must never harm a human again, and that when it finds a human in trouble at sea it must help him. He then sends the whale off to sea. Natsilane returns to his village, which had been terrorised by his brothers, and becomes chief.

This legend inspires me to call the electric bass I’m putting together the Orca Bass. Perhaps I’ll carve an orca outline on the body of the instrument — perhaps wood-burned. A fantasy comes together in my fertile mind: Someday I’ll have this bass on board a whale-watching excursion boat, perhaps on a meander through the Queen Charlotte Islands. From the boat I’ll engage in a call-and-response exchange with a pod of orcas!

Larry

Chinese Bass Project

I play music quite often here in Bisbee with various local musicians. My main instrument is the fiddle, and playing fiddle is second nature for me these days. Bisbee has quite a few fiddle players, and sometimes there are more than enough fiddlers at a music session — but good upright bass players are in short supply.

Pondering this less-than-ideal situation it occurred to me that if I had an upright bass I could probably get up to speed on the awkwardly-large instrument and even things out a bit. After all, a double bass is just a fiddle writ large, and the tuning and intervals would be close to what I’m accustomed to.

So — off to the internet to see what might be available. I had recently decided to give up on the button accordion. I realized that I would never become a good player of that free-reed contraption. The dealer in Massachusetts from whom I’d bought the accordion agreed to buy it back from me, so I had some money to work with.

My options soon became clear. Buy a beat-up plywood student bass, or look to the Chinese workshops, actually small factories with CNC capabilities, and see what they had to offer. The violin I play these days was made near Shanghai and I’m more than satisfied with it. I looked at the Ebay store of a dealer who handles the output of the same factory which produced my violin and found a tempting deal.

I found an Ebay auction for a partially-completed 3/4-size upright bass. It has plywood sides and back, made seemingly of some species of poplar, a solid-spruce top, a maple neck, and an ebony fingerboard. No bridge, tuners, tail-pin, or soundpost, though. The price was right, even including the necessary accessories which I got from other Chinese vendors on Ebay.

Last week I walked down to the Bisbee post office to check my mail. I had Dingo, my dog, with me on a leash. After attaching Dingo’s leash to the bench out in front of the post office I walked in and unlocked my box. A notice within told me that I had a large parcel to pick up.

I walked up to the desk and spotted an enormous cardboard carton, six feet tall and three feet wide, standing near the shelves full of parcels. What else could it be than a bass?

I walked back to the apartment, indicated to Dingo that she should jump into my truck’s cab, and we drove back downtown.

The clerk at the PO let me use their dolly and I backed out of the building with the carton. A friendly man helped me to load the bass into my truck’s bed.

Once I had manhandled the large box up twenty-five steps and into my apartment I quickly opened up the cardboard carton, which had been very well packaged. Amidst a litter of cardboard prisms and sheets the body of a bass was soon revealed, along with a massive neck with the fingerboard glued on. All I had to do was put it together!

I enlisted the help of my co-tenant C-Sharp a day later. I bored a one-inch hole in the bottom of the bass while C-Sharp straddled and steadied it. I had a foam pad under the bass. Then I carefully reamed the hole to a taper which matched that of the end-pin. Being unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars for the proper reaming tool, I made do with a round surform rasp and a half-round file.

The next task was to glue the neck to the body. The neck came unattached so that the bass could be shipped via air freight to Bisbee for a reasonable sum. C-Sharp helped me with this task, and here is how it looked after a frenzied scramble with hot hide glue, a bar clamp, and a band tie-down:

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After the clamps were removed and the bass had been restored to its more comfortable upright position:

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The bridge and soundpost are the next challenges!

Larry

To The Charleston Bridge And Back

It was the evening of September 19th, last Thursday. Several of my musical cohorts had gathered at my apartment to play a few tunes. Of course these occasions are social as well as musical, and occasionally we would take a break and talk.

Jim, one of our bodhran (Irish drum) players works for the federal Bureau Of Land Management. The BLM manages quite a bit of wild and semi-wild land in our area, including much of the watershed of the San Pedro River. Jim loves that river and his job requires that he spend a lot of time in and around the stream. He has been excited lately by the record high levels of the river’s flow after the recent monsoon rains. Jim said to me:

“Larry, tomorrow morning you really should drive over to the Charleston Bridge over the San Pedro. The channel narrows in that reach of the river and the water should be really roaring!”

