Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Good-bye Chronicles Chapter 6. We Have an Answer

7-29-10 We have an answer Skywatch Friday Sycamore Canyon Sunset 7-17-10

July 20, 2010

I awaken in the middle of the night hot and restless. The night is calling to me. Through the closed door I hear the soft dripping of recent rain from the downspouts. I slide my door open and step out onto the patio into air scented with the sweet ashy smell of creosote bush. It’s just before four a.m., but I hear birds twittering. Though it is almost pitch dark, I hear them singing somewhere, if they are birds at all. It sounds like the friendly chirping of purple martins, but do they fly at night? The lights of Tucson illuminate the undersides of the soft gray clouds above, but I do not see any bird silhouettes passing under them. Could it be toads or frogs? Could there be that many around here? Do they sound like birds? I realize that I have yet another desert mystery to solve.

I take the two steps up onto the terrace and gaze off to the north and west. The hum of air-conditioning units fills the air as one after another turns on. In the distance I hear what sounds like a loud motorcycle shifting through its gears, then it fades away. After another hot and steamy day here yesterday the rain cooled air caresses my skin softly. It lifts the night heat from me. I fold my arms across my chest. My nightgown flutters in the breeze. I stand here and think about what it will mean to leave this place. Today could be the day we know for sure. I stand here listening to the morning sounds, drinking in the scent and the feel of the night in this place. I want to preserve this memory. I may need it someday. Eventually I turn and head back inside. Chilled now, I crawl under the warm covers and Gus instinctively wraps his arm around me. Soon I drift off to sleep.

A bad dream awakens me 3 hours later. It’s one of those dreams where one of my children is in trouble and I can’t find them to help them. It’s one of those dreams where you feel all the emotions as if it were real as if it were happening. I resist waking up. I want to save my child. Finally consciousness frees me from my terror. I am here in my bedroom in Sycamore Canyon and everyone is safe.

Due to the rain of the previous night I do not have to water the flowers today. I filled all the bird feeders yesterday, so I am almost free. I visit Sherri in the morning, then return home to watch birds and blog away the day. It is afternoon when Gus calls me. He got an email with an offer from the company in Boston. Now I will know. Now it will be decided. Gus tells me that he will take the offer.

We are going to move.

The Good-bye Chronicles 

Skywatch Friday

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Good-bye Chronicles Chapter 5: A Return to the Beginning

1. Saguaro NP east Saguaro National Park Rincon Mt. Unit 7-18-10

July 18, 2010

Sunday morning. It’s hot. It’s humid, but we decide to take a drive anyways. I want to drive through Saguaro National Park’s Rincon unit, for it is where it all began. When we first moved here 3 years ago I used to come here all the time. We were staying in the studio apartment then waiting to find someplace to live. One day while Gus was at work I drove over to Saguaro National Park and bought a National Parks pass. This allowed me to go in as often as I wanted to without paying each and every time.

2. Road Saguaro NP 7-18-10

Saguaro National Park is divided into two separate units. The Tucson Mountain Unit sits on the west side of town and it was the first part of the park we visited before we even moved down here. It was while we were visiting our kids for Thanksgiving in 2006 that Gus decided he wanted to live where he can wear shorts in the wintertime. We went home to Utah from that trip and Gus started applying for jobs. Within three months we were living here. The eastern portion of Saguaro National Park is actually the largest, but very few people make it into the back country. I must say that I never have. However, the park is still quite enjoyable from the 7 mile loop road and the few trails I have accessed from below. Now, as we drive through the gate this Sunday morning memories of those other visits come rushing back and as we drive I am well aware that this might be the last time I get to do this.

3. Saguaro n OcotilloSaguaro and Ocotillo 7-18-10 

We have both cameras with us, but I am using my binoculars and counting birds as we go. For once Gus is stopping without me having to ask him. He is taking pictures of everything. I can tell that he is well aware of the fact that it could be a very long time before we see any of this again. Whenever he stops to take pictures I count birds. Suddenly we are like tourists once again and every cactus seems amazing to us.

