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Parry’s Agave

 

Parry's Agave. It's not a great photo, especial given the background, but I only had this view from below it's high perch. I'm so glad I could finally identify it. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Parry’s Agave. It’s not a great photo, especial given the background, but I only had this view from below its high perch. I’m so glad I could finally identify it. — Photo by Pat Bean

   “There are more truths in a good book than its author meant to put in it.”-Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

Reading Let Me Name a Plant

During my recent road trip to the top of Mount Lemmon, I snapped a photo of a tall plant high on a cliff. I couldn’t see its base, just a slender stalk whose top was bedecked in candelabra fashion with clusters of green nodules. I wondered if it was a plant or a tree.

And this is what the plant looks like before it shoots up a stalk. -- Wikimedia photo

And this is what the plant looks like before it shoots up a stalk. — Wikimedia photo

This morning, as I was reading Richard Shelton’s Going Back to Bisbee – a fascinating book that is educating me about the landscape of my new home in the Sonoran Desert of Southeastern Arizona – I came across a perfect description of the plant, and learned that it was a Parry’s agave, an amazing cactus.

The one I saw was probably between 10 and 25 years old, and was in its final year of life, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it. The plant, for most of its life, is short and bowl-like. When it finally blooms, it sends all of its life forces into a stalk that quickly sprouts up to 20 feet tall, and sends out blossoms at the top. The one I saw hadn’t bloomed yet, but Shelton described the blossoms as “shallow bowls about half a foot across and filled with frothy pink ice cream.”

A few pages on in the book, Shelton wrote about the magic of names and naming, a skill which all good writers should possess. A tree is never just a tree it’s a live oak or a baobab, a dog is a Rottweiler or a poodle, and a bird is a robin or a golden eagle. Such naming provides better images in a reader’s mind. And being able to put a name to something, be it a tree, a mountain, or a plant, gives me joy. So thank you Richard Shelton for helping me learn the name of the plant that I photographed – and for writing such a fantastic book, which I’m slowly savoring.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: The Methuselah Grove   http://tinyurl.com/hskgrcj Great Basin National Park, one of my favorite places.

             “At one time in my life, I sought logic in everything – now I know better.” – Pat Bean

A section of a page from the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, whichI used to identify the Lucifer hummingbird. My bird looked exactly like the lower right photo, including the purple specks on the neck. Since I'm a writer and not a photographer, I didn't get a good photo.

A section of a page from the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which I used to identify the Lucifer hummingbird. My bird looked exactly like the lower right photo, including the purple specks on the neck. Since I’m a writer and not a photographer, I didn’t get a good photo.

A Lucifer Hummingbird

I’ve birded all over North America and a few other places as well. I’m not quick on identifying species, like many of my birding mentors, mostly I think because I didn’t become passionate about the addictive activity until I was 60. As birding goes, I’m a late bloomer.

I did get a fairly decent photo of a house finch that was on the bird feeder hung on my balcony. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I did get a fairly decent photo of a house finch that was on the bird feeder hung on my balcony. — Photo by Pat Bean

Before 1999, I could identify cardinals and mockingbirds, the first because it was so red and distinctive, and the latter because it was the State Bird of Texas, and I saw it everywhere as a child. I also thought I could identify house sparrows because they are so common. But once I began studying bird field guides, I realized there were over 35 different sparrows in North America alone – and only some of the ones I had been seeing were house sparrows.

One of the reasons I enjoy birding is because I enjoy reading mysteries, and identifying the murderer before the last page. Identifying a bird by its field marks is pretty similar. Another reason I enjoy birding is because I’m an avid list keeper – and listing the birds I’ve seen is fun for me.

This morning I identified my 709th bird,

It was a Lucifer hummingbird, flitting about in a tree near my living room balcony. It was hard at first for me to believe it, but the curved-down bill couldn’t be mistaken. It would have been a cinch to identify if it had been an adult male, which has a brilliant purple throat, but this one was a young juvenile – but with all the right field marks, including cinnamon-colored sides and a few purple flecks on its throat.

As far as hummingbirds go, Tucson has six common species: Anna’s, broad-billed, broad-tailed, Costa, black-shinned and rufous. I’ve seen all six at my hummingbird feeder just within the past two weeks.

