The setting of BLOOD IN TAVASCI MARSH

Autumn Cat tails at Tavasci Marsh

The most frequent questions I get about the title of the second
Pegasus Quincy novel are:

How do you pronounce Tavasci?
That one is easy: Tah-vas’-ski

AND,

Is Tavasci Marsh a real place?
It certainly is!

I’ve lived in the Verde Valley for many years, and Tavasci Marsh is one of my favorite places to visit.

In addition to all those golden butterflies hovering around the rabbit brush, over 245 species of birds have been found there, making it one of the premier birding areas in Arizona.

The marsh has an interesting history. With only 10-12 inches of rain per year, Arizona counts any water source as precious, and Tavasci Marsh is the largest fresh water marsh in Arizona outside the Colorado River Basin.

It was formed when the Verde River formed an ox-bow, a sharp, almost U-turn in the river, and, then capriciously, returned to a straighter course. The water left by the abandoning river created Tavasci Marsh, which continues to be fed by Shea Spring and by underground seeps from the river.

The marsh was a food source for the Sinagua Indians who built a large hundred-room pueblo on the top of a nearby mountain, now managed as Tuzigoot National Monument. Their first dwellings were dated about 1000 AD, and it wasn’t until almost 900 years later that the first white settler arrived.

He was a cattle farmer in the 1890s, whose name, Tavasci, was given to the marsh. He drained the wetlands so that he could raise beef cattle to feed to the copper miners working in the nearby boom town of Jerome.

The owners of these copper mines, which stripped incredibly rich copper ore from Mingus Mountain, eventually acquired the marsh. The huge copper smelters in Clarkdale were only a few miles beyond the marsh on higher ground. This geography, coupled with the fact that mining operations were so imprecise in the early days, caused Tavasci Marsh to become highly polluted with heavy metals, from slag and tailing run-offs.

Even today, there are high levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead and other poisonous metals in the soil and even the insects of the marsh. A restoration project has been proposed to change this unfortunate state of affairs!

Spring cat tails at Tavasci Marsh

When the mines closed down in the 50s, the land reverted to a more natural state, and beaver had a renaissance. Their dams turned the dairy farm lands back into a wetlands marsh.

The desert mesquites and acacia trees were drowned by the rising waters, but they provided an ideal environment for cat tails. Today, much of the marsh is inundated by these tall marsh plants, so much so that open water is increasingly rare.

Doug van Gausig has been called the Bird Man of Tavasci Marsh, and sometimes hosts field trips to Tavasci Marsh during the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, affectionately known as the Birdy-Verde, each year. Here you can find a number of migrating waterfowl, raptors such as the brown and golden eagle, blue and green herons, and animals such as river otter and, of course, beaver and muskrats.

Doug has ventured into Drone Photography, and has several great YouTube videos that give you another perspective on Tavasci Marsh:

In this one, you can see a river otter investigating a water sampler:

 

In short, Tavasci Marsh seemed the perfect place to stage a murder, so I did!

Every now and then I get an email from a reader with a picture of Flycatcher Road or Tuzigoot Monument, saying “We found it!”

I hope, someday, that you will, too.

 

 

Letting go

pianoWhen I was a little girl, my family had an old upright piano, black. We lived in a small house, so the only place available for it was in the baby’s room. That meant whenever he was taking a nap I couldn’t practice.

My mother engaged a piano teacher who came promptly on Wednesday afternoons to give me a lesson. We didn’t have a lot of money, so it was impressed upon me that learning was important.  My mother, when she had a moment, would also sit down at the piano and play the old wartime songs from the 40s. I still have her tattered songbook.

I’d like to say I became an accomplished pianist, but instead I flunked. I think I was the only kid of nine–at least I felt like it–to get fired by a piano teacher.

Fast forward to my early 30s. My mother-in-law had a spinet, maple finish. A traditional housewife, she’d sit down to it in the afternoons, after the wash was done, the house cleaned, before it was time to start dinner, and she’d play old country hymns. I loved to hear her play.

When the opportunity arose, we bought a piano, a concert grand this time, because money was flowing. My daughter took lessons, and became amazingly good. Soon she was playing Beethoven Sonatas with gusto. I loved to hear her play. Sometimes I’d take lessons, too. But a heavy career prevented the good practice needed to advance and I never did.

When my daughter left for school, the piano was sold and the proceeds used to start a new company. A good investment, surely, in our future. But I cried when it left our house.

Fast forward to now. Living n a house separated from neighbors by a wide margin. No way I’d interrupt anyone’s conversation, even if I played loudly and badly. Semi-retired so time to play. I took the plunge and bought a new piano, a studio upright this time, walnut finish.

