Rock Corral Canyon

Our first full day in AZ started ridiculously early. We had a 45 minute drive to meet our birding group, so we were up well before the sun… at 3:45 am.Β  Ugh! Our group met at 5:15 and drove south from Tucson towards the Tumacacori Mountains and what was promised as a “secluded canyon birding tour”.

Rock Corral Canyon is fabulously remote. It’s reached via a short, and very rough dirt/boulder-strewn road that leads west from I-19 between Tucson and Nogales. Luckily, we were able to carpool with someone who had a high clearance 4WD vehicle and so were able to enjoy the views along the way. In the middle of the thorny-scrub and ocotillos, we spotted this Antelope Jackrabbit working very hard at being invisible.

Look at those legs! Look at those ears! Look at those eyes! Wowza that’s not any ordinary bunny rabbit… so cool to see this fella.

Not having grown up around mountains or the desert, I had no real idea of what birding in the canyons of Arizona would be like. My first impression was that it was much more green than I had expected, but I guess that even a small change in elevation gives way to a cooler and moister climate for plants to grown in. It being monsoon season meant that there was water flowing in the wash where we had to walk which also meant slow and careful stepping on the rocky trail.

We got one of Jay’s target birds here – can you see it?

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I’m not certain that I ever really got a nice look at this Canyon Wren because it was hiding in the shadows of the rock wall, but its song was lovely!

Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Have a listen to the Canyon Wren’s song here at the Cornell Lab site.

We also saw a couple new tanagers there – Western and Hepatic – and quite a few Varied Buntings and some lifer vireos that I don’t even remember. Yikes! The most difficult thing about that first day was that everything was new – all the plants, animals, birds, sounds, etc. in a new environment were almost overwhelming – so I mostly tried to focus on enjoying myself in the unfamiliar surroundings. We spent a couple hours exploring until the flowing water and necessary climbing made us have to turn back… there was lemonade and cookies before we headed out to our next stop.

To be continued…

De colores: Tucson’s barrio viejo

I’m not really sure how other people go about planning vacations, but we tend to do it by the seat of our pants. This trip to Southeast Arizona was one that Jay and I had been vaguely talking about for years, but it had never gone beyond mulling it over as something to do “someday”. Out of the blue one Sunday afternoon, we just decided to go, bought the plane tickets, made lodging accommodations, and signed ourselves up for a couple birding field trips. Just like that.

I love this about us, love the spontaneity of it, but it also makes me a little nuts.

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I’m not a person who likes surprises really, but the anxiety involved in properly planning and anticipating a trip is almost worse, so I guess the way this trip happened was perfect. In the short time that I had to plan, I researched the Tucson area for things we might do to fill our time when we weren’t out looking for birds.

Arizona: Desert, cacti, mountains, and some canyons, grand and scenic, right?

I dug past the obvious and the first thing I came up with was a visit to the Barrio Viejo: Tucson’s “old neighborhood” – it’s filled with 19th century adobe homes and businesses that preserve the old architectural styles. Sadly, much of the northern parts of the neighborhood were destroyed in the 60’s and 70’s whenΒ  Mexican-American families were displaced as the area became gentrified.

Those that are left are well-tended and beautiful. So colorful and vibrant. Despite the ridiculous heat that first afternoon, I wanted to keep exploring because at every turn there was something delightful.

I have the sense, too, that the community is as vibrant on the inside as it appears from the outside. It felt like a neighborhood that loves where it lives and engages with its neighbors in (sometimes) surprising ways.

For example, the photo above – the Taco Cristo, one of a cast of saints appearing throughout the barrio. I’d sought this mural out after seeing a photo of it on Instagram. To find it painted on the side of a shed, in a dusty backyard next to a raspado stand, facing an alley, brought me an irreverent sense of joy .

Doesn’t Jesus holding a taco make you giggle, too?

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I loved the colors of this neighborhood and the way that each home distinguished itself from the one beside it. The photographer in me delighted in the contrasts of color and texture and the use (or lack) of garden plantings.

Who would think that cacti and other desert plants could be so beautiful and versatile?Β  I learned that cacti take on a range of shapes and colors, and their spines can capture the sunlight to make them glow. They somehow make you want to touch them, despite knowing better!

