In the midst of winter

aspen grove in summer

One of the true joys of photography is that it refreshes the mind’s eye with things half-remembered, yet totally true.

This picture of an aspen grove was taken one hot summer morning. The hiker and her dog ahead of me are enjoying the beautiful summer weather with me, a light breeze blowing, the heat on our shoulders. It reminds me that although winter is with us, it won’t last forever.

It seems to me that our minds travel in a straight-line projection of the future most of the time. If things are good, they’ll be that way forever, our imagination insists. Or worse, if they are BAD, they will only get worse. That’s the way it always happens.

Or does it?

In addition to a “Gratitude Journal” I sometimes keep an anxiety list to review from time to time. What I have discovered is that the things I worry about most rarely come to pass.

What a waste of good brain cells, to worry so!

Things are getting faster and faster
and stranger and stranger
and it’s almost comforting to think that
some sort of crystal moment will arrive
and a new order will snap out
and suddenly
everything will be different.

~William Gibson, science fiction author~

 

Life suspended between the boundaries

chipmunk

I love that exact moment when a wild creature acknowledges my existence. They look at me, and for a moment time is suspended and one species recognizes the other.

Trees, of course, are also aware of our being. Mere plants as well.

Okay, then, what about the rocks. Do the rocks know I exist? Can they speed up their slow lifespan to mine for just an instant to say, oh, there’s another one of those human things? Or are they just too busy in their rock world to care?

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim,
no meaning, and yet I’m happy.
I can’t figure it out.
What am I doing right?

~Charles Schultz, cartoonist~

Book review: Seeking Enlightenment, Hat by Hat by Nevada Barr

Seeking enlightenment by Nevada Barr

Book Review: Seeking Enlightenment Hat by Hat by Nevada Barr

Because I like both mysteries and nature writing, I’ve always been drawn to the books by Nevada Barr. Her work features strong women who go against the odds, and win. Her heroine, Anna Pidgeon, a park ranger, has been trapped in a desert sinkhole, underwater in the Dry Tortugas, and on an island in the middle of Lake Superior hunted by winter wolves.  Her novels are not for the faint of heart.

So, when I encountered her book of essays entitled Seeking Enlightenment, I expected an unblinking journey through thoughtful questions demanding exact answers. I wasn’t disappointed. Although sometimes I found the author raised more questions in the process.

Here you can find her thoughts on Vanity: “The rewards for being pretty are enormous. Pretty people earn more, have more friends, get called on more often in class and, yes even get better grades.” And what happens to the rest of us? Ah, there lies the reward of her essay.

Or what three things never fail a girl? For Barr these are old Levi jackets, flip-flops, and girlfriends. And she proceeds to tell you why.

In an essay on fear, the author starts out by saying, “Fear is my least-favorite emotion, worse even than despair. At least, when in despair I can watch old black-and-white movies and each chocolate. Fear renders me unable to taste, swallow, focus or sleep. Fear jangles through the cells of my body like a cold electrical current short-circuiting the natural flow of life.”  Read on, as she explains what caused her fear, and how she has learned to live with it.

The essay topics occasionally center on spirituality, but often veer wide into topics such as do animals have souls, pain, and taking a sh*t. I think you’ll like it!

Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bubblegum flavored battle zones

picture of horse chewed stable door

I spotted this old stable door on a recent walk. I wish I could have known the horse that lived here.

I could tell a lot from the evidence left behind, though.

Note the owner’s cement reinforced foundation, the reinforcing bolts on the lower edges of the stable door, the double lock on the middle, and it that weren’t enough, two additional locks at the top and a metal reinforcing bar securing the top brace.

And as rebuttal left by the occupant, the determined chews on the side and top of the half-door.

I wish I could have painted the door bubblegum flavor, for this horse so determined to leave and the owner so determined to keep him there!

Did they like each other, I wonder, these two so intertwined in the battle for control?

I am not eccentric.
It’s just that I am more alive than most people.
I am an unpopular electric eel
set in a pond of goldfish.

~Dame Edith Sitwell~

 

Where everybody knows your name

PJs Bar & Grille, Village of Oak Creek

When I was researching the setting for the latest Pegasus Quincy novel, I wanted to include a scene where Silver Delaney and Rory Stevens meet in a bar. But just not any bar.

This one had to be the local neighborhood hangout, where after work the lineup at the old wood bar is three deep. Where, when you arrive, the barkeep has your favorite drink mixed before you reach the end of the room.

The Village of Oak Creek has one, called PJ’s Bar & Grill. I happened to catch it for this photograph on a midday, mid-afternoon before all the regulars started to arrive.

