Dog Paradise

This morning I was up early, as usual. I have a new resident in my apartment, a local musician who had been all but homeless before I offered him a spare bedroom, and this time it was with the full consent of my landlady! I’ve been helping this guy get his financial situation in order, but the effort has been draining. I needed to get away from Bisbee for a while — much as I like this canyon town, sometimes things get weird and complicated, leading me to think my life is some sort of Truman Show soap opera.

I’ve been needing to see how the rough lane back to our cabin has fared after the recent torrential monsoon rains. My new dog Dingo (formerly Lydia) has never been back to the valley after her forced exile to Bisbee, the result of an unfortunate poultry-killing incident. So the dog and I headed out of town in my truck, bound for the Sulphur Springs Valley.

The lane back to the cabin was in remarkably good shape. The rains had actually made the road better, filling in persistent holes and in general evening it out. I parked by the cabin and marveled at how green the landscape was, very unlike the nuclear test zone appearance it had early in the summer. The dog leaped out of the truck and if she could talk, she might well have said “Larry, I don’t think we’re in Bisbee anymore!”

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Dogs and desert washes are a natural match. Dingo raced up and down the intricate mazy networks of washes, surely smelling many exotic odors.

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I walked down a few washes myself, looking for what plants might have been enjoying the copious rains. Here’s a succulent plant which I haven’t identified. This plant forms ephemeral low-lying mats of purple-green vining stalks with tiny reddish flowers:

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Later I came to the conclusion that the fleshy-leaved plant was Portulaca umbraticola, or Wingpod Purslane, a native relative of the common European garden weed.

Plants which grow in the washes shed their seeds into the sand and gravel. The next big rain, which might be during next year’s monsoon season, will transport the seeds to new downstream sites.

The Devil’s Claw plants look like miniature trees, with fat trunks resembling those of the Baobab trees of the African continent. The fat green pods are fully developed now. When they dry out during the next inevitable dry spell the pods will split and assume their devilish seed-dispersal form, hooking on to any passer-by clad in either clothing or fur.

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The area in which our lot is located was once laid out in a grid of four-acre lots. The boundaries are still visible in satellite photos. The lots were marketed in nationally-distributed magazines like Organic Gardening and Mother Earth news back in the sixties and seventies. “Retire in the sun! Inexpensive lots for your dream retirement cabin!” The lots were cheap and people all over the country bought them, only to find that no utilities were available. Many reverted back to the county due to unpaid back taxes.

Times have changed, solar electricity is cheaper than it’s ever been, and more people like Bev and myself are willing to put up with some minor inconveniences in order to avoid crowded cheek-by-jowl communities. The developer way back when even made a cursory effort to put culverts in the washes. These culverts are still around, but they were much too small to serve their intended purpose. Monsoon floods plugged them with sand and silt and occasionally groups of them can be found:

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I can just imagine the expression of the hopeful developer who paid to have these culverts trenched in — once he had seen their fate! Dreams fading to ashes…

Larry

Clouds Over Sonora

I like the name of the Mexican state Sonora. It sounds musical, like the word sonorous,but the etymology is a bit confused. Was it just Spanish Catholic bullshit, perhaps derived from some female saint’s name? Nobody will ever know for sure. The name has been used, though, for hundreds of years, and it’s here to stay.

Yesterday afternoon I drove to the Safeway store on Rt. 92. As the vista across the border opened up before me, I noticed an appealing clump of cumulus clouds burgeoning up from behind one of the Sonoran mountains in the distance. I parked in the Dollar General parking lot and tried to find a view without too many interfering wires and other evidences of civilization. I propped my camera on a high fence, a barrier which prevents invasion of the Dollar General territory by Ace Hardware barbarians, and got this one shot:

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I love these Southwest sky scenes. What could that small dark-gray object be appearing towards the right? It looks like a crude flying saucer prototype, perhaps part of an R&D project undertaken in secret by the Mexican Air Force.

I got back to the truck and found Dingo, my dog, calmly waiting for me on the passenger seat. She is very tolerant of my inexplicable eccentricities!

Larry

High Water Abounding

I guess I forgot to post this! A selection of photos taken on a walk around Bisbee before the recent rains!