I can take a hint! The following morning I got up early, drank some coffee, and ate some eggs fried with chile peppers and onion. Just as dawn was lightening the eastern horizon I was driving towards Juniper Flats, a miles-long flat-topped granite mountain just outside of Bisbee. Mist shrouded the eminence and the whole scene was surreal. The cell-phone towers on top of the Flats were barely visible:

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I found a spot where I could pull over as morning traffic whizzed by. More mist swirled around the towers until they were barely visible. An imaginary scene from an old novel imperfectly remembered took form in my mind:

Frodo and Sam, cloaks wrapped around them to counter the chill morning breeze, gazed in wonder at the scene before them. Sam said:

“Could those be the towers of Minas Tirith, Frodo?”

Frodo’s eyes narrowed and his look of melancholy determination made him seem older. He said:

“I’m afraid so, Sam. Saruman awaits us in his dark tower!”

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The sky began to lighten as I descended into the broad San Pedro Valley. The river is bordered by cottonwoods, an undulating dark-green ribbon bisecting the valley. I crossed the highway bridge, then after a few miles turned on to Moson Road. The landscape in that morning light was simply stunning. Mist swathed the Mule Mountains in cascading layers of white and gray. I had to pull over or run off the road. I shot a few photos that charmed morning:

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A pickup truck passed me, going fast, and I pulled out behind it. There were no speed limit signs, but I figured that the truck was probably driven by a local rancher, and he probably knew the local speed limit. I was buzzing along at fifty-five or so when I passed a parked sheriff’s car. “Hmm”, I thought, “I wonder what he’s waiting for?”

Me, it turned out! The sheriff, with blue and red lights flashing, promptly pulled me over into some high grass on the road’s shoulder.

I’m a bit skittish about having run-ins with law enforcement officers. I’ve had some unpleasant experiences and I hoped this wouldn’t be one to add to the list!

The sheriff seemed to be in a good mood as he walked up to me from his car.

“Y’know that there’s a speed limit of 45 miles per hour on Moson?” he asked me.

“I really didn’t know! I didn’t see any signs.”

“Well, I’m just givin’ ya a friendly warning. Try to keep your speed down, okay?”

Just then another armed and uniformed man walked up and stood beside the sheriff. He was from the BLM. He said:

“Hi! Was that you parked by the side of the road back there a ways? Havin’ some trouble, were ya?”

“No, no trouble. I was shooting photos of the Mules…”

“Yeah, that mist is somethin’ else this morning, isn’t it! Where ya headin’?”

“I’m going to the Charleston Road Bridge to see the floodwaters, take some photos.”

“Well, have fun! I might see you over there later!”

Both the sheriff and the BLM guy seemed cheery, almost ebullient. Not too surprising, as they were being paid to be out and around in this splendid landscape!

The sheriff indicated that I was free to go. It’s always a relief to hear that!

After a few miles more of driving at 45 MPH I turned right on Charleston Road, which would take me back to the river and the Charleston Road Bridge, my destination. There was a parking lot near the bridge, and angled across the river was an older iron bridge. I parked and let Dingo, my dog, out. Dingo followed me onto the old bridge, where I encountered a woman with her young son. We peered down at the brown torrents raging below.

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I said to the woman “This is amazing! Have you ever seen the San Pedro so high?”

“Yeah, a few times, but I’ve never seen it last this long!”

The young boy petted Dingo while we watched the water rush on past.

I decided to walk down to the edge of the riverbank below the bridge. Dingo followed me and the dog was soon invisible in the rank streamside vegetation.

Then the woman, still on the bridge with her boy, shouted down to me:

“Your dog! Your dog! It’s in the water!”

Oh, no! that current would snatch that dog away, and who knows where she would end up! I couldn’t find Dingo anywhere. Then the woman shouted to me again:

“Your dog’s up here with us!”

I looked up towards the parking lot, and there was Dingo, prowling around and doubtless soaking up new and strange scents.

