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

Helicopter Tour

[the scene: a muddy airstrip in rural England. A pilot dressed in ragged khakis shepherds a group of assorted tourists to his waiting helicopter. Some of the tourists seem reluctant.]

[pilot] Step right up, folks, this this is the best chance you will ever have to get a bird’s-eye view of the magnificent rolling hills of Yorkshire! Just twenty bucks, a price that can’t be beat!

[tourist, a querulous elderly man] How do we know this machine of yours is safe?

[pilot, smarmily ingratiating] Never had a mishap, and I’ve had ‘er up hundreds of times!

[A portly German man wearing a curled white wig approaches the pilot, huffing and puffing]

My good man, I understand that you have a pianoforte on board your craft. Can that be true?

[pilot] Why as a matter fact, I do! It’s just a spinet, but I’m sure it will agree with you. I do keep it well-tuned and tempered!

[The German man pays his fare and the passengers are escorted into the helicopter by the pilot. Once the aircraft has gained elevation the pilot banks the ‘copter over the rough terrain]

Not as green as it usually is down there, but we’ve been enduring an oven-like drought!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_b-7YjmXwEM&w=420&h=315]

Larry

Dream Of Convenience

fart-air

Last night I made a very delicious apple cake which we ate with vanilla ice cream. It was remarkably tasty, but about an hour later, just before we went to bed, I began to feel a tightness in my abdomen, which I presumed was due to an unwelcome accumulation of intestinal gases. Perhaps the cake and ice cream had reacted with the pad tai we had eaten for supper.

Oh, well! Gas happens from time to time, just another reminder of our biological nature. I fell asleep easily while Bev stayed up for a while roaming the internet. Her Imac is next to the bed and she possesses an uncanny ability to read sideways.

Meanwhile I was immersed in complicated dreams. I experienced a false awakening, one of those deceptive dream-sequences which mimic true awakening. In the dream I was lying in bed, on my side and facing away from Bev’s side. Somehow I knew that Bev had taken her collie outside to pee or whatever. The gas in my bowels was insistent, and I thought “A perfect time for a fart or two! The noxious fumes will have dissipated by the time she returns!”

It is such a pleasant feeling to release unruly farts which have been confined for too long. Three quick poots and my digestive system was in equilibrium once again.

Then I really woke up and sensed that Bev was actually in bed, and awake. I was sheepish as I turned and saw her shrink back. I explained my dream delusion and we laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Bev said, “When I heard those farts I thought, ‘He must be asleep! Surely he wouldn’t fart so shamelessly if he was awake!!'”

I thought about that portion of my mind which acts as my dream director. I could imagine him mischievously contriving the situation, saying, “Larry really does need to fart — let’s see, I’ll plant the idea in his head that he is alone in the bed. This should be fun to watch!”

By the way, Bev came up with the title for this post.

Larry

The Chiloc: A New Cure For Snoring!

Lately Bev has brought to my attention my inadvertent night-time snoring. According to her it sometimes becomes explosively loud. Of course I must take her word for it, as I have no way of knowing the extent and volume of my snores.

Last night she awakened me with an exclamation:

“Jesus Christ, Larry!”

Evidently I had just brought to fruition an enormous snore which woke her up. She drifted back into sleep (snoring a bit herself, I must add!) and I lightly dozed.

I was in a half-awake dream-state, lying on my back, when a computer screen appeared before my eyes, evidently hovering in the air above my face.

With the usual dreamer’s calm acceptance of the most unlikely scenes and circumstances I watched a stream of Facebook posts slowly scroll by on the screen. This one caught my attention:

FB-page

Or perhaps the photo accompanying the post was more like this:

Thunder_Lance_by_aido727

In my dream-state I realized how unlikely the scenario was, and this sort of realization always wakes me up. Bev was still awake and I told her about my dream vision. We had a good laugh, and both of us resorted to Google to see if there really is such a thing as a chiloc!

Larry

Campground Intruders

Though I’ve never been a hunter, I’ve been around hunters most of my life, both as a landowner and as a walker and camper. I’ll venture a guess that eighty percent of hunters are responsible folks who respect other peoples’ rights and follow the game laws. That other twenty percent, though, are troublesome to deal with at times. These heedless folks are almost all men.

Hunting is seen by these borderline sociopaths as a way of escaping society’s strictures. Away from the onerous presence of wives and neighbors these hunters tend to drink excessively and indulge in their proclivities, one of which is a love of guns in all their mechanical glory. Many of them have accomplished a feat of mental gymnastics: riding around on a gun-equipped ATV, usually a four-wheeler, comes to be considered the height of coolness and masculinity rather than as a craven relinquishment of one of humanity’s finer activities, which is walking while carefully regarding the landscape and its inhabitants. Henry Thoreau liked to use the word “sauntering”.

You can imagine that my having opinions and attitudes such as these results in some odd encounters. I try to be civil and focus on signs of humanity in the renegade hunters I meet, but this does involve some effort. It’s like bridging an inter-species gulf.

A few weeks ago Bev and I were heading south from Utah, looking for warmer weather and killing time before the house in Bisbee was vacant and ready for us. We decided to spend a couple of days in the Dragoon Mountains, a favorite locality of ours. The Dragoons are about an hour’s drive southeast of Tucson. Here are a few photos from our stay.

Typically jumbled granitic rocks of the Dragoons; I’d hate to be there during a major earthquake!

dragoons_nov_2012-1

An Arizona Rainbow Cactus growing within a bed of moss; I’m still not accustomed to seeing cacti growing with ferns and mosses!

dragoons_nov_2012-2

A Gulf Fritillary butterfly taking its ease in the sun:

dragoons_nov_2012-3

Whorled and contorted grain of a recumbent oak trunk. Notice how cattle have burnished the surface by rubbing against the surface for many years:

dragoons_nov_2012-4

But back to our hunter encounters. I’d really rather write about subjects more congruent with my interests, but sometimes stories demand to be told.

We knew that deer-hunting season had begun, but with our usual optimism we thought that the Dragoons was a large enough area to mitigate against unwanted interactions with hunters. Not so, evidently!

One chill evening, after the sun had set, Bev and I had retreated to the van. Bev was checking her e-mail and reading Facebook posts on her cell phone while I was engrossed in a book. An LED lamp provided sufficient illumination.

Sage, the guardian collie, began to growl softly. Bev managed to get my attention, not always an easy task, and said, “Larry, there’s someone standing out there!”

I looked out of the window and saw a man standing about twenty feet from the van. “Oh, hell!”, I thought, “What could this guy be doing?”

It seemed odd that the man would be just standing there without calling out, especially during hunting season. He risked being shot. I reluctantly exited the van and approached the man. “Hey, what’s up?”, I asked him in a neutral tone.

I felt myself at a disadvantage, being barefoot and all. I was curious, though, and wanted to know why the man was standing there. He was in his sixties and seemed to be a bit “off”. We had seen him earlier trying to turn around a long airstream trailer hitched to an SUV. We thought he had seen that we were camped at the last site on the road and decided to check out another site. I looked over his shoulder and saw that his vehicle and trailer were parked down the road a ways.

He said, “Oh, I was supposed to meet a friend here and thought maybe this was his van.”

Rather unlikely, I thought! He doesn’t know what his friend’s van looks like? His story sounded vague and improvised.

I replied, perhaps in unfriendly tones, “I guess you’re mistaken.”

“So what are you doing here,” he asked. “Rock-climbin’ or something like that?”

By this time the dog had started barking and though I was still curious about the guy, I answered him tersely: “Yeah, something like that.” I wanted this encounter to be over with. He got the message and said, “Well, I guess I’ll be going on my way.”

The man walked back towards his SUV and turned it and the trailer around. As his headlights disappeared down the twisting dirt road I got back into the van.

I told Bev about the odd conversation and she told me that before we had seen the man standing in our camp-site she had seen him peeking through the van’s rear window.

Now that was even creepier and stranger than my encounter! Most people are careful to follow an unwritten code of campground etiquette. Peeking into vehicle windows is certainly something I would never do!

