Sunday, May 19, 2019

Making the Desert a Home



The desert is an interesting and fascinating but also very hostile and unforgiving environment. Living here sounds like hardship and constant fighting for survival. And yet, there are animals who call this place their home, and they not only survive, they thrive here.

What comes to mind first are all kinds of lizards and iguanas. They are made for this environment. I'm not quite sure what kinds of iguanas or lizards these are - I suspect the first and third ones are Spinytail iguanas (but I can't say for sure) and the one in the middle is a Chuckwalla.




Of course our super survivalist, the coyote, calls the desert home just like he feels at home in so many other areas. No matter what other people say and think about coyotes, I love these animals. They preferred to escape the heat of the day by sleeping in the shade.


 Do I see a smile on this face?



Another favorite of mine, misunderstood and hated by so many, is the wolf, and I was quite surprised to learn that wolves are found in the desert as well. Mexican Gray Wolf, that is - also known as lobo. It was once native to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. It is now the most endangered gray wolf in North America. In a collaboration between the USA and Mexico, all remaining lobos in the wild were captured to prevent them from becoming extinct. Five wild Mexican wolves were used to start a captive breeding program from which captive-bred animals were released into recovery areas in Arizona and New Mexico to recolonize them in their former historical range. By now there are about 150 Mexican wolves living wild and about 240 in captive breeding programs.

They are stunningly beautiful animals.


Any idea who this paw belongs to?


It's a mountain lion (cougar, puma - take your pick) - yes, another one of my favorites. I was actually looking forward to seeing the cougar but she wasn't in the mood to present herself. Therefore, a picture from several years back, my all-time favorite:


Cougars, of course, are not limited to the desert. They also can be found in other environments and areas. Sometimes they venture into urban areas. Just a couple weeks ago a juvenile cougar strolled around our downtown mall in the early hours of a Monday morning. Every now and then mountain lions are also spotted in or near my neighborhood. I usually don't walk alone between dusk and dawn.

Another "desert cat" is the bobcat that - like the cougar - is also found in other areas. This one was resting in its cave and therefore the photo is mediocre at best.


There's an animal that looks like a pig - its home is the Sonora-Arizona desert, but it is also found throughout Central and South America. However, it's by no means a pig (don't ever call it a pig!) but a Collared Peccary or Javelina, as they are called here. Yes, they do look like wild pigs... but they aren't. They are very social animals and often form herds. They have scent glands under each eye and on their back; they use scent to mark herd territory and each other so that they quickly recognize Javelinas from outside their herd. They have communal spaces that they share - for example, they always poop in the same space. It's like their bathroom.


Bighorn Sheep live in the desert as well, and I can easily picture them in the rocky parts, climbing easily and watching their surroundings from their high point of advantage.


Of course opportunists make their home in the desert as well. Any place where we don't find these guys?


I can't forget the birds that live in the desert, many of which, like the Gila woodpecker, I only heard but didn't see. But I saw orioles and cactus wrens who were singing their little hearts out. Their song actually reminded me of sounds I had heard in Hawai'i. They loved to hang out in the Ocotillos.





And of course the most famous of them all, the Roadrunner:


All these photos were taken in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson. We have been visiting this place since 2002 and have always loved it. If you have never been and happen to be in that area, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours here. You won't regret it.





Friday, May 17, 2019

Wine and Waves



It is tradition in our family that on Mother's Day I decide how we will spend the day. We often went to Mendocino, walking the streets of this beautiful coastal town and hiking out on the headlands. But this year I wanted something different. A wine-making friend of ours had told us about a winery in Anderson Valley that makes great Gewürztraminer. This is one of my favorite white wines, but I have seldom found a really good one in the States (the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, by the way, makes excellent Gewürztraminer). I wanted to try this, but since Anderson Valley is a bit to drive to we waited until this special occasion.


Mother's Day was beautiful with warm temperatures and sunny skies. We stopped on the way for breakfast to have some "foundation" before tasting wine. The drive up Anderson Valley is beautiful especially right now when everything is still rather green, but we already saw - with weariness - the first dry spots.

Coming from Sonoma County we were prepared to pay a tasting fee (that is always waived when you buy a bottle) and were pleasantly surprised when we didn't have to pay but got our first tastings right away. I have to say, the Gewürztraminer was delicious and reminded me of the Alsatian ones (which are my favorites). They also had some very decent Riesling (another favorite) including a Late Harvest one which is not my thing at all (way too sweet). These wines have the flavor of home for me.


The winery is beautifully located in the rolling hills among the vineyards. There is ample space to sit outside, have a picnic, drink a bottle of their wine and just enjoy the scenery.



We didn't spent too much time here, though, but bought a few bottles and then went on toward the ocean. I love the Pacific and I especially love driving along our Highway 1 that hugs the rugged coast with repeatedly stunning views of the ocean and the cliffs.