This street portrait of poet Jim Harrison was another pleasant surprise, also facing an alley for passerby to enjoy. Harrison wintered in nearby Patagonia, Arizona and is something of a model to me of how to enjoy the local culture.

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I wish we’d had more time to explore and more tolerance for the heat, but I think someday I’ll find myself back in the barrio, camera in hand.

Greetings from Tucson!

Tucson is a desert wrapped in mountain panoramas and approaching from the air gives no real hint of what a magical space it is. The Sonoran Desert that surrounds Tucson is the lushest desert in the southwest. It is also the hottest. We visited during the “rainy” monsoon season because it’s great for migrant hummingbirds and also plays host to many breeding birds during the “second spring” in the desert. We’d hoped to stargaze under its clear dark skies. We wanted to eat authentic Mexican food. We wanted to get up close and personal with the desert – and all its varied inhabitants – without getting hurt (i.e. rattlesnakes, scorpions, cacti, etc.)

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Our first stop was lunch at a local place in downtown Tucson where I had a life-changing plate of huevos rancheros. I think Jay ate enchiladas every single day thereafter, proclaiming each, “the best I’ve ever had!” The rest of that first afternoon was spent on a walking tour of the historic “barrio viejo” neighborhood photographing the colorful adobe homes. It was poor planning on my part to do that during the hottest part of the day, but a good lesson about the Tucson heat. 106 degrees in the shade has to be experienced, I guess, before it can be understood. We had the good fortune to be able to meet up for dinner with some NJ birding friends on the last night of their tour and enjoyed some mariachi music and more enchiladas! The birding world is small and sweet and filled with good friends, even in faraway places.

We spent four days around Tucson – did a couple field trips as part of the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival, visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and wandered around on our own some before heading south for a couple days to a little town in the high desert close to the Mexican border. We spent a day exploring Bisbee and a day hunting for birds in the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains. Before we knew it, it was time to come home. πŸ™

It was a great vacation and I look forward to sharing some pictures and stories here.

Greetings from Tucsonmural by Victor Ving and friends at Miller’s Surplus (N Arizona Ave & E 7th St) – this mural was high on my list of Tucson street art and I had to go back a couple times to see and photograph it because there was always a van or bus parked in front of it.

Just checking in

So I’m feeling pretty guilty about not having appeared here for months (!) after being so gung-ho about blogging regularly again. After a bit of reflection, I realize that I was mostly enthusiastic about others blogging regularly again.

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I’ve been busy with the new job, of course, and busy sitting on my butt in the air-conditioning. This knee thing has really thrown me for a loop and I’m just now getting to feel better after a month of physical therapy. Why that dopey doctor I went to didn’t recommend it for me, I don’t know. I’m just glad I decided to be proactive after suffering for 3 months with barely any progress and so grateful to have good health insurance to pay for it. It’s really made all the difference in my ability to function like a regular person again. We’ve planned a camping trip this weekend and I’m looking forward to hopefully being able to hike without pain.

Other than work and physical therapy, I haven’t done much so far this summer other than try to avoid the heat. I still don’t know how people stand it here – I’ve got major cabin-fever! We’re sharing season tickets for the Braves and have been going to a couple of evening games each month. We’re discovering new favorite places to have breakfast on the weekends. We’re eating ice cream more often than is probably healthy. My brother and his family came to visit for a couple days at the beginning of July – it was super great to see them and to show off some of the fun things we do here in the A. I’ve been reunited with my dog Luka from that other life and just last week said goodbye to the senior shelter dog, Sadie, that we adopted only four years ago.

I bought myself a new camera lens – a super wide angle – and look forward to playing with that in the future. J and I went out the weekend that I bought it to take some photos of the tall buildings in midtown Atlanta, but ended up at the High Museum of Art as a way to escape the heat and enjoy some free air conditioning. I’m not much of an art museum type, but I enjoy the High and it’s folk and modern art. The photo that accompanies this post was taken there.

I plan to be back here in a couple days to share some memories of Sadie – once we’re back from camping in the mountains where hopefully it’ll be cool!

A my name is Alice

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When was the last time you jumped rope?

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I loved it as a kid, not as much as roller-skating, but more than playing cops-and-robbers with the neighborhood boys. The problem was, there were never enough of us girls, and the boys were too boyish to jump rope, so we (my best girlfriend and I) had to make do by tying one end of the rope to a garage door.