I shot a few more photos of the torrential river water:

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I was ready to head for home, as I felt I had adequately recorded the scene. I headed back up Charleston Road. Perhaps because I was watching my speed carefully I missed my turnoff on to Moson Road and ended up at a busy Sierra Vista intersection. The morning rush was in full swing. Damn, I thought. I really don’t like driving in heavy traffic. I saw an opportunity to drive the long way back, south on Rt. 92, so I took it and sped out of town.

That drive was frustrating, as there were incredible scenes of morning light illuminating the cloud-swathed Huachuca Mountains, but traffic was heavy and it was hard to find a place to pull off. I finally found a place, parked, and shot some photos. In the next photo Rt. 92 can be seen stretching out across the San Pedro Valley, headed for the Mule Mountains and Bisbee:

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Another shot of the Mules nearly obscured by clouds:

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I was tired after all of this and took a nap after I got back to the apartment! So did Dingo.

Larry

A Simple Walk Becomes Complicated

My new companion, a mixed-breed yellow dog named Dingo, really, really, likes to go out on walks. If I so much as start to put my shoes on, don a hat, or slip my wallet into my back pocket, she becomes excited and spins around, emitting squeaks of anticipation. This is good for me, I admit. I’m probably walking twice as much around town as I did before Dingo arrived here.

Yesterday afternoon the sky was cloudy and the temperature cool, perfect walking weather. Dingo and I descended the twenty-five steps to Brophy St. and endured the gaze of my downstairs neighbor Sue’s cat, whose coat is almost exactly the same color as Dingo’s. The two animals regarded each other, reminding me of the recurrent scene in the Seinfeld show: “Hello, Jerry!” “Hello, Newman!”.

Brophy St. descends steeply to its intersection with Tombstone Avenue. Looking down the hill, the view partially obscured by blown-over giant Arundo reed stalks, I saw a familiar black-and white feral cat toying with something in the street. I think my neighbor Sue feeds that cat, but it can’t be approached.

The cat fled as we approached, and I saw something like a short snake crawling around on the pitted concrete. A closer look revealed that the creature was a half-grown Madrean Alligator Lizard:

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Oh, why had I left my camera up in the apartment? I keep telling myself “There are no boring walks — something interesting will always be encountered!” I turned around and trotted back towards the steps. Dingo thought “Hmm, this new master is proving to be a bit erratic! Why are we going back up the stairs? I swear, I distinctly heard Larry utter the magic word ‘walk’!”

By the time we got back to the scene of the feline crime that cat had resumed its torments. The beleaguered lizard was wheeling about and snapping viciously at the cat, who didn’t look very threatened. I ran up and tried to kick the cat away but it fled into the giant reeds.

What a moral dilemma! I knew that if I left the lizard, the cat would be right back. I knelt down and closely inspected the lizard’s injuries. The right front leg seemed to be broken and useless, and a bite had been taken from the creature’s flank right next to that leg. This lizard probably wouldn’t survive. I made a tentative effort to pick it up by its tail, but with surprising and disconcerting swiftness it snapped at me like a snake striking.

Notice in the above photo the clear line separating the patterning of the body and the single color of the tail. This is a sign that some other predator bit off the tail some time ago. A new one grew back, but without the original colors and patterns. This lizard was born under a bad sign!

Two more photos:

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So I left the doomed lizard to its fate, a grim one most likely involving that merciless cat.

Just opposite the Brophy St. hill is a pleasant vacant lot shaded by tall and stout cottonwood trees. This lot borders the drainage canal which gathers up flood waters and conveys them who knows where. The water probably ends up in Mexico. Several Palmer’s Agaves live in that lot, and one of them had intercepted falling cottonwood leaves with the wickedly-sharp spines which terminate every leaf. A couple of photos of this agave, scenes which charmed me:

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Just two days ago the waters roaring and churning through the canals were reddish-brown with silt and sand from the canyon slopes. Yesterday the flow was clear, and the numerous waterfalls and riffles reminded me of a mountain stream. How nice, that at certain times Bisbee’s main drag is bordered by such a picturesque series of streams!

