Category Archives: Human stories

Art and Life

It is still cool in the mountains, though the valley temperatures are close to one hundred degrees. On a recent trip I started on a trail out of Marshall Gulch only to find the trail blocked by four fallen trees. This was a reminder to me of how much we owe to those who maintain trails. Without maintenance, most of the mountain trails would be impassable in a few years.

MG trail blocked

On a recent walk on Oracle Ridge in the Catalina Mountains, Ed and I were struck by the beauty of the Parry’s Agave, sending up sturdy flower stalks. We also noted something neither of us had seen before, the male flower cones of the Ponderosa pine opened to release pollen. We had seen them in their tightly closed form, with their beautiful scales. On this trip we saw how the cones expand to release pollen, seen as pale yellow dots on the picture.

Agave parryi 3

Agave parryi 1 stalks

Pinus ponderosa 7 m

Pinus ponderosa 9 m

My friends Hilary and Andrea took me to Oracle State Park. One of the nature trails afforded a view of the historic Kannally Ranch House in the distance. I took a photograph and later did this little watercolor of the view.

Oracle State Park wc

Speaking of watercolors, on Saturday, May 6, 2017, the Bear Canyon Library in Tucson will feature a show of three nature photographers, Brian Gersten, Tom Trebisky and Leslie Eguchi, plus six of my plant portraits, done in watercolor. This one is of the Canadian Violet (Viola canadensis). The opening reception is from 3 to 4:30, and you are all welcome.

Viola canadensis new

SEEN ON NATURE WALKS

Recently our congregation in Tucson, Sunrise Chapel, celebrated the 30th anniversary of its building. All five of our children were here for the event, and even put together a musical combo – “the Band of Roses” – for our enjoyment.

Our oldest son had to leave early Monday, but the other four were able to join me in a walk in Catalina State Park. The flowers were magnificent, the buttermilk sky, amazing.

Catalina clouds

One of the group spotted this unusual saguaro. There are a number of crestate saguaros in Arizona, but this one was different. The crest was surrounded with arms, and protruding out of the crest were about a dozen new arms.

Nearing crestate

Crestate with arms

Ed and I were looking at plants in Saguaro National Park East, and saw a flash of yellow in the middle of a nearby shrub. We wondered what it was. “I think it is a yellow mustard”, I said. Ed reached in, and pulled it out. And this is what he had in his hand. It was clearly labeled: Heinz Yellow Mustard.

Yellow mustard

Every time we hike, we see new plants coming into full and glorious bloom.

Brittlebush hillside

Life in the Desert

Since I have taken an interest in “invisible flowers” it made sense for me to go to go to a talk called: “Desert mistletoe: A misunderstood, but beneficial native plant” given by Kelsey Yule. This was presented to the Tucson Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society. The following Saturday Kelsey lead a walk to look at these fascinating plants. She talked about their life cycle, and how their sticky fruits are sometimes stuck on the branches of a desert tree, maybe by a bird. For a while we wondered where our leader had gone, and then she came back with a short stick of wood. On it there was a tiny lump. We had to get out our loupes to see what it was like. Fortunately my camera has good close-up power, so I was able to get a photograph. In it you see the grey lump of the seed, and a tiny red tube arching up and down into the branch. She explained that the tube was a haustorium, which is like a root, but is different enough to have its own name. She said it would take five years before the plant developed to the point where it could grow and produce flowers and fruit. She also explained that the fruit is edible, but so far I have not dared to taste one.

phoradendron-californicum-1-m-and-f An Acacia with mistletoe in the foreground

kelsey-with-stick Kelsey with the stick

phoradendron-ca-taking-root The seed with haustorium on a Mesquite branch

phoradendron-californicum-8-cluster Mistletoe fruit

Our home was enlivened by the advent of granddaughter, Gillian, her husband Dave, and 3-year old Mae, and 9-month old Siena. As part of their time here we went to Agua Caliente Park in Tucson. The first thing that caught Dave’s eye was a thin snake curled up on the path, surrounding a little whitish ball of fur. It was eating a mouse, and we were able to watch until it was just a fat lump in its slim body. Later we went to the butterfly garden where the white milkweed flowers were being visited by about a dozen Queen butterflies. Mae was thrilled to touch one of them.

agua-caliente-park Agua Caliente park pond

snake-eats-mouse The snake holding a mouse

queen-butterfly-and-milkweed The Queen butterfly on a milkweed flower

dave-family-man Dave with Mae and Siena

gillian-getting-down-to-it Gillian getting down to serious photography

It is November, and there are not many flowers, but the Desert Mistletoe plants are full of fruit, much to the delight of birds and other animal life.