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I remember doing it on the playground at school, too – waiting in line for my turn, the silly songs we sang, and the occasional challenge to try double-dutch, with two ropes swinging in opposite directions.

Do schoolgirls still jump rope at recess?

A couple weeks ago I came across a group of young girls – they were an official neighborhood competitive double-dutch team – during a sort of street festival here in Atlanta called “Streets Alive”. The lady in the photos was having so much fun – and I imagine was remembering her own childhood just like me – that it made me want to give it a go. But for my bum knee, I’m sure I could have done it!

Sweet memories.

Wildflowerin’ gone bad

He who limps is still walking. ~Stanislaw J. Lec

I love wandering in the woods to find the first sleeping plants that awaken from the forest floor. It’s something of a rite of spring for me, despite the fact that I no longer have to suffer through a cold northern winter. Many of these spring ephemerals, as well as being beautiful, are important food sources for the first foraging butterflies and bees that emerge. Many are even downward-facing to better serve the insects that cruise the forest floor.

A couple weeks back we took an impromptu Friday evening walk to the nature trail at Stone Mountain Park; a friend had mentioned that it’s one of the best local places to see a few of my favorites. It’s an easy 3/4 mile trail that meanders beside a stream. It was lovely; the azaleas were blooming and as a bonus we saw our first Louisiana waterthrush of the season! Timage2here were many blooming mayapples – so hard to photograph nicely – and some pink lady slippers that I want to go back to check on. I found foamflower, I think, though it’s much taller than what I’m used to seeing in NJ. The common name comes from the delicate white flowers that look like foam. I love the extra long pistils on the flowers that rise above the white petals like little golden crowns. Books say that these flowers were often presented by Greeks as tokens of their love.

We also found green-and-gold which is another favorite. It blooms in shady woodland places. So pretty! I believe it’s in the aster family, so you know pollinators love it. We finished off our easy evening hike by deciding to head off the nature trail and into the forest proper. We didn’t gimage1et very far before we had to cross a wet area where the stream ran across a bunch of flat rocks. Despite being extra-super careful when crossing those slippery, moss-covered rocks, I managed to fall and twist up my leg. Bummer! Two weeks later and I finally worked up the courage to see a doctor today… the pain wasn’t going away and walking/sleeping/sitting haven’t gotten any easier. I have to go back for an MRI, but the chance is that I’ve torn a meniscus.

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I’m studying up IMG_6814on knee anatomy (in between wildflower guides!) and hoping that rest and time and the brace the doctor gave me will fix it up. I welcome any suggestions for how to include/disguise this hideous-looking brace in my professional attire. I hope next time I’ll be more careful; wildflowers are a risky habit to have!

Writing the whys

4-21-16I recently prompted our group of Comeback Bloggers (isn’t that a great name?!?) to think about why we each started blogging however many years ago. It’s an interesting question for me to think about because it relates to why I stopped blogging regularly and also to why I’m a bit hesitant to dive back in to it.

I could easily claim that blogging was solely an outlet for self-expression and a way for me to share my thoughts or engage with others. I might also say that writing helped me to understand myself better and that my blog provided a “scrapbook” of sorts to reflect upon. All of those things are true, or mostly so. I’ve certainly learned over the years that I write to find out what I think. Anybody who knows me personally will agree that I’m not usually a big talker; I’m never quick to jump in with my opinion. The process of writing, which I approach fairly methodically, helps me to clarify how I feel about things. Mostly I think that I write to find out what’s true.

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say. ~Sholem Asch

I started blogging on a whim and as a way to occupy myself in the evenings, but quickly found it to be a respite from what was otherwise a good, but disconnected life: a good job, a good husband, and good people that I called friends, but meaningful and thoughtful experiences were few and far between. The daily discipline of dreaming up something to write about or going out and doing something worth writing about ultimately led me to look into many a dark corner and to re-examine the choices I had made in life. As I came more and more to rely on the kindred spirits I had found through blogging, I felt the lack of depth in my real-time relationships even more completely. It’s a strange thing to discover that your blog is your own best source of information about yourself, as well as a catalyst to discussion for your loved ones. I found myself wondering why we all couldn’t just talk to each other without this electronic medium serving as an intermediary. It was also strange and pretty sad to realize that it was easier and safer for me to share my most important and deeply felt parts with strangers.