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A closer view:

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One of my goals for this walk was to see how the flow had changed on Wood Canyon Road, where Bev and I lived for two winters. Dingo and I walked up past the fire station and turned across the canal bridge onto Wood Canyon. The flow had gone down since I had last seen it the day before. Then the road was a river, from curb to curb, but here’s what it looked like Sunday afternoon:

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As we walked back down Tombstone I wondered if the lizard would still be there on the Brophy St. hill. Perhaps only a mangled corpse would be left. I saw nothing; presumably the cat devoured the poor lizard.

Larry

Dingo At The Falls

Wednesday morning the weather forecast looked dire. A plume of clouds and rain had been pushing up through the Gulf of California, like a celestial firehose aimed right at Southern Arizona. Mist shrouded the tops of the Mule Mountains but there was only a slight bit of drizzle at seven in the morning, so I thought I would go on a quick excursion before the world got too wet.

I also wanted to see how well my new dog Dingo (Lydia in a former life) would do riding in a truck and hiking unleashed on a trail. So off we went in the truck. The Falls are just a few miles north of town. Dingo rode well in the truck once she figured out that I wanted the driver’s side!

The trail to the falls is uphill all the way, but really not very far. Dingo kept ahead of me but didn’t venture too far away. In the final stretch the falls could be heard tumbling over the edge of Juniper Flats. I think this sound excited the dog and she got to the end of the trail before I did. Meanwhile this scene, a cavity in the granite delicately embroidered by patches of ferns, caught my eye:

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I was looking for the dog as the scene unfolded before me. I saw that Dingo had run off down to the rocky outlet of the falls, where the water leisurely flows over and through flats and boulders:

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Looked like a happy dog to me!

The trail ends at a relatively flat area of granite boulders surrounding a twenty-foot-wide pool. Dingo caught up with me and immediately plunged into the water and began to swim across it. Bev suggests that Dingo might have some yellow lab blood in her:

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Yeah, that dog was in her element!

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I shot a short video, panning down the falls and ending with a view of Dingo on the other side of the pool:

This shot is of some the upper ocotillo-dominated slopes surrounding the falls:

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This evening Dingo seemed tired; after all, she was adapting to a new home and has been on quite a few walks. She likes this dilapidated chair, which is unfit for human use:

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As I write this the area has received over two inches of rain since the excursion to the falls. It’s flooding in the valleys and washes and I’m sticking close to home for a while!

Larry

Basses Rule!

I’ve been playing the fiddle here in Bisbee for a couple of years. As the music which my friends and I play has become better known, other fiddlers and violinists have stepped out of their private shadows and joined in. Some just for a while or occasionally, while others have become frequent jam session partners. But there can be too many fiddles, hard as that may be to believe!

After playing in several sessions with as many as six or seven fiddles forming a soprano/alto wall of sound, I began to think about taking up the upright bass. There just aren’t enough bass players in Bisbee, and I’m sure I could pick it up without straining my powers of learning, a case of an old dog learning not a new trick, but a variation of a trick I already know pretty well. I just have to learn the larger scale of the bass. The musical intervals involved are analogous. Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself?

So, I thought, how am I going to go about this project without going into debt, a state which I generally try to avoid. I figured it all out in one morning of many internet communications and transactions. The net to me is like water to a fish.

First, I had to sell a Hohner button accordion. I’ve realized recently that I will never get very good on that instrument. Strings are my musical medium. That accordion will soon be en route to the dealer in Massachusetts from whom I bought it. They are charging a small commission to sell it for me. Okay, now how to get hold of an upright bass for a good price?

Well, the current fiddle I play is a nice one made in a small factory near Shanghai. I’m familiar with several Chinese Ebay vendors who sell instruments made in a closely-knit group of of factories in the Shanghai area. Their instruments, in my opinion, are the best value in violin-family instruments today, especially if you don’t get hung up in the desire for that “old European mojo”.

So I did some searches on Ebay for new upright basses. I know what beat-up used ones go for in the US, and they are generally all-plywood student models. I don’t mind plywood for the back and sides, as the wide pieces of wood for solid-wood backs and sides are becoming rare and expensive. As a species we use the good stuff, wood-wise, faster than it is being grown. But the top is another matter entirely, and I prefer solid spruce for the tops of stringed instruments. That’s the part which vibrates, and plywood is a liability, in my opinion.

