Please Note: The comments on this blog stopped working a couple or so months ago. I’ve been trying to repair the database – called the host’s tech support, etc… and so far, have been unable to get them working again. My workaround was to modify another blog on the same host as a*new* version of this blog. I’ll continue to put up blog posts here, but if you want to see a version with working comments, go to http://magickcanoe.com/blog10. Sorry for the inconvenience!
The *new* blog seems to be working okay now. Comments can be written and read, although I’m having to approve them before they actually appear. That’s fine with me – a small price to pay for having a working blog once more. If you write a comment and it doesn’t appear immediately, don’t be concerned as I will (hopefully) soon see it waiting for my attention.
Although I’m now at Round Hill, I would like to write a few things about last winter’s sojourn in southeast Arizona. This is the second of four posts before moving on to life back in Nova Scotia.
Shortly before my early November arrival in Bisbee, there was a community exhibit at the Central School Project (CSP), in honour of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Located so close to Mexico, there is a lot of cultural exchange happening in the border towns as so many residents have roots running deep into the south. In fact, that’s one of the things that I enjoy about spending winters in southeast Arizona – that the area is a sort of nexus for geography, geology, flora and fauna, art, language, food, and lifestyle from both sides of the border. This event certainly captured the sense of Bisbee’s location on one of these cultural crossroads.
So much beauty and creativity by members of the community. It would take dozens of photos to do justice to the exhibit, but I’ve chosen a few to give some impression of the sculptures, shrines, paintings and other art.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, this year marked a significant change to our lifestyle. No longer were we in a house in town up in the Mule Mountains. Now we were in a cabin in the Chihuahuan desert of the Sulphur Springs Valley. We had exchanged steep mountainsides clothed in juniper, live oak and pine, for the gently sloping landscape of a huge bajada on the eastern side of the Mule range. For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia says it better than I can muster – a bajada consists of a series of coalescing alluvial fans along a mountain front. These fan-shaped deposits form from the deposition of sediment within a stream onto flat land at the base of a mountain. For a wanderer on foot, what this means is that the floor of the valley gradually slopes down from the foot of the mountains. The soil is a mix of sand, clay and many stones ranging from pebble to boulder, and all of this cut through by washes – the ever-changing stream beds created by the torrential rains that occur during the monsoon season of late summer. The landscape is dominated by low-growing mesquite, whitethorn acacia, creosote bush, ocotillo, yucca and many other plants.
Having traveled so much in recent years, it didn’t take too long to feel settled and comfortable with the change in locale. Both dogs were visibly elated by the freedom which echoed that of our place up north. Sage and Shelby soon became fast friends with Larry’s dog, Dingo. They didn’t stray far on their own, but could wander around always in sight of me. In the morning and evening, they would lie around together in the sun, and during the heat of the day, find a shady spot alongside my van or the cabin. We spent a lot of time going for exploratory rambles, getting to know the plants and creatures that inhabited this new-to-us landscape.
Unfortunately, one of the plants that we got to know a little too well was a kind of grass which people in this area call fox grass, cheat grass, or foxtail grass. Although I’ve lived and hiked in southeast Arizona for several winters, I’d never encountered it before – or should say that it had never caused problems in the past. At first, it seemed innocuous and didn’t bother us, but as autumn wore on into winter, the golden patches of this grass bleached and dried out to pale ivory and became increasingly bristly to the touch. The merest brush with one would cause the seed awns to break away and embed themselves in our clothing or the dogs’ fur. Soon, the fluffy comforters on the bed were riddled with these irritating little buggers. Combing them out of the dogs’ coats, I soon discovered that some of the seed awns had worked their way into the long hair between my dogs’ toes, then pierced the skin to begin their next bit of nasty mischief. Sage, having the thickest fur on her feet, got the worst of it. I clipped away the hair to reveal a few horrible looking carbuncle type blobs between her toes. After soaking them in hydrogen peroxide a few times over a day, I soon realized that it was going to take something more to rid her of these things. I drove her to a vet that I’ve taken the dogs to in the past. He told me that the severe dryness of the past few weeks had triggered a real onslaught of cases similar – but many even worse – than Sage’s. He gave her some sedation and removed all the seed awns – fortunately restricted to just her front feet – then bandaged her up and wrote a prescription for antibiotics. He advised keeping the hair on her feet clipped very short as that helps to prevent the original “winding” action of the seed awns. It’s advice that I’ll definitely follow this autumn.
It took awhile, but about a week after the foot surgery, Sage was ready to return to walks. However, now I vowed to refrain from walking anywhere except down in the sandy washes where the grasses do not grow. That’s actually not too restrictive as one can walk for miles in the maze of washes – some like roads, while others are just narrow pathways winding between mounded clay topped with mesquite trees.
There’s also much to see in the well washed sand of these dry stream beds. They are the highways used by most of the wildlife of the area. Above, I’ve posted a photo showing many roadrunner footprints. One particular wash is always well trodden by roadrunners that seem to stick to a particular route. Other washes are frequently marked with the prints of javelina, deer, coyote, fox, rabbit, kangaroo rats, and countless other creatures.