Correction

My wife kindly suggested that I had a senior moment when I said that the youtube program about Gardens that I am taking part in is 5 pm Eastern time. It is 8 pm Eastern time today, which is 5 pm here in Arizona.

Sorry about that.

Frank

Orchids

This past week I had the great pleasure of attending the Native Orchid Conference at Cochise College in Benson, Arizona. I was one of the 17 speakers, my topic being “Invisible Flora of the Sky Islands.” I also led some plant walks in the Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson.

The first walk was last Tuesday. The forecast suggested rain in the afternoon, so the 12 of us set off innocently enough at 9 o’clock in the morning thinking that we had plenty of time. As we were heading for our first orchid site, on the Turkey Run trail, we ran into heavy rain to the point where I led our little caravan of cars to the top of Carter Canyon Road instead. The largest orchid in these mountains is known as the Bog Orchid (Platanthera Limosa), and instead of walking a half a mile on the Turkey Run Trail, all we had to do was park at the trail head for the Mint Spring Trail, and there it was in great abundance and in full and glorious bloom. Our little cast of orchid lovers had no problem getting out in the drenching rain to see this sight. We then went to another location to see Malaxis Soulei, and the rain continued to the point where we abandoned the rest of the walk. When I got home I was soaked through. My handkerchief was wet, and when I opened my wallet, I found the bills in it were also wet.

Platanthera limosaPL
Two bog orchids

Platanthera limosa 1

A hill covered with Bog Orchids
Two days later we were up on the mountain again with a different group. Again we saw the two types of orchid, got drenching wet, and thoroughly enjoyed the mountain flora.

Prior to the Conference, the leaders, Ron, Ben, Doug and I went to the Chiricahua Mountains to see two different orchids. One was very small. In this picture you see Ron, Ben and Doug puting markers of two different colors so that the people could find these delightful, and small beauties.

Ron and Ben Ron, Ben and Doug (partial)

 

Later that day we went to Turkey Creek, also in the Chiricahua mountains. Ron mentioned that it was a little tricky crossing the creek to get on the trail, and feared that a few thunderstorms might make the trail impassable. Five days later his fears came true. The morning group was able to see the rare and beautiful Malaxis corymbosa (pictured), but by the time the second group came in the afternoon the creek was much too swollen to allow them to cross.
Malaxis corymbosa 3 Here is the whole plant, about 6 inches tall

Malaxis corymbosa 5b The flower head is relatively flat.

Malaxis corymbosa buds and FL At this point only one tiny flower was actually open.
It was a great pleasure spending time with plant lovers. The orchids in Arizona may not be very spectacular, but for orchid lovers they are worth the trip (people came to the Conference from various parts of USA, Canada and England.)

This coming Monday, August 8th, 5 pm Eastern time, I will be speaking as part of a program called:
“Spiritual Insight Through Gardening – Swedenborg and Life.”
Also taking part in the same program will be our Son, Jonathan, his wife, Kristin, their daughter, Chelsea, and others. This will be shown on Youtube, and here is the link if you are interested in watching it.

Wishing you all a happy summer.

THE DESERT IN BLOOM

Green desertThe forest floor in Saguaro National Park East is carpeted in green, like a well tended
golf course. But what looks like grass is really thousands and thousands of small plants with tiny white flowers in the Borage family, possibly Bearded Cryptantha ( Cryptantha barbigera. )

 

 

 

Cryptantha barbigeraPLBearded Cryptantha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three ladies

Three of the women admiring a Saguaro

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday a group of women accompanied me in search of an interesting plant there: Texas Desert Rue, (Thamnosa [Greek – Smelly Shrub] Texana). It grows only a foot or two high, and has very small dark red flowers and a distinctive and pleasant (to my taste) odor. It is also called Dutchman’s Breeches, because of the shape of the fruit. It is harmful to livestock because it causes them to be oversensitive to light. The plant we were looking for was in a wash (dry river bed). This involved a fairly long walk in sand, which I found a little tiring. After we located and photographed it, we continued along the wash until we joined a trail to head back to our vehicles. After a short distance we came across several Thamnosa plants right along the side of the path. Thamnosa texana 3c