I found what looked to be a very good deal, especially for me, as I can do instrument assembly and set-up. It’s an “in-the-white” 3/4 size upright bass with the neck not yet glued to the body. The top is solid spruce, while the back and sides are rather plain-looking plywood. The neck is shipped unattached so that the shipping container wouldn’t be huge, and thus expensive to ship. What I will have to do is glue the neck into its socket with hot hide glue, apply finish (varnish over shellac sealer, maybe some decorative painting on the the back), install the tuners, bridge, end-pin, tailpiece, and maybe set a soundpost if that hasn’t already been done. This sort of fiddly work is one of my ideas of fun.

Because of this coming speculative musical transition I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with the best bass players on the planet. Being a person with non-specific and non-organized religious ideas, I have to say that included in my personal pantheon, along with various plant and fungal spirits, are those inspired musicians who stride among us as gods, capable of inimitable feats of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic magic. Here’s a long video of three bass players who have taken Leo Fender’s early and crude electric basses and exploited the successors to Leo’s instruments to the max. Stanley Clark is about my age, and I used to listen to his playing when we were both young. He’s still going strong! Marcus Miller is just one cool player, a masterful bassist who has played on a slew of pop, R&B, and jazz recordings. He’s the player in the porkpie hat. Victor Wooten is simply amazing, a younger player who has tapped into some divine veins of music. A few highlights of the video: Victor Wooten really struts his stuff starting at 11:50. Stanley Clark really wails on an upright bass starting at around 19:00. All three play wonderfully towards the end of the video in a funky instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s classic song “Beat It”. This is ultra-funky, groove-laden, and sexy music, and be warned that it might not be suitable for strait-laced and inhibited folks!

Larry

Hangdog Days

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Pardon me, readers, as I begin this post with a tangentially-related side issue; have no fear, I’ll gradually wend my way towards the real subject of this post.

Everyone has patterns in their life. This is partly due to individual character and partly due to those intriguing but inscrutable vagaries of fate. A couple of writers from days long past made parallel observations:

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Lao Tsu (maybe…)

Heraclitus was more succinct:

Character is destiny.

My destiny has become convoluted and weird during the past week or so. One of those Fates has been screwing with me, I think. They get bored sometimes and I’m an easy target. All I can hope for is that one of the kindlier Fates will step in and say, “Hey give that poor fiddler a break!”

I’m being purposely vague, and the next series of observations will reveal why, overly curious reader! (I’m thinking of you, Joan!)

One distinct pattern in my life is that I write stuff down, people read what I’ve written, and I get in trouble. This pattern first manifested itself when my father read some shockingly frank journal entries of mine concerning psychedelic drug use. I was seventeen years old, and that journal meant a lot to me. My father burned the journal in our back yard, and I didn’t write again for twenty years. I’m not blaming him — he was at his wit’s end with me. I took off for parts unknown soon after that.

The insidious pattern eventually led to my divorce, relocation to Hannibal, Missouri, and eventually to my arrival here in Bisbee, thanks to Bev.

Now Facebook serves as an additional danger for me. I toss off comments, many of them witty, but others are like planting seeds of destruction. It’s all too easy for me to shoot myself in my much-scarred foot.

So… let’s segue to the present. I have some issues with my landlady and she thinks it might be best if I find another place to live. She lives on a few fenced acres out in the valley between Bisbee and Douglas. She raises guinea fowl, and a couple of days ago one of her dogs killed and ate a guinea. My landlady loves her speckled guineas, and decided the dog, a female named Lydia, was beyond redemption. She brought the dog to town and asked if I would keep it here for the time being.

Oh, great! Now I had a killer dog on my hands. Lydia is overly affectionate due to abuse which happened early in her life. That’s how she ended up at my landlady’s place. The first day she seemed sad, morosely slinking around and not eating. I couldn’t find a leash and collar which I thought my landlady had left here, so I couldn’t take the dog for a walk.