A diaphanous Coprinus cluster, well-hydrated:

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Perhaps a species of Lepiota growing from decaying cottonwood roots, near a three-foot-wide stump:

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Notice how this cluster of mushrooms has engulfed an Ailanthus leaf, which nevertheless continues its photosynthesis:

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Drainage canal shots:

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A mysterious door on Mayer Avenue gushes forth water:

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Three shots of Brewery Gulch, still taped off but after six dump-truck loads of gravel and debris had been hauled away:

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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

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

Pipeline Morning Glory

Yesterday there was a unique convocation of plant geeks at that little un-named city park at the corner of Rt. 92 and Schoolhouse Terrace Road, in between Old Bisbee and San José.

Cado Daily organized the gathering; she’s my friend and musical cohort, and incidentally a State Extension Agent for this county.

It was a slow-moving flock of plant-lovers which wandered up the path, with people grouping and re-grouping and with a lot of photography happening. I simply love that little park; I’ve been there at least ten times this year. There’s always something new to be seen, such varied plants growing from between shingles of decaying limestone, and there always seems to be at least one Curve-billed Thrasher piping up with its interrogatory call: “Peet, peet?”

I talked at length with an employee of the City Of Bisbee, a man who loves the park and wants to make it more accessible without affecting its ecological integrity. He pointed out to me and some others a rare species of morning glory clambering up a yucca.

This man explained to me that the park had originally been a right-of-way for a natural gas pipeline, which is still buried there, and that the gas company had donated the property to the city ten years ago.

The meeting took place in the afternoon, so the morning glory’s blooms were faded. This morning, after a quick jaunt up a canyon up on Juniper Flats, I walked down the path at the little park again and found the Canyon Morning Glories (Ipomoea barbatisepala) in splendid full bloom. I was impressed.

Two blossoms with yucca background and support:

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The peculiarly lobed leaves:

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Pretty cool, eh? Just wait until you see my photos from Juniper Flats!

Larry

Orb-weavers Gotta Weave

A couple days ago I wrote a post about some local arthropods:

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I thought I had seen the last of the Smiley Face Spider (Araneus illaudatus) illustrated in that post. I couldn’t blame the creature, as I had kept it in captivity in a jar for far too long.

But this afternoon I noticed that an orb-weaver spider had built an elaborate orb web between my front porch’s roof and a post. I got out my camera, and with its nice zoom capability I quickly determined that the spider silhouetted against the deep blue sky was of the same species, and possibly even the same one that I had photographed! How incredibly cool that a mistreated spider would take up residence here, where I can see it every day!

The spider kept advancing and retreating from a web-captured insect near the center of the web, probably giving the doomed prey another shot of venom each time. I patiently waited until the female predator stopped to catch its breath.

Here’s a rather grainy zoomed shot:

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Larry

Bisbee Arthropodia

Last week I was trudging up one of Bisbee’s many sets of concrete steps. This particular stairway extends all the way from Brewery Gulch to OK Street. About thirty steps above me I noticed some sort of commotion. A shirtless man was poking a long stick into the branches of a Chinaberry tree. He was shouting “That thing is huge!”

Of course I was curious. As I approached the man he exclaimed “I think I got it!”

I said to him “What did you find?”

“A big-ass spider! It’s all hairy and everything!”

A large spider, perhaps two and a half inches across the leg-span, was clinging to what looked like a.length of yucca stalk which the man held away from his body. He was an arachnophobe, it seemed.

“Let me see it!” I said. The man gave me the yucca stalk and I regarded the hairy spider. I gently prodded it with my finger. The man blanched.

“That bugger’s prob’ly poisonous!”

“Probably not. Hey, ya got a jar around somewhere?”

The man went into a house whose door was standing upon and came out with a little jelly jar. I coaxed the spider into the jar, then took it home with me.

Then I did a careless and reprehensible thing. I left the spider in the jar with the lid cracked for several days, and just this afternoon I remembered the creature in its glass prison cell. I peered into the jar apprehensively. Was it dead? I touched the spider’s bloated and horned abdomen with a pencil. It moved away, so it was still alive.

I took the jar out onto the front porch slab and tried to tip the spider out for a belated photo session. The spider seemed to have made a web attachment to the bottom of the jar, but with some shaking and prodding I managed to turn it out on to a terra-cotta pot base. I think it felt threatened (I sure would have felt that way!) and it turned over while exuding a silken escape cord:

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I turned the spider right-side-up and examined it. What a fat pale abdomen, with four prominent pores and two horn-like structures!