 

Kathleen’s hand giving an idea of scale of the Texas Desert Rue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Thamnosa texana 5

 

Getting a closer look

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thamnosa texana 5b

 

A close-up of a flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thamnosa texana 8

 

The fruit, like Dutchmen’s breeches

 

 

 

 

There were many plants to entertain us on our three and a half mile loop. Altogether we saw about fifty different species in bloom, and many more about to flower.

Earlier this week Val and I took a ride to Ajo – about 150 miles west of here, to give a talk to the Ajo Garden Club. We expected to see lots of wildflowers along the roadsides, since we have had some good winter rains. The showing was not up to our expectations, though there were many Lupines and Desert Marigold along the road. Half way to Ajo it started to rain, and continued all the way to the Ajo Public Library where I spoke about “Nature’s Small Wonders”. The talk was well received. On the return journey we stopped at a town called “Why” (possibly so named because there is a Y-shaped intersection in the middle of the town), population under 200 . I had driven through this part of Arizona before, and knew that it was just a little collection of homes and a gas station. Just for fun I asked the attendant at the gas station how far to go until we got to Why. He tilted back his head, and began to roar with laughter. “You are in it!” he said. As I left I looked up at the name of the Gas station. It read: “Why Not?”

Stenocerues thurberi 1We went through Why to the Organ Pipe National Monument with its wonderful visitor’s center, and lots of fascinating plant and animal life, resolving to go back again when the Organ Pipe Cactus and the Ajo Lily are in bloom (April or May).

 

Organ Pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) on a cloudy day at Organ Pipe National Monument

WILDFLOWERS GALORE

Ed and I were hiking up the trail and had stopped to look at some flowers. A couple came down the trail towards us, evidently having gone over five miles of rough terrain. They asked us if we knew any of the flowers. This led to a pleasant botany lesson. The man looked at me and asked how old I was. I said: “Eighty-seven”. We then talked a little more and finally I couldn’t stand the suspense any more. “And how old are you?”

“We are both ninety” he said with a great smile. The two of them looked to be in their sixties. I felt a little ashamed. Ed, who is younger than I am, did not even admit to his age. After some awkwardness I asked him the secret of his longevity. “I haven’t died yet” was his full explanation.

Six times in the last eleven days we have explored this trail (Babat Do’ag in the Catalina Mountains) and every time we have seen new flowers in bloom. On the first trip, February 18, we saw about 30 species. Today we saw over 50.  Perhaps the most interesting was the Broom rape (Orobanche), a plant that lives by drawing nourishment from the roots of other plants. It is not green at all, does not have chlorophyll, and is incapable of making food from the energy of the sun. On one trip we saw one fully grown one, with four near by just beginning to pop their heads through the soil. The next trip we found another near by. Today Jim and I saw all of those, and more than a dozen more on the Soldier Trail, just a couple of miles further down the mountain.

Orobanche

 

 

The Orobanche – the penny gives an idea of size

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orobanche white

 

 

 

 

Another smaller Orobanche

 

 

 

 

Orobanche FL

 

 

Orobanches
A close-up of one of its flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of the many we saw on Soldier Trail

 

 

 

Among the most spectacular plants now is the “Indigo Bush”, Dalea pulchra. This time of year the plant is covered with deep blue or even purple flowers. And the bees and other insects love it.
Dalea pulchra 3

 

Indigo Bush

 

 

 

 

There is a fairly common low growing plant imported from Europe called “Filaree” or “Heron’s Bill”, (Erodium cicutarium). It has the ability to drill its own seeds into the ground. Long ago I learned of a  native Erodium, called “Texas Geranium” or “Stork’s Bill” (Erodium Texanum) and for years I have been trying to find it. This was my lucky month. I found quite a few on the Babat Do’ag trail, and then noticed it growing in our church parking lot!

