Burn Victim

A close-up view of burn damage to a young saguaro on the Go John Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park in Cave Creek, Arizona on February 19, 2022. Originals: _ZFC9308.NEF to _ZFC9320.NEF

A fire had burned through the area, stopping at the trail which must have acted like a firebreak. This young saguaro looked fairly normal as I came down the trail but as I looked back I could see it was badly burned on the other side, and I suspect completely burned on the side I couldn’t see. It’s hard to hike through a burned area, partly because saguaros feel almost human, so I try to take a picture that pays tribute or offers hope. The split on the far right reminded of a wound that had been stitched closed, the burned areoles of gas masks, the green in the pleats of nearly dry riverbeds, the brown of a barren and broken earth. But despite the heavy damage it lived.

This was in February but I’ll go back up to check on it sometime soon now that the weather is cooling, there’s some elevation change in this hike and I’m not willing to risk it in the heat. Here’s hoping this one survived. And that I can find it again, this was my second visit to it and it took me a while to find it as it was further down the trail than I remembered.

Fruiting

A white-winged dove sits on saguaro fruit at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 4, 2021. Original: _RAC3743.ARW

Taken last year on July 4th with the light fading as the sun slipped below the mountains, a white-winged dove enjoys saguaro fruit before calling it a night. I had planned to focus on saguaro flower and fruit photography this year but life had other plans. I wasn’t able to do much hiking this spring or early summer, and while the saguaro in our front yard blooms it only does so up high and regardless didn’t produce much fruit this year.

Dinner Invitations

An American kestrel grips a rodent in her talons as she perches atop a saguaro on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 6, 2022. Original: _RAC3004.ARW

This American kestrel invited me over for dinner but I had to make my apologies lest I spoil my appetite. The white streaks running down the saguaro are not damage but rather show she’s been painting a favored perch. I suspect the rodents of the desert will be like the Townsend’s voles of the Pacific Northwest, animals I see but only manage to photograph when something else is eating them.

The Disappearing Act

A great horned owl sleeps in a palo verde with saguaros behind it on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 17, 2022. Original: _CAM5131.ARW

Early on a spring morning before my hiking came to a screeching halt, I saw a great horned owl sleeping in a palo verde on my favorite trail. I knew I’d have a better look a little further up but as the trail undulated up the hill my view of the owl was blocked and when I popped out in the spot where I expected to see it again, I could find no owl.

They fly silently but I thought it unlikely it left its perch given its sleepy mood, so I backtracked down to where I first spotted it and immediately relocated it. Back I went up the hill and once more the owl disappeared. This repeated a few times until I was finally able to not only relocate the owl but place it as I had hoped, with saguaros in the background. Thankfully only the owl was witness to my ineptitude and if it noticed it didn’t feel the need to rub it in.

Fear of Flying

A close-up of the jumbled arms of an old saguaro on the Metate Trail in Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek, Arizona on February 27, 2022. Originals: _ZFC1441.NEF to _ZFC1450.NEF

I’ll do just about anything to avoid getting on a plane but it’s not because I’m afraid of the plane crashing. Rather this jumble of saguaro arms is a visual representation of how I feel when packed into a crowded boarding area or jammed into the ever-shrinking plane seats. Thankfully I rarely have to fly as let’s just say I’m not a fan.

While I was thinking of that when I took this image early in the year, it’s also how I came to feel about much of this year, which got me thinking about bringing my retirement date in as early as we can, to live a quieter and simpler life.

Taken with the Nikon Z fc and 105 mm macro lens, this is a focus stack of 10 images so I could keep even the background arms in focus, to better emphasize the jumbled nature of this gorgeous cactus up in Spur Cross.

As the Raven Flies

A common raven looks out from a flowering saguaro, taken from the Chuckwagon Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 6, 2021. Original: _RAC2888.ARW

A common raven looks out from a flowering saguaro, one of a pair raising their young in an old hawk’s nest in a nearby saguaro. If I could fly as the raven flies I could fly just to the left of the mountain and land at our house. Alas I have to hike as the human hikes and drive as the Lexus drives so my route home is a little more circuitous. One of the reasons I chose this house is that it is surrounded by an embarrassment of trails within a 10 or 15 minute drive, each dense with the plants and animals I love so much. There are trails in other parts of the metro area with better views but I know where my heart lies.

One day I hope to take a single picture that includes each of our types of cactus and while this image doesn’t pull that off, I think it’s as close as I’ve yet come.

Will Get Fooled Again

A male American kestrel perches on a saguaro near the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 19, 2022. Original: _RAC3136.ARW

Last weekend in the distance I saw a kestrel perched on a saguaro and since the telephoto lens was still in my shoulder bag, just whispered hello to the female I’ve seen here and continued up the trail. Whereupon I found another kestrel on a favored perch, close enough that even with my naked eyes it was clear this was the female I often see. The other kestrel was still visible in the distance so I knew she hadn’t snuck in while I wasn’t looking, pulling out the longer lens I realized the first kestrel was a male.

I was in a meandering mood and went up and down parts of various trails based on whim and whimsy, when I finally made my way back I saw the male was still perched where we first met. But as I set up to take his picture in the late light I realized it was the female.

The ol’ switcheroo!

After taking her picture I continued on, the blue light descending with the sun mostly faded, when in the distance I saw what looked like a kestrel on a saguaro. But this saguaro has fooled me many times, new growth has started where the top is broken and that little bump always makes me think at first glance that a bird is perching atop the old giant. This time though my pattern-recognition self insisted there really was a kestrel up there so I pulled out the lens and could barely contain my laughter as there sat the male, posing for this picture at the end of the day.

Maybe one day this desert will stop surprising me, but probably not anytime soon.

Broken Beauty

A close-up of the broken portion of a saguaro arm that shows the green skin, the spongy material where water is stored, and the woody skeleton. Taken on the Metate Trail at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek, Arizona on February 27, 2022. Originals: _ZFC1543.NEF to _ZFC1547.NEF

It’s always a bit sad to see the old giants breaking down but this fallen arm provides a view into the interior life of the saguaro. On the outside is the familiar waxy skin tinted green by chlorophyll. Light for photosynthesis is ever-abundant in the desert but rainfall is not, so filling most of the interior is a spongy material where water is converted and stored. Storing water is one thing, supporting its weight is another, a burden borne by the wooden skeleton that runs the length of the saguaro, shown here as broken ribs that shattered as the arm fell from the body.

The saguaro itself still looked healthy to my novice eyes, it will seal off the wound and might well outlive me despite having a head start of two or three of my lifetimes.