So, So Early

A white-winged dove perches on unripened fruit atop a saguaro at dawn on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

By late June it isn’t just the air that’s hot as even the ground radiates heat back at you before the sun is even up. That sunrise comes frightfully early but the desert is amazing as it wakes so for me deciding whether to get up or sleep in on my days off becomes a delicate act of balancing mental and physical exhaustion. The white-winged doves had been hiding from me last June but suddenly exploded into view one weekend when one seemed to adorn every saguaro. I met this adult in the blue light of dawn, the sun not yet peeking over the eastern mountains. Although the fruits upon which it perched were not yet ripe, the fresh pulp on its beak and forehead suggested that it had already breakfasted at nearby saguaros. My watch read 5:28 am, I had arrived at the park around 4:55 am, up before 4:30 am. Somewhere in Virginia my 20-year old self just had a heart attack hearing this, would someone check on him please? Only wait until after 1 pm and knock softly, just in case he’s still sleeping.

Blooming Ocotillos

An ash-throated flycatcher perches on the tip of a blooming ocotillo on the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

When we first moved to Arizona I instantly fell in love with ocotillos, their long thin arms spiraling into the sky. Their tips usually bloom with an explosion of reds and yellows and oranges although sometimes it’s a more subtle mix of browns and grays and whites with a splash of rufous.

The Green Elephant

A saguaro I call the Green Elephant just before sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

I never expected to see a Sonoran elephant but there she was, standing still with the sun about to rise. Smaller than her African cousins and without the trademark flappy ears, hers were long and rounded like her legs and trunk, swirling into the sky. I barely dared breathe for fear of startling her but she welcomed me and together we admired the rising sun. I like to think she gets up every morning before the others stir to stand there in quiet worship and the question is not so much will she be there, but will I.

A saguaro I call the Green Elephant just after sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

Frosted Moss

A smiling face in the moss covering a rock gets a frosted look on a cold winter morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

Taken a week before the other image of this face in the moss, this time during a cold snap that gave the moss a frosted look in the minutes before the sun began to warm the desert floor. I’ve been meaning to look for it again when passing on more recent hikes, to see if the moss has grown enough to cover the eyes and mouth, but I keep forgetting when I’m in the area (today included).

Shivers

A saguaro with wavy pleats stands next to two normal saguaros at sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

We’ve had a string of nights recently with temperatures near freezing, so since I get cold easily I wore one more layer than normal, stripping off layers as the morning advanced and the air warmed. I felt for this poor saguaro seemingly shivering in the cold as the sun rose, it probably didn’t help that its friends to the left and right didn’t seem to mind the winter weather. I don’t know what causes them to grow like this but I confess the oddballs are my favorites.

The Hidden Smile

Moss covering a small rock appears to smile on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

In the damp of the Pacific Northwest it wasn’t hard to find moss, stand still long enough and the moss found you. I was surprised though to find it growing in the desert far from any water, covering a rock hidden in the shadow of a boulder. I was even more surprised when it matched my smile with its own, so joyful and exuberant, beautiful if unconventional, as I told it of the glory of the rising sun that it could never see.