Erodium texanum PL

 

 

Texas Geranium plant

 

 

 

 

Erodium texanum FL2

 

 

A close-up of the flower

 

 

 

 

 

Since I began working on “Invisible Flowers” I have become interested in the Euphorbia family. Many of its genera and species are low growing  plants with small flowers. In particular there are a half a dozen or more euphorbias called “spurges” in this area. I have been trying to learn to how tell them apart. Today Jim told me that while many spurges have single flowers at the end of each stalk, one has flowers growing in a little cluster. It is called Euphorbia capitellata (meaning “having a little head”). I find its tiny flowers quite charming.

Euphorbia capitellata 5

 

The flowering head of this Spurge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Euphorbia capitellata 9One of the many flowers in the head

NOVEMBER HIKES

Hiking in November is special. With the sun lower in the sky the light is different, the air is cool, and though most of the flowers have completed their summer blooming, there are enough still around to delight the heart and the eye.

Dave and I hiked up stream in Molino Basin, and came to this little pool of water. The night before the temperature had dropped almost to the freezing point, so we knew the water would be cool. The air was mild, and we both enjoyed standing in the water in our bare feet.

Frank in pool

 

Here am I standing in cool water and loving it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was particularly fascinated with the way in which the leaves that have fallen into the stream distort the normally flat surface of the water. At the right angle the sun reflects off of these depressions creating the effect of having each leaf rimmed with stars. Dave reminded me that the mathematical name for that is a meniscus.

Leaf in h20

 

Notice the ring of light around the shadow. Note too how the shadow of the stem is much fatter than the stem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About a week later Ed and I hiked into Milagrosa (miraculous) canyon.

Milagrosa cnyn

 

Milagrosa canyon in the center of the picture

 

 

 

 

Our appreciation of the beauty of the grasses was more than canceled out by the realization that the two shown here are invasive and really do not belong in Arizona (Fountain Grass and Natal Grass – the one that is a deeper pink).

grasses

Mixture of Fountain grass and Natal grass

 

 

 

 

We came to the spot where we saw honeycombs on the cliff the last time we were in this canyon. At a respectful distance we watched with our binoculars as the bees in super slow motion, made their way around the combs.

Ed looking at hive

 

Ed looking at the cliff with the honey comb

 

 

 

Hive

 

 

 

The honeycomb left of the saguaro

 

 

 

 

 

On the way into the canyon we saw a saguaro whose single trunk had split into five. On the way out we saw another one up close, and realized that the central trunk had broken off, and clearly the center was gone.

Saguaro stumped 2

Saguaro stumped

 

 

 

 

 

On the left, a single trunk split into five. Above on split into three.

 

We may have seen as many as twenty flowering species on this little hike, and expect to see plants in bloom even up to Christmas.

A GOLDEN MOMENT FROM LONG AGO

What a wonderful flower season we have had, with good summer rains. Gradually the flowers are coming to the end of their blooming season, and the fields are alive with the sounds of insects. Ed and I saw a pair of them when we were returning from a trip to the Chiricahua mountains a few weeks ago. We had turned down a side road, and stopped for a break. There on the pavement were two of the largest grasshoppers in the West. The one on the left was dead. The other went over to check it out and eventually walked off again. It is called the Horse lubber. When it flies you can see that its wings are bright red. I have tried to capture the redness in a photograph, but they are much too quick. Horsed lubber

 

 

A Horse lubber grasshopper, almost three inches long

 

 

 

 

 

Horse lubbers

A live Horse lubber walking away from a squashed on

 

 

 

 

 

hibiscus coulteriFL2

 

Coulter’s hibiscus (Hibiscus coulteri)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hibiscus coulteri fruit

 

After flowering, the petals drop off and the fruit begins to form

 

 

On a recent nature hike we came across the beautiful Coulter’s hibiscus. I went back a few days later, hoping to see the flower again. Instead I saw something I had never seen before: the fruit forming in the middle surrounded by bright red bracts.

My wife, Louise, was going through some old boxes of precious memories, and came across a letter I wrote sixty-one years ago. I was living in England at the time, as was my cousin, Muriel. The two of us went to London the night before the coronation of the present Queen of England, slept on the sidewalk, and in the morning watched something of the procession. This is part of a letter I wrote to Muriel’s mother, my Aunt Olive, and her sister Aunt Vera, both of them born in England but now living in the United States.