It was a typical Northern California day at the coast - some sun, lots of wind - and of course fog. The marine layer seems to be omnipresent here.

We stopped several times just to enjoy the view, listen to the waves crashing onto the shore and watching the birds and insects humming around the cow parsnip and the purple thistles.



The lighthouse at Point Arena is halfway down the highway - a place where we always stop. This is the tallest lighthouse on the coast and - you always wanted to know this - sitting on a piece of land of the Continental US that is the closest to the Hawai'ian islands.


This is also the location where the infamous San Andreas Fault dips into the ocean.


The coastline is rough here - no soft sandy beaches. The wind has no mercy. Some trees don't make it, but are still beautiful.


Others just find a different way to survive.





Sunday, May 5, 2019

An Image and Its Story - April 2019

There weren't too many photos in April. I mainly took photos in my garden for the "100 day project" that I'm doing on Instagram. Apart from that my camera wasn't put to work very much. But when I looked through those garden photos to find the photo for the month of April I quickly decided on this one. I gave it a bit of an "older" feel but that was pretty much all the processing I did.


My garden has a lot of plants and flowers, but I also love to put decorative elements in it. These angels were bought several years apart form each other and I think they make a great pair. The small wooden bench I found in a thrift store - the perfect place for the chubby angels to lounge. They're sitting at the base of a Japanese maple and are surrounded by peonies, Japanese anemones and heuchera. This is a corner in my garden that gets morning light but then slowly shade takes over. It's a bit mysterious with lush foliage and stunning blooms. This is exactly the mood I wanted to create. It took a few years to get there and it's still a work in progress. A garden always is.



Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Blooming Desert



After the spectacular superbloom in Walker Canyon we proceeded to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This park is always worth a visit in the spring when the desert comes to life after the winter rains. Since we had so much rain this year the bloom in the desert was stunning, however, not quite as bright and "happy colored" as in Walker Canyon (you really can't beat a California poppy in that). Anza-Borrego is a very different landscape, rocky and barren - a hot hot desert in the summer.



But spring is the time to be here - it's warm, but not unbearable. Actually a really nice change after the rainy, grey and rather chilly days.

The dominant colors were purple - lots of phacelia here - yellow, white and pink.




The Red Barrel Cactus had blooms and so had the Silver Cholla.




We saw a lot of old wood decaying on the ground with new growth around it. It was like seeing the circle of life in one place.



The Ocotillo stands out because it's taller than all the other plants and birds often like to land on it. When it's blooming the orioles (and probably other birds) like to feed from its nectar.


Deserts are interesting and unique landscapes since they're all different. I'm not quite sure what attracts me to them, but they sure are places I enjoy tremendously.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Mother of All Cathedrals



Sometimes things happen thousands of miles away that slice right through your heart.

On Monday after I had left work I saw that my daughter had sent me a text, asking me whether I had heard about the big fire in Notre-Dame. I had not - I don't check my phone at work and I don't go online outside of work-related tasks. Therefore, I was oblivious what had happened that evening in Paris.

I checked in on the European news when I came home, and what I saw filled me with deep sadness. Watching that beautiful steeple fall in the flames... on top, the smoke and the fire raised very unpleasant memories. Someone once said that there is a forest in the roof of the cathedral - centuries-old timber of oaks - and it burned up like that. Half of that roof was still from the 13th century (in comparison, the roof of the Cologne cathedral was built with steel in the 19th century, a decision that was very controversial at that time but proved to be a wise choice).



I saw footage of a robot vehicle sent into the cathedral to retrieve some of the artwork. Firefighters tried to save some of these treasures. It seems that a lot was saved - but there is artwork that is lost forever.

The beautiful stained glass windows - many of them made with medieval glass (just think about that!) - seem to have survived the fire. Those big windows in the choir are stunning and how much do I love the rose windows.




Since there was a lot of renovating and reconstruction work going on (maybe the cause of the fire?) it was just luck that many of the bronze statues on the outside of the church like the apostles were removed just a week before or so.


When I was in Paris the last time I visited Notre-Dame while there was a mass going on inside which added a special atmosphere to this place of worship (and I'm not a religious person).








Like in so many catholic churches and cathedrals in Europe there were many places where you could light a candle. Their warm light put a beautiful glow in so many nooks and corners (and no, as far as I know they didn't cause this fire).





So many details on the outside of Notre-Dame - you could spend a lot of time looking at them and probably still haven't seen all of them.



I do hope they will rebuild. For me it's the heart of Paris. It's on the Île de la Cité where Paris began. Notre-Dame is the mother of all cathedrals, serving as a sample for so many Gothic cathedrals. I can't even imagine what this loss means to the French people.


And I'm forever grateful that my daughter was able to visit Notre-Dame back in the summer of 2014 and could also listen to the magnificent ringing of the bells.