Spring in the desert

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A bee makes merry in a palo verde blossom

The palo verde are magnificent this week, great yellow clouds of bloom hanging over the desert. They remind me of the forsythia bloom that we awaited so impatiently when we lived in New England. But the palo verde are trees, and forsythia are shrubs – there is an appreciable difference.

A few showers overnight washed the desert; all the dust in the air was brought to earth, the mountains appeared with a clarity we have not seen for a couple of months. And the plants! They are all as happy as can be to have had a drink, spare as it might be. I took a walk in the unseasonably cool temperature to enjoy the cheery mayhem that is spring in the desert.

The saguaro are in bloom. The first years we were here I was disappointed that these enormous, heavy behemoths produce such small flowers. Now, though, they seem just right, a ring of posies around the heads of the aged parents.

Saguaro in bloom

The saguaro is important to the Sonora Desert ecology. It is home and food source to many inhabitants. Saguaros live a very long time, 150 years and more. The first arm, if the saguaro has one at all, will not appear until the plant is 50-75 years old. It starts as a little bump and then slowly, slowly turns into an appendage.

The saguaro can hold a lot of water, swelling and decreasing as the supply allows. It’s a heavy plant (a mature saguaro may weigh 2 tons plus); its roots spread out as wide as the plant is tall, at depths of 4-6 inches, and it has a tap root that runs 2 feet deep. The shallow roots collect what water they can during the brief rains that visit the desert and give the cactus a foundation to withstand desert winds.

Saguaros provide nesting spots for many birds – cactus wrens, gila woodpeckers, even owls and eagles nest in its arms. Today I watched a woodpecker feeding its young deep in a cactus hole. The woodpeckers peck out a hole in the tree, which then forms a scab inside and hardens, making a deep hidden nest. When the cactus dies the hardened bowl nests remain (as do the ribs); indigenous people have used them for storage for centuries.

Here’s a morsel for the babes
Fledgling or parent? Someone’s making an exit.

There were plenty of other birds out and about. The quail were everywhere, though their eggs seem not to have hatched yet. It’s always such fun to see the little quail babies, who look like small commas racing after their mothers as they all run across the road. The lovely cactus wrens were busy in the saguaro; they have a grating song, quite unexpected for such a pretty bird. A roadrunner had a successful hunt, bagging a delicious large lizzard:

Yum!

The desert is alive and vivid in springtime. When the heat of summer arrives everything will slow down. But for now we can enjoy the bird song and the beautiful cactus blooms.

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Ocotillo flowers looking like birds in flight

Blooming hedgehog cactus
Saguaro interior bouquet
Saguaro side bouquet

Fagioli all’uccelleto

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FAGIOLI ALL'UCCELLETTO ricetta contorno facile saporito

Photo courtesy of Giallo Zafferano blog

When we were on the famous vacation in Maine we bought supplies for cooking at home. Amongst the dishes we wanted to prepare was Fagioli all’ucceletto, beans in the style of songbirds.

Before you get your feathers ruffled, I assure you there are no songbirds in this recipe; in fact it is completely meatless. So why do songbirds even appear in its name? To answer that we have to go all the way back to this bearded gent with the wonderful name of Pellegrino Artusi (‘pellegrino’ in Italian means ‘pilgrim.’)

Pellegrino Artusi, the man who revolutionized Italian cuisine - Hotel  Regency

Artusi was born in 1820 in Emilia-Romagna in northeastern Italy, one of eight children but the only son of a wealthy father. When he was in his early 30’s he moved to Tuscany. Although he spent his successful working life in finance, he had a life-long passion for literature and for cooking. He died in 1911 at the ripe old age of 90.

Not long after the unification of Italy Artusi wrote one of the earliest Italian cookbooks, ‘La Scienza in Cucina e l’ Arte di Mangiar Bene’ (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well). An enthusiast of the developing Scientific Method, Artusi subjected every recipe in his book to testing – something that seems obvious us to us now, but wasn’t then. His book, still available from Amazon, collects 790 recipes from all corners of the country and includes the author’s witty comments and recollections. Aside from its culinary merit, the book has a cultural significance in that it swept up the formerly disparate regional dishes of Italy into one Italian national cuisine.

