The intensity of an Arizona sunset

Picture of Arizona Sunset

The quality of light in Arizona is intense, and never more so than at sunset during monsoon season. For two summer months, the afternoon clouds build, fierce thunderstorms crash and threaten. Then it is over. Or is it?

As a photographer, I’ve learned to be patient. If I wait out the storm, and stick around for the aftermath, a brilliantly hued sunset often occurs. It is time well-spent.

The end of summer is always hard on me. Trying to cram in all the goofing off I’ve been meaning to do.
~Calvin and Hobbes~

Summer green afternoon

Picture of summer green water

As you drive through Oak Creek Canyon, you’ll see a sign for Ensinoso Park. There, if you stop your car and walk down the hill you’ll find this secret place.

I’ve visited when it is dressed in winter white and fall gold, but nothing is so startling as the passionate green of summer, when the creek borrows color from the moisture-loving sycamores, alders, and ashes that line the banks.

To me, water is the ultimate “yes” person. It says, whatever you want me to be, I’ll be. Hard, soft, liquid, mist. I’ll reflect back your blue skies, your gray storms, your green leaves. Yes! I’m here. Just ask.

Summer afternoon–summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
~Henry James~

Barreling along

barrel cactus

This is a commercially planted group of golden barrel cactus, also known as mother-in-law cushions. I know this because no self-respecting barrel would choose to grow this close to another, just like a wise mother-in-law (without the thorns)!

Barrels have a single blossom in the spring. You can see the remains here. What I like is their representation of both the short-term represented by the fading blossoms and the long-term potential of life. Living beings often grow slowly in the desert, taking time to put down roots. Under the right conditions, barrels live to be over a hundred years old.

These cacti remind me that we do not need a reason to exist–sometimes it is okay to just sit there and look beautiful.

Observe the space between your thoughts.
Then observe the observer.
~ Hamilton Bordeaux

Having new eyes

barred shadows

In the hot Arizona summer, any point of shade is welcome. Here, the barred shadows represent a wooden arbor overhead, providing more an illusion of shade than actual shade itself.

But instead of looking for relief from the sun, perhaps I can appreciate the beauty of the precise latticework echoes and the way they transform once again when they hit the brick walk.

Layer upon layer the world reveals itself to us, when we pause to look closely.

The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking
new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust ~

Always looking for more

young skunk cabbage

If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.
~ Oprah Winfrey

These young skunk cabbage were flourishing on a trail near the Museum of Northern Arizona one morning and I was struck by their vitality. There had been no rain and the ground was rocky and barren. Yet there they were.

What they had was enough: sun, air, a quiet place to grow.

I wonder if sometimes I am too focused on what I want and not enough on what I truly need to make life worthwhile.

Nothing is fixed in life’s changing pattern

San Francisco Peaks

Life at its best is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed.
~ Carl Rogers

The San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona were formed from the jagged edges of a volcano that exploded many thousands of years ago. The Peaks rise to an elevation of over twelve thousand feet and are large enough to form their own weather pattern.

From July through September, each summer day creates massive thunderheads that explode lightning and heavy rain showers across the mountains. In the dry high-plateau air, the edges of the clouds are like cutouts against the blue sky.

I’ve spent many lazy summer afternoons watching these monster clouds build. They are a daily reminder that life is always changes.

Book Review: Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness LookoutFire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was 19, I spent a summer as a forest fire lookout. It changed my life indelibly, and for that reason, I was interested in Philip Connors’ book. He does not disappoint.

Phillip, for the past 8 years, has spent the summer fire season on top of a 75-foot tower in the New Mexico wilderness, looking for fires. He has only his dog Alice for company (although his wife does visit for occasional weekends.)

His book is an interesting compendium of how it is to spend that much time alone, a history of fighting fires in America and how that changed after the disastrous Yellowstone fires, and how he and his wife deal with the separation for months at a time.

“We seek out wild raspberry bushes where the last of the year’s fruit is turning ripe; I pluck a handful to accompany my evening treat of chocolate, leaving the rest to the bears. On days of heavy rain, hail drumming on the metal roof, I cloister myself in the cabin, drink hot tea, read in my sleeping bag with a fire going in the wood stove. Tattered flags of fog drift past the mountain when the rain breaks…”

If you enjoy reading about nature, and about the nature of solitude, this book is for you.

 

Writer’s Block

 

water reflections

I’d been having a miserable writer’s block.

Nothing seemed to help.

I sang, I danced, I walked around the block, I called my sister. Nada.

Then I set the alarm for 4:45 am and changed where I wrote. Instead of at my regular desk I cleaned out a vacant studio and set up a temporary table for my laptop.

I banished the cat.

I turned off my radio. I opened a patio door and watched the sunshine on the red rocks. And listened to the early morning quail and blue jays chattering in the apricot tree.

And I waited.

Got up and did some stretches. Sat down again. Nothing.

Turned off the Internet. Listened to the painted towhee in the Russian sage.

Watched a rabbit getting a drink of water.

Observed a lizard skittering across the summer-hot rocks.

And listened.

And was patient.

And finally the words started to flow.

Ah, home, at last!

Water Moods

sky-clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often visit Oak Creek Canyon in the summer to dip my feet in the creek at Ensinoso Falls. Because Oak Creek is spring fed, its waters are always breath-stoppingly cold, a welcome refreshment on a summer’s day!

This year because of the Slide Fire, all of Oak Creek Canyon is closed to visitors, so I drove to the East Verde Valley to encounter Wet Beaver Creek instead.

When I arrived the park was deserted. The camp host was nowhere to be seen. Even his hammock was empty!

host-home

The camp cat gave me a sniff before she deserted me for better pickings elsewhere.

camp-cat

As I walked down to the Creek, I spotted first one abandoned sock:

one-sock

Then two more, nestled like wooly caterpillars among the rocks:

two-socks

The sound of water roaring, roaring, roaring, told me why no one was sun-bathing today:

swirling-water

The heavy monsoons upstream had caused high waters, swiftly running, muddy, churning. No swimming today in the floods:

branch-in-water

The currents pushed against logs, turning them over in its eagerness to move forward, and the water knife-edged into white water:

edge-of-water

Where the water eddied, it created not ponds for wading, but entire lakes:

lake

In side pools, the shadows reflected in water holding its breath for a moment:

reflecting-pool

And in one special place the foam had created a pattern as clear as a thumb print:

thumb-print

If you visit a place with expectations, you may be disappointed.

If you visit with an open mind, the world can be full of surprises.