NATURE IN NOVEMBER

It was a cool day with rain in the forecast, but Ed and I drove up the mountain anyway. We parked at the Sunset Trail head, and walked a very short distance on the Bear Wallow trail. . Soon Ed spotted a dandelion in bloom. Admittedly it was small and looked as of its short life had been hard, but it was in bloom on November 19 at about 8000 feet. Soon after we saw another bloom. Like the dandelion this plant had flower and fruit both in evidence. I think it was Wootons Groundsel, even though that is really a spring and summer bloomer.

But our eyes were captured more by the trees than the flowers. The leaves of the New Mexico Locust had turned into a lovely brownish gray color, and had curled a little. The ones remaining on the trees were quite lovely, as were those lying on the ground or decorating a fir tree for Christmas. Then there were the willows along the creek. The little wooden bridge had enchanting patterns of golden willow and maple leaves.

We went a short distance up the trail, and I found a rock covered with moss to use as a park bench, as Ed explored a little more of the area. He snapped this picture of me. We both agreed that nature, on that gray November day, was beautiful and enchanting in a very special way.

MY BOOKS
Days are shorter and evenings cooler as we enter the Fall season. It is a beautiful time in Arizona. There are not many flowers blooming high in the mountains, but in the valley there is a lot of color. For color a drive up the Catalina highway you can see the golden Aspens, and Maple trees in yellow, orange, red and yellow. If I could only get myself organized, now would be a good time to paint them.

Ebook versions of my two books, Catalina Mountains: A Guide Book with Original Watercolors, and Small Wonders are available now. The Ebook version of the Catalina Mountains is $9.99, and the Small Wonders is $12.99. The only catch is that you have to have an iPhone or an iPad to enjoy them. To find them, just open the Books application on your iPad or iPhone and search for the titles. Because the books have so many illustrations they are not compatible with Amazon’s ebook guidelines, so you can only get them on Apple Books.

Hard copies of all my books are available on Amazon.com. Just type Frank S. Rose under “author” and you will see them.

OCTOBER FLOWERS

On the first day of October, my friend. Ed, and I drove the 9-mile loop road in Saguaro National Park East. The air was clean, with blue skies and puffy white clouds. This late in the season we did not expect to see many flowers. At first we saw a few patches of Desert Senna. The Ocotillos were in full leaf, but had only the remnants of dried-up flowers.

Desert Senna

A car in front of us stopped to watch a tarantula cross the road. After they passed, we were able to see it wriggling in the gutter just near us. Later we slowed down for a road runner.

About half way around the loop, our eyes caught the sight of a mass of bluish white flowers, and we parked at the next pull-off to see what it was. It was one of our favorites – Jacquemontia (Jacquemontia pringlei).

Jacquemontia

Having driven over four miles with only one wildflower species to feast our eyes on, we now saw about eight in a very short space. I recognized the genera of some of them, but the species were new to me. A very pretty tiny red flower looked something like Red Spiderling (Boerhavia coccinea), but the plant was much too small. Checking with a list of the plants in this national park, the closest I could find was Slimstalk Spiderling (Boerhavia gracillima). Later we saw another plant with similar leaves and I think it might have been Purple Spiderling (Boerhavia purpurascens). Other flowers included Trailing Four O’clock, Fishhook Barrel Cactus, Rough Menodora, Spiny Aster and Janusia.

Slimstalk Spiderling
Trailing Four O’clock

I was especially looking for the spurges (Euphorbiaceae) that I know bloom this late in the season. Many of them lie flat on the ground, like oversized pancakes. Their flowers are very small.

Spurge plant
Spurge up close

Some years I have seen hundreds of spurge plants spread out over the desert floor. Today we saw nothing until we came to another parking area, where a dozen of them lined the road. We loved seeing the flowers, and were fascinated to note how much it lifted our spirits to see them.

A GLORIOUS TRAIL

Today Ed and I walked a short distance along the Oracle Ridge Trail. This time of year it is so loaded with wild flowers that in places you can hardly see the ground you walk on. We counted about thirty different species of plants, some loaded with flowers. We must have seen hundreds of thousands of blooms in about a quarter of a mile.