Blogging changed my life, honestly. Through blogging, I wrote my way out of one life and into another. These first couple years here haven’t been easy and I’ve not had the courage to write about it or the life I left behind. I’m afraid of what writing about it will tell me about what I think and really feel. I’m afraid of the turning inward that writing requires because it means I’ll be turning my back, so to speak, on the people around me, in favor of this anonymous platform. And the truth is, many of us are not so anonymous to one another anymore. I worry, too much sometimes, about who my audience is and what you’ll think about what I might write. I worry that I have nothing left to say. I worry that I take too many words to say nothing of importance…

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At any rate, I’m going to give this a go again, with a couple trusted friends for encouragement, and see where the reflection leads. Hopefully I’ll find myself somewhere good.

Do you miss blogging, too? Want to join us? Get in touch!

Calling all zombies!

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So!

A couple of friends on FB have been lamenting the demise of our blogs. We all seem to mostly agree that, coupled with life changes or varying degrees of laziness/lack of interest, the popularity and ease of Facebook put the final nail in the coffin of what was a very happy time in our lives. All the writing. All the sharing. All the feels.

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We miss blogging and we miss our blogging community. Some still blog regularly, some occasionally, some never do – but a couple of us have decided to give it a go again and see if we can’t get back some of the magic that we used to share here, in this way. Isn’t that exciting?!?

Wonderful sweet Jayne suggested that prompts might be helpful to get our writing juices flowing again, if need be. I like the idea of prompts, so long as they’re not too restrictive, or too predictable. So in thinking about it and considering how much we all seem ready to write / talk / make excuses (?) for why we STOPPED blogging, it occurred to me that an interesting prompt might be to think and write about why we STARTED blogging. Others of you may have already addressed this at some point in your blogging career, but I don’t think I ever have…

So what do y’all say? Can this prompt lead you somewhere interesting? Will you join us as we try to resurrect our dead or dying blogs? Zombie Bloggers Unite!

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Comment here if you’re in!Β  We’ll promise to read and give feedback; that has to be part of the bargain if we’re to feel like a community again.

Many, many thanks… I’ve missed you!

Ahem

IMG_6684-1I feel so rusty at this, so awkward. It’s not so much because actually doing it feels funny, but more because of the contrast between how unfamiliar it feels to be here, and how entirely natural it used to feel.

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It’s like returning to anything, I suppose. The yoga mat, or healthy eating… we don’t slip right back in where we we left off – or at least I don’t. It’s more like returning from a trip, maybe a long one. Abroad. I bring back treasures and memories, something tucked in my pocket, photographs, experiences that I hadn’t had before. I’d like to think I’m richer for this time away from regular blogging, but I doubt it.

At any rate, Atlanta really knows how to do Spring! Everything just comes into bloom at once. I wish I could bottle the crazy combination of daffodils-azaleas-dogwoods-cherry trees-forsythia-viburnums that is Spring here and send it to my friends who are still threatened with snow in the north. I wonder if we don’t appreciate the change in seasons more when it comes slowly? I used to think March was the worst… but here there were even a couple days when it was in the mid 80’s and I was left looking for shade beneath trees that hadn’t leafed out yet!

What’s blooming in your part of the world?

Snowy

snowyConsidering all the time I’ve spent in Florida the last couple years, you’d think I’d have seen a snowy plover by now, right? Well, I FINALLY got my life snowy at the end of last year when we spent Christmastime at Cape San Blas on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Cape San Blas is one of my favorite places on the “forgotten coast” – not too many people, no condos or hotels, and a 30 minute drive to a decent restaurant or grocery store. My kind of place!

I very nearly stumbled over this bird! It was so totally camouflaged in its winter plumage (and so tame!) that, were it not for its movement, I never would have seen it. I wonder how many others I’ve stumbled past without ever seeing…

You might notice in my photo that the bird is banded – only one leg is visible – I found out that this bird is a regular winter resident at St. Joseph’s State Park on Cape San Blas, but that it breeds elsewhere.

Snowies are sweet birds – small and plain compared to the piping plovers I know so well – but pretty similar in their habits. And like other Florida birds, exceptionally tame. I wonder why that is?

Just me rambling about birds, books, bunnies, or whatever!