Saturday, January 12, 2008
It was finally warm enough today to open windows and turn the heat down, so in the afternoon I shut off the computer and headed for the wash with the new camera. I hoped to capture a photo of a Black-throated Sparrow, and maybe see a new species. Instead of trying to climb through the barbed wire fence, I walked up the end of the street and climbed down the steep slope near the culvert. From here I headed south up the wash to territory I’ve only walked on one time before.
It is 4 p.m. when I head out, but already the sun is low in the sky. The whole west side of the wash is already deep in shadow, and I can see the darkness creeping towards me. Undaunted, I keep walking and hoping for some new bird. The birds are few and far between, however. Is this unusual for this time of day or year? Since I am new here, I don’t know. And since there has been a lot of road construction gong on lately, I have no idea how many species have been scared away. As for the sparrows, they are playing hide and seek with me, flying up like musical notes from the desert and settling behind cactus and brush, or diving into the grass. I see them briefly, but as soon as I raise the camera they are gone. There is a mixed flock here of Brewer’s Sparrows and Black-throated Sparrows and they are winning at this game we are playing.
I am frustrated by the crunch of my shoes in the sand. It’s impossible to take a stealthy step. Here in the quiet of the canyon my steps seem to roar in my ears. I take a few steps, then pause, take a few more, then pause. I am listening for movement, song, anything. I am wondering how the Native Americans got about without shoes to protect their feet from thorns and spines. Perhaps I need a pair of leather moccasins. Perhaps they will offer protection and silent steps.
As I walk up the wash I can see how the channel has changed over time. Deep cliffs are cut on the east and west rims. Spread out between these canyon rims are the deposits of numerous storms. All manner of trees, cacti and scrub have sprouted on soil deposited hundreds of years ago. Where the new channel cuts through I walk on deep sand and gravel. To the edges of this large boulders and rocks are deposited. I am amazed at the colors of stone, from normal string gray and brown, to green, purple, red and white. I need a geologist to explain it all to me. I find one mesquite tree grasping the cliff desperately. Its exposed roots twist and writhe as they grasp the eroding soil. The roots bulge like muscles on a weight-lifter and the tree still stands. I wonder how old it is, and how much longer it can last.
A few mourning doves and Gila woodpeckers fly over my head. The sparrows continue to elude me in the grass. A Costa’s hummingbird scolds me from an ocotillo, but that is all I see. I’m starting to wonder how I will get out of this deep canyon, when I find the trail up to the eastern rim. It’s a bit steep and bumpy but I make it and I feel like I am on top of the world again. I gaze out over the desert sloping away to Green Valley and Sahuarita, when I am startled to hear voices. I swing around to discover 2 men standing on a mound of dirt with a dune buggy parked nearby. I see the road that’s been newly excavated as development pushes into this part of the canyon. It was fun to feel like I was alone in the world in a wild place, but the truth is this is very tame, and I am close to home. I hurry back down the trail, feeling a little sad. Suddenly a desert cottontail is startled by my footsteps and scurries off the path. Then I hear the yipping of a coyote, frantic and wild across the wash. It’s not too tame yet.