Thursday, June 19, 2008

Solstice update from Munch

It is the sere season in the desert, and the sight of clouds on the southern horizon has me salivating....images of billowing, dark rain-laden thunderheads boiling up into the stratosphere promising a cool drenching accented with crashing thunder and sudden lightning fill my dreams....but today it is 109 degrees Fahrenheit with a blast furnace wind sucking the moisture from every leaf and skin cell.
Spring gave us warm days and cool evenings, with fresh air to fill the house each morning. Successive waves of color and scent rolled through the desert, with puddles of colorful petals falling like skirts around the trees and shrubs....yellow & orange around the palo verdes, red beneath the ocotillo, hot pink and purple circling the texas rangers....all beckoning our chakras to open and soak up this abundance against the dessicated times to come.
Young birds have fledged with the promise to renew life for another season: Bell's vireos, Say's phoebes, verdins, black-tailed gnatcatchers, song sparrows, gila woodpeckers, flickers and of course the multitudes of Gambel's quail chicks, a favorite food of gila monsters. The purple martins are back and have claimed some good nest holes in the saguaros in time to produce a brood to be fed with the explosion of insects that will follow the monsoon rains. Evenings bring nighthawks to lights that attract bugs.
I had my best-ever encounter with a gila monster a few weeks ago at Canyon Ranch. I was stretching in the gym when I saw a large colorful gila monster strolling along outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. I called the staff and guests in to see this beautiful peach/orange and black beaded-looking lizard walking along within a few feet of our safe observation area. When it came up to the windows, I laid down facing it and had the closest view I have ever dared -- barely inches (and glass) separated my face from the lizard's face. I could see all details of the face, eyes, toes, toenails, flaking lizard skin, flicking tongue, topography of the beaded skin and the fat, juicy tail. I watched it for quite some time while it wandered around, laid down, wandered around again, laid down again, went off aways, came back, and found itself trapped by a wall. I watched it try to climb the two foot stucco wall several times, getting about as far up as it's body length, then falling back. I considered taking a basket out & scooping it up & slipping it over the wall, and talked myself out of it, then changed my mind and came back with the basket, only to find that it had vanished over the wall.
Butterflies and dragonflies like the heat, and this year I led two late-winter & early spring butterfly walks for the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA). Dragonfly identification has caught my eye in the past couple of years with the help of friends at a weekly birding walk at a local nature park, and I am learning a few of the more memorable ones, like Flame Skimmers, Roseate Skimmers (a stunning fuchsia color), Mexican Amberwings, Red Saddlebags, Wandering Gliders, Vivid Dancers and Canyon Rubyspot (love those names!).
Saguaro fruit is ripening and feeding the birds that depend on it even while the cactus is still blooming. The last blooming trees of spring, mesquites and desert willows, still offer fragrant gifts to early morning risers. Desert willows (actually a Catalpa species) have beautiful pink/purple blossoms that look and smell like small orchids.
Embrace summer, and may the rains begin in the desert!

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