Only a little sliver of red atop this Gila woodpecker’s head is visible but the whole scene is bathed in intense red light as the sun begins to dip below the mountains behind me. Even as I took it I wasn’t sure how it would turn out as I think in isolation the red is a bit too overwhelming, at least until the light softened shortly thereafter (but after the woodpecker left) when the sun was more obscured by the hills. I had been shooting with my other camera but the patient fellow hung around until I went back and got the telephoto one.
After he left I lowered the camera and set the tripod aside as I went back to my camera bag for a drink and to get my other camera. With the woodpecker image still displaying on the back of the telephoto camera I realized I could use my shadow to mimic the saguaros to my right and take a bit of a self-portrait as a reminder of the little trail in the little park a little ways from my home.
Two dancers in the morning light, not yet ready to yield the night. A high thin band of smoke from wildfires in California blanketed the sky and the light had an unusual look to it, in person I preferred the trees when directly lit but in pictures I have a slight preference to this subtler version when the light dimmed. If they were closer to one of the trailheads I’d have photographed these trees (tree? trees? not sure) dozens of times by now but to get to them I have to walk past my favorite saguaro and a phalanx of woodpeckers, hawks, wrens, thrashers, and flycatchers. To solve this problem I’m thinking of getting a big catapult to chuck me directly into the middle of the preserve, I haven’t worked out how to survive the landing but no plan is perfect.
Since we moved to Arizona I’ve been fascinated by the moment when light first sweeps across the desert or, as in this case, the light suddenly falls away. There was a particular cactus I wanted to photograph at last light but I was delayed watching a sparrow and a family of hawks. I had to laugh as I hurried down the wide trail, seeing something I wanted to photograph and the light disappearing before I could get the camera to my eye. I was able to get this environmental portrait of a phainopepla before the light disappeared from all but the mountains, a shot that pokes gentle fun at my misunderstanding of what the desert here was like, thinking it was just sand and an occasional cactus. But also a show of gratitude that I researched the area when an opportunity appeared here at the last minute, and for a park dense with vegetation and wildlife that drew me in and didn’t let go.
I stood beside Balanced Rock at sunrise, in the distance Brown’s Mountain and Cone Mountain, two pyramids formed by nature rather than vainglorious kings. Perhaps because of the gently sloping boulder beneath my feet the height above the desert floor didn’t trigger my vertigo, even the peak of Brown’s Mountain is kind enough that I can climb it so long as I avoid some of the edges. Some trails here force me to turn around but that’s both nothing new and fine besides, as trails we have aplenty.
I met a fellow hiker with his dog who was enjoying being back on the trails after getting both knees replaced. He obviously loved her and said she was his first dog and knew now he’d never again be without one. A cyclist was there who moved from the Pacific Northwest at the start of our long dry summer, he and his wife bought bikes and were learning to ride on the many trails. I assured him it is always so lovely but not always so hot.
He noted I must have made a beeline to arrive by sunrise, I only do it sometimes as at heart I like to walk and wonder. On a hike weeks earlier I noted in my journal I “was really dawdling along for the first hour, Ellie would have been so proud!” As much as I love hiking, my favorite walks were bimbling around with her as we followed her nose through our old Portland neighborhood. These little ones grab hold of your heart and never let go, even after they’re gone. So too these lands, though we are the ones who must leave.
Shadows remain, but light sweeps over the land as the sun begins to rise. Love you America.
Some people were flabbergasted, knowing how much I loved the rain of the Pacific Northwest, that I was willing to give life in Arizona a try. I knew it would take an attitude adjustment on my part not just to deal with the heat but with the relentless sun. It’s not that I never went hiking on sunny days in Oregon but in those glorious forests the sun was more of an abstract than a reality, so it was mostly a concern up above treeline or out on the coast. The other morning I got up early as there was a specific tree near Balanced Rock I wanted to photograph in the shade and I knew Granite Mountain would block the rising sun for a little while, giving me time to try out different compositions. Though I made a beeline to the area even from a distance I could see Balanced Rock was already bathed in sunlight. I checked and double-checked and triple-checked my watch and was so confused I turned back to the rising sun to understand my mistake and could but laugh as I realized at this time of year the sun peeked through a dip in the southern end of the mountain, lighting this area earlier than on my other visits. The next weekend I returned for this shot when the sun first cleared the mountain, a little paean to how little I understand and how eager I am to learn.
A view at sunset of some of the larger plants of the Sonoran Desert, looking towards Granite Mountain. I assumed the trails would be packed in the evenings but went since I haven’t been able to get out much in the mornings and to my surprise saw almost no one. Perhaps it’s a quirk of timing where it was still hot in the evenings but not dangerously so, maybe now that it is cooling off it will be more crowded.
Dotting the short hiking trail at Cavalliere Park, a multi-use park near our house, are seed pod sculptures by Jeff Zischke. I love how naturally they are placed in the landscape, they remind me of animal sculptures we saw years ago at an Audubon Center in Maine. This is one of the larger ones, sitting just uphill from the basketball courts, near a saguaro as obliging as it is beautiful as it leans over to more easily fit into the picture.
Two dimensions don’t do justice to how much this battered old beauty leans over, its trunk and surviving arms littered with woodpecker holes. How many families has it sheltered on this little sliver of land, protected from the development that surrounds? I meant to photograph it months ago but got pulled up and down the trail first by a phoebe and then a woodpecker, so I was thankful it still stood in all its perfect glory on a visit at sunset a couple of weeks ago.
At the start of 2011, after taking the previous picture at Horse Lake I moved to adjacent Long Lake, the pink skies fading in intensity despite the trivially short drive. Though side-by-side the differing natures of the lakes meant some wildlife preferred one to the other. Dead snags stood upright across the narrow width of the lake with many of their fallen brethren floating nearby. It was my favorite spot for close looks of teal and grebes and mergansers, with egrets and herons and bitterns hunting the shallows. In the warmer months turtles sunned on the logs, one of the few reptiles in the area. Mammals also made an appearance though not as often: otters fishing, raccoons and coyotes prowling the edges, deer up on the banks. Nutria too but then they were everywhere.
The tallest snag was near the road out-of-frame to the right, one day to my astonishment an adult bald eagle perched there almost right above me. Swallows would stop to rest as they hunted the skies above the lake, while below blackbirds and sparrows searched the marshy shores for insects to feed their young. The tall snag on the left was a favorite spot for kingfishers, as well as taller ones on the right, it was my favorite place to watch them as they dove down from the heights and plunged into the water after small fish.
But time took its toll on the former trees and one by one they began to fall, until on a visit four years later I sadly noted in my journal they were all gone. On a later visit it seemed more of a marshy meadow than a lake though perhaps in the rainy season it would fill up again. I wondered what animals would now call it home but it was not for me to know, change wasn’t just coming to the lake.