While on a visit to Ridgefield on a rainy Christmas in 2011, I accidentally took a short nap while in a pullout beside Rest Lake (I mean, given the name of the lake, hardly my fault) which meant I was lucky enough to be in the right position when driving past the meadow that I got to spend quite a while watching a coyote hunting voles in the rain. It’s what I loved about the auto tour, getting to watch animals behave naturally at relatively close distances without disturbing them.
These pictures are a bit bittersweet as while I got to watch the family at length multiple times that winter, my pictures from a couple of months later would be my last photos of coyotes at the refuge as they were shot to create a safer haven for the threatened Columbian white-tailed deer that were about to be transplanted. Thankfully the deer seemed to be establishing themselves by the time I had to say goodbye to the refuge so hopefully coyotes have been allowed back since.
I’m not sure the many Townsend’s voles in the meadows around the refuge missed the coyotes, although perhaps they didn’t notice given the wide variety of predators that ate them. It was always a little hard to watch through the big lens as one little life was snuffed out, even knowing it allowed another life to continue. I always hoped to photograph a vole on its own but I only ever managed to catch them when something else caught them first.
My award for the cutest member of the desert that will still stab you six ways from Sunday goes to the diminutive hedgehog cactus with its almost comically long needles. I found this little clump in the slate at Cave Creek on a rainy winter’s day. Rain, I remember rain. It was wet I think.
Another horizontal saguaro arm in the rain but this one is thriving, it just grew out rather than up. At the tip you can see where new spines will very, very slowly emerge, protected at the base by soft white material (which is what this cactus wren was gleefully ripping out for its nest).
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.
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.
The rain is supposed to continue on and off throughout the week, and while in general we always appreciate rain in the desert I in particular love it. So it’s a little sad that it is only supposed to last until Friday, be sunny on the weekend, then rain a bit next week. I don’t want to drive in it, I want to walk in it! Why wasn’t I consulted?
On New Year’s Eve in 2009, snow still blanketed the ground but the more typical cold rain had returned, beading up on the head and neck and shoulders of an American bittern as it patrolled the edges of South Quigley Lake. I loved being at Ridgefield in the rain, sitting at one of my favorite spots on the auto tour with a bevy of towels strewn around the car to absorb the rain that would blow in. Your car acted as a blind so on days with poor weather and little traffic, as long as you sat quietly the animals would relax and often come quite close. This was one of two bitterns I was watching for a couple of hours that afternoon until the bewitching hour approached and I had to start the car to make it out before the gate closed.
In late December as I returned from a joyful hike in the rain on my first visit to Cave Creek Regional Park, I stopped as I pulled out of the empty parking lot and positioned the car for a quick shot in front of the desert in a downpour. I knew our time together was coming to a close and while it would take me another month to finalize my decision, yesterday morning the Crosstrek and I went on our final hike before I traded it in that afternoon. I loved this car so much, not for what it could do but for what it allowed me to do. We went to the Columbia River Gorge, to Mount Rainier, to the rain forests and mountains and beaches of the Olympics, to the Oregon coast, to the redwoods, to endless trips to the auto tour at Ridgefield to sit in silence watching bitterns and listening to the ducks and geese and swans. It ferried all our pets but Templeton to the vet. It brought three worried cats and one worried driver on a three day trip from Oregon to Arizona, with my wife and pup following in her Crosstrek. Here in Arizona it took me to work each day now that I have to drive and to many local hikes, somewhere around 150 in our almost two years here.
The Crosstrek was my little mountain goat, equally at home in our urban neighborhood in Portland as it was on rutted gravel roads leading to my favorite places. My deepest thanks to everyone who played a role in bringing this car to market, back before small crossovers were cool. I measure cars not in specs but in smiles and this one brought a lot of them. The new car has big shoes to fill.
My rain-soaked Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack waits to be loaded into my Subaru Crosstrek after hiking in the rain for a few hours in late December, a scene that seems more apropos to my former home in Oregon than my current home in Arizona. I may seek out a rain cover at some point but for now I still pack it the way I did in Oregon, everything inside that needs to be protected from the wet gets stored in plastic bags, as the pack shucks off lighter rains without issue and I like easy access to water and food and clothes. I have rain gear from my time in the Northwest so funnily enough I was drier after this hike than many others (apart from my hands, my gloves aren’t waterproof) since I wasn’t sweating in the cool weather.
A black bear gazes longingly at pine cones just out of reach high in a tree on a rainy fall evening at Yellowstone in 2006. I felt for her, trying to fatten up as much as she could for the long Wyoming winter but not wanting to risk injury and condemning not just herself but also her two young cubs. She and the cubs all made it down safely after eating the seeds in the cones, one cub in particular eating its fill.