Feeling at Home

A view of the crested saguaro I call Witch Hazel with Brown's Mountain in the background, taken from the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

When we arrived in Arizona the desert was both exciting and bewildering, like I had been plunked down into a new earth that only hinted at the shapes and forms I had known all my life. Brown’s Ranch helped orient me in two ways, both on display in this view of the crested saguaro on the Vaquero Trail. First were the saguaros themselves, they tower above the desert floor and while initially most seemed similar there were some with features so memorable that just by seeing them I could orient myself without consulting the map. But towering even above the saguaros are the hills, such as Brown’s Mountain in the background, and the three I saw readily from the trail each had a distinctive shape that made them easy to distinguish from one another. The trails are well-marked (and maps readily available at the trailhead) so I wasn’t in danger of getting lost, rather it was a way for me to relax by developing an instinctive feel for where I was, and where I was going.

Witch Hazel, Patron Saint of Woodpeckers

A close-up of the crested saguaro (also known as cristate saguaro) I call 'Witch Hazel' on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

I’ve seen a few crested (or cristate) saguaros, where instead of their iconic arms they grow these unusual shapes, and love them all but this one is my favorite. I named her Witch Hazel as she reminds me of the green witch from the Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched as a kid. I always had a fondness for her but I’m not sure why as I usually didn’t feel any affection for his pursuers, but perhaps she was written rather sympathetically. My witch looks over a woodpecker nest in an adjacent arm and I like to think serves as its protector, and not just for this nest but for all the woodpeckers in the area that I so dearly love. Long may you live, long may you serve.

Omnipotence

A curve-billed thrasher looks down as it perches atop a chain fruit cholla on the Rock Knob Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizon in November 2019

On Sunday a heavy cloud bank in the east snuffed out the sunrise but as I made my way back up the trail I was delighted when the sun poked through with such soft, diffuse light that it revealed every detail in the feathers of the birds and the spines of the cholla. I turned around and commanded the sun and clouds to hold their position for the next hour, just in case I had been granted the power of omnipotence without my knowing. Sadly I had not, though there’s always tomorrow. I was able to watch as the thrashers chased each other through the cholla, the black-throated sparrows chittered about, three cottontails poked in and out of the desert scrub, and sight unseen Gambel’s quail and Gila woodpeckers sang the Sonoran song. Just another magical morning in the desert.

Of Views and Neighbors

Our cat Trixie snuggles in between our cat Sam and a backyard window in November 2019

Sam has taken to this south-facing window where he can lie with the sun warming his belly, all with a view of the quail and doves and woodpeckers in the backyard. As happens in life though, sometimes a neighbor moves in and blocks your view, or climbs into bed with you for a snuggle. C’est la vie.

The Handsome Fellow

Our cat Templeton looks into the camera with his green eyes while resting in our backyard in Portland, Oregon in the evening of August 1, 2003

I was editing this picture of Templeton from 2003 so I could bring its associated blog post back online only to discover there was no associated post, and it never even made it up onto my old site before then, but better late than never. Templeton was a handsome little fellow with his green eyes and gray tuxedo and had a charming personality to match. I wasn’t a cat person when I met him a decade prior when my wife and I started dating, how little I understood then of how he would change my life. I didn’t get my first camera until college or grad school, the most basic of point and shoots, with my first SLR in my last year of grad school, so I’m thankful I switched to digital in 2000 and began photographing him more often. This picture encapsulates a lot for me, I took it during our first full year in the house in Portland where we would live for sixteen years. I think of him every day as I do all the pets and am thankful for the pictures I have to remember him by, he was a little charmer!

Calm Before the Storm

Our dog Ellie sleeps on her dog bed in the dining room of our house in Portland, Oregon in February 2018

Storms approached both literally and figuratively as Ellie slept peacefully in our dining room in Portland in February 2018. Snow would arrive that evening, making the walk to the train to the airport a little more interesting the next morning as I left for my interview in Arizona. A whirlwind followed as I’d get an offer right away, kicking off a storm of activity for the next month in the mad dash to get here. Through it all one of our biggest worries was her health, she had recovered from some minor issues she was having but we were about to put her through a three day drive. She did great on the trip though, we found a wonderful vet pretty quickly after we arrived, and remarkably Ellie would not only see us to Arizona but into the home we bought a year later. She was such a tremendous blessing in so many ways, this pup.

Calm in the Storm

Our dog Ellie basks in the sunshine with her head raised up next to the dragon statue on the playground at Irvington School in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland, Oregon in December 2017

Ellie basks in the warmth of the rare winter sun in Oregon, taken in December 2017 at her turnaround point that morning, the dragon statue at Irvington School. My team had been laid off a month earlier, and though that threw us into a period of uncertainty and stress that at times it feels like I haven’t fully recovered from, I so loved getting to walk her every morning that I sometimes have to catch myself from remembering this period overly fondly. We always started our walks at the nearby dog park but after that I let her choose her path and thankfully since I started saving the GPS tracks of every walk that fall, I can look back now at the routes she chose, depending on what she smelled with that amazing nose and what her body felt capable of that day.