Ah … What’s Up Doc?

We have rabbits at North Ranch. They’ve always been a fixture at the park, but with the abundant rain and good growing season, they’ve multiplied like … well, rabbits. On our morning walks, Queen Anne and I have spotted a jackrabbit or two, but they only venture onto the property when there’s no rain and they need to drink. They have black tails, cartoon ears, and they’re large enough that, when they rear-up on hind legs, they could slap a coyote silly. They’re also very skittish. Once they know that you’re looking at them, jackrabbits run off and don’t stop until they’re well out of sight in the desert.

Peter
A desert cottontail trying to make a decision.

More common are the desert cottontails. They are house-cat size with brown coats that blend well with the ground. Sometimes we’ll see two or three of them in a yard or they’ll leisurely hop across the street (presumably to get to the other side where the cactus is greener). Humans don’t frighten them and you nearly have to kick them out of your way. If startled, they’ll run about ten feet before they drop from exhaustion. They’re really out of shape.

Roger
Chain-link fences are useless for keeping rabbits out. They pass through them with ease.

When we first moved here, I’d hear Her Highness say, “Ooh look, a bunny. He’s sooo cute.” That was before she started planting flowers. Neighbors warned her about the rabbits eating everything, so she bought containers. She forgot that rabbits hop. Our house soon became the local Bunny-KFC and only plant stubs were left in her pots. Now she pots things they won’t eat and keeps the flowers on the porch.

Buggs
After a hard morning eating expensive landscape, Buggs turns up his nose at rosemary.

I tease her that they could be a cheap source of protein when we become old and destitute. She responded with her normal, “Eww.” People say that rabbit tastes like chicken. I say, “Just eat chicken.” I tried it once in an upscale Scottsdale restaurant and it tasted like … marinara sauce. I like to fish, but I don’t bring them home because she won’t eat them and I don’t care much for cleaning them. I can’t imagine myself skinning and cleaning a rabbit. I’d wind up marinating it with the old Technicolor-yawn before I made it half-way through.

Flopsy and Mopsy
A pair of cottontails scours the bank of a wash for tasty morsels.

In Denali last year we learned about snowshoe hares and how they were the food chain’s staple. Their population rises and falls cyclically. Prey animals that depended on the hare to survive also fluctuate in numbers a season or two behind the snowshoes. I expect that’s true about our cottontails too. I wouldn’t be surprised for them to attract more owls, hawks, bobcats or even a cougar. It’s the coyotes that keep them in balance though. Our local sportsmen have taken to hunting down the packs around North Ranch to protect their favored hound—the mighty Chihuahua.

I’m leery of actions that upset nature’s balance. We should have learned about thoughtless intervention and how often it backfires on us. I’m concerned about killing off too many predators leaving us overrun with desperate diseased and crazy rabbits. Anyone who has seen The Holy Grail knows how horrifying an attack bunny is. I say, this year everybody gets bunny slippers for Christmas.

Till then … jw

Night Creatures

We don’t have pets. We settled that quickly in our first year of marriage. Both of us had dogs before, but Queen Anne prefers yappy purse-dogs and I’m partial to working breeds. Neither was willing to compromise. What ended the debate, however, was that we weren’t willing to clean up after a dog, so we settled on houseplants. It’s worked for us so far.

When we had a fenced back yard, we had no worries about stepping on a surprise package, and we like being outside when the weather’s nice. The Congress house doesn’t have fences and in the past month, we’ve found good size turds in the yard. Our association has a strict dog policy mandating that they don’t run free and the owner must pick-up after them, so I deduced that it was the work of a loose cat I see from time to time. I call him Lucky, because we also have coyotes that move through the neighborhood, yet he’s still alive. Even more of a puzzle is that on our morning walks, we noticed that everyone has presents in their yard. Even the streets have droppings. That’s one hell of a busy cat.