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This next shot is my favorite. It shows the multiple eyes and the unsettling translucence of its legs:

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One more shot:

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I thought after the stress of a photo session that the spider would take off for parts unknown, but for some reason it’s still hanging around out on the porch. Perhaps it’s just hungry and traumatized, or maybe I have a new pet!

There is a quite annoying buggy season in Bisbee, and also out in the valley, but it doesn’t last too long. My gnat and mosquito bites are finally healing. It’s sort of the Southwest equivalent of black fly season in the North. My fellow musician and friend Jamie has been complaining about being bitten badly while sleeping. He brought me a couple of dead specimens of the offending insect. It’s a tiny fly-like creature, less than one-eighth of an inch long. Here’s the best shot I could get of the tiny corpse:

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Interesting wing patterns! And what are those weird spiky things on its belly? Bev submitted my photo to Bugguide.net, and maybe somebody in that network can help with an ID.

Larry

Goin’ Up Turkey Creek To Have A Little Fun

The other day my friend Maggie and I were talking about a video someone had posted on Facebook. The clip showed rushing waters cascading down the rocky bed of Turkey Creek, which drains into the Sulphur Springs Valley from the lofty heights of the Chiricuahua Mountains.

Maggie said “Man, we should go up there before the monsoon rains have drained away! Finner would just love it!” Finner is Maggie’s five-year-old son; she’s a single mom.

Well, I knew that I would just love it too, but the Chiricuahuas are over an hour’s drive away, and such an excursion would cost money, mainly for gas for my truck. But then I’d been wanting to get over there all summer. Those mountain canyons harbor ecosystems quite different from those in the the desert canyons around Bisbee and the lowland Chihuahuan desert scrub habitats with which I am most familiar. It would be cooler in the higher altitudes, and there are Ponderosa Pine and Arizona Cypress groves.

What tipped the balance for me was when Maggie offered to pay part of the gasoline expenses. She also owed me a restaurant meal.

We planned to leave Bisbee at 8:30 Friday morning. I showed up at Maggie’s place a bit early, as it was a sunny morning and I was anxious to get started. Finner was already up and running, but Maggie was still sleeping. I ate some raisin bran with Finner and we went outside, where Finner showed me some gymnastic maneuvers involving a stair railing.

It had been a while since I had driven up into the northern reaches of the Sulphur Springs Valley. We passed many irrigated fields, some circular, and some sort of forage sorghum seemed popular — probably grown for silage. We turned east on another blacktop, and as we neared the foothills of the Chiricuahua Mountains the road turned to dirt. Turkey Creek Road!

We drove to the very end of the road, which has a turnaround loop. Along the way we noticed several small campgrounds and picnic areas along the rocky creek. We drove back, parked, and started walking up the creek. Finner ranged on ahead and before long he was wet all over. Each reach of the creek revealed yet another waterfall with scoured-out pools at the base. We caught up with Finner and due to the noise of the waterfalls and riffles he didn’t know we were watching. A charming sight; Finner was absorbed in play and talked softly to himself.

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The water wasn’t running torrentially, but it made its way downstream briskly.

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A peculiar vegetative mound caught my attention. It was growing from a recently flooded gravel bar, and it looked like some sort of fractal-network dome of lacy leaves.

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The leaves were curiously forked, and close up had an intriguing interlocking pattern:

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A bit later Maggie exclaimed “Look, there’s one with a flower stalk!” The flowers stemming from the low dome of leaves were in white clusters:

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I have not been able to identify this plant yet. Farther upstream clumps of a very ornamental grass began to appear. The oat-like dangling floral structures shimmered and danced in the slightest breeze:

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A waterfall formed by a fallen pine trunk holding back the flow. I’ve seen similar impromptu waterfalls on Nova Scotia streams:

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A species of Columbine with large yellow flowers was hard to resist! Note the insect damage on the petals:

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We came to a large boulder washed by pure water. Maggie said “Finner — get up on that rock so I can take your picture!” He clambered up onto the rock, Maggie shot some photos, and I said “Maggie, why don’t you get up there too, and I’ll take a couple of pix.”

“Oh, no, Larry…”

“Go ahead! It’ll just take a minute!”

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This orange flower looked like an explosion in space, like when an alien spacecraft is hit with a particle beam:

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Sometime Finner would sit on the rocks for a while, seemingly in a contemplative mood. Rather unusual for a five-year-old!

