Monday, January 31, 2011

Hoots, Howls, and Hollers 01/31/2011

There is no better way to re-enthuse my passion for the desert than taking a novice out for a hike. To see things through fresh eyes awakens awareness that sometimes seems to be put in a holding pattern. For example, I walk the same neighborhood twice a day and could probably do it blindfolded. All of the sudden the normal configuration blinks differently, and I look to see what is missing…sometimes it is as big as a home taken down in a matter of hours to make way for “progress”. Or, it may be the addition of a tall and perfect saguaro which on closer examination turns out to be a cell phone tower. They are cropping up all over my neighborhood and while a little off putting, at least they aren’t metal towers….I am growing a sort of fond of them and will really accept them when the Gila woodpecker finds a way to move in. But, it is this moving by rote that needs to get jostled up every once in a while.

This sameness holds for desert hikes. Recently I had the opportunity to hike in the Preserve with a friend from Northern California who had never experienced the desert before. He lives in an area where meandering from his back door was a trail into the mountains and that was the hiking experience he was used to. How fun to introduce someone to cactus, especially as grand as the real saguaro….gigantic, imperfect in symmetry, housing a number of critters, and providing nutrition for others. Or how about a tree with green trunks and limbs…the palo verde is unique vegetation, and its success story makes for great hiking conversation. Add to that the variety of other cactus and desert plants that blanket the desert floor quietly waiting to be noticed.

While I have hiked the same trail for many years, I find myself looking for things in a new way, in order to share my passion with this newbie. You know you have a special opportunity when the first question asked is “How come these parks don’t have any grass?” Ah, perfect! Look closely at how it all works together. Observe the lower branches of the palo verde, and believe it or not that is a fox resting in the limbs. Or, the red tail hawk soaring overhead displaying with a mate….readying things for this year’s breeding season. The stand of cholla that looks forbidding and spiteful will be the home of a road runner family who takes advantage of the protection provided by snarls of spines, stickers, snags. A chuckwalla commonly suns on the rocks just on the other side of the trail and a rattlesnake has been seen crossing the trail in front of me….warning me of its presence with the alarming sound or rattles (what a cool adaptation!). And, listen for the howls of the coyotes as they yip, yip, yip at the setting doubt about that sound….a sentinel of the desert.

There may not be green grass, but in the desert everything is green, be it subtle, all year long and if you are lucky enough to be present during the resplendent spring with bright yellow adorned trees and vibrant cactus flowers….you know it would rival any landscape. You may have to work at appreciating the desert and her glories, but let there be no doubt about how glorious they are! Wake up your awareness and smell the subtleties.

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