When I got home after a meeting last Monday, I saw a large toad hopping from our driveway into the neighbor’s yard. I forgot about the Sonoran Desert Toads because I hadn’t seen one since I lived in Scottsdale thirty-five years ago. They hibernate most of the year and only come out at night during the monsoon season. Their backs carry poison glands that can kill a dog if it bites into it. You shouldn’t try to pick one up because they’re also toxic to humans. After they mate and lay eggs in standing water, they crawl back into a hole and sleep for another year.

It was our neighbor—Jane— that told us about the toad scat. “It couldn’t be, it’s too big for a toad! It’s gotta’ be a dog,” I thought.  She was right because the poop easily breaks down in a light rain leaving only the undigested insect exoskeletons which look like a handful of dry oatmeal. Damn! You learn something every day, I hate picking it up, but I can’t blame the neighbors anymore.

When we drove home from the Herberger opening reception last Friday, I put on the high beams and slowly turned into the driveway. I hoped to show Anne one of the toads. We lucked out because she spotted something by the porch stairs. Except it didn’t hop, it crawled. “Is there a flashlight in here,” Anne asked.

“Sure,” I answered and dug around in the console to fish it out. I turned it on and got out of the truck and went for a better look. When I was close, I turned and shouted, “You got to come and look.” She walked over from the truck and saw what I had in the light; she ran up the porch stairs without her feet ever touching them. It was a tarantula, about the size of my hand … If I had LeBron James’ hands. We followed it for a while—me from the yard and her from the porch—until I got bored and handed her the light so I could put the truck in the garage.

After I put Fritz away, I walked through the house and joined her on the front porch. Mr. Spider had made it around the porch as she silently watched. The giant spider acted like it was out for an evening stroll and seemed a bit annoyed in the spotlight. It stayed next to the house as it moved south. When I saw enough, I handed the light to Anne and went inside.

Soon the screen door slammed and Anne bellowed, “There’s a tarantula in my front yard. We’re moving.” Then she went to the desk and put new batteries in the flashlight before going back outside. I don’t know when she came in, because I went to bed. When I asked the next morning, she told me that she watched it until it disappeared into the neighbor’s yard. Then she explained how we were going to seal up the house so they couldn’t get in. Now, she’s an old tarantula hand, they don’t faze her, but she won’t venture off the porch when it’s dark.

Till then … jw

It Is No More … It Ceases To Exist …

In the months before we married, my ex-wife bought a 59 cent Schefflera from Berridge Nursery as an apartment decoration. It came in a green-plastic pint container and was less than six inches tall with the same amount of shoots having the characteristic radial leaf pattern. She put it on the counter under the kitchen window so it could get enough light. Her cat, Frodo—being a contemptuous animal that cats are—ate half of the tiny plant’s leaves during the night. It would have made sense for her to toss the plant and run down the street to buy another, but she scolded the cat and moved the half eaten plant to a safer place.

Ten years passed, and my ex and I went our separate ways. When we divided the house, I got custody of the Schefflera. By now it was a waist-high shrubbery living in a large pot. When I moved into my condo, I put it at the end of my couch by French doors. It looked good there. Even when Queen Anne moved in, she agreed and promptly named it Harvey, which was how she marked her territory.  Between the high ceilings and southern exposure, Harvey continued to grow. Like kids and shoes, we constantly re-potted him. He grew to eight feet. When we sat at that end of the couch, his overhead leaves would shade us.

After another decade, we wanted a house, and as we looked for a place, one of our considerations was where to put Harvey. He needed space. With the help of a realtor, we found a place only five miles away, and after navigating all the paperwork we hired movers to schlep our crap to the new house. Harvey was one of the last things to go, so he wound up in the back of someone’s pick-up truck. We didn’t trust him with the movers, but as I followed behind, I watched in horror as the forty-five mile an hour wind began to shred his leaves. By the time we put him in the new house, he looked like a tornado victim. He went into shock and the taller branches were wind-burnt, so we pruned and nursed him. He managed to survive, but he was forever stunted.

