Scottsdale

Tiles decorated in a desert motif on a mailbox say '7695'

In Portland my favorite things to photograph while walking Ellie were the neighborhood art and the old garages. It’s going to be more challenging in Scottsdale as while there is a lot of art around, most of it is up against people’s houses and out of my reach. There is some art accessible from the street but I might have to settle for mailbox decorations more often than not. Of course the other limitation is Ellie wants shorter walks these days so the streets she chooses determines what I see. Which is fine, it’s walking with her I treasure most.

I like this garden we pass on our walks, these aren’t the native cacti I see on the trails and not the kind I’d plant in my own garden, but I like the variety of shapes and textures from the different plants. I’m assuming the statue is St. Francis of Assisi because of his love for the natural world. I’m hoping when we’re ready to buy we find a house that already has native desert landscaping but if not it’s something I’d like to add. I do appreciate the little strip of grass in our backyard because Ellie loves rolling around in it so.

A garden full of cacti in Scottsdale, Arizona

Sniffing the Saguaro

A desert cottontail sniffs the base of an old saguaro in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

This cottontail kept sniffing the base of the old saguaro and hopping up where there were no spines, hopping down, and sniffing some more. Cottontails are the mammal I see most frequently both in the desert and in our neighborhood. Fortunately our dog Ellie pays them no mind, she’s never cared about wildlife even in her younger years. Although we still see them on our walks it’s been a week or two since one has been in our backyard, is there a number I can call to complain about this?

Summer Upgrades

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There was a time when we were preparing to move where I didn’t want to have to make one more decision, major or minor. After arriving in Arizona there were plenty more decisions to be made, even for fun things like choosing new hiking gear for the desert climate. But as things slowed down I’ve taken the time to make some upgrades, some of which should have occurred a while ago but I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with them.

My laptop will be 5 years old in a few months and all is not well under its lovely exterior, a problem since I use it as my main computer. I was torn between a new laptop or a new desktop but neither was quite what I wanted until Thursday morning when I woke to news that Apple updated the 15″ MacBook Pro to my liking. After walking Ellie I ordered one before leaving for work, it should be here by the end of the week. As you’d expect given the age difference there are many improvements in the new laptop, the benefit I’m most looking forward to is 32 GB of RAM, four times what I have now and 50% faster too. The processor is much faster and with two more cores. The SSD is faster but more importantly will store twice as much at 2 TB. It has a dedicated video card (which I don’t think I care about one way or the other) but it has 4 GB of RAM itself which will be nice.

All of which should making editing images a more enjoyable process. When I started shooting with the Sony A6500, its 24 megapixels compared to the 20 of my Canon 7D II seemed trivial but something crossed a threshold as editing those images became more painful, especially when trying to do quick back-to-back comparisons. I’ve also been holding off processing the 4K video I’ve started playing around with, that in particular the new laptop will be much better suited for, so I’m going to purchase Final Cut Pro and learn to edit video.

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I’ve been thinking about replacing my tripod head for quite some time now, it doesn’t hold the telephoto lens well when at an angle and the quick-release hasn’t worked well in years, so I purchased the Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball head. It went on my old Gitzo tripod and has been doing well with my 100-400mm lens. Here the pair are attached to the bottom of my Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack with my camera bag (an old Tamrac I’ve used since the 90’s when I got into photography) and Black Diamond trekking poles alongside, my setup after I put my camera away when the light gets too bright.

I’ve had the poles a while but hadn’t used them too much until we arrived in the desert but I am loving them, they fold up so they go in the backpack until I’m ready for them, then I can get a good speed going with the poles and they are fantastic when the granite pebbles make the footing a bit dicey. They’re carbon fiber so they weigh next to nothing so I don’t regret bringing them on the rare day I end up not using them.

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I’ve always loved the 100-400mm lens for hiking, I got the original Canon version in 2001 and the updated version as soon as it came out in 2014. But here in Arizona I’ve found I prefer to use it with a 1.4X teleconverter and the Canon camera doesn’t work well with it, so I purchased Sony’s 100-400mm and teleconverter and the combination has been an absolute joy. I wasn’t expecting to use Sony for my wildlife work but I probably should have bought this lens when it came out, it’s fantastic (as is the Canon lens, my complaint is with the camera not the lens). This was my setup at Cathedral Rock when I spent the morning photographing desert spiny lizards, got a number of great pictures thanks to the new gear.