4. Cactus close up

5. Saguro blossomSaguaro Blossom 7-18-10

6. Prickly pear fruit Prickly Pears 7-18-10

7. cholla surprise Cholla Cactus 7-18-10

8. Prickly pear Prickly pears 7-18-10

9. prickly pear Prickly pear cactus 7-18-10

10. Pincushion cactus Flowering Pincushion Cactus 7-18-10

Though it is only around 9:30 a.m. the temperature has started to rise. Accompanied by the humidity, it’s quite uncomfortable out there. Thankfully we are in an air-conditioned car, though the sound of the motor running drowns out the birds. At our next stop I shut the car off and Gus wants to know why. I tell him I cannot hear the birds. He goes back to photographing a cactus and I listen and watch. White-winged doves are everywhere, but I have seen a few purple martins, a couple of flycatchers and some Gila woodpeckers. Turkey vultures circle above in the clear blue sky. Will they find anything that has died on this hot day? I suspect they will.

11. Sagauro The road winds up through a cactus forest. The Rincon Mountains loom before us. We stop at a favorite overlook, then get back in the car and drive as the road bends back toward the city. Soon all of Tucson is spread before us. In the distance the Tucson Mountains punctuate the skyline. It’s almost noontime now and the heat makes it impossible to drive with windows open. We view the world from within this steel and glass air-conditioned cage. It is not quite how I would choose to experience the park, but I am not in favor of passing out from the heat and humidity.


12. death and lifeGus seems obsessed with dead and dying saguaros on this day. I wonder if he is making the connection between his subject matter and the end of our life here in Tucson. I certainly do.

13. Bones 14. more cactus bones 15. dead arms Old man cactus with arms 7-18-10

After an hour and 40 minutes and 6.5 miles of driving I counted 18 species of birds on this day. The most numerous species were white-winged doves. I counted at least 40 of them. Our days here are probably limited. I am torn between wanting to visit old haunts to say good-bye and trying to see other places that I never got to. How will I choose what to do? Will I have time to do any of it? I will not have any answers until later on this week. How does one say good-bye to the land and the place they love?

16. rincon mts Saguaro NP Rincon Mountains 7-18-10

(All of today’s photos were taken by Gusto! with the Nikon D90)

Birds Seen Today In Saguaro National Park Rincon Mt Unit

Location: Saguaro NP--Rincon Mt Unit
Observation date: 7/18/10
Notes: Drove through the park slowly with Gus. Stopped a few places along the way.
Number of species: 18
Gambel's Quail 4
Turkey Vulture 6
White-winged Dove 40
Mourning Dove 2
Gila Woodpecker 12
Gilded Flicker 4
Ash-throated Flycatcher 2
Brown-crested Flycatcher 3
Purple Martin (Desert) 2
Verdin 2
Cactus Wren 3
Northern Mockingbird 2
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western) 4
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 2
Black-throated Sparrow 4
Pyrrhuloxia 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
House Finch 2
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

17. 3 saguaros DSC_0090 DSC_0094

The Good-bye Chronicles

Kathie’s Poet Tree 

Sycamore Canyon Birds

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Good-bye Chronicles Chapter 4: Dawn

0077 Sunrise 6-2-08

July 14, 2010

5:00 a.m. I step out the door under a blanket of clouds. The scent of rain and creosote bush perfumes the air. I am surprised to hear a choir of Purple martins already singing the day awake. In the distance the lights of Tucson are strung along the horizon like illuminated rhinestones. The neighborhood is waking up and I watch as one car after another pulls out of their garage and heads down the street. Soon the sun will rise and this dim darkness will fade to a bright gray, but if the clouds do not break up I will not see the sun.


Sonoran Desert Toad 7-3-10 under the spigot

However, I am already feeling the effects of the steaminess from the pending Monsoon rain. This is the second time this week the clouds have gathered and we have been denied. We are still waiting for rain. The parched ground and our parched psyches all long for that sweet relief, but it has yet to come. The Sonoran Desert Toads are waiting to sing their wild mating songs. For a few weeks now they have been hanging out in my yard under the hose spigot and in my flower beds. At night they languish in the bird bath and soak up moisture, but this is not what they need to breed and reproduce. They need a downpour, an onslaught of rain, a flash flood to get their blood boiling and their reproductive glands inspired. But it has not happened, yet. Perhaps today will be the day.

I view each moment like this now as if it will be my last one here. I wonder if I will remember this intensity when I am in New England. Gus went for his job interview while my sister and my son were here. Now we are just waiting for an offer like the desert waits for rain. Will this be a new dawn for us? I bounce back and forth between emotions. I think of all the things I will get to do in New England, the places I will go. Then I think of all the things I have done here and the things I have yet to do, the places I have yet to go. How can I do it all? I want to.

