A Sea of Wings

A Mormon metalmark butterfly perches on the red-winged seedpod of a slender janusia vine at sunrise on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 24, 2021. Original: _RAC7317.arw

I woke up early one morning in August and couldn’t get back to sleep so I went out for a short hike before work, feeling a rush of euphoria as I got a glimpse of what it must be like to be an early bird in a world designed for them. I met a couple of butterflies as the sun crested the mountains, including this Mormon metalmark set in a sea of wings. The plant was so distinctive I thought it would be easy to identify but it took me a while as at first I was looking at plants with red flowers, but thanks to Marianne Skov Jensen’s excellent field guide of the plants of the preserve I realized the red wings are part of the seed pod and the plant is slender janusia.

After returning home for breakfast and heading into work, I knew I’d pay for my early start and indeed left early that afternoon while my energy levels were still good so I could crash on the couch instead of the road. The night owl has been re-asserting himself the past couple of years so early mornings like this have not been as common as our first year here.

By Your Leaves

An American snout spreads its wings into the light of the rising sun on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 24, 2021. Original: _RAC7475.arw

As the butterfly turned and spread its wings into the light of the rising sun, I could see how its wings resembled fallen leaves with uneven edges and transparent sections that mimic areas that have rotted away leaving only the veins. The disguise might be more effective in the forest than the desert where the leaves tend to be rather tiny.

Little Tempters

A black-throated sparrow perches on a dead teddy bear cholla on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 29, 2020. Original: _RAC0301.arw

While waiting for sunset to photograph a particular saguaro I scouted some other trails and found a yucca I wanted to shoot, timing how long it would take to move between the two locations so I’d be ready when the light got low. In the meantime I headed up to the Jane Rau Trail to look for some antelope squirrels but got taken in by a phainopepla, then a mockingbird, then this black-throated sparrow. I gave up on the yucca entirely and had to pull myself away to arrive in time to photograph the saguaro, as I adore it but have never photographed it and didn’t want to risk something happening to it before I got the chance. Easier said than done when little tempters abound.

Water Channels

On a rainy Christmas morning water pools up between the pleats of the arm of a fallen saguaro, taken on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

On a rainy Christmas morning I smiled as water pooled between the pleats of a saguaro, mimicking on the outside how I imagined as a child the water was stored on the inside. But it was a sad occasion too as the normally vertical arm was now horizontal, the old giant having fallen over and died, the green and the chlorophyll fading. They may grow slowly but they fall just as quickly as everything else, a gentle reminder that in this life even the mightiest are eventually humbled. On a brighter note it did make me laugh as I was shooting with a new lens and it always seems I test out new gear in the rain. Not a deliberate choice, rather that I love the rain and used to live in a place with an abundance of it. In this case it was a combination of me taking advantage of holiday sales to purchase a newly announced lens that instantly became a workhorse, timed up with some time off and some winter rains.

Lines & Circles

Rain drops collect at the ends of horizontal spines on a teddy bear cholla on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

Water drops collect on the horizontal spines of a teddy bear cholla. It’s rained off and on the past couple of weeks but sadly it’s been off on the days I have been too. On Christmas morning however I woke to the sound of raindrops on the rooftops so I grabbed my rain gear and a new lens and spent a lovely morning in the desert.

Blue

A male Gila woodpecker peeks out of his nest in a saguaro in the blue light before sunrise along the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in April 2019

On that April morning we were up before the sun, he and I, one to mend a broken heart, one to feed his hungry children. Ordinarily I would have loved to watch the comings and goings of this Gila woodpecker and his mate as morning broke but Ellie had died a week earlier and standing still meant being alone with my thoughts, a place I was not yet ready to be. I quickly moved on but with each passing week I was able to slow down more and more until I could happily stay in the moment for as long as my heart desired.