You’ll find it in PERIL IN SILVER NIGHTSHADE. Watch for it!

I prefer the folly of enthusiasm
to the indifference of wisdom.

~Anatole France~

Tree pioneers of the Verde Valley

When I set out to write the Pegasus Quincy mystery series, I knew the first one, Death in Copper Townhad to take place in a mining town on the slopes of the Verde Valley. To make it realistic, I had to include the Ailanthus trees ubiquitous to that part of the Valley.

Apple trees in the old pioneer orchards make a surprise appearance in an upcoming Pegasus Quincy mystery, Silence in West Fork, to be published later this year.

Two trees on opposite ends of the Verde Valley bring together the spirit of the Verde Valley. One, the Ailantus altissima or Tree-of-heaven, populates the hilly streets of Jerome in the foothills of the Black Mountains to the south. The other, the humble apple tree, grows wild on the upper banks of Oak Creek Canyon to the north. Both have become a part of my life in Sedona.

First, the tree of heaven. If you travel up the mountain to Jerome in the spring, you’ll catch the “burned peanut butter” fragrance of golden blossoms. In the summer, the lacy green of the leaves frames the view across the Verde Valley like a Victorian lady’s parasol. Later in the fall, you’ll be surrounded by the crimson, sumac-like leaves drifting down to the worn limestone cobblestone streets of the old mining town.

The tree first became popular in eastern cities, because it was easy to grow and survived almost any kind of pollution. It became the title of Betty Smith’s book about family life in the tenements at the turn of the century, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

The air in the mining towns of the West was just as polluted. During the heydays of the copper mining, the smelter smog killed just about every living plant in Jerome. With the local pine and juniper decimated to shore up the mines, nothing remained to hold the soil and hillsides eroded. The town was endanger of slipping down into the Verde Valley below.

The “Tree of Heaven/Paradise Trees” that abound throughout the Upper Verde were part of a “re-greening” of the Verde Valley by Phelps Dodge when mining operations ceased in the 1950s.

ailanthus altimissa, tree of heavenEnter the ailanthus.  It is an alien tree, first arriving in America from China in the 1700s.  The tree is a survivor, thriving in the sulfur dioxide-infused soil of Jerome. It is also a selfish beastie, secreting a substance in its bark and leaves that, like the black walnut, inhibits growth of any other plants in the area. But the ailanthus likes the crumbling soil and arid conditions of Jerome, and it gives life-sheltering green to a town that was barren and dark after the mines left.

That being said, it’s not without drawbacks. According to Jeff Schalau, head of the master gardener’s program in the Verde Valley,  “Most people start out liking the tree of heaven. It grows with little water, tolerates alkaline soils, and it creates shade. Most trees of heaven begin to produce seed at about 10 years of age. Male or female flowers are usually produced on separate trees.

“So, the after the 10 year honeymoon period, seedlings begin to come up everywhere. In addition, if the tree is damaged or cut down, then it begins to sprout from the roots. The tree of heaven also produces allelopathic chemicals that preclude other plants from successfully growing nearby.”

The second, the apple tree also came from China, arriving in America in the 1600s. It hitched a ride with the pioneers to Sedona a hundred years ago.  Here it thrived on the banks of Oak Creek canyon in small orchards planted by early homesteaders. They would harvest the crops and trek wagon loads of apples up the steep canyon to Flagstaff to satisfy the hungry timberland workers living there.

Some years ago I helped my sister-in-law locate and map all of the old homesteads spread throughout the canyon. We found almost twenty old orchards, together with old trails once used by mountain lion and bear crossing the canyon.

The big predators are gone, but the trees remain. Many are on the outskirts of the tourist camp grounds: Manzanita, Pine Flats, Banjo Bill.  You’ll see the cracked cement footings of an old cabin, some renegade lilac bushes, and these old craggy trees. If you look sharp you’ll spot them, interspersed in pine and fir stands near the water or tucked in at the edge of a penstamen-filled meadow.

Some have reverted to native stock, producing small sour apples, but others are loaded with green fruit, already ripening with a dusting of red.  Come late September, they produce the best eating apples in the world, crisp and juicy, with a sweet snap as you bite into them.

Well almost the best. I think that distinction has to be the ones I stole from the neighbor’s orchard next door in the small South Dakota town where I grew up, a descendant of Scandinavian immigrants.

 

 

And in a way, these two trees, the apple and the ailanthus, are pioneers, too.  They came from the other side of the earth and have adapted to surroundings very different from their native soils in China.

They are a legacy that makes the Verde Valley a very special place for all of us.