A Lucifer hummingbird in Tucson, however, is rare – but possible. It’s a Mexican species that occasionally flies across the border into Southeastern Arizona and Texas’ Big Bend Region. While it never came to my nectar feeder, I watched it off and on for over half an hour as it flitted about the tree next to my apartment. Each sighting more definitely confirmed my good luck.

I’m a happy birder. The Lucifer was a lifer for me.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: More about birds http://tinyurl.com/hgb22z9 The butcher bird, also known as the loggerhead strike. Great photos.

 

Sky Island Scenic Byway

 

Looking down from one of the many overlooks on the Sky Island Scenic Byway. I stopped at almost every overlook. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Looking down from one of the many overlooks on the Sky Island Scenic Byway. I stopped at almost every overlook. — Photo by Pat Bean

The Wanderings of a Nested Wanderer

Sky islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different landscapes. My wondering-wandering curiosity had me looking up the term after I drove the Sky Island Scenic Byway to the top of Mount Lemon as a day road trip to pacify my wanderlust. We left before the sun came up and my canine companion, Pepper, and I didn’t get back home from the 60-mile round trip until mid-afternoon.

Hoodoos, like this, were plentiful along the way. I love the word hoodoo -- and the most colorful ones can be found in Southern Utah. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Hoodoos, like this, were plentiful along the way. I love the word hoodoo — and the most colorful ones can be found in Southern Utah. — Photo by Pat Bean

It was a great, soul cleansing day.

I hadn’t really heard the tern sky island until I settled in Tucson three years ago, and then it seemed to be frequently popping up. That’s because, the Catalina, Santa Rita and the Chiricahua mountain ranges that surround Tucson are all perfect examples of sky islands.

I live in the 3-000-foot shadow of the 9,159-foot tall Mount Lemmon, meaning my road trip took me from an arid desert landscape to a much cooler landscape 6,000 feet higher. It was the perfect escape on a hot day. A gazillion bicyclists thought so too. Next time, perhaps, I’ll take the drive on a weekday instead of a weekend.

Real soon, I decided.

I called this one spaceship rock. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I called this one spaceship rock. — Photo by Pat Bean

Bean Pat: Raspberry Sunset http://tinyurl.com/j68j4cf Great Yellowstone wildlife capture with a camera. I love this blog.

.           “Time passes too fast. Like a hummingbird flying by, it’s just a blur to my eyes.” – Amanda Leigh

A male Anna's hummingbird. But the one I saw this morning was a less colorful female. Wikimedia photo, Brocken Inaglory

A male Anna’s hummingbird. But the one I saw this morning was a less colorful female. Wikimedia photo, Brocken Inaglory

Life is Good

Female Anna's hummingbird. -- Wikimedia photo

Female Anna’s hummingbird. — Wikimedia photo

Last night, at around 9 o’clock, I sat on my bedroom’s third-floor balcony and watched lightning flash across the sky like fireworks. Sometimes a deep rumbling followed, but mostly it was a silent event, until I moved to the living room balcony where the rumbling was more consistent. The air smelled musty with the rain that never fell, and I was awed by the deep magenta hue of the sky, wondering how that was possible.

The show was long, and so I fixed myself a Jack and Coke and settled into a patio chair to watch in leisure, afterwards falling into a relaxed sleep that held me until a sliver of light seeped through my bedroom shutters.

Broad-billed Hummingbird at the San Diego Zoo. -- Wikimedia photo

Broad-billed Hummingbird at the San Diego Zoo. — Wikimedia photo

The morning was muggy, but still cool enough here in Tucson for me to sit again on my balcony and sky watch, this time with my morning ritual of cream-laced coffee and my journal. As I watched, through my usually handy binoculars, a broad-billed hummingbird landed on a nearby tree and then zoomed straight to my nectar feeder that sat above my head. Seeing me, it zoomed away, but soon returned, and after deciding I was harmless, fed.

Then there were two hummingbirds flitting about in competition for the feeder. The second one was a black-chinned hummingbird, the species I see most often. After they had left, a third hummingbird appeared and drank. It was an Anna’s, although because it was a female, it took me a while to identify. The males, with their spectacular pinkish-purplish heads are an identification no-brainer.

Black-chinned hummingbird -- Wikimedia photo

Black-chinned hummingbird — Wikimedia photo

Seeing these three hummingbird species took me back to the morning I awoke to find three hummingbirds flitting in my ten. It happened in 1991, during a rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – before I became addicted to bird watching. I had no idea what species of hummingbirds they were at that time. I’m not sure I even knew then that hummingbirds came in different races.

