Feeling at Home

A view of the crested saguaro I call Witch Hazel with Brown's Mountain in the background, taken from the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

When we arrived in Arizona the desert was both exciting and bewildering, like I had been plunked down into a new earth that only hinted at the shapes and forms I had known all my life. Brown’s Ranch helped orient me in two ways, both on display in this view of the crested saguaro on the Vaquero Trail. First were the saguaros themselves, they tower above the desert floor and while initially most seemed similar there were some with features so memorable that just by seeing them I could orient myself without consulting the map. But towering even above the saguaros are the hills, such as Brown’s Mountain in the background, and the three I saw readily from the trail each had a distinctive shape that made them easy to distinguish from one another. The trails are well-marked (and maps readily available at the trailhead) so I wasn’t in danger of getting lost, rather it was a way for me to relax by developing an instinctive feel for where I was, and where I was going.

Witch Hazel, Patron Saint of Woodpeckers

A close-up of the crested saguaro (also known as cristate saguaro) I call 'Witch Hazel' on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

I’ve seen a few crested (or cristate) saguaros, where instead of their iconic arms they grow these unusual shapes, and love them all but this one is my favorite. I named her Witch Hazel as she reminds me of the green witch from the Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched as a kid. I always had a fondness for her but I’m not sure why as I usually didn’t feel any affection for his pursuers, but perhaps she was written rather sympathetically. My witch looks over a woodpecker nest in an adjacent arm and I like to think serves as its protector, and not just for this nest but for all the woodpeckers in the area that I so dearly love. Long may you live, long may you serve.

A Little Sunrise

A Harris's hawk perches on a transmission tower at sunrise on a breezy morning on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

As I shuffled up the Vaquero Trail this morning I suspected clouds in the east would snuff out the sunrise, and I was mostly correct, until I heard a familiar call and looked to the south. One of the Harris’s hawks I watched this spring and summer was perched high on one of the transmission towers that run across the Preserve, some of the clouds behind glowing orange. I got a little sunrise after all.

Sermon on the Mount

A Harris's antelope squirrel watches the desert from its perch on a granite rock as the first light of the day falls upon it along the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

This Harris’s antelope squirrel had the high ground early on a June morning, perched atop granite rocks atop a small hill, so it saw me from a distance as I approached up the Vaquero Trail. The rising sun soon joined us and we spent that wonderful moment together when the light first sweeps across the desert landscape. It was moments like these that made me fall in love with the area, the trail is close to our new house so perhaps the squirrel and I will be reunited before long. I haven’t been hiking since we moved, Ellie’s had a tough week adjusting to the new house so I’ve spent my evenings with her when she struggles the most and have been too tired to go out in the mornings. We’ll see about tomorrow, the wildflowers are in full bloom so it would be a shame to miss them, but she’s a higher priority.