winter in arizona 3   no comments

Posted at 9:54 am in Arizona

PLEASE NOTE: The comments on this blog stopped working a couple or so months ago. I tried to repair the database – called the host’s tech support, etc… and 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 wish to leave a comment, or read comments to this blog post, you will have to go HERE. Sorry for the inconvenience!

This is the third of four posts about winter 2014-2015 in Arizona. It’s somewhat difficult to choose photos that are representative of what happened during a space of time. I usually end up picking out a few favourite shots of food, music, art, dogs, nature and clouds. You’ll find some of each in this and the fourth post. Food always seems to get the most attention, so I kicked off this post with a photo of a couple of loaves of bread that was baked in the clay oven that Larry built as a winter project. There will, no doubt, be more experimentation with bread and pizza baking over the coming winter.

I can’t remember whether Larry has put together a blog post about the oven – if not, there will probably be one at some future date. I know he took plenty of photos and can describe in detail, the process of building one of these. I shot quite a few photos as well – for future reference in case I decide to build a clay oven here at Round Hill. It’s very tempting as I have a lot of firewood, especially after the past winter when several large trees were downed by winter storms. I’ll be cutting up logs for the rest of this summer. Anyhow, just a brief description of the oven. The stone base was built using rocks gleaned here and there around the washes. The mortar mix incorporated sand out of the washes – it’s very high quality washed sand that is near perfect for any kind of cement project. The base was built up to a height convenient for baking. The inside of the base was filled with well packed sand. I won’t go into this too much, but the base was topped off with refractory clay embedded with heavy glass bottles (wine or water bottles), and a layer of fire brick. A firebrick arch was made and then a dome of sand was heaped inside. A clay shell was made over this, and then the sand was scooped out through the arched opening. The process is time consuming, in large part because it involved looking around for stones and wheeling in all that sand, but the results were pretty neat.

You don’t fire an oven like this unless you plan to do quite a bit of baking over the space of several hours, so we just did one batch of pita bread, pizza and baked bread. It went well. We’ll do more experimentation this winter. For those who are curious – yes, firewood is available in our area. There is a large pecan orchard just down the road a few miles and they sell wood by the pick-up truck load.

I’ve been playing a lot of music, both here in Nova Scotia, and also where I spend time in winter. In fact, I play music wherever I happen to be during my travels. Last winter was no different. I jammed with friends a couple of times a week, and spent a lot of my spare time learning new tunes. I’m branching out into new things up here in Nova Scotia, but more about that in an upcoming post. The above photo was taken at the Copper Queen saloon where there has been an active celtic music session going for a couple of winters. This winter, we enjoyed the company of Leif, a wonderful musician from Juneau, Alaska (that’s him on the left), with Larry on the right, and a fiddler from Seattle – I believe her name is Ann.

It’s always great fun to get together with musicians from other places. Regional repertoires vary greatly, even within genres of music. When a new musician comes to town, they usually bring along some great new tunes. Last summer, I learned some excellent tunes from a flautist from Vancouver who was working at Fort Saint Anne here in Annapolis Royal. Last winter, Leif brought us a number of tunes that are popular in the Pacific Northwest. In the above photo, Leif is showing Larry how he plays a Shetland reel known as Donald Blue. If you’re curious about the process of ear-learning a tune, click on the photo, or on this link, and it should open an .mp4 video of them playing together. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of background noise, but it’s still kinda fun to watch. Hope it works for you.

As with the last two posts, I have to say something more about the skies out in the valley. There were so many amazing sunrises, sunsets and skycapes filled with clouds. Above is an absolutely massive lenticular cloud – the kind I call stacked pancake clouds – hanging in the sky over the Mule Mountains. The lenticular clouds tend to hold their shape, sometimes for hours, while other clouds float on by. That particular day, this huge cloud held its position for at least an hour. I had to drive to Sierra Vista and once past the Mule Mountains, I found a number of other similar (but smaller and not so stacked) lenticular clouds suspended over the San Pedro River valley. It was awesome.

The last photo in this post was taken one evening while I was out rambling around with the dogs while taking a break from making dinner. As I set out walking southward, I noticed some kind of cloud action building back over the Swisshelm Mountains, or possibly over the Chiricahua Mountains beyond. I turned and walked to the west for awhile, then headed back north and east to the cabin. In the space of perhaps twenty minutes, the cloud mass that had been hovering over the Swisshelms, coalesced into a breathtaking supercell with a dense curtain of rain hanging below. It reminded me of some wildly psychedelic Portugese Man-o-War jellyfish floating above the mountains. Sublime.

Written by bev wigney on July 12th, 2015

winter in arizona – 2   no comments

Posted at 8:55 am in Uncategorized

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 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.

an amazing dawn sky to the east of the cabin

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.

Written by bev wigney on June 20th, 2015