Long and Fading

Fading pink skies reflect off the ice surrouning snags in Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 2, 2011. Original: _MG_2459.cr2

At the start of 2011, after taking the previous picture at Horse Lake I moved to adjacent Long Lake, the pink skies fading in intensity despite the trivially short drive. Though side-by-side the differing natures of the lakes meant some wildlife preferred one to the other. Dead snags stood upright across the narrow width of the lake with many of their fallen brethren floating nearby. It was my favorite spot for close looks of teal and grebes and mergansers, with egrets and herons and bitterns hunting the shallows. In the warmer months turtles sunned on the logs, one of the few reptiles in the area. Mammals also made an appearance though not as often: otters fishing, raccoons and coyotes prowling the edges, deer up on the banks. Nutria too but then they were everywhere.

The tallest snag was near the road out-of-frame to the right, one day to my astonishment an adult bald eagle perched there almost right above me. Swallows would stop to rest as they hunted the skies above the lake, while below blackbirds and sparrows searched the marshy shores for insects to feed their young. The tall snag on the left was a favorite spot for kingfishers, as well as taller ones on the right, it was my favorite place to watch them as they dove down from the heights and plunged into the water after small fish.

But time took its toll on the former trees and one by one they began to fall, until on a visit four years later I sadly noted in my journal they were all gone. On a later visit it seemed more of a marshy meadow than a lake though perhaps in the rainy season it would fill up again. I wondered what animals would now call it home but it was not for me to know, change wasn’t just coming to the lake.

The Pink Horse

Pink skies reflect off a frozen Horse Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 2, 2011. Original: _MG_2265.cr2

One of my favorite places at Ridgefield was Horse Lake, an innocuous seasonal pond at the start of the auto tour. To the left and right of this image grew clumps of tall grasses where bitterns and herons and egrets hunted. Dabblers like teal and pintails and wigeon congregated further left and right. In this open spot if there wasn’t much road traffic, and if you were patient enough, shy divers like scaup and bufflehead swam up to feed. The not-so-shy coots were always around, and often too the skies filled with cackling geese who wintered at the refuge in large numbers.

And once, and only once during my many visits, sunrise lit the skies a vibrant pink that reflected off the frozen pond. My favorite time to visit was on rainy days where you had to take it on faith the sun had risen, towels strewn round the Subaru as I listened to the pitter-patter of raindrops and the chitter-chatter of ducks. Because it was the start of the auto tour, there could be too much traffic for my liking on sunny days, and during the winter about every other day brought duck hunters and volleys of shotgun blasts. But in memory it can always be as peaceful as it was on this day and many others besides, as morning came to my little Horse.

Pink skies at sunrise reflect off a frozen Horse Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 2, 2011. Original: _MG_2313.cr2

You Go, I’ll Stay

A view of my 2020 Lexus UX 250h parked next to a tree at the Fraesfield trailhead at sunrise in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

The car goes in for its first scheduled maintenance tomorrow, in Portland courtesy of the light rail it would have taken me two years to drive 5000 miles rather than six months, and only then if I took a road trip. I tend to keep my cars for a while so I haven’t bought many over the years, and strangely enough I don’t photograph them very often. Usually at trailheads like this one, taken before sunrise with smoke from a distant fire rising over the mountains, a faithful companion waiting for me to return while I hike into the places I love. I was rather nervous buying it as it had big shoes to fill but I rather love the little thing. It’s a much more relaxing cabin on the commute, is fun to drive slow and yet gets great mileage, and during the brutal summer temperatures thanks to the ventilated seats I no longer arrive at my destination with freezing hands and a back drenched in sweat. Still in the honeymoon phase but so far it’s been a joy.

Hallelujah Arms

A battered old saguaro on the Morning Vista Trail has fruit atop its many remaining arms, while some of the other arms have been snapped in half or broken off altogether, taken in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

The rising sun illuminates a battered old saguaro, some of its arms shattered in half and some broken off altogether. But it still has a host of hallelujah arms raised towards heaven, all now fruiting and not just hopefully starting new life from its seeds but sustaining the lives of others with its fruit, a prized treat for many birds. In the picture below, taken just before the sun rose, a curve-billed thrasher feeds atop one of the taller arms.

A curve-billed thrasher feeds on fruit atop a battered old saguaro on the Morning Vista Trail, taken in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

My Stomping Grounds

An environmental portrait of a cactus wren singing from the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca with mountains in the background in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

As the first light of day spills across the desert, a cactus wren sings from the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca as it makes the rounds of the high places. In between this patch of McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the mountains on the horizon are a host of subdivisions, including ours, I see the mountains on the left from the back porch. There are 5 (!) preserve trailheads near us and this is where I do most of my hiking, either in the massive northern area like this or down by the mountains. The preserve continues quite a ways to the south, those trails are great fun too (our second favorite house was at the southern end) but the northern part is my favorite.

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.

Defenders of the Landslide

A rock formation I call the Guariand and an old saguaro stand above the Marcus Landslide Trail at sunrise in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

Two of the giant protectors of the Marcus Landslide Trail watch over me at sunrise, in the distance on the hill on the left the rock I call The Guardian, closer to me on the right an old if less ancient saguaro. I love this trail but haven’t been in a while, while I’d like to rectify that I’ve been too tired for any early hikes the past couple of weeks.