I moved the piano five times! I heard other people play it. But I never played it much myself. I had an abortive attempt at lessons and quit when the teacher  shook her head and said, “Well it is nice that you know how to read music.” At least she didn’t rap my knuckles.

It was time to let go. But more than letting go of the piano, in a way it was letting go of a part of my mother, and of my mother-in-law, and of my daughter playing so brilliantly as a little girl. Letting go of the dream of someday, some way, playing casually, fearlessly, enjoying the music. I had to acknowledge it wasn’t going to happen, at least not in this lifetime.

I put an ad in Craigslist, and after a few abortive responses, a gentleman came to visit it. He brought his young son. And the two of them, each in his own way, sat down and played the piano. It came to life! I heard what the keyboard had been hungry for all these years.

guitarI took the proceeds from the sale and bought a good classical guitar.  The guitar is Canadian, with a cedar top and rosewood sides and back. It is hand-made with nylon strings,  a very personal instrument. I cradle it and it hums.

I signed up for online lessons, and am learning to take short, frequent practice times while the fingers toughen up and develop the needed callouses.  I know if I play with a pick the sound is more bright, but I like the softer, more visceral sensation of playing it with my own fingers.

I am learning to be patient with myself. In the first week I learned three chords! That was enough. I have the rest of my life to welcome this new companion into my life.

It was hard letting go. And yet, since I have been willing to do so, the music I always knew was within my soul rises to the surface each morning as I sit down to play. And I am content.

Finding life’s balance

bella circus performs : yerba buena gardens sa...

When I was little the circus would come to town, and if my folks had the money we’d go see a performance. I liked the horses, didn’t find the clowns terribly funny, and gasped at the tigers and lions. But my absolute favorite were the artists who walked the tightrope.

They had this long floppy pole for balance, and I would hold my breath as they made minute adjustments, sometimes stepping back, then teetering precariously before they walked ahead slowly, testing each foothold. Only when they reached the platform at last, did I breathe again.

Life is like that, too. In difficult situations, the future seems precarious. I find that I have to move back before I can go forward. I tilt one way and then another to find balance.

Sometimes I forget that balance is ALWAYS a matter of making adjustments, depending on the current situation. That finding a balance in life is always temporary. I struggle to be flexible in the situation, ready to teeter and tilt and fight gravity for a toehold.

But that’s not such a bad thing. Kathy Freston, in her book Quantum Wellness talks about the four Rs of balance: Regular, Reach, Relate, and Rejuvenate. Regular is the ‘getting things done’ phase. In this category fit all those things you HAVE to do: work, chores, sleeping, eating, those ‘to do’ lists that multiply like rabbits.

Regular seems to be a strength of mine. Given a firm deadline, I can usually suck it up and get it done. Maybe not perfectly, but somehow, the important things are usually finished.

The second R, Reach, is also one that I enjoy. I’ve always been a reacher. I delight in discovering a new idea, a word I don’t know, a world I haven’t visited yet. It becomes an irresistible invitation. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt is my motto.

But I start to fade on the 3rd R, that Relate part. By nature, I am an introvert. Give me a good book, a warm cat, a comfortable couch, and I am content. I need to remind myself that there are others in the world, and that friendships need maintenance in order to thrive. I forget that, sometimes.

And when it comes to the 4th R, Rejuvenate: Have fun? Take care of myself? Do all those good things like exercise and eat well and sit in the sun and laugh? Ah, those are definitely way, way down the To Do list!

As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”

I walked along a favorite creek not too long ago. It is in a pristine slot canyon, with high red rock walls on either side. To get to the spring at the end, I must criss-cross the water a dozen times.

Each crossing is different. Some are easy, with large flat rocks. In some, poles have been placed across the water, and I must balance with one foot on each log, in an awkward, hitch-step fashion to reach the other side.

As I get deeper into the canyon, fewer hikers have gone before me. When there have been rains or frost in the early morning, the crossing rocks are slippery, and sometimes I end up with a wet foot. Or I choose a rock that settles into the mud, shifting uncertainly, and my arms fly out in balance in order to reach the safety of the other side.

Each crossing is different, each requires a different strategy to find balance. Sometimes I misstep and I end up in swift, cold water that jolts me into awareness of the present moment. At each crossing of the creek, I find that balance can be maintained only for an instant, and then a new challenge presents itself.

And I begin to recognize that life is like that, too. A work in progress always moving forward, in balance for just a moment before slipping into chaos once again. I begin to understand that life is all about finding balance and losing it, and finding it once again.