The cosmos in a feathered shadow

cosmos shadows

My father always grew cosmos in his summer garden. He would proudly bring a bouquet into the house and my mother would display them on our kitchen table in the same small glass vase each summer evening.

Although both my parents are gone, I still have the vase. And each summer I grow the cosmos of my childhood.

The name cosmos comes from the Greek and has two distinct meanings. One is “an ordered universe.” The other is “ornament.” I fancy that my modest cosmos flowers bring order to a universe that is often in need of ornament!

We have what we seek.
It is there all the time,
and if we give it time,
it will make itself known to us.
~Thomas Merton~

 

Dancing in the sunlight

red penstamen

Desert wildflowers are an exercise in impossibility and stubbornness.

They chose where they will grow, often in a mere handful of dirt deposited among the rocks by the spring rains.

And yet attempt to plant and grow these red penstemons, or beardtongues, in your own garden and they often will refuse to sprout, year after year. They rarely can be transplanted. They know where they belong.

We should consider every day lost on which
we have not danced at least once.

~Friedrich Nietzsche~

The setting of FIRE IN BROKEN WATER: Montezuma’s Well

Montezuma's Well

When I chose the setting for the third Pegasus Quincy Mystery novel, Fire in Broken Water, which centers around the ongoing Water Wars in Arizona, I knew parts of it had to be located at Montezuma’s Well.

The Well is surrounded with mystery and magic. Who expects to see this blue-green water in the midst of the high desert terrain of the upper Verde Valley? As you climb up 500 feet to the summit of the limestone sink, white-gray limestone cliffs are peopled with spare junipers struggling for survival, along with some spindly creosote and scrub oak.

In the spring, and later in the fall after the monsoon rains you’ll find a colorful display of desert wildflowers including yellow prickly-pear cactus, blue lupine, and orange globemallow. There’s  also a variety of birds: raptors such as the kestril and red tailed hawk, scrub blue jays, the black crested phainopepla, and tiny bushtit.

Once you reach the top, look over the edge into a blue-green lake. Montezuma’s Well was originally an underground basin, fed by freshwater springs. When the top collapsed, the Well was formed. It has Indian ruins around the inner edge and another cave down at the bottom, near the flow-through channel to Oak Creek below.

Perhaps because of the warm spring water (a constant high 70-degrees in temperature), the Well is home to five species of critter found nowhere else in North America, including a unique type of water scorpion. No fish, though, because the water is too high is carbonation–over 80 times the level of normal freshwater–and contains arsenic leached from the surrounding rock formations.

The depths of the Well have been explored by scuba teams recently, and their findings are fascinating!

 

The Well was named by early settlers, but was never seen by the Aztec leader Montezuma. However, it is held sacred by the surrounding Indian tribes. The Hopi call it “sun spring,” the Yavapai, ʼHakthkyayva or, “broken water,” and the Western Apache, “Water Breaks Open.” The last two refer to an unusual feature of the well, an underground tunnel, or swallet about 150 feet long that acts like the safety drain on your sink, allowing the overflow water from the well to pour out of solid rock into an irrigation ditch on the outside of the formation.

Montezuma Well swallet

 

There, the air is cool and moist–over 20 degrees cooler than on top–Columbines and wild watercress grow in the mossy waters.

 

 

 

Montezuma Well canal

 

At this point the water is diverted into an irrigation ditch over a thousand feet long, built Indian tribes centuries ago and still used today for cattle ranches downstream. The high limestone content of the water has coated the sides of the canal, similar to the sides of a swimming pool.

 

 

 

Here, take a walking tour of Montezuma’s Well to experience the stark difference between the arid land at the top of the Well and the moist-creekside environs at the bottom.

More than 90% of the springs in Northern Arizona have been lost as the result of underground pumping, too many wells depleting the ground water and periodic droughts. This sometimes sets neighbor against neighbor in the struggle between development and natural beauty. Montezuma’s Well dwells in the midst of this dispute, quiet and serene over the centuries.

 

Photo credits:
Top picture by Marine 69-71 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Remaining pictures of the irrigation ditch by: Dana Hunter and Fredlyfish4 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Change of scene

sunflowers

I have been working hard all week, packing boxes for the local Humane Society thrift shop. My sister suggested weekends were for fun, too, so yesterday I drove north to visit the sunflowers of Northern Arizona.

These sunflowers provide  stability for me. For fifty years, they have always bloomed out on Fort Valley Road north of Flagstaff. Every fall, fields and fields of sunflowers framing the mountains in the distance, under the monsoon clouds.

Perhaps someday these fields will give way to the growth of the town northward, but right now, this instant, as they have for the past half-century, they provide beauty that is without price and at the same time, totally free for the taking.

Gifts abide all around us, if we just look for them.

West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon, R.I.P.

orchard vista

 

west fork reflections

 

rock wall

 

view from bridge

 

mushrooms

 

high cliffs water

 

cottonwood tree

 

cliffs with clouds

 

gravel beach

 

lichen

 

shadow rock reflections

 

bent trees

Rest in peace, West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon

A walk on the wild side

This past Sunday I took an early morning hike looping around Courthouse Butte.

Courthouse Butte, Sedona, Arizona

Do you know why it is a butte and not a mesa? Because it is taller than it is wide. Here is another, Capitol Butte, shaped roughly like our nation’s capitol:

capitol butte

Here in Sedona, we like to name rocks. This is muffin top:

muffin top

And of course, what else could this be but rabbit ears:

rabbit ears

The wind was blowing, so the birds were keeping low, hidden in the bushes. They don’t like wind, for when everything moves, they can’t see predators. But a Western scrub jay was out. They signal intruders like me with a harsh caw like a crow:

scrub jay

A gray vireo was also out. Their song is a series of chu-weets, lyrical and sweet:

gray vireo

It’s easy to stay on the trail, for the forest service has constructed these ingenious cairns made out of red rock in wire cages. (That’s half of Twin Buttes in the background).

trail cairn

 

The bikers don’t like this trail, though, because the middle of it runs through Wilderness area–makes it nice and secluded for us hikers!bicycle sign

 

The wildflowers are in the middle of their spring bloom. Here is a feathered dahlia. The white-magenta flowers smell like a combination of rose and jasmine and make a lovely tea.feathered dahlia

The strawberry hedgehog has a fruit that according to my plant book taste just like strawberries!

magenta hedgehog

You wouldn’t want to eat the yellow berries of this plant, though. This is the silverleaf nightshade. It is an invasive species, often found where there is overgrazing. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem here, but this area’s original name was Big Park, and there were large herds of cattle grazed here.nightshade flowers

 

Here are the berries. Poisonous, but used by native peoples to tan hides and curdle milk into cheese. All sorts of uses for plants.

nightshade berries

 

This little flower is called the Slender Gaillardia, also called the reddome blanket flower. The Hopis used this as a diuretic:gaillardia

 

We’ve had a very dry year. Some say we are starting a drought cycle. For that reason, water is precious to the wild animals. Even a small bit like this will draw deer for miles:

water hole no 2

 

As I rounded the bend, I caught a glimpse of our most famous rock formation, Cathedral Rock:

cathedral rock

People who say the desert is barren haven’t been to Sedona!