We’ve flown far afield from our little songbirds, so let’s return to the recipe and the question of why it’s called after songbirds. No one is really certain, but Artusi opined it was because the flavorings – sage and garlic – were those traditionally used to cook songbirds. (I know, it’s sort of an anti-climax after the build-up, isn’t it?)

That seems a good enough reason to me. So without further ado, here’s the link to Speedy’s recipe for fagioli all’ucceletto, one of the most comfortable of comfort foods.

Amazon.com: La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene: Manuale pratico  per le famiglie Compilato da PELLEGRINO ARTUSI (790 ricette) e in appendice  “La cucina per gli stomachi deboli” (Italian Edition)

Every journey…

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Recently I was lucky enough to enjoy a week at the beach with dear friends (and even a sister!). Higgins Beach, Maine, has a very shallow beach, so at low tide there is what feels like a mile of sand between the high tide mark and the water.

I was charmed by the art left in the sand by many hands. It reminded me a bit of the street art my friend E likes to chase, but this sand art is so much more ephemeral. The next high tide will erase the messages and castles. True, most of this work was not done with a great deal of forethought or attention to detail (we’re on the beach, after all, the waves are calling), but the human urge to communicate through words and images is universal. And you never know when an eight-year-old will fall in love with the medium and do ever more sophisticated art.

Things that begin like this:

May someday develop into something like this:

Edmond Stanbury, Cornwall, UK (courtesy of Hakai magazine)
Made by Angela DeRoy-Jones in Wales

Made by Andras Amador, San Francisco

And something like this:

Can lead eventually to this:

Artist and location unknown

Artist and location unknown

 

Artist and location unknown

From a sand sculpture event in Australia, artist unknown

Speaking of sand sculpture events, there are many held every year. This site lists ten, but there are many more, perhaps even one near you. As well, there are a million images of sand art on the web, and a bunch of Pinterest groups showcasing the ‘best’ some-high-number of sand creations.

They say every journey begins with the first step, and I have to believe that every serious sand artist begins by drawing with a stick in the sand at the beach. I can’t wait to go back to Maine next year and see what the local artists have made.

Saguaro Lake

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A couple of days ago one of my hiking buddies and I headed off to Saguaro Lake. Saguaro is the westernmost of three lakes along the Salt River as it flows from Roosevelt Lake and dam.

There were about a million other people who had the same idea we had on this holiday weekend Friday, but we were able to find parking in the overflow lot. Most of the others were at the public beach at one end of the lake. Our goal was a brisk hike followed by a dip in a more secluded spot.

The trail winds around to the east and south, going around several small bays. It was a glorious day – blue sky, light breeze and not too hot. Well, pretty hot, actually, but being near the water made it seem cooler. There are many trees giving shade where the path is near the water. Several times the path climbs, giving spectacular views of the lake.


As you can see, there were quite a few boats on the lake which made it less peaceful than it might otherwise have been. Big cruisers with their Mercury engines hanging off the back dodged the noisy jet skis that buzzed around like annoying gnats.

Because it is late spring there were quite a few shrubs and trees still blooming. If anyone can identify these I’d be thrilled – I haven’t been able to sort them out.


It was much quieter when we got to the far end of the lake, where we were able to walk down to the water’s edge. Passing speedboats made waves reminiscent of a small sea which washed over our feet as we dabbled them in the water. Hiking buddy bravely went in for a swim – it looked so relaxing, but I had forgotten my suit and didn’t feel like stripping with so many boats around.

Much refreshed we headed back towards the beach and our car. It was uneventful until we heard the unmistakable rattle of a snake.

That’s right – a small western diamondback rattlesnake! Fortunately he gave us plenty of warning, and while he was obviously poised to strike, we gave him a wide enough berth that he didn’t bother. Arizona is famous for rattlesnakes, but this is only the second one I’ve seen on my many hikes in the desert. They probably want to see us as little as we want to see them.

