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LOUISE MAKES A DECISION

Looking ahead to a summer vacation Louise and I decided to visit Greer – a small town in the White Mountains of Arizona. The Little Colorado River runs through Greer, eventually ending up at the Grand Canyon. There it is just a stream, bordered with a wealth of flowers, many of them new to me.

As we were leaving Greer Louise and I decided to walk the Butler Nature Trail. It is a short walk, just about a mile long. For the first half mile it climbs up to a spring where we were able to fill our water bottles. I noticed on the walk that even though I walked slowly, finding the up-hill slope a bit of a challenge, Louise was walking even more slowly behind me. From time to time I would stop to rest as she caught up with me. When we were at the Spring she made a watershed statement. “This is my last hike. I am almost 87 years old and it is just getting too hard for me.” I admit to being a little stunned, but also pleased to have her make what must have been a difficult decision.

When we moved to Arizona in 1982, we were not hikers. This is something we came to do and love over the many years since then. We have walked hundreds of miles together, enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It has been one of the most satisfying and worthwhile forms of exercise we have ever had. For me it has also been a great opportunity to take pictures of scenery for painting watercolors, and of plants for my nature books.

In 2000, Louise and her sister Ann, decided they would like to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day! I thought it was a daunting challenge and one I was willing to support. Louise and I began training for the big walk, including climbing Mount Wrightson, walking down to Tucson from Mt. Lemmon (about 15 miles), taking long hikes in the Rincon Mountains, and generally doing all we could do to condition ourselves for the big event. Louise bought new boots three months before, to make sure they were well worn in before the big hike.

On October 2, 2001, when Louise was 72 and I had just turned 74, we accomplished the dream. There were 8 people in our party, plus Louise’s brother Jim and sister Fran who provided transportation. Our youngest son, Owen, was also with us. We began the hike at 6 am in the ice at the North Rim of the Grand canyon, and Louise and I were the last to arrived at the South Rim 17 hours later. We had no sore muscles or blisters after that twenty-four mile walk.

In the years since then we have enjoyed many more hikes. But this one-mile hike in Greer was to be the last one. We paused to reflect on this change in our lives, and then continued the walk down hill back to the car. Somewhere along the way Louise called to me – “Look at this!” I turned around and saw her pointing to her left hiking boot, with the sole flapping down like some prehistoric jaw. I reassured her that she could still walk on the boot, since it was ruined anyway. In only about 15 minutes we were back at the car. When she took off her boots she noticed that the right boot was also losing its sole, but this one was peeling off from the back, not the front.

We could not help remarking on the proximity of the two events – the announcement that this was her last hike, and the boots giving out. “They must have heard me” was all she said. They had given her fifteen years of amazing and faithful service. As she put them in the trunk she felt a mixture of relief and sadness. A truly wonderful era in our life was coming to an end. .

Louise will continue to walk in the neighborhood for exercise, and I will continue to hike in the mountains, though I must admit that I am slowing down.

Hiking boots die

RARE BEAUTIES

It was cold and blustery today. Ed and I tried hiking high in the mountains but it was too cold for comfort. As we drove down to a lower (and therefore warmer) place, we noticed a Cliff rose (Purshia stansburiana) blooming along the side of the road. We parked and went to get a closer look. That is when we noticed this Silverleaf oak (Quercus hypoleucoides). The male catkins on Oak trees are yellowish brown, and usually not particularly visible. This tree was festooned with them.

Silver lf oak

The brown spots on this Silverleaf oak consist of clusters of pollen-bearing catkins

 

 

 

 

 

Quercus hypoleucoides FLm

 

 

A close up look at the Silverleaf oak catkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a fairly short walk in Molino Basin we saw about three dozen flowering plants. We were particularly interested in a little succulent known as Graptopetalum (Graptopetalum rusbyi). It has been very dry, and we wondered if it would be in bloom. When we arrived at the stream bed where we have seen them before we noticed that there seemed to be fewer plants than usual, and the leaves were shriveled up. But the blooms were perfect, such a treat to see.
Graptopetalum

 

Three Graptopetalum flowers on one plant in the cleft of a rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graptopetalum rusbyiFL

 

Close up of a single flower (the flowers are about one half inch wide)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For years I have been wanting to see the Ironwood tree (Olneya tesota)  in bloom. It normally grows in lower elevations than Tucson since it is highly susceptible to cold. Recently I was told of a group of four trees less than a mile from our home. Today I walked there, and found all of the trees in full and glorious bloom. This remarkable tree has some of the heaviest wood known. The flowers look something like sweet peas, white tinged with pink. I was delighted to get pictures at last.

Ironwood in flower

 

 

A large Ironwood tree in full bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ironwood cluster

A cluster of Ironwood flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ironwood FL close

An individual flower

FUNGUS AMONG US

The eastern part of the Santa Catalina mountains near Tucson has had over 14 inches of rain since the beginning of June. This is perfect weather for the many fungi that grow in the forest. Today we came across quite a few of them, the most spectacular being this shelf fungus – extending from the base of the tree as many as 8 inches. I have read that somShelf fungus base of treee shelf fungus are edible, and I wonder if this is one of them.

A week ago we saw a beautiful ink cap fungus (Coprinopsis atramentaria), one that is definitely edible but is dangerous if mixed with alcohol. I have observed how these beauties, as they age, simply melt into an inky-black pool.
ink cap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On one of my hikes I noticed a rock about 5 inches across. Taking a closer look I realized that it was being lifted off the ground by a mushroom!  lifting a rock

CENTIPEDE

NATURE NOTES
Today my buddy Ed and I went up the mountain. We thought we would stop briefly at Molino Canyon Overlook to see the flowers on the Limberbush. We found the flowers all right, but then felt drawn to go upstream in search of the Melon Loco. (Apodanthera undulata) We found many plants, some covering large areas. They had lots of bright yellow flowers, but no mature fruit.

We couldn’t help noticing that the ground was carpeted with seedlings, mostly morning glories. So far none were in bloom, but we could picture them, some with large blue flowers, and others with small red ones. It would soon make this into a glorious garden. We were puzzled by another plant, but soon realized it was the largest of the four o’clock family on the mountain, the Sweet Four O clock (Mirabilis longiflora). There were just a few drooping flowers, that had been open since last evening. If we want to see them in bloom we have to come back after five in the afternoon, or in the early morning. The flowers have trumpets that are up to four inches long – bright white with some red in the throat. centipede scolopendra heros

Walking along the path we were startled by what at first seemed to be a small snake. It was a giant centipede, about 8 inches long, with yellow feet, an orange-brown body, orange feelers and black head and rump. It moved very quickly across the path, but not too quick for my trusty camera. Its scientific name is Scolopendra heros, In a side drainage we saw a coral bean in bloom – very late for this plant, which usually blooms in June. Farther up the mountain I went to see if the gorgeous Rusby’s Primrose (Primula rusbyi)  was blooming. After less than ten minutes climbing the hill, we found more than a hundred plants giving a wonderful show. What a treat No sooner had we returned to the car to descend the mountain than the rains came.