OCCUPIED! OCCUPIED!

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land. The incoming bird landed on the leftmost blossom so they were able share the perch for a while. I haven’t seen so many white-wings this year, to be fair I haven’t hiked as much this spring and summer and when I do it’s often on different trails, but we also aren’t seeing so many in the yard as last year. Which works out well for the mourning doves as in numbers the larger white-wings can push the smaller doves around but this year the white-wings are fairly subdued and it’s only the quail parents with babies whose wrath the doves have to avoid.

Welcome, Welcome

A saguaro I call the Green Elephant blooms at sunrise with a bouquet of flowers at the ends of each of its sprawling arms, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

I see her often, the Green Elephant, usually just a quick hello as we pass on the trails. Sometimes though I head out just to see her, as I had the week before, when I promised I’d try to be back the next week. Though getting up was hard the reward was worth the effort as she greeted me with so many bouquets of flowers she could scarce hold them all betwixt arms and trunk and ears and tail. “Welcome, welcome, stay and wonder,” she whispered for in the east the sun began to rise.

In the Fading Dark

A near-silhouette of an adult Harris's hawk perched on an old saguaro that was starting to bloom shortly before sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Taken the day before the previous picture of a juvenile Harris’s hawk, this adult perched atop an old saguaro is part of the family group raising up the youngsters. Like most of the saguaros in the area, the tips of the arms were covered in flower buds with some starting to bloom. I was playing around with near-silhouettes of the family in the moments before the sun rose, it always took a few tries as I don’t have a remote shutter for this camera so I relied on the self-timer given the really slow shutter speed, but since the birds were turning their heads to watch the desert below I never knew which direction they’d be looking when the shutter tripped.

Morning on the Latigo

A near-silhouette of a juvenile Harris's hawk perched in a large ocotillo on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

An old ocotillo, giant, sprawling. A young Harris’s hawk, calling, listening. An unseen family, listening, answering. A blue and pink sky, the sun will come, the sun will come. All is quiet save the birds, morning on the Latigo.

Sunrise Mask

Rick Cameron stands beside a saguaro with arms growing in all directions, with flowers blooming on each arm, beside the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

I stood at sunrise beside one of my favorite saguaros, here with the top of the sun just tipping over the mountains and starting to bathe the desert in its red light. I don’t often remember to take self-portraits, especially not during such beautiful light that lasts literal seconds, but the composition was so close to what I was taking anyway that I couldn’t resist a quick one as a celebration of being back in this amazing place. Since I’ve had to go into work throughout the pandemic I stayed off the trails at first until the process of transmission was better understood, and now try to avoid the popular trails and wear a mask if it gets crowded (it wasn’t at this early hour, I slipped it on for the picture). This mask is from Tom Bihn, they are easy to slip on and off and quite comfortable to boot (plus they donate one for every one you buy). There’s also a free pattern if you want to make them yourself.

The backpack is from Tom Bihn as well (it’s the Guide’s Pack), it’s been on somewhere around 170 hikes with me in the desert the past couple of years, at this time of year mostly just loaded with a safety kit, medicine, trekking poles, snacks, and gobs and gobs and gobs of Gatorade. In late May this early in the morning there is just enough cool air left in the desert for long sleeves but the time is rapidly approaching when even I switch to short sleeves.

Hello in There

Hello in There

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
John Prine “Hello in There”

 
So sorry to hear of John Prine’s passing, one of too many we’ve lost to Covid-19. I first heard his song “Hello in There” on a VHS tape I bought in my college days from the 10,000 Maniacs and was immediately transfixed by its beauty and its pain. Performed by lead singer Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Billy Bragg, I initially assumed the song was one of Bragg’s since I was as yet unfamiliar with his work (the other two were already favorites) only to find it was one of Prine’s. Both the cover and the original are dear to me, resonating as strongly today as they did in my youth. Goodbye to a quiet giant, and thank you.

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