The mystery surrounding this man increased the following morning. I was out for an early walk down the road. About a mile from our camp-site the man’s SUV and trailer were pulled over to the side of the road. The SUV’s engine was running and the man sat alone in the vehicle. I walked on by without acknowledging the man’s presence; as soon as I had passed the man pulled out into the road and passed me.

So odd! Why was he wandering around the back roads during hunting season? Why was he bothering to pull a thirty-foot trailer when he seemed to be by himself?

While I was out walking that morning Bev was sitting at the campsite playing her mandolin. A pickup truck pulled up into the site and two hunters mimicked for her the act of bowing a fiddle. They grinned foolishly. This seemed to Bev to be an obvious attempt to intimidate her. These hunters must have seen her playing the fiddle from a distance, perhaps using a spotting scope or binoculars.

I returned from my walk and Bev told me about this latest intrusive encounter. We decided to leave. Life’s too short to put up with such people!

Larry

An Encounter In The Wilderness

Around Bisbee, as in many other warm-climate towns and cities, odd people are often encountered, homeless and/or eccentric folks who appreciate the ability to live a rough life of sorts without having to worry about freezing to death.

A couple of weeks ago I was camped out up on Juniper Flats, a place I have grown to love. Not many people come up there, largely due to the steepness and roughness of the switch-backed road. The ridgetop is the domain of agaves, yuccas, pinon pines, lizards, and of course alligator junipers.

The vegetation is scanty, interrupted by expanses of pinkish granite. Water is in short supply, though I did experience a hailstorm followed by rain which filled cavities in the granite, forming ephemeral pools.

One morning I was standing near a steep drop-off, looking down at the traffic on Rt. 80 and at the town of Bisbee, improbably nestled in a canyon towards the south. The sky, as almost always in these dry months before the monsoon season, was deep blue and cloudless. The sun and the dry air had yet to become oppressive.

I heard something approaching through a cluster of pines and silk-tassel trees. A feral cow, or a javelina, perhaps?

A sun-browned man came out of the trees, his clothes just rags. His hair was long and tangled and he had a patchy beard.

As he approached I said, “Hello! What brings you up to the flats, and how’d you get here?”

A closer look revealed that the man was dark-complected, not just sunburned. He wore sandals fashioned from tire rubber.

“I could well ask you the same, my friend!”, he said. “I don’t see many people up here, one reason I like the place.”

“My name’s Larry; what’s yours?”

The man chuckled. “If I told you you would think I am crazy or deluded, but what the heck, what do I care what you think? I’m Jesus Christ, but you can call me JC, like the Junior Chamber of Commerce organizations found in most towns in this vast country. Hey, you were born a US citizen, I presume — why Junior? Are there Senior Chambers of Commerce as well?”

“As far as I can tell, the senior business-folks of a town don’t need to have a formal organization or name — they tend to be known as The Old Boy’s Network.”

I’ve met deluded people with Christ complexes before, and I’ve found it best to humor them. Generally it doesn’t pay to argue or try to reason with crazy people. But this man intrigued me. He did look Middle Eastern, and he seemed to be very comfortable in the desert.

I said, “So what brings you to these parts, JC? You seem to be a long way from home.”

“Truth to tell, I’ve about had it with Palestine and the Middle East in general. Too many people, not enough water, the corruption caused by the oil industry, and incessant strife. The last straw was a few weeks ago when an unmanned drone aircraft started following me around. I believe it was controlled by a military minion in Colorado Springs.”

“That’s probably true, unfortunately. So what did you do?”

“I hacked into its control system and caused it to crash into the Mount of Olives. I’ll bet that whoever was controlling the craft had bright spots dancing before his or her eyes!”

The man continued:

“I thought that the time was ripe for a change of scene. I stowed away on an oil tanker, with the help of some friendly crewmen, and ended up in New Orleans. Turning the contents of one of their water tanks into wine helped. I’ve long wanted to see your country, home to so many people who, it seems, worship me.”

