A Mild Awakening

A top-down view of a leaf-footed bug (Narnia femorata) on a cactus blossom in our front yard on a rainy summer evening in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 18, 2021. Original: _RAC6564.arw

Last year after getting some confidence identifying the more common birds and mammals and reptiles of the Sonoran Desert, I decided to start learning the desert plants. I spent an evening reading up on the trees (there aren’t a bunch, this shouldn’t have been hard) but the next morning I couldn’t remember anything I had read the night before. I was a little frustrated with myself but heard a pleading voice that there had been too much that was new and to focus on the things I had to learn, not the things I wanted to learn.

As a creature of habit I knew Arizona would provide beneficial opportunities to experience something different but also that there was so much different both at work and at home that it might be overwhelming (the pandemic hasn’t helped). So I heeded that voice and put aside the guide books and stuck to familiar nearby parks rather than venturing further afield, trying out trails new to me when I felt up to a little challenge.

This summer has brought a mild awakening in being willing to learn new things, spurred on partially by the giant cactus out front that exploded in blooms after the summer monsoons and brought in a host of small creatures to feed on its bounty, and the butterflies that similarly burst into view at the same time either in our yard or on my beloved trails.

Insects have been tricky to learn but I believe this little lovely is a leaf-footed bug of the species Narnia femorata but take that with a grain of salt, I’m not a biologist much less an entomologist, and this is all new to me besides. While they apparently prefer prickly pear (the neighbors have a glorious patch) a group of them have been hanging out on this big cactus in our front yard, feeding either on the buds and blossoms like here on a rainy summer evening, or on the fruit that grew after the pollinators got to work.

Spinarium

A close-up view of water drops pool on the spines and skin of a saguaro after a heavy rain on July 25, 2021. Original: _RAC5440.arw

I was photographing two of my favorite subjects last weekend, saguaros and the rain, when my macro lens breathed its last (or so I thought), the manual focus ring barely turning. This is my favorite set of saguaro spines, I wanted to capture water droplets pooling on them while I had the chance as no lightning accompanied the rain. The soft white cushion from which the spine cluster emerges is known as the areole, a distinguishing feature of a cactus (compare these to the thorns of the the ocotillo in the previous post which grow directly out of the stem). A few larger spines shoot out from the center while smaller spines radiate out in all directions. Bit of a shame that English botanist Adrian Hardy Haworth’s proposed term in 1830 for the areole, spinarium, never caught on.

As I held the lens in the following days, thinking back to how many things I had photographed with it over the years, there was some comfort in knowing it died doing what it loved, or more precisely what I love. After it sat idle on my coffee table for a few days I picked it up again, idly turning the focus ring and was surprised to see the lens focus in response. I don’t know if some rain had inadvertently gotten in and caused a mechanical glitch or if a cat hair had worked its way past the lens casing but in any case, the situation resolved itself and the lens has sprung back to life.

Rain, Finally Rain

Large water drops sit on the leaves of an ocotillo in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 23, 2021. Original: _RAC4236.arw

Thursday night a monsoon storm brought thunder and lightning and buckets of rain in a short period of time, while I prefer the Oregon rains that spread out a year’s worth of rainfall over hundreds of days rather than a few hours, I can’t complain as the desert desperately needs the water. Less intense thunderstorms arrived on Friday, since I was off work I was able to grab my macro lens to photograph a scene I had envisioned for a while but hadn’t been able to capture, large water drops collecting on the leaves of an ocotillo. The thunderstorms diminished as the weekend progressed but showers continued on and off through Sunday, giving me several days of joy out in the rain photographing plants around the yard.

The fun ended Sunday evening when the focusing unit of my Canon macro lens at long last gave up the ghost, I hoped it was a momentary glitch but sadly that does not appear to be the case. It was a few months shy of 22 years old as I bought it in November 1999 for $580, what fun we’ve had over the years! I have no idea what I’ll do for a replacement, modern lenses have a number of features I’d like that my old lens didn’t, but it’s the cameras that give me pause. Sony doesn’t have focus bracketing in their cameras but it would be so useful for the things I shoot I might add another system just to get it, but we’ll see.

Waterworld

The rising sun sits mostly above the horizon above the Atlantic Ocean at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina on July 6, 2005. Original: IMG_0771.cr2

A couple of lifetimes ago, almost 16 years to the day, the sun begins to rise above the Atlantic in South Carolina. If memory serves this was the last time I saw the sun rise over the ocean, a short while later I realized how easily alligators were seen in the freshwater marsh so while I returned to the park a few other times before sunrise, naturally I never made it past the marsh. I visited the ocean in the Pacific Northwest during our many years there but something would have gone very wrong for me to see the sun rise above it.

We may be landlocked here in Arizona but we did get some water the past week, starting with a thunderstorm one night after work. I sat on the back porch listening to the rain pounding down in the dark, breathing in the unique smell of the desert in the rain. Another day a short shower barely wet the ground but yesterday the skies darkened during an afternoon swim so I got out in plenty of time before a thunderstorm blew through, thankfully courtesy of the weekend this one I was home during the day to watch. Trixie was not amused but I stayed out until it grew dark, the odds are against me being able to see the rain so I try to soak it in when I can.

Beakful of Bugs

Beakful of Bugs

A yellow-headed blackbird stuffs his beak full of insects, destined for his hungry family back at the nest, as he straddles plants just above the waterline. Taken at Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in May 2011, the yellow-heads didn’t often come as close as the more ubiquitous red-wings but it was such a treat when they did.

Water Channels

On a rainy Christmas morning water pools up between the pleats of the arm of a fallen saguaro, taken on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

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.