Because of my blood condition (pancytopenia) I am not able to hike very far up hills without sitting down to catch my breath. To help me, my daughter, Liz, gave me a small, lightweight stool, which I call my Portable Park Bench, or PPB. When I feel that I have reached some kind of limit, I place it on the trail, and sit down. My hiking poles give me the leverage I want to stand up again.

My Portable Park Bench in the middle of the trail

These rest stops are wonderful times for Ed and me to have conversations, or just enjoy being in the midst of such abundant and beautiful life.

The view of the trail from the Portable Park Bench

In the next nine days I am giving three talks about the Santa Catalina Mountain range. They are all free and open to the public, and I would love to have you there. This is the list:

Wednesday, Sept. 18: 6:30 pm,
“Tree Wonders – a look at some unusual aspects of well-known trees.”
At Sunrise Chapel, 8421 E. Wrightstown Rd, Tucson.

Saturday, Sept. 21, 2:30 pm
“The Santa Catalina Mountains, a special treasure.”
The talk will show photographs of well-known and little-known parts of this wonderful mountain range. It will be given at the Community Center in Summerhaven.

Thursday, Sept. 26, 2:30 pm
“Water Features of the Santa Catalina Mountains.”
This talk will show pictures of different streams, waterfalls, lakes and other water features of the mountains.
It will be given at the Community Center in Summerhaven.

I am also giving a watercolor class on Friday morning Sept. 20, repeating the class on Sept. 27. If any of you are interested please write to fuzrose@sunrisechapel.org, and I can give you more details.

LIFE IS PERSISTENT

My friend, Dave, and I walked up the Turkey Run trail in the Catalina Mountains. We found a spot by Sabino Creek in an area that used to have a cabin.

We were fascinated to see a dragon fly (possibly a Blue eyed darner- aeschna multicolor) patrolling the stretch of stream that was in front of us. It flew fairly near the surface of the water, turning around at a little rocky area about six feet to our right, then doubling back to about six feet on our left, where it turned around just before reaching the part of the stream that was in deep shade. We were impressed with its ability to change direction. It seemed to us that it found a mate when it disappeared with another dragonfly for a short time, and then came back to continue patrolling the stream. At one point Dave stood astride the stream to see if that would alter its flight path. Apart from a brief detour, it resumed its course, at times passing right between his legs. When I got home I read that this insect spends years in the water, going through various changes, until the last summer of its life when it grows wings and takes to the air.

We also began noticing plants that are not native to this mountain range. We assumed that they had been introduced by the cabin owners. Years ago there had been 12 cabins along this trail, all of them now removed. Evidently when they were occupied their owners had created their own little gardens.

From where we sat we could see the leaves of Lily of the Valley – Convallaria majalis . a large patch of Day Lily – Hemerocallis fulva, a patch of ornamental grass, with green and white stripes, and Spearmint (mentha spicata). Behind us was a patch of Periwinkle – vinca major. We marveled that the cabins were removed decades ago, which means that all of these non-native species have survived all that time without anyone looking after them. Life is tough, even in the form of these fairly small plants.

Lily of the valley
Day Lily
Periwinkle
Spearmint – that spreads by the roots

AREN’T YOU THE WRONG COLOR?

Grace, a plant-loving friend of mine, wrote to me today about seeing a white Geranium (Geranium caespitosum – Wild Geranium) which is usually a beautiful wine color.

She also saw a number of Long-tube ipomopsis plants (Ipomopsis tenuituba subsp. macrosiphon), each one with a different color.

When we see flowers in nature, we expect them always to be their own particular color, and for many wildflowers, that is pretty well true. There are some, like Richardson’s Geranium (Geranium richardsonii), that routinely come in white, pink or purple, and we come to expect that.

But when we go to the florist to buy flowers, we are pretty sure that many species will come in a variety of colors, like the roses I bought for my wife to celebrate her birthday.

As I have hiked trails in the mountains and valleys of Arizona, I have come to know many of the flowers. I usually can identify the plant by the color and shape of the flowers. And every now and again they fool me, and appear in the “wrong” color. In this case, the alternative color gives them a special attraction. I find the same when it comes to the skin colors of human beings.

