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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.

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.

Sometimes It’s Good To Be Wrong

A Harris's hawk perches on a large rock and looks down over the desert with the mountains in the background from the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

I had always imagined the desert here was a vast expanse of sand and an occasional cactus. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong as beauty abounds in the Sonoran Desert in forms large and small. Early on a sunny July morning this Harris’s hawk and I surveyed our desert home from the Gooseneck Trail.

The House at the Top of the World

A bird's nest sits near the top of a teddy bear cholla atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2018

I was a bit surprised to see birds building nests in cacti when we moved here as it didn’t seem to be the most comfortable place to raise your children but I can see how it might keep ground predators at bay. This nest in a teddy bear cholla looked out over the desert from atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail. The nest was no longer in use as I took this at sunrise on Christmas Eve, I’m glad I didn’t wait as over the winter the nest slowly disintegrated.

A View of the Wash

A frontal view of a dilapidated chair sitting in the middle of a desert wash beside the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

In Oregon we got occasional heavy downpours but mostly the summers were bone dry while the winter had frequent drizzly showers that kept everything damp and preposterously green. In Arizona we get some rain in the winter but it’s summer that brings the monsoons. Rain may be rare but when it arrives it often pours down in buckets, perhaps accompanied by high winds and thunder and lightning (I can count on one hand the number of lightning storms I saw in two decades in Oregon). I haven’t seen much rain this year, when it has rained I’ve either been at work or it’s been dark, so I still haven’t seen a wash run. Our neighborhood is on a hill so there are washes running through (one beside our house), some more natural looking than others, so one day it will happen. This chair would have an excellent view of a running wash, sitting in the middle of a desert wash along the Gooseneck Trail, and by the looks of it has probably seen its fair share of summer storms.