While seeing those three hummingbirds flitting above my head in the tent 25 years ago thrilled me, seeing the trio this morning, and being able to identify each of them, was just as thrilling.

Life is good. And I am blessed.

Sax Zim Bog

             “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharial Nehru

Great gray owl in flight. -- Wikimedia photo, Arne List.

Great gray owl in flight. — Wikimedia photo, Arne List.

Feeding my Wanderlust

            I’ve had wanderlust in my soul since reading “I Married Adventure” by Osa Johnson when I was 10 years old. Going on an African Safari in 2007, and finally seeing the wildlife she so vividly describes in her book, was the fulfillment of a life-long dream, as was traveling the United States from border-to-border and coast-to-coast for nine years in a small RV.

Great gray owl, Ontario, Canada. -- Wikimedia photo

North America’s largest owl, the great gray owl in Ontario, Canada. — Wikimedia photo

While my traveling days are not over, they are currently put on hold because of age and lack of deep pockets. I compensate by reading travel blogs and books. I also read a lot about birds, as birding is a late-blooming passion that addicted me at exactly the right time in my life.

Both birding and my wanderlust came together when I picked up Neil Hayward’s book Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year. The passage I was reading this morning was Neil’s account of chasing a Connecticut warbler in Sax Zim Bog. The name stopped me cold, tickling and delighting my wanderlust the same as hearing the names of places like Timbuctoo, Shangri-La and Zanzibar.

So of course I had to find my atlas, and then explore the Internet to learn more about the bog. The exotic sounding place is about 300 square miles of not just bog, but also aspen uplands, rivers, lakes, meadows, farms and a couple of towns in Northern Minnesota. Neil, doused liberally with mosquito repellant, visited a quite boggy patch of Sax Zim to successfully find his target bird, allowing me to follow him along in my armchair without getting bitten.

My bonus for taking the journey with Neil, followed by my online research, was to discover a You Tube video of a great gray owl sighting in Sax Zim Bog. It was so beautiful I almost cried. Sadly this bird is not on my life list of over 700 birds. But who knows what the future may hold?

Bean Pat: Great gray owl sighting at Sax Zim Bog http://tinyurl.com/gopkqt7 I hope this video thrills you as much as it did me.

Photo Challenge

A small patch of bank beside the Gunnison River in Colorado. -- Photo by Pat Bean

A small patch of bank beside the Gunnison River in Colorado. — Photo by Pat Bean

Details

Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. Ernest Hemingway

Kinship and Surprises

Agatha Christie on her world tour in 1922.

Agatha Christie on her world tour in 1922.

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” — Sophia Loren

 

The Wonderful World of Books

I’m currently reading Diana Athill’s “Somewhere towards the End,” which was written when she was in her late 80s. She’s now 98 and still going. While I’m only in my 70s, I find that Diana’s reflections on life expressed in her book often mirror my own.

Agatha Christie with her surf board in Hawaii.

Agatha Christie with her surf board in Hawaii.

For example, both of us are big readers, and both started our reading adventures focused heavily on fiction. But we both find ourselves reading more and more non-fiction books with each passing year.

Writes Diana: “I am puzzled by something which I believe I share with a good many other oldies. I have gone off novels.” She then goes on to ponder, with no definitive answer, why this is?

Of course I had to ponder the same question. I think it’s because I no longer need to escape from life but am more fully willing to embrace it. But then it’s also because I love surprises, and real life seems to contain just as many, if not more, of them than the make-believe worlds.

For example, I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie’s, whose mysteries often hold many surprises. But the book about her that I’m now reading – The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery – has also held a few surprises.

The book, which mostly consists of letters to her mother, written while she was on a world tour with her husband in 1922, has also been full of surprises, completely changing my preconceived idea of who Christie was. I think I saw her as an extension of Jane Marple.

But Jane Marple never went surfing, and Agatha Christie loved to surf. I’m not sure why I thought this was so absurd, but the book contained illustrations to prove it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but learning to read is one of the greatest gifts life has bestowed on me. So what’s everyone else reading these days?

Bean Pat: The Iris and the Lily http://tinyurl.com/jy6sqkf This blogger is just beginning her retirement years and she’s off to a great start.

 

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