Water and wildflowers – two things you don’t necessarily associate with Arizona, but we were able to enjoy both in large measure on Friday!

Chrome Angelz at the Shelter

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(photo from Harley Davidson website)

I had no idea there was a difference between a Motorcycle Club and a Riding Club, but members of the Superstition Riderz chapter of the Chrome Angelz, set me straight Saturday at the Shelter.

Members of Motorcycle Clubs, chapter president Katrina Harvey explained, become part of an extended family when they join. They are members for life, and there are serious commitments of time and energy required from members.

People join Riding Clubs to enjoy motorcycle rides with friends. The Chrome Angelz is a women’s riding club with  over 190 chapters in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia and India (India! Imagine!!) In addition to riding, the Angelz support various charities, often for veterans, women or  animals. You can see agencies supported by some of the chapters here.Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing, sky, cloud and outdoor(With staff member Trish and some of the swag they brought us, photo by… Lori?)

Our local chapter has decided to support Paws and Claws Care Center (the Shelter, to those of you who frequent these pages) and a nearby shelter for battered women. What they lack in numbers they make up for with enthusiasm and generosity. I suspect their numbers will grow, as there are many women who ride motorcycles in this neck of the woods. The Angelz brought a bunch of goodies in for the dogs and cats on Saturday. They generously let me photograph their back patches, and then posed for a group photo:

 

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You might notice that Gorg does not have either the Chrome Angelz patch or the motto patch. That is because she is a probationer. After being a tyro for six months she will have earned both patches.  I encouraged a can-can line for the group photo, with limited success, but what good-will and fun these ladies have! It was such a pleasure to meet them. Now if only we could have sent each of them home with a kitten!

 

 

Tonto National Forest and Horses

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Here in Gold Canyon we live at the edge of the Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest national forest in the country (almost 3 million acres). To give you an idea of its size, from the south to the north is around 175 miles, and from east to west is about 100 miles (one and a half times the size of Massachusetts!). The landscape includes Sonoran Desert in the south, and the piney forests of the Mogollon Rim in the north (where it abuts the Coconino National Forest), with an elevation that ranges from 1,300 feet to 7,900 feet. All manner of wild beasties live in the forest – deer (of course!) both whitetail and mule, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, ring-tail cats (actually a member of the raccoon family; raccoons are here too), skunks, javalina (who came and ate one of my favorite cactuses this week, the stinkers), pronghorns, elk, bald eagles, roadrunners, falcons, owls, kestrels and many other bird species. And horses – but more about that in a little while.

Tonto map

Pretty much all the hikes my hiking buddy and I take are in the Tonto (it means ‘stupid,’ I’m sorry to say), and we haven’t made a dent in the available opportunities. We are pretty much limited to trails in the southern part of the Forest, though we have gone as far afield as Payson, about our distance limit to still leave time for a day-adventure.

Most recently we have been exploring hikes along the Salt River, which runs from Roosevelt Lake through Apache, Canyon and Saguaro Lakes, down to the Agua Fria and Gila Rivers. (Roosevelt Lake, 33 square miles, is the grandpappy of the Lakes, formed by Roosevelt dam, which was built in 1911. The downstream dams which formed the other lakes were built later.

Capture

All these lakes provide wonderful recreational facilities for nearby Phoenix and neighboring areas.) People who fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport often get a birds’ eye view of the lakes:

the lakes from air

Always nice to have a window seat, don’t you think?

Last week, in spite of 100 + F temperatures, we made two forays to Coon Bluff Trail, which is south of the Lakes on a bluff overlooking the Salt River. From the top of the bluff we could hear the traffic from Bush Highway, and could see Fountain Hills spread out to the northwest. Red Mountain was a near view to the west, and looking the other way we had a far distant view of Four Peaks over the river and beyond some nearer hills.