The next time Queen Anne had her seven-year itch, we were wiser. On this move, we made sure to wrap Harvey in a sheet and put him inside the moving truck. He didn’t go into shock and he made it without damage. He was a bit stubbier but had new growth each year. We found a spot for him in the family room at the end of the couch where he watched TV and listened to music with us for another seven years.

Our latest move was two years ago—to Congress and retirement. By now we were old hands a moving our pygmy tree. Even though we stayed in temporary housing for a month, when we settled in, Harvey took his place at the couch’s end and stood proudly. As we neared our Alaska Trip, he looked scraggly and we worried he wouldn’t make it, so Anne found a plant-sitter to look after Harvey and his siblings. Before we left, we moved everyone to the dining room where the light is better and it’s not as warm. The plant-sitters did a good job and all the plants survived the summer without us.

Even though we’ve stayed home this year, we haven’t been as lucky. With the porch and large Palo Verde tree out front, the light in the living room is marginal. To manage the summer heat, we’ve also been closing the blinds, which means less light. Harvey started losing leaves. To get more light, we moved him to the dining room and then in front of the guest bedroom’s north facing window. Anne has rooted in the soil trying to aerate it. His last leaf fell off on Tuesday. I think he’s root bound and has slowly drowned. He looks like the summer mesquite—just leafless branches. I’m afraid that our forty-five-year-old living room centerpiece has gone to the great salad bar in the sky. I suggested to Anne that we throw in the towel and replace him.

She turned, scowled and barked, “He’s not dead … he’s merely resting his eyes.”

Till then … jw

Eww, Bugs

Because we’re so snobbish, we don’t have trash pickup at our house. Instead, we toss the garbage and recycle into Fritz and drive up to the local refuse transfer station. It sounds like another chore, but we get pleasure out of dump runs by stopping off for breakfast while we’re out. There are three local restaurants we can choose from, and we choose which one to eat at depending on the hankering we have at the time. The Ranch House is in Yarnell at the top of the pass, and they have the best ham and eggs. The ham is so big it should come on its own plate and I always get a doggie box, because we can get two more meals out of it. Nichols West is our swanky joint and they probably serve the best Eggs Benedict in the county (if not the state). Finally, there’s the Arrowhead Bar and Grill — usually frequented by geezer bikers that are on a weekend road trip reliving the youth they wished they had. It’s the Plain-Jane of the trio, but it’s the most convenient and so we eat there most often.

Saturday was this week’s dump day and after unloading the truck and heading back, we pulled into Arrowhead’s parking lot. It was exactly 8:00 am and some people were standing in the parking lot talking. The door to the dining room had a sign saying it was closed, so Anne rolled the window down and asked the group what was going on. The group was the new owners having just bought the place two weeks ago. The wife explained that the dining area was infested with boxelder bugs, but the kitchen and bar were open. She added that the exterminator just left but the treatment would need some time for it to work. We considered leaving but they told us that the area was under siege, including the other two places that we frequent. Reluctantly we decided to risk it.

Boxelder bugs are beetles smaller than your pinky fingernail, and Wikipedia said that they get their name because they favor the tree of the same name. They winter over in the warmth of nearby structures by invading through cracks and crevices. You may see one or two of them occasionally, but they lay eggs in the millions that hatch at the same time. The swarm forms large mats of bugs on the warm side of rocks and buildings until they dry out. Then they fly back to good tasting vegetation nearby. I don’t know what they eat here because I don’t think boxelder trees grow in Arizona, but it must be good and plentiful, because (with all the rain we’ve had) there’s an exceptional hatch of bugs this year. They’re not aggressive and don’t bite, but like a mosquito, they can leave a mark if they think you’re food.

Boxelder Bud
The innocuous boxelder bug is harmless until they swarm in the millions.