Well, due to recent circumstances I had some affection and kindliness to spare. Lydia is gradually coming out of her abject funk. I used that peculiar dialect of English, which is closely akin to baby-talk, which dogs almost always respond to.

I found the leash and collar and this morning went on my first walk with Lydia. Of course she loved it. So many intriguing smells!

So here I am with an unexpected companion! I’m a talky son-of-a-bitch and Lydia gives me an outlet. And she can’t tell anyone else what I say!

I hope this post doesn’t cause me any problems. Maybe no-one will read it!

Larry

Early One September Morning…

…I was driving up the steep, switch-backed, and rocky road to the level top of Juniper Flats, just outside of Bisbee. As I began to see the characteristic piñon pines, Toumey oaks, Mountain Mahogany trees, and of course Alligator Junipers I thought “Why don’t I come up here more often?” Of course it’s because the road is so rough, with rock outcrops jutting up from the roadbed and some very steep stretches. It’s only two miles from the Divide parking area to the top, but it takes twenty minutes to get up there. You don’t drive up that road, your vehicle clambers up it.

I was determined to go up there because I’d been with a group of fellow plant enthusiasts the day before. Two women told me that there was a species of rare orchid blooming up there — right now! They hadn’t identified the orchid to species yet. Have camera, will travel to where interesting plants are blooming — that’s one of my personal mottoes.

As I wound my way up the sun was just beginning to kiss the granite above me:

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Here’s a fairly good stretch of the road, about halfway up. I had to stop to pee! Pardon the lens artifacts; the lens of my camera has a few scratches which sometimes catch the light.

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Looking out over the San Pedro Valley glimpses of Sierra Vista can be seen, with the Huachuca Mountains in the background. The shadow of Juniper Flats darkens the foreground dramatically:

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I drove to a point between the two highest places on the Flats, which is where the cell phone towers are. A steel gate to some private land stood open, and I descended into the canyon which sometimes, when it rains enough, feeds Bisbee Falls.

I love that canyon. It’s like stepping into a pre-human world. Not many people visit the place, and the last time I was there was two years ago. I prowled slowly among the granite expanses and stream channels. Little grottoes, fairyland scenes, induced a meditative calm; I was simply there, just observing, and time seemed to stretch out, or maybe disappear altogether!

I squatted down to look at a clump of what looked like Dayflowers, Commelinas of a species I saw last week at Turkey Creek in the Chiricuahuas. Two flowers seemed to be engaged in a dialogue, and they ignored my presence:

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Then the light dimmed, as if a cloud had passed over the morning sun. The two flowers slowly turned on their stems and faced me.

One of them said in a barely audible high-pitched voice, “What are you doing here, mobile biped? You have interrupted our conversation!”

I was a bit abashed, as I am rarely addressed directly by flowers.

“I’m looking for an orchid which I believe to be blooming somewhere in this canyon!”

The two flowers glanced at each other and giggled.

“You must be one of those botanical humans. Homo sapiens, right?” said the flower on the left.

“Yeah, that’s my species. What species are you two?”

“Botanists call us Commelina dianthifolia, but we call ourselves a name which simply can’t be rendered into your language. Sorry!”

The other Commelina said “Human, you won’t ever see that orchid! They are quite shy, and when they saw you coming they hid in the pine needle duff.”

Oh, well, I tried, and by this point I was so charmed by the ambience of that nameless canyon that I really didn’t care!

I wandered on down the canyon, knowing that I would face an ascent when I returned. It’s the opposite of climbing a mountain, when the hard part is first. Then as I began my return I happened across a happy colony of Agave Parryi, one of the less common Agave species in this area. I love their broad leaves and generally stout appearance. Behind the colony stoic Border Piñon Pines brooded upon the difficulty of forcing roots into the crevices in granite. Several dead manzanitas were in the foreground, evidence of the rigors of a fifteen-year drought.

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A native species of Coral Bell, Heuchera sanguinea, growing from a thoroughly be-lichened granite boulder:

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As I drove back down the winding road I saw many clumps of a blue-flowering plant, one which I once ID-ed to species but I can’t remember its name now. Masses of tubular blue trumpets:

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I really liked the cast off blossoms of this plant strewn randomly in the roadside gravel:

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A couple of landscape shots I took on the way down into the Real World. The dramatically-shadowed Mule Mountains are in the foreground; the Sulphur Springs Valley is in the middle distance, and the Swisshelm and Chiricuahua Mountains are swathed in clouds in the distance.

