Elephant Garlic Harvest

I’ve decided to re-post Facebook posts here, partly for archival reasons and also so that those who avoid Facebook can read them. Here’s the first one:

Last week the garden crew at Echoing Hope Ranch dug up two patches of Elephant Garlic with the help of some of the resident clients, all of them guys in their early twenties. It was a pleasant experience for all of us. My boss and I loosened the deeply-rooted bulbs with shovels and the clients pulled the garlic and loaded it into a cart.
The garlic bulbs are drying in one of the greenhouses, loosely stacked in slat-sided wooden boxes. This morning I noticed that some of the bulbs had snake-like scapes, the flower-stalks, erecting themselves and blindly rising towards the light. The flowers-clusters had expanded and burst their papery shrouds, leaving oddly comical hat-like remnants. Before I succumbed to practicality and snipped off and discarded the scapes I shot a few photos:

Characters And Dialogue

Lately I’ve been enjoying Richard Russo’s new novel “Everybody’s Fool”. I first encountered Russo’s work over twenty years ago, when I checked out a novel called “Nobody’s Fool” from the Edina library in Knox County, Missouri. I was delighted with the novel, a character-driven story of flawed but likable ne’er-do-well people in a languishing small town in upstate New York. I was reminded of Anne Tyler’s novels of eccentric inhabitants of Baltimore.

When “Nobody’s Fool” was published I was about forty years old. The main character in the novel is Sully, who was sixty during the events of the novel. To me at that time, Sully was an old man, and his exploits as recounted in the novel I saw as a sort of cautionary tale — I didn’t want to end up with such a fate!

Now I’m sixty-two, while in Russo’s fictional universe Sully has only aged ten years. Sully at seventy is much the same as he was at forty, while I can only hope that during the intervening twenty years I’ve learned more than he has!

Richard Russo, like Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, and Elmore Leonard, is a master of writing true-to-life dialogue, a skill which is more difficult than it looks. I learned this years ago when I worked the overnight shift at a convenience store in Hannibal, Missouri. During the wee hours I would have these great conversations with down-and-out night folks, and the next morning I would try to transcribe the conversations and present them in my blog, an ancestor of this one. I would jot down brief notes after the customer left, but turning these notes into readable and concise written dialogue was not easy. But it was fun!

“Nobody’s Fool” was made into a movie starring Paul Newman back in the early nineties. It’s a good movie, but, as is true most of the time, not as good as the novel.


The Eyes Of Helios

Yesterday at dawn I was standing outside watching and photographing a particularly nice monsoon-season sunrise. As the sun was barely peeking over the Swisshelm Mountains it began to look like two smaller suns, side by side, and this created what I hope was the illusion of a pair of incredibly bright eyes:

Eyes In The Sky

Eyes In The Sky

I noticed a shimmery sound to my left and the form of Eos, Goddess Of The Dawn, materialized next to me.

“Oh, hi, Eos! You startled me!”

“Hey, Larry. I noticed you down here and thought I’d better give you a heads-up. Those really are eyes on the eastern horizon. They belong to Helios, and the big H can be a bit cranky first thing in the morning. If I were you I’d get inside, and take that orange dog with you. Otherwise you might find the gaze of Helios mortally intense!”

“What’s a Greek god doing in the Arizona desert?”

“Oh, he gets around. Hey, I gotta hustle over to the San Pedro Valley. I have some new Anasazi sprites helping set up the sunrise over there and I need to see how they’re doin’. See ya!”

Eos shimmered off into the sky, and I called Dingo and hustled her inside.


An Ocotillo, a Spider, and Doomed Ants

Yesterday afternoon I was out walking with my dog. The sky was overcast and the air was blessedly cool and humid. I squatted down to observe the new growth of an Ocotillo which I had planted some months ago. An odd sight caught my eye, little winged insects were seemingly suspended in a vertical plane to the left of the thorny Ocotillo trunk. Looking closely I could see that the insects were winged ants, probably part of a monsoon-induced nuptial swarm. They were caught in a barely-visible spider’s web, one side of which was anchored to the Ocotillo and the other end — I suppose anchored to the rocky soil?

Doomed Suspended Ants

Doomed Suspended Ants

Ocotillo and Spiderweb

Ocotillo and Spiderweb

This scene told a story to me, a tale of a lone spider seeking an anchor point for its web and ants hoping to mate but having their flight rudely interrupted. I saw the tiny spider lurking among the Ocotillo’s thorns, probably waiting for me to leave so that it could harvest its net’s yield.

Addendum: the following morning I revisited the Ocotillo and found the web almost emptied of prey. The spider was perched near the top of the stalk:

Dinner Time!

