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A juvenile Harris's hawk calls out while an adult is perched higher in the tree, set against the backdrop of a variety of plants of the Sonoran Desert with saguaros rising up behind, taken on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

One of my favorite pictures this year, taken early in the morning in October looking west from a frequently-hiked trail near our house. It speaks to the misconceptions I used to have about this area and how surprised I was to learn there is so much diverse life here. There are the twisting trees, the yuccas with their flower stalks reaching towards the sky, the green-barked palo verdes, the yearning ocotillos, and above all the saguaros. Topping it off are two members of the Harris’s hawk family that so charmed me this year, an adult perched in the bare branches of the tree in the upper left and a juvenile down below, calling out to the rest of the family who must have been on the other side of the hill. The adult eventually flew off in that direction and the juvenile took its spot high in the tree before following the adult out of sight. How lucky I am to be in their, and my, home.

Frosted Newt

A rough-skinned newt covered in grains of sand peeks over a branch lying on the ground on the Intertie Trail at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Corvallis, Oregon in April 2006

My favorite creature of the Pacific Northwest, a rough-skinned newt, is covered with grains of sand making it look like it was frosted with powdered sugar. Predators with a sweet tooth should take note of the bright orange coloring however as it is a warning the newts can be toxic if ingested. Taken in 2006 on a return trip to William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, a favorite hiking spot when we lived further south in Oregon. With today’s cameras I could have both gotten this shot much more easily and with more depth-of-field, but it’s still a nice reminder of my longtime home and neighbors.

Bargaining With God

Our dog Ellie looks up while laying on her homemade dog bed in the living room of our house in Portland, Oregon on Halloween in October 2014

Our Heavenly Father,

Please let me live a long and happy life so I can look after my family no matter where they go. In return I promise I’ll be a good girl and not steal any pizza off the counter. Except I really like pizza and I know they want me to be happy and also someone needs to test it to make sure it hasn’t been poisoned. How about I promise not to steal any vegetables off the counter, they can cover it from one end to the other with broccoli and carrots and I won’t take a bite.

Also, I’m sorry I ate the entire batch of freshly baked cookies. And the tub of caramel. And …

It’s Starting To Look a Lot Like Christmas

A cactus wren perches atop a saguaro with its beak stuffed full of the soft white material that grows on new growth at the base of the spines, particles of the white material streaming behind it, on the Cholla Mountain Loop Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

I don’t normally associate the word ‘soft’ with saguaros but they do have this soft white material on new growth where the spines develop. A few weeks ago this cactus wren gleefully ripped out as much as it could carry in its beak before flying off, only to return for more. Normally I would assume it was looking for soft material to line its nest but at this time of year it must be that the male cardinals dress up as Santa Claus for Christmas and the wrens do their part by gathering material for the long white beards. This desert does know how to put on a show!

Spread Eagle

Our dog Ellie lays on the kitchen tile with her legs splayed out to her side in July 2013

Ellie shows off her classic spread eagle pose on the floor of the kitchen of our house in 2013. It became her most common sleeping position late in life when getting up became more of a challenge as she could push off with her front legs to compensate for her weakening back legs, but it was always in her repertoire from when we first adopted her in 2009. On this particular morning we had adopted Boo the day before, he was staying with my wife in her office while Ellie and Sam and Emma were with me.