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The Coon Bluff hike is a 4- mile loop, which should be a piece of cake.. We had trouble finding it on our first search – we went to the wrong parking lot. In spite of an early start on our second attempt,  we felt we had to turn back before we completed the loop. It was our first visit to this trail, and we were not certain enough of the way to continue in such high heat. A return visit will be made when the temperatures permit! Here are a few photos taken along the way:

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A balanced stone

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Hiking Buddy surveys the countryside

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Hiking buddy and I photograph Red Mountain

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That settlement in the distance is Fountain Hills.

Okay, ‘where are the horses?’ I hear you ask. Well, they’re right here along the Salt River.

The theory is that they were brought to the area by Spaniards accompanying Father Eusebio Kino in the 17th century. Some escaped and have made their home here ever since.

mother and child horse2 (2)Wild horses (2)another horse (2)young horse nursing (2)bunch of horses2 (2)

In 2015 the US Forest Service announced a culling program of the horses, citing public danger. There was a huge outcry, and in an effort co-ordinated by the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group the tragedy was averted. Lawmakers and the governor passed The Salt River Horse Act which protects the horses, and assigns their care and management to the Management Group.

There are so many marvelous photos of these beautiful horses; the ones above are a paltry sampling. If you love horses, and want to see more of them, visit the Management Groups website and check out Wikipedia’s photo page.  Pamela Rutherford made a lovely video of the horses, which you can see here. It is in two parts, the first of which is quite wonderful.

Nothing beats seeing the horses in person, though. We were lucky to see them on both our trips to Coon Bluff. The first time we saw them up close; they are not afraid of people, and while you can’t touch them (or at least shouldn’t try), you can certainly approach and speak to them. The second time we saw them from afar. We were on top of the Bluff, and they were little dark specks in the river below.

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The Salt River, her lakes and her horses are just a few of the many delights The Tonto National Forest offers. August might not be the best month for tackling a hike in the south, but taking one along the river has its rewards:

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(This post is dedicated to my pal Pumpkin Pammy.)

Kittens, because I can…

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It’s kitten season at the Shelter (as it is most of the year). Who doesn’t like to look a photos of kittens being adorable? (quiet, you dog people!) The kittens in these photos have been adopted, but there are plenty more where these came from. (One photo is badly out of focus, but the kitten was so amusing I had to include it.) For lots more wonderful pics of cats, kittens and dogs, check out the Shelter’s Facebook page.

Enjoy!

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Thursdays at the Shelter – Pet Parade!

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Halloween is just around the corner, and to celebrate, some of the folks at La Dolce Vita community in Apache Junction held a pet parade. They were nice enough to invite our Shelter to come, bring some adoptable dogs, and set up an information table, which we happily did.  We brought 5 dogs (one of whom had to go home early because he got too excited about being at a PARTY) and our usual supply of leashes, pins, info on how to adopt, and so forth. Here are our dogs:

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Can you guess which one had to go home?

 

The dog yard at Dolce Vita is divided, so our five, then four, were able to romp and play on the grass without distracting the beauty pageant entrants. Except, of course, for the puppies, who were in someone’s arms the whole time we were there – because they are adorable! It is always a terrific treat for a shelter dog to get out, roll in the grass, chase balls, and engage in other doggy behavior. (Which is why our Shelter has a “Dogs’ Day Out” program, a topic for another post.)

The larger section of the dog play area was decorated with, mysteriously, a cardboard bull, surrounded by fake bull poop. A puzzle, but the dogs seemed to like it.

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And now, in no particular order, are the entries in the Pet Parade:

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Denver Bronco’s fan.

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Yes!!! There was one cat!

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This one is confusing because she is shy – she is wearing her hat on her face.

IMG_0044SI happen to know who won the competition (at least I think I do, and I have to say, I was surprised). Which dog would you give the 1st prize to?

Thursdays at the Shelter

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Last spring one of the Shelter’s volunteers, the divine Miss P., hosted a fund-raising event in her community. It was wildly successful and she raised a ton of money, all of which she donated to Paws and Claws.  Here she is, wearing her Crown of Magnificent Accomplishment with the Head Kennel Tech from the Shelter at a very serious recognition event hosted by Shelter staff.