Dinner Time!


First Monsoon Storm!

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

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


First Monsoon Storm #1

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


First Monsoon Storm #2

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


First Monsoon Storm #3

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


First Monsoon Storm #4

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


The Lizard King

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

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

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




Reina de la Noche in Cochise County

The landscape here in Southeast Arizona can appear a bit bleak late in the winter. As spring approached I naturally was eager to see which plants would green up first. There had been some nice rains during the winter which boded well for our local plant populations.

One fine morning towards the end of March I was just a hundred feet or so from our cabin examining a newly leafed out shrub growing in a clump of mesquite. I later found out from a friend that it was a Four-winged Saltbush. I noticed an oddly-colored vertical shoot back in the shadows of the clump; it was about an inch in diameter, prominently ribbed with short spines along the ribs, and dully colored a sort of purplish green-brown. Some sort of cactus, perhaps?

I walked back to the cabin and described the plant to Bev. I was reaching for a little illustrated guidebook to Arizona cacti, but Bev was quicker and got to the book before I did. She riffled through the book and before long exclaimed “Looks like it might be a Night-blooming Cereus cactus!”

I must say that I was a bit annoyed with her, as after all I was the one who had found the plant! A transitory feeling…

That day both Bev and I made forays out into the desert scrub looking for other examples of the species. Each of us found a couple. They aren’t easy to see, as from a distance greater than three feet they look just like a dead mesquite branch.

In early April I began to see signs of new growth on the half-dozen or so Peniocereus greggii plants we had located.

A note on the various names of the species: the Latin binomial botanical name is Peniocereus greggii and one of the English common names is Night-blooming Cereus. As is often the case, the Spanish name has more poetry than the English or Latin names: La Reina de la Noche, or Queen of the Night.

Here’s a shot of some new growth; whether a shoot or a flower bud it was hard to determine:


After a week or so the shoots had elongated:


Towards the middle of April the flower-buds could be distinguished from the vegetative shoots:



At that time I was guessing that the first blooms would open sometime in May.

On the 27th of April I was scouting around for one of these cacti which I remembered finding a month or so previously. I found it and was pleased to see some buds on the plant beginning to burst, the first one in the area to my knowledge. This may have been because the scrubby mesquites which had sheltered and shaded the plant in its youth had mostly died, doubtless victims of the multi-year drought in the area. The cactus was getting more sun and this caused the blooming time to be in advance of the nearby sheltered specimens, I surmised. A shot of this cactus:


Over the next couple of days the first two flowers opened up, releasing a heavy spicy-floral odor:


This shot was taken at dusk, just after sunset:


And here’s how it looked as the sun peeked over the Swisshelm Mountains the next morning:


Several books I had consulted made the claim that in a given locality all of the Night-blooming Cereus cacti would bloom on the same night. I think this is one of erroneous statements which are copied from one book to another. At least in this locality it seems that the blossoms will open over a period of two weeks or so.

Oddly enough, in my daily rambles through the washes and gravelly flats around here I’ve never encountered this species of cactus outside of a radius of 1/4 mile from our cabin. Perhaps they grow in local clusters or communities and we just happened to have bought a piece of land within one of these communities!


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!


Agave Stalk Mystery

Last spring I felt the need of a walking stick. I thought a third leg would be helpful while negotiating steep canyon-sides and rocky washes. Luckily Southeast Arizona is well-supplied with several plants which have flower-stalks eminently suitable for use as walking sticks: the Agaves, the Yuccas, and the Sotols. My favorite is the stalk of a recently-deceased Agave palmeri. The stalks are light, easily cut, and last for at least a season of walking.

When I moved out to our unfinished cabin in the Sulphur Springs Valley I brought with me an agave stalk I had cut up on Juniper Flats. After a couple of hot and wind-swept months I retreated to the relative comfort of an apartment in Bisbee, complete with such amenities as a kitchen, internet, a shower, and a toilet, where I recovered my digestive equanimity and played a lot of music.

Meanwhile my agave stalk was shut up in the cabin through the months of July through October. Early this month I examined the stalk before setting out on a walk. Oddly enough, the stalk was studded with filmy tubes which spiraled up the shaft, delicate one-quarter-inch-long structures with thread-like filaments radiating from their ends:


A closer view:


What creature could have left these husks behind? Perhaps moth larvae which spent their summer happily feeding upon the pith which fills agave stalks?

There were several areas on the stalk which had the husks arranged in a spiral, as if the mother who had laid the eggs had wound her way around the stalk, methodically depositing eggs as she went:


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