Yet Another Juniper Flats Excursion

I love driving up the steep and switchbacked road to the level top of Juniper Flats, a massive granite flat-topped mountain just a mile or so north of Bisbee. I’ve been trying to organize hikes up there lately, but it has just been so hot. What people don’t realize is that at over seven thousand feet in elevation above sea level, it’s always cooler up there.

This morning the only person to show up was John Beland, a musical and horticultural friend of mine who lives over in the Other Valley, on the other side of the Mule Mountains from where I live. His and Marcia’s place is not far from Echoing Hope Ranch, my home away from home.

Here’s a selection of photos I shot while John and I were up there this morning.










Lazy Sapphic Afternoon

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

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

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




Winter In The Valley

It’s been a while since I posted here. I’ve been busy, what with moving out to our cabin and getting ready for winter here. We’re off the grid and we rely on wood for heat. Our electricity comes from a couple of 100-watt solar panels and we haul drinking water from town in five-gallon carboys. All of this takes time and attention, thus I’ve had less time to collect my thoughts and write.

It has come to my attention that a few of the readers of this blog have an antipathy towards Facebook. Facebook has its problems and annoyances, but these days I just have to use it. The vast majority of my friends and relatives use Facebook and thus it’s a convenient way to share photos, audio, and brief textual expressions.

It’s Christmas day as I type this post. It’s sunny and windy outside and I’ve retreated to the cabin to write for a while. A pecan and mesquite fire is burning in the stove. I’ve collected several of my Facebook posts and present them here, both for Facebook-phobic readers and as a more dependable way to archive them. I’ve enclosed direct quotes from Facebook posts in double quotes.

Our November project was an outhouse/toolshed. It was a fun project, one of those design-as-you-go structures. We’ve taken an option which our county offers: opting out of building codes. I’m willing to take full responsibility if the shed falls on someone or otherwise becomes a public menace!

Here’s the little shed during three phases of construction:




“I needed a shed door handle and didn’t want to drive to town for a Chinese stock handle from the hardware store. I walked out into the scrub with a battery-powered reciprocal saw, hoping that the powers of serendipity would favor me once again. A contorted mesquite root at the edge of a wash looked usable, so I cut it, took it back to the shed, and fitted it to the door. Total time for the project was one half-hour. On the left are the two stumps, on the right the mounted handle.”


Before we had a woodstove some of the November mornings were quite chilly and I’d make a little campfire near the cabin. Here’s Sage looking at me through the smoke:


Here’s a pre-sunrise photo I shot on the 6th of December:


That same week there were some nice morning clouds shrouding the Mule Mountains. We had had a nice rain the day before:


“This morning [Dec. 3rd] I surprised a Chihuahuan Desert Goblin slowly creeping past the south wall of our cabin. In exchange for a sip of coffee it agreed to pose for this photo.”


An assortment of dawn shots from late November and early December:





Sunrise and sunset on November 14th:


Some tree lizards sunning themselves on the cabin wall:


Dingo returning, curious as to what had detained me (I was photographing the Black-Spined Opuntia clump in the foreground):


There is a lot of contorted, dead, and dry mesquite wood in the desert around here which we burn for firewood, along with pecan branches from a nearby orchard:


The western frosty side of a long-dead mesquite burl:


Frost on my truck’s hood the morning of Dec. 7th, looking like a planet ascending:


A couple of musical photos taken by others. The first is a shot of Jamie and me playing at a Tucson steampunk tea party, and the second is John Cordes and I accompanying a California singer at St. Elmo’s in Bisbee:



A pair of Devil’s Claw photos; the first is a pod opening here in the cabin, and the second is of two pods which somehow had contrived to grasp a dead deer’s leg and foot:



The dawn on this Christmas morning:


Merry Christmas!


Low-rider Cactus

A couple of years ago I was wandering along the south-facing canyon slopes up above Bisbee, Arizona. I was near the crest in an area which had suffered a wind-driven burn a few years ago. The fierce blaze had killed off the Emory Oaks and all other trees. Blackened skeletal trunks were gradually being shaded and replaced by new sprouts, but at that time the area was dominated by grass, yucca, and agave. Regeneration after a hot fire takes decades.