“So what do you think about the religion you seem to have inspired?”

“Oh, don’t get me started! I get tortured to death on a wooden cross, and now people wear effigies of that cross around their necks! You must realize that the Christian bible was written by people I never knew, for the most part. Have you read the Book of Revelations? I did know John, but he was psychotic. I suspect the influence of certain psychotropic desert plants, to be frank. A sad case, indeed.”

“Have you encountered any interesting new foods here in the New World, JC?”

“Oh, yes! I’m quite fond of chile peppers, and the pods of the mesquite tree remind me so much of those of the carob in my native haunts. Showers of manna seem to be rare around here, but really they seem to have declined in the Old World of late.”

I was enjoying this odd conversation, but then a white SUV pulled into the clearing. It was a Border Patrol vehicle; they patrol the Flats about once a week. A Hispanic man in a uniform, armed with a pistol, got out and approached us. How ironic that Hispanics are often employed by the patrol to apprehend Mexicans who happen to have tried to enter this country during a terrorist scare period!

Sotto voce, I said to JC, “Act autistic! No personal affect, sit down and look away. I’ll handle this.”

The man said,”Hi, you two. I’d like to see some ID, please.”

I was a bit annoyed. “I’m an American citizen and I don’t need to show ID on American soil. Unless I’m driving or disturbing the peace, of course. My friend here is my cousin; he’s autistic, and he lives in a managed care facility in Sierra Vista. I brought him up here for an excursion into the outside world. He won’t talk, as he doesn’t know you. He doesn’t have any ID — I didn’t think it would be necessary.”

JC played the part well. He sat on a granite boulder looking away and seemed oblivious to the agent’s presence.

The Border Patrol agent looked confused.

“Autistic? I have a nephew who is that way. Oh, well, I guess I’ll leave you two and keep on looking for real illegals.”

The man drove away.

JC chuckled.

“Man, you handled that well! Autistic, eh? I’ll remember that, as I probably can use that ruse in the future.”

JC stood up, shook my hand, and wandered off into a canyon.

Larry

A Bisbee Vignette

There is only one gas station in Bisbee; the Circle K Station enjoys a virtual monopoly. It’s on the north side of town, and the only alternative is to drive past the garishly-colored copper mine wasteland on the south side of town, get on Rt. 92 at the roundabout, and drive a few miles to San José, a commercial strip at the edge of the Sulphur Spring Valley. The Safeway store and the laundromat as well as a hardware and lumber store are out there, so most Bisbee residents make that trip regularly.

The other day I was airing up a leaky rear tire on my truck at the Circle K. I noticed a typical Bisbee character standing a few feet away from me, a ragged-looking man with unkempt long white hair and a long beard. Bisbee seems to be a magnet for old eccentrics and hippies. He looked at me as I fed quarters into the air compressor and I could tell he was nerving himself to approach me.

The man walked up to me just before I got into my truck. He had something in his outstretched cupped palm.

“I got pesos,man! I need a buck — how about I give you these and you give me a dollar?”

I looked at the miscellaneous pile of Mexican change in his hand.

“Y’know, I don’t plan on going into Mexico anytime soon. Sorry, but I just can’t do it!”

The man looked away and scowled. As I drove away I saw him approaching another customer.

I wish I had gotten the back-story! Why did he have all of that Mexican change? How did he end up in Mexico, as he seemed not to have a vehicle? What did he want one dollar for?

I’ll probably see the man around town; perhaps I’ll hear his story one of these days!

Larry

Goons Of The Dragoons

I’m sitting at the kitchen table looking out at whirling drifts of snow, an unusual sight here in Cochise County, Arizona. The mountain slopes on the opposite side of the canyon are obscured from view:

An apricot tree next to the front door was in full bloom yesterday, but I imagine that the blossoming will resume in a day or so:

My thoughts wander back to memories of a hike Bev and I took a few days ago. We drove up to the Dragoons again, a range of contorted granite mountains which once served as a stronghold and refuge for the Apache chief Cochise and his tribespeople.