WET WEATHER AND DRY

We love the clear blue skies in Arizona. And we love the rain. Plant lovers also love imagining great bursts of color after a rainy season. And we are often disappointed. We had quite a bit of rain in December 2018, and over 18″ for the year (compared to the usual 10″-12″). At our house there were only three days of rain in early January. There was a lot of rain in February, so we expected a great spring bloom. Some parts of Arizona, and especially southern California got magnificent displays, but around the Tucson area it was ok but not spectacular.

GOODING’S VERBENA – ESPECIALLY LARGE PLANT AFTER THE FEBRUARY RAINS –
PHOTO BY LIZ ZENO

Between the end of the last week of February and the first week of July, we had only four days with measurable rain (a period of 134 days). The monsoon rains were late coming, and, in the Tucson valley we had three good rainstorms in July and another three in August. In between we have had some of the hottest days on record. So even though our total rainfall for the year to date at our house is over 8″, (well above average), the wildflowers are not doing well this year. Today I talked with a friend who keeps bees, who explained that the lack of flowers has meant that one of his four hives is now empty. Evidently the bees have flown off to find a place with more nectar.

The amazing thing to me is how resilient plants are. They manage to survive through the tough times, and flourish in the good times. We, it seems, need to stop anticipating whether it will be a good season for flowers or not, and just enjoy what we get.

REFLECTIONS

August 17, 2019
REFLECTIONS
When the sun sets over the ocean, you can see a shaft of light in the water reflecting its glow. Some time ago I read about moments when the reflection goes upward, into the sky. In this case I suppose it is reflecting off of water particles in the air. Recently I was thrilled to catch this phenomenon in a photograph, taken from our back porch.

Reflections can have quite a charm. Now that I am less than a month away from my 92 birthday, I am reflecting quite a bit. I am especially bringing to mind some of the wonderful trails my wife, Louise, and I have taken in the 37 years we have lived in Arizona.

The most spectacular of these was a rim-to-rim hike in the Grand Canyon, about 18 years ago. Louise’s sister, Ann, had the idea. In the end eight of us did the hike, including Ann’s family, Zuber cousins and our son, Owen. The actual hike was on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001. There was a full moon that night. The steep walls of the canyon meant that we did not see the moon rise at all, and even much later could only see it shining on the distant cliffs. We arrived at the end of our journey at 11:30 pm. By then we were bathed in moonlight, and feeling remarkably good given the fact that we had hiked 24 miles in 17 hours. It was not exactly a break-neck pace, but we did it. The next day we noticed that we had no sore muscles or blisters. We felt fine.

How did my wife, who was 72 at the time, and I (just turned 74) manage such a feat? The simple answer was “training.” For months we tackled all kinds of trails in various times of day, gradually building up our endurance. In addition to getting us in condition for the long hike, it took us deeper on familiar trails than we had been before, and allowed us to further extend our knowledge of the scenic beauty in this magnificent state.

All this is coming back into my memory because my health now does not allow me to take long hikes. For the last twenty years, every week I have taken part in summer plant walks. Originally they were led by Dr. Bob Porter, and Joan Tedford. For the last eight years I have been the leader. And the hikes have grown. About forty people were on the last one on August 1. We ended the hike in Marshall Gulch, where more people joined us for a wonderful picnic and celebration. I was very touched. These walks have meant so much to me and I know I will miss them, and the wonderful people who share them.

I will continue to go to the mountains, enjoying the beauty of the landscape and its flora and fauna. And I will have more time for reflection.

NO CRANES TO SPEAK OF

Sandhill Cranes winter in the Southwest. There is a wonderful nature preserve called Whitewater Draw just about 100 miles from our home. Chris Clark, married to my niece, Tryn, and he and their daughter Tryn Rose Seley, went with me for a visit early in January to see the cranes. There were patches of snow on the ground and the nature trails were wet and deeply muddy. We arrived at the time when the Cranes were due back from their morning grazing. A beautiful flock of Snow Geese entertained us in their complex flight formation, and numerous water fowl, and other birds were there for us to enjoy, but no cranes.

Not a bird in the sky

We would have stayed longer, but the deep mud kept accumulating on our shoes so that we gained a few inches in height and several pounds in weight as we trudged our way along the path. Gradually the waiting crowd thinned out until we were some of the few people left.