0606181603b (1)Her wish was that the money be used to build a cat room. Or rather, to renovate our meet-and-greet room, which also serves as a photo studio (used by the Shelter’s fantastic photographer, Audrea Donnelly), and turn it into a room where cats can roam freely, sit in windows, fight with one another, and in general look so appealing that they will be adopted.

Shortly after the above photo was taken Miss P fled our hot valley for cooler climes. She will return in a few weeks (even though it’s still way too hot), and when she does, she will find the room, almost completed and fully occupied. The cats were able to move in a few weeks ago, just in time for our Clear the Shelter event. The renovations included dropping a new ceiling, replacing a solid wall with a glass wall, and adding a new door. In addition various bits and pieces of cat-friendly furniture have been drifting in.  The room isn’t quite finished yet; still to come are climbing shelves on the walls, and moving out some unneeded furniture. But this is what Miss P will find when she gets back:

new cat room

Unfortunately this pic is a bit out of focus (like the photographer??)

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Some kitties like to be in their kennels, some prefer to be out.

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These babes have grown so much they are almost ready to go home now.

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Uncle Gene. For a short time he was our mascot, but he has been adopted. What a lover – we miss him.

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The room, working as it is meant to!

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These two photos were taken on Clear the Shelter Day. The ones old enough to go home were all adopted that day.

Just this last Saturday when we arrived at the Shelter we noticed a raggedy looking large box by the front door.  I paid it no heed, but one of the other volunteers looked in and found a terrific cat tree, brand new and still unassembled. She brought it in, and we set to work. It was slow going until a lovely couple came in and jumped in to help. In short order the tree was together and installed in the new room. Many thanks to the anonymous donor and to the couple who did 90% of the assemblage, thus saving the wits of two ‘older’ volunteers!

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This was a complete photobomb. That little tuxedo kitten put himself there while the photographer was instructing the volunteers to smile. THANK YOU for putting the cat tree together!!! It had a Lot of pieces.

 

Thursdays at the Shelter, Snake Edition

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Thursdays at the shelter have become Thursdays and Saturdays – it’s too much fun not to go twice a week. My usual drill is cleaning cat cages, which has recently become easier with less stringent procedures (kitties don’t like the smell of bleach and Windex, it turns out). This is great because it leaves a lot more time for brushing cats and clipping their claws, getting them all buffed and fluffed before adoption.

Today there was a new wrinkle, though – L was cleaning the outdoor kennels when she looked down and saw… a Rattle Snake!!!

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It’s been very hot here lately, so the snakes are out of hibernation; people with yards, hikers, anyone who is going to be outside has to be vigilant from now on, both for themselves and their pets. This snake was quietly coiled in the corner, and seemed not to be at all upset about anything.

Enter K.C., the daring Animal Control Officer. Animal Control in Apache Junction has to deal with a wide range of animal problems, well beyond the usual stray dog. Rattle snakes, for instance.  K.C. is an old hand with the snake grabber.

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At one point the snake made a desultory escape attempt, but K.C. was undaunted.

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There’s more than one way to catch a snake.  This method, by the way, is NOT recommended for anyone. K.C. knows snake behavior and knows exactly what he can and cannot get away with. You do not want to get bitten by a rattle snake. According to K.C. you will need a costly airlift to a hospital where you will be given about 50 vials of anti-venom, at up to $2,000 a vial. In the US a snake bite might cost you as much as $150,000.   Why is it so expensive? Evidently it does not have to be.

A rattle snake can get to be as long as 4 – 4.5′. Each year a new rattle grows on the tail. Using these guides, K.C. estimated this snake to be about  five years old. He’s a male snake, fat and happy. The snakes rattle as a warning or in alarm. Otherwise they quietly await their prey.

After capturing the snake, putting it in a bucket and securing the lid, K.C. took it to a distant wash and released it. This snake, at least, won’t end up on the menu at Rustler’s Rooste in Phoenix.

Here’s what a rattle snake in a bucket sounds like: