Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thoughts about my Mother

To Martha
It's my mother's birthday today.  She wouldn't want me to talk about how old she would be.  She never liked being "old".  She died over 5 years ago, and how I miss the opportunity to grow old alongside her.  She still had so much life to live.  We often struggled with our relationship - two stubborn women who could never quite admit the other could be right.  And I am more like her than I am willing to admit.  I even see her face in my mirror now. 
Like her tight-lipped English family, my mother held secrets closely and kept emotions under wraps.  Like emotions, sickness was a sign of weakness.  We are strong, hearty, invincible, tough, independent and silent.  So many times I just wished she would TALK to me, I mean really talk to me, as an adult and a human being and someone she loved.  Well, she rarely actually said so.  Those were hard words for her.  I vow to never withhold the words, I Love You, from my child. 

But I'm not here to castigate her, rather to offer my tribute. 
She raised four children, and, after my father died at a very young age, was the sole support for my youngest sister.  She made a career and continued to work until the sickness overtook her.  She was an extremely important part of her family, and remained close to her siblings and parents.  Never did she lose the connection to "home", and made sure that all of us were connected to her family and her home.  She cared for her mother-in-law, with whom she had a difficult relationship, and other aging relatives.  The outdoors and nature were deeply embedded in her being, and she passed that along to all her children.  She was a simple person, who taught us to live simply.  Long before it was fashionable, she was recycling, reusing and composting.  Animals found a soft spot in her heart, especially those in distress, and she was never without her beloved dogs and cats.  Never was she happier than walking the sagebrush-covered hills in Ash Valley or the Sierra foothills.
I loved my mother and I miss her terribly.  I wish I could tell her. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day - In Praise of the Good

This is Blog Action Day, when all of us with blogs, important or minor, have commited to write about global warming.  I say to myself, what can someone like me add to the discourse, when millions of words have been written by those so much more knowledgeable than I?  Reading about the coming disaster that awaits our planet if we do not take action is surely a depressing, intimidating, agonizing exercise. 

Rather than focus on the futility of trying to change the course of the world as a whole, it's more fruitful to realize that each one of us is an agent for change in our small way, and many small changes add up to big ones.  Writing a blog to raise awareness, commiting to make one small change in consumer habits, contacting our elected representatives to let them know how important we feel this issue is, planting a native species to attract more native pollinators, making a small monetary contribution to organizations that work to reduce carbon emissions, voting for representatives who are commited to working to prevent large scale climate change, volunteering with groups working to preseve native habitats, reducing the amount of waste we put in the trash can, finding more ways to recycle, driving a little bit less, buying fewer products from China, purchasing food produced closer to home, turning down the thermostat in winter.  The ways are endless and really very painless. 

Big change on a global scale is necessary too, by governments and scientists.  To finally have an administration that is not waging war on science is a huge step in the right direction.  But closer to home, I am encouraged by friends, acquaintances, neighbors, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, the Nature Conservancy, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Tohono Chul Desert Park, Tucson Clean and Beautiful and so many others who understand the seriousness of the global warming issue and are willing to work in ways large and small to effect change.  Thank you for caring and for making me hopeful about the future of the planet!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sliding Downhill from the Equinox

Once the Autumnal Equinox has passed and we're offically in autumn, it should be illegal for the temperatures to reach 100°. After we have suffered through a brutally hot summer and a pathetic monsoon, don't we deserve some small reward for our patience and forebearance? Alright, I admit the nights have been blissfully cool and it's a joy to sit on the patio in the early morning with a cup of French roast, savoring the soft sounds and scents of the desert.

Today my birding group met at 7:30 at Tucson's Sweetwater Wetlands for a morning of birding and general nature-watching. The temperature was already climbing, on its way to 102°, but the birds didn't seem to mind and our lists grew rapidly - many species of warblers, sparrows, woodpeckers and ducks, hawks, falcons, herons, egrets, grebes, hummingbirds, tanagers, killdeer, wrens, sandpipers, cormorants, a kingfisher and a roadrunner, cowbirds, yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds and quail. In the non-bird category were turtles, cottontails, lizards and dragonflies by the thousands. No snakes today unfortunately. A very pleasant morning, and better than what I'll be doing in the heat tomorrow - playing golf! Am I crazy??

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Bees, Bats and Hummingbirds

A little sugar and water in a feeder brings hummingbirds to my yard throughout the year.  Various species come and go, and some hang around all year.  Anna's with the bright red head and gorget and  Costa's sporting outrageous purple on the throat are the mainstays.  They are sometimes joined by Rufous, Black-Chinned, Broad-billed, and one very special winter by a Violet-Crowned.  There really shouldn't be any drama.  Just remember to fill the feeder every few days, sit back and enjoy the show, right?  Oh, the Gila woodpeckers like to hang on the feeder to get a free meal, and the tiny Verdins have figured out that some sweetness can be had from this odd-looking flower.  That I don't mind. 

But, last September, a lone bee discovered a nectar source beyond her wildest dreams and raced back to spread the news to the workers.  Soon the troops began arriving at each of the two feeders, one in the front of the house and one on the back patio.  Two hours later, the feeders had disappeard under a buzzing, roiling  mass of insects, drunk on the sweet bounty, climbing all the way inside and even drowing in the liquid.  Needless to say, the hummingbirds took one look and made other plans for their meal.  It was terribly distressing to watch the hummers go away frustrated. 

I tried all kinds of deterrents - moving the feeders, spraying the bees with soapy water and even insecticide, taking the feeders down for days at a time - all to no avail.  Finally, I took them down for the duration, however long that might turn out to be.  During day, that is. 

More drama.  Every fall, the nectar-feeding Lesser Long-Nosed Bats (Leptonycteris curasoae) are making their preparations for the long trip back to Mexico and their winter home.  They, too, have discovered how easy it is to get nectar from a hummingbird feeder rather than looking for night-blooming flowers.  They arrive at my house around 8pm expecting  to find a full feeder.  Being the accomodating host that I am, I want the fuzzy little fellows to be happy.  So I filled the feeders and hung them out for the night, retrieving the empty, sticky thing in the morning before the damn bees arrived. 

By the middle of October, the bats had moved on.  Every two weeks or so I would hang the feeders up again, testing for bees.  It would take the hummers a couple of days to come back.  But it was well into November before the bees were finally gone.  To where, I will never know.

Fast forward to September of 2009.  Almost to the day, one year later, I was so disappointed to see bees hovering around the feeders, a prelude to the onslaught.  How weird is that?  I decided there was no point in fighting those determined little buggers and just took the feeders down for the day, filling and putting them back up for the nighttime arrival of the bats.  I mentioned this aggravation to one of my fellow docents at the Desert Museum and she said, "Spray the feeders with Pam!" She works in a hummingbird banding program and said that all the feeders at the banding sites use this method to keep the bees away, while allowing the birds to feed.  Wow, such a simple solution.  It has worked perfectly.  The bees hovered around for the first few days, but would not land.  Now they don't even bother coming around. 

The bats are happy.  The hummingbirds are happy.  I am happy.  The bees are pissed.  Well, you can't please everyone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thoughts on Socialism

All those people ranting about 'socialism', 'socialistic medicine' and calling Barack Obama a socialist, got me to thinking.  So to all of you who are so concerned about our health care system making us a socialistic country, here's my advice for you.  (Those of you calling Obama a Nazi obviously have no idea what the word means and are too stupid to even address).  First of all, you should stop paying taxes.  Next, send back your Social Security payments, your unemployment insurance and any Medicare reimbursements you might have received.  Take your children out of public schools or any private school subsidized by tax money.  Stop driving on public roads.  This will be tough.  You may have to stop driving altogether as there are not too many private roads that actually take you anywhere.  But, you cannot take any form of public transportation - subway, bus, train.  Do not go to the library.  Do not call the police if you are robbed or attacked.  Fight your own fire, or put out a fire at your neighbor's house so it doesn't burn yours.  Cancel your flood insurance and do not even think of asking the government for help when a tornado or flood comes through your town.  If you are a veteran, renounce all your benefits, including medical.  Do not take prescription drugs that have been tested by the FDA.  Never again go to a national park, a national forest, a public campground or a public beach.  Do not walk on a sidewalk or under a streetlight.  I'm afraid you'll have to grow your own food, as most of the corporations and/or farmers that produce food in this country are either subsidized in some way, or the food they produce is tested and approved by the FDA, or both.  Of course you'll have to drill your own well so as not to be using the municipal water system.  Yes, a septic system will be necessary too as you don't want to rely on a socialistic government to haul away your shit!  Do not attend a baseball game at a publicly funded stadium, and do not allow your children to play in any athletic leagues sponsored by any government agency or to play in any public park.  Oh dear, you'll have to stop using money too, so it'll strictly be the barter system for you.  Take any money out of banks or credit unions that are regulated and insured by the government.  Take nothing to the post office to be mailed, and refuse any mail that they attempt to bring to you.  Unfortunately, you won't be able to fly out of most airports, so your traveling will be quite limited.  Write to your legislators and tell them that you no longer want inmates detained by the government, so please release them.  Now, about the military.  Well, you'll have to opt out of their services too.  Write to everyone you can think of, soldiers included, telling them you no longer require their services.  These letters, by the way, will have to be sent by Fed Ex.  Do not vote in any election.  After you've completed all these steps, you might as well renounce your American citizenship, as you are obviously no longer a contributing member of society.  At that point, feel free to throw rocks at 'socialized' medicine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring is Coming

Posted by PicasaThis young gopher snake was out sunning himself on my driveway last week, a harbinger of warmer weather arriving. the lizards have been active for some time now, but the snakes are slower to come out of hibernation. Gopher snakes are common in this area and are excellent rodent controllers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

January Days

Carole’s Gardening & Nature Journal January 2009

January 11 – Travels to the ocean and points in-between have kept me from this journal and the garden. As has become customary, the temperature dipped into the 20’s while we were away, taking its toll on the more fragile garden residents – cape honeysuckle, Mexican bird of paradise, bougainvillea, yellow bells, lantana and blood flower. I’d like to cut them all back to remove the frostbitten and ugly parts, but so far have only tackled the bird of paradise. The experts all say to wait until the threat of frost is past to cut back or more of the plant will be damaged. That’s not so with the b.o.p. as it gets cut to the ground every year regardless. I don’t know why I continue to try to grow lantana – it so rarely blooms for me, and looks ugly half the year. Yes, I’m very slow to learn. Something native would have been more appropriate. But, I get sucked in by those lovely flowers on other people’s plants and all the butterflies they attract. These days are wonderful, with cold nights in the low 30’s and days creeping up toward 70°, perfect for trimming and putzing around in the yard. The full moon has been glorious, both in the evening and as it is setting in the morning near its friends the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux. I hung the hummingbird feeders up again after being inspired at Shellie’s house. Within hours, birds, not bees, were at the feeders, establishing their territory and chasing interlopers away. No bees so far, but Jay said Mary’s feeders were covered with them. Three hummers at a time are often around the feeders. The other birds were happy to see me too and the yard is once again full of their friendly chatter. I got a terrific view and some photos of the prairie falcon on my walk yesterday over on Genematas, sitting so regally in a dead tree at a vacant house. A brave (or foolish) little goldfinch sat nearby. Another exciting sighting on one of my walks – a ladder-backed woodpecker pounding away on a cactus.

January 13 – The dalea is blooming! Well it’s not exactly spectacular, but it’s actually blooming and, no, I didn’t take a photo of it yet. Delicate little purple petals in an otherwise dull moment in the garden. For so many years I have faithfully followed the rule of not trimming back frost-damaged plants until after the last frost. Well, hell, that could be March, and who wants to keep looking at those ugly blackened leaves? So, off they went yesterday – lantana, cape honeysuckle, ageratum, etc. If they fail to live through it, then they have no place in my garden. I’ll take them out and put in something hardier. The bougainvillea didn’t get hit to hard yet, but it’s next on the trimming list. Not putting up with it anymore. As we were burning some of the trimmings and old palo verde wood outside last evening, the Cooper’s hawk cruised in low chasing all the birds away. He sat for a long time in the dead snag, then made a few more passes. He came close but never actually caught another bird. He was so small that we thought it must be a sharp-shinned, but the tail was definitely rounded, making me feel pretty certain it was Coop.

January 19 – A good bird day yesterday (along with good football and inspiring inauguration events!) including a raven, Harris’ hawk, and yellow-rumped warbler, along with all the usual suspects. In the morning I heard the Cooper’s hawk kek-kek-kek-kekking with another hawk back and forth from our yard to somewhere across the wash. Mating season is quickly arriving. I got really nice looks at the bright male YR warbler hopping from branch to branch in the eucalyptus looking for seeds. Two big healthy coyotes crossed my path on my neighborhood walk yesterday, pausing to look back, but not long enough for me to get the camera out and turned on. Another photo op lost in the yard when a hummingbird came and sat on a branch not two feet away from my head. Did I have the camera? No, of course not. The African sumacs are in full bloom – covered with greenish mounds of tiny flowers. Not sure who they attract besides bees. The bees are also feasting on the rosemary blooms, so seem content for the time being to leave the hummingbird nectar alone. Here is a shot of the Dalea pulchra – Indigo bush – blossom. I see buds on the mallows, which is exciting. Both Anna’s and Costas hummingbirds are constantly at the feeders, arriving before daylight and fighting for a last sip of nectar before dark. I planted a couple of beavertail cactus pads that I found laying on the ground in the neighborhood.

January 22 – A little rain fell in the night (.07) and the clouds are still hanging around. The weather has been positively spring-like, almost too warm and dry, so the rain is quite welcome. Perhaps cooler temps for the next few days. Got a nice view of a ladder-backed woodpecker in an ocotillo on Genematas yesterday. He posed nicely but was too far away for a great shot. More trimming in the yard, cleaning up the frost kill on the bougainvillea, trimming back the leather-leafed acacia and the African sumac. Lots of little lizards are scurrying about, enjoying the warm days. We began a little tile project – placing some decorative tiles on the stucco wall surrounding the yard to add a little interest. This is the first of 5 groupings we’ll make. Not sure yet where all the others will go, but the next will be on the ‘window’ in the north wall. After this is done we’ll have to tackle the big job of painting the entire wall. I’m not looking forward to that. I pulled up some agave pups and replanted some from the smooth-edged variety.

January 23 – More rain most of the day yesterday, lightly and softly (.17). Rain predicted for today also. It’s warm, however, only down to 59 overnight. Jay wanted to work on the tile some more, but the rain would start every time he ventured out. A bobcat made a quick visit to the back yard, then sat for a long time on the wall under the eucalyptus in the back, washing his face and keeping a watch out for an unwary cottontail. The warm weather has made many of the plants think spring is here and little shoots of new growth are everywhere. The brittlebush along the driveway is starting to look prosperous again. Of the two I planted in the back yard one looks completely gone while the other is doing okay, at least looking alive. The one I moved to the Triangle Park is absolutely huge! What a little shade and water will do. The cardinal is now coming more regularly to the feeder, so I’ll try to keep some sunflower seed out for him. It’s been weeks and weeks since he had been seen in the yard. I was so excited to see him at the feeder. Caught a glimpse of a male cardinal in the neighborhood yesterday also.

January 25 – After the rain on Friday, all the way home from the Museum Martha and I were in awe of the most amazing rainbow, brilliant from end to end, joined by a second fainter one. It looked like we could reach out and touch it. Once home, I took some photos, which can’t help but disappoint. There’s just no substitute for seeing some things in person. Another example – the Grand Canyon! Butterflies visiting – a painted lady and an American Snout. With the clear, warm weather, it was a good time to do some more work on the tile project. Today we finished the tiles around the ‘window’ on the north wall, and the gate also on the north side of the house. We discovered we’re one tile short after deciding to slightly enlarge the project. Seems silly to drive all the way to the tile shop on Speedway to buy one lousy $1.20 tile. Some lovely natural yard art – these seed pods of the hesperaloe, looking like they should be decorating a wreath. Tiny lizards scurry everywhere in the yard, and sit happily sunning on the rocks.

January 27 – The Talavera tile work was finished yesterday, in a chilly, blustery wind. They look wonderful and now I’m anxious to get the wall painted and finished. I think we did 15 insets and ended up making three trips to the tile store. I would like to do a mosaic on my bench, but it’s hard to talk Jay into projects these days. Once he gets started he enjoys it, but the getting started part is quite difficult. Watched two soaring red tailed hawks on our walk this morning, coming down close then rising high above (a mating dance?). Also on the walk I took some shots of the amazing Boojum tree in our neighborhood. Would I love to have it in my yard! It’s quite chilly again today, mostly clear and breezy.

January 29 – The hummingbirds are coming in large numbers in this cold weather, and two nights ago at the feeders there were at least ten birds feeding and hovering. It was cool to see 5 sitting on the feeder at one time. I’m just ecstatic about having them here again after the bee banishment. Retrieving the paper yesterday morning I caught sight of a large bird in the eucalyptus in front. He was watching me closely, but waited patiently while I got my binoculars and camera. One shot and a quick look in the glasses and the beautiful big red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was off. Lows down to freezing the last two nights, but not below. I’ve decided on replacing the two cape honeysuckle bushes at the north end of the pool wall that were given to us by Dan and Bernadette Stein, the former owners of the house. They look scraggly and unattractive most of the year, finally putting out a nice bloom in October or so, and then freezing back to the ground. The replacements, I hope, will be bear grass and chuparosa. I wish I had put chuparosa in the new area instead of the salvia which never gets very large.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Days

What passes for winter in the desert is dormant mesquite trees, warm sunny days, chilly evenings, occasional frost, some rain from time to time, a little dusting of snow on the nearby Santa Catalina Mountains, and a sincere sympathy for those who must deal with frigid midwest conditions. Although somewhat above normal, our daytime highs have been running in the upper 70's and even 80. Some blooms enliven the scene, such as the lovely little Crow's Claw cactus (Ferocactus latispinus) which had several blossoms in December. Also blooming now is Indigo Bush (Dalea pulchra), a delicate little flower which attracts butterflies and bees. Birds in my yard today included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mourning Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Common Raven, Cooper's Hawk, Harris' Hawk, Gambel's Quail, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Costa's Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird and Phainopepla. Two large and healthy-looking coyotes crossed my path on my neighborhood walk this morning. The abundance of desert cottontail rabbits and rodents keeps the predator population happy. Bobcats freely roam our neighborhood and are often spotted in our yard.