It was pure serendipity, a gift from the gods, which allowed me to stumble upon a lone pancake-like cactus, a species of Mammillaria which I knew had been reported as growing in the Bisbee area, but which I had never seen before. Sometimes known as Cream Cactus due to it’s milky sap, this particular specimen was about nine inches in diameter but only an inch or so high; it was nearly invisible, surrounded as it was by clumps of the indigenous grasses Blue Grama and Sideoats Grama.

That was the only Cream Cactus I’ve ever seen after many miles of tramping around — until last week. I was taking photos in a miniscule park on Bisbee’s south side, a rough area paved with limestone fragments and supporting a thick growth of ocotillos and agaves. I was trying to avoid ocotillo thorns while positioning myself for a photo when I happened to look down and saw my second Cream Cactus right between my feet! This photo shows the faded remnants of this year’s flowers atop the nippled cactus, and I suspect the orange-brown ovoid in the lower-right corner of the scene might be a fallen fruit. Like many cacti, Mammillaria heyderii completes its reproductive duties before the monsoon rains arrive. I have yet to see one in bloom.


Looking about on the web for possible human uses of this cactus I came across a quote from an ethnobotanical study:

Mammillaria heyderi is a little discussed species, which is reported to be used by the Tarahumaras. We first encountered this species in the Tarahumara-English dictionary compiled by the Swedish explorer Ivar Thord-Gray. Discussing sorcery and black magic among the Tarahumaras, Thord-Gray reports, that ‘only the shaman is umeru-ame (powerful) enough to locate wizards and witches. To do this he will make medicine from ball-cactus wichu-ri-ki, which is greatly feared for its magical powers. This medicine will clear his vision. It matters not how well the suku-ru-ame (wizard, witch) is hidden, the shaman can see him clearly’ …Not only is this cactus useful for locating wizards and supplying food, but it is also used as a medicine to cure or relieve headaches. ‘After the spines are removed, the plant is cut up into two or more pieces, roasted for a few minutes, and then part of the stuff is pushed into the ear.’ …(This) is corroborated by Bennett & Zingg, who describe the same manner of roasting the cactus before ‘the soft center in pushed into the ear in the case of ear-ache or deafness.’ Thord-Gray also reports that wichu-ri-ki is an important medicine that will prolong life, ‘make the foot light and increase the speed of a runner in a race.’ The Tarahumara name for the cacti listed by Bennett & Zingg is witculiki. Witculiki and wichu-ri-ki are possibly related to wichuwa-ka, which means ‘crazy, demented, mad, insane, etc.” (Bruhn and Bruhn, 1973)

Known in Spanish as “biznaga de chilillos,” with the edible red fruits called “chilitos.” This species, and other latex-containing Mammillarias are often sold in the drug stalls of Mexico and are used as popular folk remedies. M. applanata, M. hemisphaerica and M. Meiacantha are generally believed to be M. heyderi. 2/P, 10/P

So the cactus was thought to prolong life, help you to run faster, and even cure an earache! No wonder there aren’t many left!


Christmas Doves

It’s a fine Southwest Arizona winter morning, with a cloudless deep blue sky and air reminiscent of a northern fall day. I stepped outside and regarded the canyon slopes arrayed beneath this house on the northern edge of Bisbee.

A thirty-foot-tall agave stalk was silhouetted against the sky, the remnant of a plant which had flowered in June and then died after several years of preparation for the seeding efforts. The seed capsules were splayed open and emptied of seed, but the gracefully-formed stalk will endure for two or three years before it tumbles over.

I have noticed that a flock of white-winged doves enjoys perching on the curved seed-stalks of the dead agave, a secure perch which exposes the birds to the morning and evening sunlight. Until this morning I have failed to obtain photos of these doves perching, as they startle and fly away when approached. This morning I was slow and cautious, approaching the stalk with my eyes averted. Here’s a photo of what I saw:



ABC Files and Recording Music and Video

This winter I’ve been writing less and devoting more time to playing and recording music. It’s great fun, and I feel it is high time I documented my music after so many years of playing.

The software available for musicians is plentiful. I tend to use only FOSS software (FOSS stands for Free And Open Source), a trait which as time passes becomes more feasible and less a statement of religious conviction.

Some of my favorite and most-used pieces of software cluster around an ASCII-text file format known as ABC. Chris Walsh came up with the format back in the 1980s. He needed a way to represent traditional melodies without going to the trouble of drawing staves and using normal musical notation. ABC is musical shorthand. Notes are represented by letters, and various typographical symbols indicate bars, rests, and most other musical features. ABC is quite portable; it can be scrawled on a restaurant napkin or included in the text of an e-mail. The format has been most popular with musicians in the British Isles.

With todays gargantuan multi-gig computer hard drives the advantages of ABC have declined somewhat, but there are so many tune and transcription collections available on the net in ABC format. For a fiddler like me the files are a cornucopia of musical delights. So portable, too! Millions of tunes in ABC format can be stored on a CD or a USB stick.

Software is available which converts an ABC file to a printable Postscript file. The results are excellent. Here’s an example. This is an ABC file represnting the bare bones of a tune I came up with several years ago:

T:Goldberg Waltz
C:Larry Ayers
N:First played circa 2004 --
N:Notated January 2013
GA|"G"B2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|"C" E2 C2 E2|G6|"Em"E2 B2 B2| B2 B B3|
"D"ABA GFE|D2 B,2 A,2|"G"G,2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|
"C"E2 C2 E2|G6|"D"D2 d3 d|d2 d2 d2|"G"BA G"D"F "G"GA|G6||
|:"G"Bdg dgd|Bdg dgd|"C"ceg ege|ceg ege|"Em"B2 e2 g2|b2 b2 b2|"D"a2 ag fe|
d2 dc BA|"G"B2 d2 g2|gf ed cB|"C"c2 cdef|g4 ^g2|"D"a3 gfe|d3 cBA|"G"B2 G F G2 :|

A program called abcm2ps translates the ABC typography into a file which looks like this:


The tune sounds like this (more or less, as I seldom play anything the same way twice!):

Goldberg Waltz recording

I’ve been using a multi-platform program called Audacity, which can be obtained here:


It’s a very versatile multi-track recording and sound-editing application.

Videos are ubiquitous on the net these days due to the popularity of Youtube and, to a lesser extent, Vimeo. I thought it would be fun to make some music videos and upload them, but I had a problem. I’d never successfully edited video before, and the few times I tried I felt stymied. The software has been written by people who grew up editing video and certain user-interface assumptions are made by the developers which were not at all intuitive for me.

I finally figured out my problem, which was that I assumed that the editing paradigm used in text and audio editors carried over into video editors. This isn’t true. Video editors mostly have been developed using an analogy with film editing. Cutting and splicing film (with discarded strips of film falling in curls to the cutting-room floor) is used as a metaphor for dealing with streams of video frames. The computer’s cursor is exchanged for a knife or scissors which “cuts” the sequence of frames.

This may seem obvious, but it took me a while to embrace and be able to use that metaphor! I can be dense at times.

I’ve been using two video editors, Openshot and Kdenlive. They are both good programs, but each has its strong points.

I started out using the audio track recorded by the camera, a Canon G11. That audio was fairly decent considering the tiny microphone on the camera, but I wanted multiple audio tracks. Lately I’ve been recording and editing with Audacity, then substituting the Audacity track for the camera’s recorded audio. I also have been using an external microphone. Of course the audio has to be synchronized with the video, but I found that Kdenlive does that automatically.

Here are a couple of videos. This first one was shot using the built-in camera and mike on Bev’s Imac:

You can see Sage the collie in the background in that one. Pets wandering into the scene are commonly seen in Youtube videos!

This is a later one shot with the Canon G11 on a tripod, and with the audio recorded with Audacity:


One last video… this one shows me playing an Irish set-dance tune called “The Blackbird” on the guitar. I dubbed in a fiddle track as well:


All rather amateurish, I admit, but fun!


Calvin And Hobbes Revisited

Many years ago members of my family enjoyed reading the best, most philosophical, and funniest of the newspaper comic strips, Bill Watterson’s “Calvin And Hobbes”. Compilation paperback books circulated freely amongst the motley crew of the Ayers family, a heterogenous mix of Christian believers and shameless atheists.

In 1995 Bill Watterson decided to quit writing the Calvin and Hobbes tales. He felt that he had explored his comic realm thoroughly and had nothing else to add. Fans just had to accept this decision. Years later a blogger had the temerity to write and draw some sequels to Watterson’s stories. I got a kick out of these comics, and you might like them too!