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Finner found a charming little frog and began to carry it with him. He would repeatedly lose the creature and recapture it.

“Mom, can I take this frog home?”

“No, Finner, I think he’d be happier here than at our house.”

Climbing up the rocks, frog in hand:

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I said “Finner, come over here and let me photograph that frog!” He held the frog out and I managed to get only one well-focused shot:

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After another hour of waterfalls and cool new plants, Finner was starting to get tired and a bit fussy. He was doing great for a little guy! He began to rub one of his eyes. “Mom, my eye hurts!”

Maggie squatted down and examined his eye. “I don’t see anything in it!”

Maggie glanced at me, and in an undertone said “Larry, do you think this frog has venom?”

“Naw, I really doubt it! He’s just tired out.”

A few minutes later Finner said “Mom, I think it’s the frog venom which is hurting my eye! It’s getting worse!”

He had overheard Maggie’s comment to me! We tried to allay his fears, and after a while we were back in the truck. Finner’s pain seemed to have subsided.

The long needles of an Apache Pine silhouetted against the sky:

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Earlier in the day, as we drove up Turkey Creek Road, a female wild turkey had crossed the road in front of the truck. Finner was excited to see it. As we drove back down the road on our way back to the highway, Finner said to himself:

“We went to Turkey Creek, and we saw a turkey!”

To a five-year-old many aspects of the world just don’t make sense, but here was a clear logical connection for the boy. That’s why they named it Turkey Creek!

Driving back down through the valley we were surrounded by splendid skyscapes as the sun began to set. I should have shot some photos, but we were hungry and tired. Quite a pleasant adventure, all in all!

Larry

A Grass Story With An Odor

A couple of years ago I spent the summer in Bisbee house-sitting for some friends. The house was at one end of High Road, a street suspended on a ledge halfway up the northern slope of Tombstone canyon. There are two ways to get to High Road from Bisbee’s main drag, Tombstone Canyon Road. To drive up to High Road, you have to make a sharp turn on Clausen and simultaneously ascend a steep slope. The other way is for hardy pedestrians; a steep series of seventy or so steps will take you up to and right on past the house I was staying in.

At the bottom of those steps lived a couple with young children. The wife could often be noticed tending to her various garden plots along the steps, and I frequently encountered her in my peregrinations. One day she was down at the bottom of the steps and and after I had descended the steps we fell into conversation about plants, gardening, and such.

The woman drew my attention to some clumps of fuzzy-topped grass growing between the sidewalk and the street. She said:

“Larry, pick some of the tops from that grass there, crush them, and tell me what they smell like, okay?”

Far be it from me to resist such a request! I picked some of the seedheads, smelled them, and said:

“Damn! It smells just like blueberries!”

“Yeah, they do, don’t they? When I first moved to Bisbee fifteen years ago a friend told me about this grass.”

“What kind of grass is it?”

“I really don’t know, but it grows all over town!”

I tried to do a Google search, using such terms as “grass that smells like blueberries”, but my results were clogged with people’s remarks about varieties of marijuana which smell like blueberries. Evidently quite a few varieties of pot smell like that!

This summer I asked Cado Daily, a Cochise County extension agent (and one of my friends and musical cohorts) what she thought that grass might be. She said:

“Oh, I know that grass! it’s one of the beard-grasses, a species of Andropogon!”

“Thanks, Cado!”

That was just the lead I needed. After some better-directed Google searches I found that the grass has been removed from the old Andropogon genus and placed in a new one. The grass is native and it’s common all over the Southwest, all the way from Texas to California. One common name for it is “Cane Beargrass”, and the grass currently rejoices in the Latin cognomen Bothriochloa barbinodis. Nowhere did I find a mention of the grass’s blueberry odor.

Some people I’ve talked with in Bisbee claim that the grass really smells more like Blueberry Pop-Tarts than real blueberries. I think that is a distinction without a difference, as Blueberry Pop-Tarts do have some real blueberries in their gummy filling. Processed foods are most often made with small Low-bush Blueberries harvested in the Northeast US and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

This morning I went out in the courtyard and photographed a Cane Beargrass seedhead I had picked the other day out in the valley.

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It’s always a pleasure to learn something new about the native plants which share this region with us!

Larry