The sky was just perfect that day, with radiating spokes of high cirrus clouds providing a fitting backdrop for the rocky slopes and peaks. A few examples of the twisted shapes granite can assume when given sufficient time and heat:

The path we followed wound its way in. I would like to see one of those famed Southwestern flash floods someday, but from higher ground! The granite supported little vegetation, just the usual alligator junipers, scrub oaks, and piñon pines spaced a comfortable distance apart. Two more views:

The collie Sage led the way as we approached a peculiar pile of rocks. The heap bore an uncanny resemblance to some sort of squat sentient creature, like a species of stony troll. A shiver ran up my spine:

It was quite a remarkable illusion, but obviously just the product of my overactive imagination. I couldn’t help but think, though, of some Apache legends I had read about, dark tales of stony demons lurking in the local canyons. I was distracted from these disturbing thoughts by an encounter with a new flowering plant. What a charming sight! It was a yellow-flowered legume with contrasting reddish buds. The clump was growing amidst yucca and grasses. I liked the way one pair faced the camera while the other seemed transfixed by the sight of something off towards the right, perhaps the dog:

Once I was home again I determined that the plant is a species of Lotus, a close relative of the alien forage legume Lotus corniculatis or Birds-foot Trefoil. I think these Lotus greenei plants are much prettier, although I admit their native status predisposes me towards them.

We came across a boulder-field which required us to squeeze through crevices. Cave-like enclosures between the car-sized rocks probably serve as impromptu shelters for coatimundis and such-like small mammals. Here’s a scene which might appear to be an appalling example of animal abuse, but Bev really wasn’t punching out Sage:

We were walking by yet another tastefully-arranged grouping of boulders when Bev saw a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly nectaring at a clump of white flowers surrounded by the threatening curved leaves of Shindagger plants, a small species of Agave. I endured a few pokes from the Shindaggers in an effort to squat down and take a closer look at the five-petaled white flowers:

Later, after I had failed to identify the plant, Bev was able to make a positive ID. The plant bears an unlikely common name, Bigelow’s Bristlehead, and it’s a member of the Aster or Composite family. The Latin binomial is Carphochaete bigelovii.

I was standing near a large round boulder when I heard a faint rumbling reminiscent of the sound of a mild earthquake. I also could feel the stone pavement I stood upon trembling. Sage whimpered.

Bev said with alarm, “Look at those outcroppings up ahead! They’re moving!”

A thorny ocotillo shoot extended across my path, as if to warn me against proceeding any farther:

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Two of the enormous piles of granite boulders were moving across our path several hundred yards away. We decided to give them a wide berth and took a circuitous route back to the van. It always pays to be prudent when encountering ancient troll-like rock demons!

Larry, who has been known to stretch the truth at times…

Into The Arboreal Vortex

The days here in Southeast Arizona are rather uniformly pleasant. Although the mornings tend to be chilly, the rarefied atmosphere allows the sun to warm the afternoons with celerity. On one such afternoon a few days ago I was out on the canyon slopes wandering around and seeing what there was to be seen.

There has been a persistent drought around here for the past fifteen years, or perhaps the years before were unusually wet. Who can say? Record-keeping humans have only lived here for a tiny slice of geological time.

Most of the vegetation growing on the mountain and canyon slopes is well-adapted to dry conditions, but some of the trees seem to be suffering while dying a slow death by dessication. Many of the manazanita trees in particular seem to have been dying for some years. The oaks, pines, and junipers are thriving slowly but the slopes are littered with bleached-gray skeletons of perished manzanitas.

As I clambered up a shelf of granite that afternoon I came across an impressively large manzanita tree, the biggest one I’ve yet seen. The tree was half-dead. It’s trunk was about one foot in diameter, as compared to the usual four or five inches. Here is a shot of the trunk with my cap placed before it for scale:

Due to some vagary of optics my cap looks larger than it should; my head really isn’t a foot in diameter!

As I squatted down and regarded the tree it began to shudder and swell. Alarmed, I shot another photo after grabbing my cap and stepping back away from it. What was going on, I thought?