We’ve seen other insect hatches on our morning walks. White flies, midges, no-see-ums, and those irritating mosquitoes. Early this summer while driving down our street, we drove through a bee swarm moving diagonally to the neighborhood. Until I figured out what they were, I thought it was a dust storm.

We tried to have breakfast at the bar and ordered our usual. As I drank my coffee and Anne her Diet Coke, we watched each other for bugs. Occasionally one would land on our tee-shirt and the other would brush it off. When they served breakfast, we hurriedly gulped it down before ‘the pepper’ moved on the plate. Before we could finish, our waitress came over and apologized and told us that they were closing. “The owners want to say they are sorry by comping your meal,” she said. We left a large tip and thanked them as we left.

On the way home, we had to stop at the Quickie Mart and Post Office. On each of those walls were large mats of bugs with others crawling away from the swarm. My hair is itching just writing about it. We live four miles down the road from town and nary a bug is found. I don’t know what we’d do if they invaded our house. Fortunately, they move on in a week and things go back to normal.

So the next time you think that humans rule the world, just remember insects were around before dinosaurs. Our 7.5 billion world population looks tiny in comparison. I’ll bet there are more boxelder bugs in Congress now. Enjoy your breakfast … watch the pepper closely.

Till then … jw

Springerville, Here We Come

It’s almost the middle of August. Queen Anne and I got our monthly allowance and paid the bills, but we have a couple of bucks left over and they’re burning a hole in our pockets, so we’re getting out-of-town for a week. The plan is to head for the hills … literally. To be precise, we’re off to Springerville and the White Mountains. Once again we’ll be camping in the trailer, or as my friend, Jeff once said, “We’ll be taking the Mercedes and spending a week in the Ritz.” That joke won’t be funny anymore if we ever get a different truck.

Normally we escape the desert’s heat at the north rim. We love going there because there’s nothing to do. So we pack all of our crap and do nothing for a week … except for sleep in the cool air, eat, snooze, drink,  slumber … and then take a nap. That was before we were doing this blog, and there’s no Wi-Fi up there. There’s also no radio, phone coverage, television or any other form of communication … well, maybe smoke signals, but I’m lost without auto-correct.

We picked Springerville — actually, the town of Eager which is next door — because it’s central to a lot of touristy stuff. We found a campground that (in reviews) has decent Wi-Fi, so we’re going to go play Tommy and Tammy Tourist and write about it … just like last summer. Won’t that be fun? I hope you’ll join us.

Rich Hill Rainbow
As an afternoon storm moves north, a rainbow touches a peak in the Weaver Range known as Rich Hill. Hmm.

PS: This is a new picture that I put up on my site a few moments ago. I hope you’re not tired of these storm photos because I’m having fun with them. It’s just a phase I’m going through, I’ll get over it.

What a Doozy

I’ve been reporting about this year’s monsoon season, how afternoon storms roll through here every other day, how they put on a great show, and how they have distinct personalities. Today I want to tell you about last Tuesday’s storm. It was a doozy!

August Storm
The clouds from Tuesday’s storm ran the full gamut of gray, from white to black.

The day started off normal enough, the Queen and I ran into town to do some errands and grab a bite of lunch. As we drove home, we noticed clouds building up in the west and south. We ignored them, because it’s rare that weather comes in from those directions. Since there wasn’t a lot of activity over the mountains that normally affect us, I figured that we’d have a quiet evening. When we got home, I laid down for a nap, but when I woke an hour later, the house was dark. The sun wasn’t streaming in the windows, so I stepped outside to check the skies. Everywhere I looked were storm clouds in every shade of gray; white to black. The most menacing patch was over the pass where Yarnell is. As I watched for a few minutes, I realized it was heading in our direction.

From Yarnell
As the winds pushed through the pass, they began to form vortexes like you often see on aircraft wing tips.

