Three Saguaros

The shadow of a saguaro climbs a hill between two other sagauros on the Apache Wash Loop Trail in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona on January 2, 2021. Original: _CAM9105.arw

When we first moved to Arizona and I started taking pictures in sunlight I struggled with what to do about my shadow. At first I’d try to compose the picture so my shadow didn’t fall in the image, and sometimes still do, but sometimes now I lean into it and deliberately put my shadow into the frame as a reminder that I’m documenting my life in the desert. On this occasion though as I photographed the damage in the saguaro on the left, as the sun sank low a giant behind me threw its shadow all the way up the hill, allowing me to sidle down the trail and hide within it. That’s not just me throwing up my arms pretending to be a saguaro, though I can’t say the thought has never crossed my mind.

The Shroud of Phoenix

A saguaro has sealed off damage where it's skin has split in multiple places on the Apache Wash Loop Trail in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona on January 2, 2021. Original: _RAC3511.arw

When I first saw the pattern of damage in this saguaro I was reminded of the Shroud of Turin, only when I later looked at images of the real shroud I realized my remembrance of it was mistaken, it was far more detailed in actuality than memory. This section of damage reminded me of a head, a torso with crossed arms, and legs below, here shown in the seconds before the sun dipped below the mountains behind me. Perhaps the skin of the saguaro split after it ate too many donuts and it sealed the damage with resin to prevent water loss, but I’m not a biologist.

I Feel You, Sister

A phainopepla rubs her damp head feathers on a branch on the interpretative trail in the Fraesfield area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 24, 2021. Original: _RAC3738.arw

On-again, off-again rain showers left this phainopepla feeling a little bedraggled as she preened her damp feathers to get them back into their normal glorious shape, here gently rubbing her crest on the branch. She was her normal chipper self even if the wet weather seemed to have thrown her a little off her game. I wonder how she felt the next day when it snowed.

Remind Me Where I Live Again?

Melting snow sits on the pleats of a saguaro in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 25, 2021. Original: _CAM9141.arw

On Monday my wife texted me a picture of our snow-covered backyard. I was supporting a couple of urgent tasks at work and by the time I got home the snow was rapidly melting. I needed to log on to work so didn’t have time to run out for pictures, which was a shame as the mountains looked so lovely dusted in snow. I grabbed a few pictures from the front yard, up top is one of our saguaros and below a barrel cactus. The melt was so rapid that even in the few minutes I was taking pictures our short steep driveway went from a slick surface I had to walk slowly on to one I could descend without worry. I’m so thankful I got to see it before it melted, even if not in its full glory, snow is not exactly a common sight in the desert.

An overhead view of melting snow atop a compass barrel cactus in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 25, 2021. Original: _CAM9217.arw

More Than Skin Deep

A close-up view of the damage to one of the arms of a saguaro I call the Green Elephant on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 17, 2020. Originals: _RAC6567.arw to _RAC6570.arw

My favorite view of the Elephant is looking west but the best view of the recent damage to her arms is with a telephoto looking east. Everything about her is beautiful, even her scars, they remind me of grizzly carvings in the trees of Yellowstone. I’m not worried she’s going to die, I make all my favorite saguaros sign legally-binding contracts stating they’ll outlive me. I wouldn’t ordinarily, you can find yourself in a real monkey’s paw situation since there’s an obvious way for them to guarantee it, but a saguaro is one of those rare creatures you can trust unconditionally. If a day comes when she can’t keep her promise, if a day comes when she breaks my heart, I’ll be thankful for the times our paths crossed and how far I carried her in my heart when we parted.

A Quiet Beginning

Granite Mountain framed by saguaros in the soft light before sunrise on the interpretative trail at Fraesfield in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2020. Original: _CAM8703.arw

Granite Mountain to the north in the soft light as New Year’s Eve dawned, even as clouds in the east and west began to catch fire. I have a fondness for the subtlety of this first shot of the day, the year ending meant my vacation soon would too, along with the daily hikes it afforded. These quiet moments never last long, the day always rushes in behind.

Christmas Decorations

A rosy-faced lovebird perches on a saguaro arm after sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 21, 2020. Original: _RAC1215.arw

I was at the local park a few days before Christmas when I heard a familiar squawking in an unfamiliar place. I looked over to this saguaro to see a couple of rosy-faced lovebirds had flown in right after the sun set and went into an old woodpecker hole for the night. I had seen them at our rental house but not our new house so it was nice to be reacquainted with lovely if noisy old friends. They are native to Africa but a population has established itself in the Phoenix area, I’ve not seen them in the desert proper so I was surprised to see them here in the natural area of this small park near the city’s edge. I don’t know where I was expecting they might nest but it wasn’t in a saguaro to be sure.

A rosy-faced lovebird perches on one of several saguaro arms after sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 21, 2020. Original: _RAC1197.arw

The Pink Green Elephant

A saguaro I call the Elephant is bathed in the diffuse light before sunrise with pink skies behind on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 24, 2020. Original: _CAM8025.arw

Clouds were predicted the morning of Christmas Eve so I dithered when my alarm rang out as I wanted to sleep in if the sun was going to be snuffed out, but I also didn’t want to miss out on colorful skies if it wasn’t. My vacillation wasn’t helped by a certain orange tabby who repeatedly woke me in the wee hours as he had a grand old time snuggling up under my chin, I love when he does it as it’s where Scout slept every night, but his timing could have been better. Fortunately I dragged myself out of bed, even if a few minutes later than intended, as when my wife dropped me off at the preserve the most glorious color was already spreading across the eastern sky.

I hurried down the trail towards my favorite saguaro, the Green Elephant, kicking myself for being a little behind but still careful with my footing as faceplanting into the unforgiving desert floor was not on my list of Christmas wishes. In the cool morning air I regretted not putting on my gloves in the car but I didn’t want to stop now. I took a few shots of the eastern sky on the way but the shot I most hoped for was of the Elephant looking west, so I was tickled to arrive and find the entire desert bathed in pink light with pink skies behind. The light was beginning to fade even as I started taking pictures so I was thankful I got off a shot from my favorite view of her, with a more traditional saguaro visible in the gap behind her, before the light faded to it’s normal pre-sunrise blue.

The pink skies behind her remained a little while longer and I expect I’ll like those subtler shots too. The sun rose fifteen minutes later and cleared the mountains soon thereafter but the clouds held sway and the remainder of the hike stayed cool and windy. Even in the dim light the desert was lovely as always, with phainopepla cheering my steps along the path.

This shot makes me a little sad, I noticed in the fall she has extensive damage along the arm on the lower left and also on another not visible from this angle. She looked fine when I saw her in full bloom at the end of May, but perhaps so did I, it hasn’t been the easiest year. We’re still standing though and every sunrise I spend with her is a treat, no matter the light.