A sinister rumbling sound accompanied by the frenzied creaking of straining wood fibers filled the air. The trunk ballooned in size and I began to retreat, but not before snapping this shot:

A sound like an approaching cellulose tornado caused me to cover my ears — I managed to snap one last photo before losing consciousness:

I awakened feeling scorched and sore all over; I wondered how long I’d been out. Towards the east it seemed that dawn was approaching, which meant that I had been lying unconscious in the gravel for quite a few hours.

The enormous manzanita was gone. All that remained was a layer of red and brown splinters arrayed radially around the frayed remnants of the tree’s stump.

I wearily got to my feet and stood there unsteadily, enjoying the chill morning breeze. As the dawn light gradually intensified I noticed a semi-clad female figure gesturing proudly towards the dawn clouds, which were quite spectacular that morning. It was Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, of course, accompanied this time by the grinning figure of a Chihuahuan raven, its body still submerged in another dimension:

I knew Eos from my days delivering newspapers to rural Illinois customers last fall.

“So, Eos, you decided to try your hand at one of these Arizona sunrises! How did you get here, anyway? I thought your territory was the Mississippi Valley.”

“I’m a little pissed off at you, Larry! You took off without a word of warning! I was relying upon you to critique my matutinal efforts, you know! If it weren’t for the help of the Dictionary Demon I never would have been able to track you down. He graciously gave me a ride down here last month. I must say that the atmosphere is wonderfully clear around here, and the local sprites are quite advanced in their color-mixing abilities.”

Kind reader, if you are unfamiliar with Eos and the Demon you might have a look at these past posts:

Deity Encounter

Another Talk With Eos

Eos Gets The Blues

Demon Typing

Flight Of The Dictionary Demon

The raven’s head, hovering in the sky like the head of the Cheshire Cat in the Alice book, cawed harshly and said, “I’ve been showing Eos around my territory. I think Kokopelli has taken a shine to her!”

Eos flushed deeply and exclaimed, “Raven, I’ve told you repeatedly that just because I deign to talk with that scruffy flute-player doesn’t mean I have any sort of designs upon that smelly hump-backed trickster! You presume too much, bird!”

The raven cawed hoarsely in amusement.

“Oh, the goddess is sensitive! Ha!”

I attempted to divert the two supernatural creatures from their squabbling by remarking, “Eos, your dawn is developing beautifully! The local sprites seem to have picked up the thrust of your individual aesthetic sense rather quickly!”

Eos smiled and said, “These Southwestern sprites have been interbreeding with Navaho and Apache minor deities for several hundred years now. I do like the mix of Mediterranean and Native American cultures they seem to have developed!”

I was aching all over due to sleeping on rough scree all night. I’d had my fill of deities and their doings, so I bade Eos and the Raven adieu and made my way down the canyon slope, thinking of breakfast and coffee as I avoided the agave and yucca thorns.

Larry

An Imaginary Movie Scene

I wrote this for my friend and commenter Bev as a bit of amusement as she recovers from one of those intestinal flu viruses. I thought some other readers might enjoy it:

[the scene: a grim and barren concrete-block room painted a bilious shade of green. There are no windows — seems like a basement, an underground interrogation room.

Larry has been apprehended by the nameless authorities, and he is duct-taped to a maple chair — oddly enough, it is a chair which has been painted, decorated by some Canadian woman! What kind of movie is this, anyway? Getting rather surreal…

A surly mustachioed man approaches Larry. He has a .45 revolver, and he aims it at the poor guy’s head.

“Okay, buddy, are ya gonna drive south or what? We can make you do it, ya know!”

“But I want to! Just let me go and I’ll be outa here!”

“Ha! They all say that! Ya gotta be more convincing than that! The Herald-Whig told us about you. Did you know that there are city statutes dealing with deadbeats like you who fail to deliver their newspapers?”

“Oh, you have to be making this up! Statutes?!”

“Yeah, I’m just kiddin’ ya, bud. Let me peel this duct tape off and you can go.”]

I often have imaginary movie scenes drift through my over-active mind…

Larry