I’ve been having fun and some success shooting storms as they move in this summer. I was playing junior storm chaser and already had a couple of, as I call them, Mitch Dobrowner—light images, and here was another chance at dramatic weather shots. I grabbed my camera and walked down the street to the open desert. As I began clicking off frames, the darkest section of the front cleared the mountain range and began behave oddly. As it forced its way through the pass, it formed a vortex and began dropping in elevation. It looked like the spirals coming off Formula One wings during rain races. Behind the main thrust, the mountains disappeared in a curtain of black rain. Since the storm was closing fast, I started walking back to the house. Half way home, I turned for one last shot, and as the wind picked up, I could feel drops on my skin. When I got back to the house, I told Anne that we have to think about finding a safe place to hide should the storm spawn a tornado.

White House Before the Storm
As I made my way back to the house, I turned to take this shot. After I got home, I told Anne that we may need to find a safe place to hide.

The full force of the wind hit just as we were checking out the kitchen pantry. We watched the front tree blow back and forth brushing its limbs against the porch for a few minutes before we heard a pounding on the roof and kitchen sky light. It was too loud for rain, and we went out on the back deck we confirmed that hail was pelting the house. In a matter of minutes, the hail began to turn our red-rock drive to white, then just as quickly, a heavy rain started and washed the hail away. Even though we were on the leeward side of the house we got soaked because the wind whipped and swirled so the rain was coming in under the roof.

Lake What-a-muck-a
That’s not grain, it’s rain. In minutes the back yard went from rock to covered in hail and finally to Lake What-a-muck-a.

For a moment, I thought about getting my rain jacket and microphone out so I could pose like one of those idiot Weather Chanel reporters do in a hurricane, but I decided not to because I’d have to stand out in the wind, rain, and lightning. Besides, I don’t have a waterproof microphone. In a matter of minutes, the back yard turned into Lake What-a-muck-a.

Meanwhile, out front the streets were fast flowing, knee-deep rivers from curb to curb. The swift flowing water would have knocked you down if you attempted to wade across them. The streets were designed to drain to a wash that cuts through the park, but it was running beyond capacity and couldn’t take any more run-off.

Within an hour the wind and rain stopped. The thunder and lightning continued for a while but finally died as the storm moved south. Anne and I ventured out on the front porch and watched the water slowly recede uncovering sand bars. Neighbors ventured out of their homes and compared notes. Those that have rain gauges said they had 2-2.4 inches for the hour-long storm. I would guesstimate the wind gusts a conservative 60 mph. All of our water ran down the dry creeks to Wickenburg where the evening news had flooding stories.

While out walking the next morning, we were surprised there wasn’t more damage in the neighborhood. A handful of trees had broken limbs, some ocotillos were knocked over and some of the wash’s engineering suffered, but there wasn’t much structural damage. I had to mend some skirting, but that was it. Mostly the people we saw were busy shoveling dirt from the streets back into their yards. Not bad for the storm of the year.

Till then … jw

The Face of Mother Earth in a Sand Pile

As I wrote earlier this week, we’ve had a pretty good Monsoon Season. The afternoon storms have brought rain every other day. A couple of the storms were short but intense causing a lot of run-offs. The amount of rain is too much for the soil to absorb and so, most of it runs into the street. If the flow is great enough, it will drag sand off the lots on to the street.

On our morning walks around the trailer park, Queen Anne and I come across these sand trails all the time. One of them, however, stopped me in my tracks. I saw something that I recognized and as we examined it, we realized it was a pretty good map of the North American Continent. Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Cuba, and Mexico were all in their places. Missing in the map was Florida, some of the Aleutian Islands and parts of the east coast. With climate change and all, maybe it’s a sign of things to come.

A map of North America in sand run-off
A pretty good map of North America that we found in sand run-off while on our morning walk.

What do you think?

Till then … jw

ps: After three storm cells move through the area last evening, it washed more, sand onto the street. On this morning’s walk, the shape was completely different. Only the Alaska part remained recognizable.