A Lovecraft Pastiche

I realize that not everyone shares my liking for the florid and overwrought prose of the early-twentieth-century fabulist and writer of horror stories H.P. Lovecraft. Now you don’t even have to crack open one of his books — in this parody James Warner captures well the peculiar flavor of Lovecraft’s stories: the hinting at horrors that can’t be described, the fear and paranoia which infects the unhappy man’s ravings, and the suggestions, never fully adumbrated, of evil elder gods which nobody would like to encounter. This piece I found to be quite entertaining:

Lovecraft As Advice Columnist

Thanks go to science-writer Jennifer Ouellette for bringing this piece to my attention.


Flight of the Dictionary Demon

As some of you may recall, way back in early January, Larry abandoned me to my own devices. For awhile, I read and slept, secretly hoping for his return, but as the days gradually stretched into weeks, it became apparent that I was well and truly on my own. I could either remain in the midwest, or strike out for southeast Arizona to rejoin my lifelong friend.

However, there was one complication and that had to do with my books. After some experimentation, I found that my safe carrying limit was two – one in each clawed hand. Any more and I risked dropping one or more valuable tome. Such a decision! As I hunched over my small hoard, I reflected upon Larry’s recent difficulties as he chose which books to take and which to leave behind. From my lair, I had watched him carefully packing up his fiddle and other music books, his bound edition of Thoreau’s journals, and various other favorites from his collection. As the box filled to the top, he occasionally removed one book, gently replacing it with another. Now I was in much the same predicament.

At last, I settled upon an irreplacable first edition of Franz Passow’s Handw├Ârterbuch der griechischen Sprache, and a 1612 first edition of Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca. Sadly, I left behind a number of other cherished volumes. I admit to shedding a tear or two, but comforted myself with the knowledge that most are now available online as scans, or in reprints. As an aging demon, I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that when the time comes for me pass on to that nether world where all good demons eventually go, I can’t take everything with me. Time to begin letting go.

With little else in the way of preparation, I set out upon my southwest journey. For the first few minutes, the steady flexing of my wings felt exhilarating, but after the first half hour or so, I came to the rather painful realization that I’m not quite the demon I used to be. Long years of putzing around on foot had resulted in a gradual atrophy of my flight muscles. For the first few days, two or three hours was just about my limit. Even at that, my flapping became quite feeble towards the end. I would then drop to the ground to forage about, chasing down the odd opossum or armadillo. When not feeling up to the hunt, I confess to resorting to scrounging about in garbage cans in the parking lots of several fast food outlets. Sometimes I even managed to snag a burger or two, abandoned by a patron alarmed at the sight of a lumbering winged demon emerging from a round of dumpster diving.

After several days, I progressed beyond the snowy croplands of the midwest, then onward over the rangelands of the Great Basin. In time, I found myself in a strange land of mountains and desert. As I approached the Sonoran region, Saguaro and other cacti dotted the rugged landscape. I was struck by the warmth of the landscape, and also by the intensity of the sun. Of course, lacking experience in desert travel, I neglected to slather on SPF 30 UV protection lotion and paid the terrible price of sunburnt wings.

Just about the time I was feeling close to giving up, a familiar scene loomed into sight – the dragon rock formation a short distance from Larry’s southern abode. I had managed to cop a peek of one of Larry’s recent blog posts on an iPad abandoned by a fleeing restaurant patron.

I dropped down to roost upon this stunning outcrop, surrounded by curious vegetation such as Manzanita and Agave, and other plants which will require some looking up. Exhausted, I curled up, racking my brain for desert terminology as I drifted off for a brief slumber.


Awhile later, a dashing collie who goes by the moniker of “Sage” sprang up the slope and smiled in what I hoped was a greeting and not a prelude to a nip at my wingtips. In that universal creature language that is shared by so many (except man), she let me know that I had indeed arrived at the right place. She promised to send Larry up to visit me posthaste. And so my journey came to an end – but one that is actually as much a beginning as an ending.

Dictionary Demon

* click on all above images for larger views.

2011 in review

18,000 views! I had no idea. It looks like John Fitzgerald’s wonderful eagle photo was well-liked!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.