“June 3, 1953
“On my little walk I skipped through St. James’ Place, from the Mall to Pall Mall. There I saw many guards with their busby’s holding their lonely vigil. The shops along the Pall Mall were all covered by a row of boards, apparently erected to protect the shop-fronts from being smashed. Inside, and above the level of the boards, there were all kinds of stands erected. There was a lot of last minute construction going on. Iron railings were being put up at Trafalgar Square. White lines were being painted along the Mall. Flowers were distributed everywhere, mostly geraniums and rhododendrons.

“At 3:15 am the police arrived by the bus-load. This was the first thing that had happened for a long while, and so they were cheered lustily by the crowd.

“Frankly, one of my pre-coronation concerns was about bath-room facilities. I soon discovered that the Lavatories in the under-ground were being used. At 2 am Muriel went off, presumably to take advantage of the convenience. She did not return for almost an hour. She explained that there was a terrific queue. Later I saw a young girl come up to a man near us and offer him a penny. With it she said something like this: I’ve given up, Dad, the queue extends all the way to the Clock tower.

“The most thrilling moment of the whole day, was when we first saw the Queen on the way to the Abbey. . . . We could see the top of the coach, and I could see her and the Duke fairly well. But the general feeling of the crowd was overwhelming. This was what they had waited for. They were so excited that they could hardly yell. They simply waved frantically. The coach glided past and the band played God save the Queen. It was unbelievably beautiful with its shining gold, and the wild gestures of all the people.

“The return precession was magnificent. This you will see for yourselves in the movies, no doubt but the overall effect of one hour and fifteen minutes of marching groups of all kinds of people, in the most unusual and beautiful uniforms was something. We were near exhaustion, but persisted just the same. Just as the Queen’s coach passed, a touch of light from the rainy sky hit it, and it shone like some great jewel. It was a great thrill and it was so much fun to see it with Muriel.”

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

Ed and I were walking along the Oracle Ridge Trail, talking about ways of achieving peace of mind. I mentioned how one of the simplest ways to do that is to live in the present. If we can do that we avoid much of the negativity associated with regret of the past, and dread of the future. He mentioned that our nature hikes help to keep us in the present, since we are constantly tuned in to the things in our environment. It was a good thought, and helped to explain why I am mostly in bliss when I am on the trail. I have been on about 120 nature walks in the last nine months, and have found that there is always something to fascinate and please.

Here are some recent gifts:

A brief and pleasant encounter with a rattle snake in the Bug Spring Trail parking lot. The snake even moved out of the vegetation and posed on the paved surface. A real beauty. Just nearby I saw a lizard, and felt like giving it a warning about the snake. Then I rethought my plan, and considered alerting the rattlesnake that there was a meal near by. This reminded me of the time when I was a young boy, and a bunch of us were walking along the tracks by the Penepac Creek in Eastern Pennsylvania. We noticed a snake just starting to swallow a frog. We were indignant, and pulled the frog from its mouth just in time. We thought we were doing good. But who were we to take sides? I realized that this new situation was similar, and I just had to step back and let nature take its course  Black tailed rattlesnake

Black-tailed rattlesnake  Crotalus molossus

 

 

 

 

 

On a nature walk south of the Santa Rita mountains we came across an especially spectacular caterpillar. There were three of them on the stem of an Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) which seems to be its favorite food plant. Calleta silkmoth larva

 

 

Silk worm larva
Eupackardia calleta

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fouquieria splendensPL

Ocotillo – Fouquieria splendens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A more recent walk took us to see the rare (at least in this part of Arizona) and beautiful Pigeon berry. Many in our group had never seen it before. I was able to photograph the plant, and close in on its soft pink flowers. rivina humilis PL

 

 

 

 

Pigeon berry or rouge plant – Rivina humilis

 

 

 

 

Rivina humilis 6

 

Part of the flowering head

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rivina humilis 7

 

 

A close-up of an individual flower

 

 

 

 

Jim and I spent the best part of a day exploring grasses. I added sixteen to my list of ones that I have photographed, including this little beauty, Fluff-grass, another gift of nature.

Erioneuron pulchellum 3

 

 

 

Erioneuron pulchellum 6Erioneuron pulchellum 9mFluff grass – Erioneuron pulchellum

 

 

 

 

 

A close up of one of the heads

 

 

 

 

 

The tiny anther