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It’s all food for the spirit!

Larry

Morning Safeway Run

This morning I woke up just before dawn, as is my wont. I was terribly hungry, with a fierce gnawing in my gut. I got up, pulled on some jeans, and went prospecting in the fridge. I really wanted some eggs, but I was all out!

Okay, that was fine, I really like an excuse to exit this confining canyon in the morning and get a better look at the sky.

Before long I was cruising past the appalling Lavender Pit and the wastelands of mine spoils. After the traffic circle I turned onto Rt. 92, on my way to the Safeway store.

As I left the canyon and gained altitude a morning sky of wondrous splendor greeted me. The mountains just south of the border were swathed in cloud-banks just being tinged with rosy hues from the rising sun.

Unfortunately I was behind a slow-poke driver and I resisted the impulse to tailgate and honk my truck’s horn. Mentally I transmitted a message to the driver of the slow car: “Damn it, pull over and regard the splendid sight before you! GTF out of my way!”

As I came into San José I just couldn’t find a good vantage point from which I could take photos. That southermost extension of Bisbee is simply riddled and swathed with power, phone, and cable lines and poles! I pulled over anyway and took this shot:

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I drove south a little ways on the Naco Highway and found a better spot, right between the Dollar General store and Ace hardware:

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I then went to the Safeway store and bought eggs. Once I was back at the apartment I cooked this, ate the plate of food with great enjoyment, and now I’m going back to bed for a while!

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Larry

‘Shrooms At The Farmer’s Market

This southeast corner of Arizona is known for its pleasant weather. Even if an afternoon gets hot, like this one has, the mornings are uniformly delightful. This morning while the air was still cool I drove over to Warren to the weekly Farmer’s Market.

Vendors were still setting up and laying out their wares when I arrived. I walked over to the Spadefoot Nursery display. I wanted to tell the proprietor how lucky I had been with the Arizona Sycamore he had sold me two weeks ago. The rains came at the right time for that tree!

In a grassy area nearby I noticed a splendid fruiting of a white mushroom with nicely-arrayed universal veil flecks ornamenting the surfaces of the caps. A family gathering which was a pleasure to see:

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I stooped down and picked one, turning it over so that I could examine the gills. They were snowy white, and a ring or annulus surrounded the stem.

Perhaps an Amanita? I consulted with a man who had approached me, a fellow fungus fancier. He thought Amanita was most likely.

Why hadn’t I remembered to bring my camera? Cursing my forgetfulness, I drove back into Old Bisbee, ascended the twenty-five steps to my apartment, and drove back to Warren with the camera.

As I walked back to the patch of mushrooms I saw a group of young boys looking at the fungi. One boy drew his leg back to kick the largest one over. I was right behind him, and I loudly said “No!” in stentorian tones. The kid jumped, startled, and didn’t kick the mushroom. I admit I got a perverse kick out of that!

I kneeled down and got out my camera. Several young children and a few adults surrounded me in a circle. I suppose this may have been a novel sight. I’m shameless in the presence of my fungal friends.

Here’s a youngster, an immature ‘shroom which hasn’t expanded its cap yet. As the cap expands the partial veil, a diaphanous membrane which covers the gills, ruptures and the remnants of the veil form the ring around the stem. A comparison could be made with the somewhat analogous rupture of a virgin woman’s hymen, but I digress…

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I think that the semi-regular patterns formed by fragments of the universal veil, which once enveloped and protected the entire mushroom, are quite appealing. This next one looks like one of the chitinous giant planets, Planet Amanita. The polar veil-cap is quite prominent in this shot:

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One of the young boys picked up the mushroom I had picked earlier. He said:

“Mister, mister! Why don’t you take a picture of the other side of the mushroom?”

A good suggestion! Here is the shot I took:

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One last photo, a pair which may live long enough to release spores, if the boys leave them alone!

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Larry