I’m sometimes told by visitors that southeast Arizona is such a dry, blasted, lifeless looking place. While that may be somewhat true of the driest part of winter – yes, it can seem desolate – there is abundant life all around. Birds are with us at all times. Black-throated Sparrows (Amphispiza bilinear) became our companions as they perched in the leafless mesquite in winter, quickly moving in take a look anywhere we had been working just moments before. Occasionally, a flock of Sandhill Cranes would pass high overhead after taking flight from the nearby playa of Whitewater Draw. Two Raven frequently cavorted in the air above the cabin, croaking and clunking at us – especially on one morning when I was making a solar cooker out of a sheet of reflectix. No doubt they wondered what shiny prize I was creating. Also particularly conspicuous was a Loggerhead Shrike that took to perching near the cabin as it watched for grasshoppers or any other insect. One day while studying plants near the cabin, I found the dried remains of a female Preying Mantis, impaled on a mesquite thorn — a graphic reminder that life is unforgiving out here in the desert.
In spite of occasional ups and downs, our days soon settled into a relaxed cycle of events. Most mornings, we were up early to witness the sunrise. We became a little spoiled by the incredible skies – so many amazing sunrises and sunsets. Still, sometimes there would be one of surpassing beauty and we’d have to get out the cameras. That’s what Larry is doing in the above photo, standing up on a ladder for a less obstructed view. I came to view these sky events as being the desert’s reply to the aurora borealis, countering the cool greens on inky black of the north, for warm pinks and oranges on the impossible blue of the south.
Within a few weeks, the catastrophic run in with the foxtail grass now forgotten, Sage was back to her old self again, enjoying long rambles in the safety of the washes. Life is good. Another blog post coming up soon.
Please Note: The comments on my blog stopped working a couple or so months ago. I’ve been trying to repair the database – called the host’s tech support, etc… and so far, have been unable to get them working again. My workaround was to modify another blog on the same host as a “new” version of this blog. I’ll continue to put up new blog posts here, but if you want to see a version with working comments, go to http://magickcanoe.com/blog10. Sorry for the inconvenience!
It’s been a very long time since I posted anything to my blog. I had hoped to keep up with it, but then the blog was plagued with technical problems that remained unresolved. I was in Arizona for the winter with just the iPad and a limited net connection, so I abandoned any attempt to sort out the problems. Even now, this solution isn’t exactly ideal. I’ve had to resurrect an old blog and repurpose it as the new version of Journey To the Center, and hope that it will keep working right. I’ve already spent a bunch of time on the phone with the server tech support and they can’t seem to fix the problems with the original blog, so this work around will have to do until I come up with a more permanent solution.
Anyhow, enough about the technical problems. I’m going to try to pick up where I left off last autumn after finishing the fifth summer of work on the house at Round Hill.
I began the trip to Arizona around the first of November. I’m often asked what I would do if my truck broke down on the way. I’ve thought through several scenarios that include such things as renting a U-Haul van to drive the rest of the way, or even buying another van. However, I try to keep a positive mindset when I set out on my almost 4,000 mile journey. If I didn’t think positively, I’d never be able to make myself go. This trip was no different than the others. I set out with my plan to drive for eight days. I knew where I would stop at the end of each day. However, there’s that saying about the best laid plan. On the first day of travel after setting out from my Mom’s place in Ottawa, about three hours after crossing into the U.S., the truck broke down on the side of the freeway near Batavia, New York. I sized up the situation — the truck had blown a heater hose and lost a lot of coolant. I filled the rad with water as best as I could manage, and used wire and tape to attach the broken hose together (it was a broken off plastic T-fitting). In about eight very short hops to prevent the engine from overheating badly, I managed to drive the last few miles to the Batavia exit and limped into the parking lot of the Days Inn. Fortunately, I got a room for a couple of nights and the next morning, made a couple of calls and had the van towed to a shop for repair. To make a very long story short, I was back on the road within two days — not trusting the van too much — so I spent the first day back on the road, taking the scenic route on toward my next night’s stop in Pennsylvania. Emboldened by no further catastrophes, I got back on the freeway the next morning and followed the rest of my original trip plan.
This winter marked a change in my accommodations. In previous years, I rented a house in the Mule Mountains on the outskirts of Old Bisbee. This winter, I would be living in a cabin in the desert valley, just a few miles from Bisbee. Although I enjoyed all the winters at the Bisbee house, it always felt a little confining as there were steep slopes just beyond the garden. The cabin offered something completely different – a greater feeling of freedom – of being able to just walk out the door and go rambling with the dogs – no one in sight, no cars, no need for leashes. Although it was fairly spartan living, it was comfortable enough. A good bed. A convenient place to cook meals. And terrific views of mountains and incredible skies.
Those who know me well, know that I do most of my cooking outdoors spring through autumn while at the place in Round Hill. Doing so in the desert was old hat for me as I spent several autumns camping my way around Utah, California and southern Oregon. However, the winds tend to be rather challenging at times. Still, it’s not too difficult to produce excellent meals on a gas burner or in the barbecue.
The rewards for roughing it are many. A fabulous 360 view of the sky, with mountain ranges in every direction. Good weather for the most part. Almost absolute silence. The photo just below was taken through the west window while sitting on the bed.
Did I mention the sunrises and sunsets? Cooking in the outdoor kitchen was such a wonderful thing. I never missed a terrific sunset. I could look around while I cut up vegetables, or tossed a stir fry on the bbq, and see all of these amazing things happening in the sky in every direction. It was wonderful. I’ll write some more about last winter in Arizona in the next day or two – then it will be back to the present here in Round Hill.