After two hours, we finally set off for home, wanting to get back to Tucson by 3:30pm. Not two miles down the road, we saw flocks of cranes, still miles away, making their way back to the preserve. We enjoyed seeing them from afar, and will have to return another time to witness the spectacle of them circling the ponds, calling to each other, and coming in to land.

My next book will soon be ready for the press. Catalina Mountains: A guide book with original paintings. In it I mention a little waterfall which I have dubbed Hidden Falls, because of the way much of the cascade is blocked from view by a projecting rock. I thought it was about twenty feet tall, but needed to check. It turned out that when my friend, Dave, puts his walking stick up against the bottom of his nose, the top marks ten feet. With the enclosed picture we calculated that the drop is just under sixteen feet. Now, I think, we may be ready to go to press.

PLEASANT OUTINGS

Lately when I get up in the morning I find ice on the bird bath. During the day the temperature rises into the sixties and even seventies, so Ed and I have been able to continue our weekly hikes in the mountains.

In November we parked the car and noticed yellow leaves in what at first looked like a single Alligator Juniper. On closer inspection we found that there are two trees, very close together, so close that at one point their trunks merge into one.

The top center trunk is a second tree

I looked near the top of the two trees and saw what appeared to be a branch from a Cottonwood, with bright yellow leaves. The nearest Cottonwood was about fifty yards away, so we doubted that it was a branch from it. We took out our binoculars and found that it was a grape vine. It was growing from very near the base of the trees, and extending over twenty feet to near the very top. The yellow patches in this picture are leaves of the vine in their fall colors.

A week or so later we were walking in a stream bed, and admired this Mexican Blue Oak. Its growth is very much one-sided, probably because a major branch to the left has long since broken off.

 

Further up we sat by a little stream, enjoying its pleasant sounds, and catching glimpses of various birds flitting in and out of the foliage. On a very much smaller scale, we saw a phenomenon that I had noticed in the Grand Canyon. One of the most noticeable rock layers in the Canyon is the Redwall limestone – five to eight hundred feet thick. I remember reading that the actual rock is a pale gray. The red color comes from millions of years of rust-filled water flowing down the surface. When my wife and son and I hiked down the North Rim of the Canyon, we could see freestanding Redwall limestone cliffs, and noticed that the horizontal surfaces at the top were not red at all but were pale gray. I pointed out to Ed that in this tiny gorge, the horizontal surfaces of the rocks were pale gray and the vertical ones various darker shades, especially of red. This was probably because of what is called Rock Varnish, a veneer that accumulates on rocks when wind blown particles stick to damp rock surfaces. The particles include iron and manganese oxides. We found the effect quite beautiful in this miniature landscape.

 

Wishing you all happy holidays.

NEW CAMERA

Some years ago my life was changed by the purchase of a new camera and lens. With it I was able to photograph even the smallest flowers, and this led me to write a book, “Small Wonders” many of the pictures being only possible because of the new camera.

And then came another change. Our son, with his wife and daughter, was here on a visit, bringing an unexpected gift – a new kind of camera, unlike anything I have ever seen before. It plugs into the computer and only takes pictures of things that are really small. Amcap – Digital Microscope 20x-800x Magnification 8-LED Mini Microscope Endoscope Camera Magnifier.

Right away I was struck with the difference between human made objects and living things.

I photographed one of my recent watercolors. The new camera produced a beautiful highly textured picture, showing the paper and the way the pigment settled into its peaks and valleys. Then I photographed the painting and printed a copy. The extra close-up camera showed that this print consisted of a series of smudges and dots.

A portion of the painting

Close up of the painting

Close up of a print of the painting

 

I suspected that living plants would be very different. To test my theory I photographed a spurge in our front yard (some kind of Euphorbia). With the naked eye and with my ordinary camera, I could not tell whether it was in bloom or not. Then I took a picture with my usual close-up camera and found that indeed it was. Finally I used my new Amcap camera, and found all kinds of detail I had been missing. With the new, even more powerful equipment I could go into more and more detail, and no matter how far I went, I would still be seeing new things until finally arriving at the molecular level. There is a kind of infinity in living plants that is quite astonishing and endlessly fascinating. And, by the way, it is in bloom.

 

Euphorbia seen from above

Euphorbia with my close-up camera – below, with the new camera