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You might have noticed from the previous picture that there’s a new camera bag, it’s the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 20 (Sandstone). I used the old Tamrac on every hike for over 20 years, can’t believe how long it’s lasted! Most of it is still in fine shape but two of the three buckles that secure the top are down to one prong holding the clasp together, along with some other less severe problems. I’ve been meaning to replace it for years but it’s been such a great bag I was hesitant to do so, but with the new Sony gear the Retrospective 20 had a feature which pushed me over the edge: I can put the Sony 100-400mm with the teleconverter and camera attached into the bag, then easily retrieve it if I see something to shoot. It’s worked out great so far, here it is next to my backpack beside my favorite saguaro.

The long and short of it is, I’m happier hiking and getting better pictures and soon enough I’ll be happier editing them too.

Before I go let me express my gratitude for Things by Cultured Code, I’ve used it as my task manager for a while now but the improvements they made in the last year or so really proved their worth from when I started looking for work to when we arrived in Arizona, I use it every day but on those days when so much had to be done in such a tight timeframe it kept me sane as well as on task. It syncs flawlessly between my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro (I use it regularly on all three devices) and it’s a great balance of simplicity and sophistication.

Dove Tales

A white-winged dove perches in a tree near sunset

I’ve taken many pictures of white-winged doves out on the trails but this one is from our backyard as the sun sank low in the sky. If I could only see them one place my preference would be to see them in the wild, but I’m thankful I get to see them at home as well. We get four dove species in our yard (five if you include pigeons), not just white-wings but mourning doves, Eurasian collared-doves (a pair), and on rare occasion a single Inca dove. Seeing them together I can get a feel for their different sizes, as well as see the young after they’ve fledged (none nest in our yard). Mostly though I just enjoy seeing and listening to them every day.

We are not the only ones mesmerized by the doves. All three cats are currently watching out the sliding glass door into the backyard. Trixie in particular loves watching them, a mourning dove has been brave enough to come close to the house and Trixie starts chirping like Emma used to, her tail whipping back and forth furiously. I wish Emma had lived long enough to make it to Arizona with us, she was our most devoted bird-watcher.

The In-Between Time

Our cat Sam sleeps atop the cat tree

I took many pictures of Sam sleeping atop the cat tree over the years and only through the greatest restraint have I avoided sharing each and every one of them with you. It is the day this picture was taken that packs the emotional punch for me, two days before the movers were to pack our things and load them onto a truck, three days before we would leave for Arizona, five days before we would arrive. He knew something was up but he had no idea how much I was about to upend his world.

Our cat Sam wearing a collar with his name on it in large letters

A simple picture of Sam sitting in a chair with his name writ large on his collar. But I know the chair was in my office because the junk haulers took away my old couch that morning and I brought down my old chair from our bedroom, a chair we bought when we moved into the house and which served me well for many years (and serves us well even now). It was a delight to photograph Sam in it as it reminded me of when Templeton loved to sleep there, especially after he lured me out of it so he could steal my spot. The collar though he and the other cats only had to wear in the days leading up to the move, and during, and after, in case they got loose during the confusion.

Thankfully they did not. This story ends in joy not tragedy.

Our cat Sam sleeps on a bed at a La Quinta Inn in Redding, California

A picture of Sam sleeping on the bed, I took many of those too, but it was only our bed for a night as this was the hotel in California on our first night, the in-between place in the in-between time. A reminder of a long trip, especially for the little ones, but a reminder too that as long as we were together we would be all right.

Our dog Ellie relaxes in the backyard in front of the swimming pool on the day we arrived at our rental house in Scottsdale, Arizona

A quick picture of Ellie that I snapped after we arrived at our rental house in Arizona at the end of March. The house will be home for a year, Arizona for much longer, and I am so thankful we found the house and that our lovely landlords accepted all the pets. All of the hiking and swimming has been great for me, I’m in the best shape I’ve been for a long time. The one story house has been great for Ellie as she can now follow us everywhere we go. As for Sam, well, our little snuggler has been putting on weight as he no longer has to go to the basement to use the litter box, the main floor to hang out in my office, and upstairs to join us at night. He’s getting a reduction in food to slowly bring his weight back down. Trixie and Boo are doing just fine, they love watching the wildlife in our back yard.