As I have gotten older and we have traveled and moved around this country I realize more and more how much I love to travel. I want to see new places and experience new things. For me this desire is now amplified by my love of birds and birding. Since moving here to Sycamore Canyon, starting my blog, learning to eBird, and joining Tucson Audubon each trip I take, each place I go now has a new dimension added as I write and count the birds. Each place I visit is now accompanied by the list of birds I saw while I was there. Since moving here to Arizona I have seen 249 species of birds in this place, and I know there are so many more I have yet to see, but I am already looking forward to new birds in new places! I can only wonder if I will still feel this way when it is winter and there is a foot of snow on the ground!

5. Dawn Dawn in Sycamore Canyon 5-27-07

For this morning I have only one decision to make: Do I get dressed and go for a walk before it gets too hot, or do I stay inside and write while it is quiet and my creative juices are flowing? I think I’ll choose the Dawn.

6. Mt. Fagan morning

Mt. Fagan Morning 5-24-07

The Good-bye Chronicles

My World Tuesday

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Good-bye Chronicles Chapter 3: Waiting

DSC_0043 Desert Spiny Lizard 7-6-10 My Backyard

July 6, 2010

This day has started with golden sunshine streaming through my bedroom window as Gus heads off to work. Perhaps today we will know more. Perhaps today the waiting will end.

Pyrrhuloxia_0122 Pyrrhuloxia 7-5-10 My Yard

I get up and start my morning routine of feeding pets and counting birds. I smile as I see a fat collared lizard doing its warming push-ups on the block wall in the bright morning sun. I have plenty of things to do today while I wait. As usual, there are bird feeders to fill and plants to water. I watch a small rabbit nibble on the seed block. I count the birds out my windows. I look at each species differently now and realize that these will not be my backyard birds anymore if we move away. There are no Canyon Towhees in New England. I will not see Pyrrhuloxias or Cactus Wrens there. I do not take these birds for granted here, but I have relaxed with them and count on seeing them everyday. If one species does not show up I notice. I have become accustom to the rhythms of their life here in Sycamore Canyon. It has become my rhythm. Will I carry this song with me if we leave?


In the afternoon I visit my friend, Sherri. Her yard looks out over a larger green space than mine. The mesquite trees and Palo Verdes create a dense light green canopy over the desert. I can see a few birds here and there as they fly over the wash and across this ribbon of green. A male cardinal pops up to sing from a branch, its color a bright red spot in all that feathery green. The desert is full of doves, both mourning and white-winged. In the heat of the day they seek refuge in shade and do not move about so much. They, too, are waiting, but they wait for rain.

DSC_0054 House finches 7-14-10 My yard

This day passes slowly. The heat drives me inside. There is no word today. All I can do is wait.


Chapter 3 of The Good-bye Chronicles

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Good-bye Chronicles Chapter 2: Ambivalence


July 5, 2010

We’ve been in the house all day and I just need to get outside so I ask Gus to take me for a ride before the sun sets. We head south on the Sonoita Highway as the sun dips behind the Santa Rita Mountains. The rolling hills around me are casting deep shadows as we drive past the possible future site of the Rosemont Mine. I can’t help but wonder if I go away, will this still be this way when I come back? Right now the gentle slopes rise unblemished to the sky, but for how long?

We pass over the crest of the hill and drop down on the south side. On my right is Greaterville Road and the way through Box Canyon to Madera Canyon. I know that there is good birding in there, but we will not be going that way at this time of night. Instead we pass the Border Patrol Checkpoint and turn left into Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. By now the sun has slipped beneath the horizon and all that remains is the soft glow of dusk. I immediately spot a Red-tailed Hawk in an old oak tree. I think he was in that same tree when I first came here 3 year ago. A Mockingbird flies up and lands nearby, its white wing and tail patches flashing as it flies. It is in no danger from the Red-tail, which eats mostly mammals instead of birds.


The rolling grassland of Las Cienegas is spread before us. We drive slowly down the dirt road with windows open, all senses alert. The air is much cooler here and I feel its coolness wash over me, cleansing me from the 100 degree heat of the day. We watch as the car’s thermometer drops into the 80’s and finally into the 70’s before we leave. Now, as we drive down the road I hear the soft twitter of sparrows, a thin “zeet zeet” in the grass, and some raucous chatter I do not recognize, nor can I find in the long grasses and fading light. What are you? Where are you? I just want to know who you are!

DSC_0145Lillian’s Eastern Meadowlark 7-5-10 

We only drive a little under 3 miles before we turn back for home. It has taken us an hour to do this and now twilight has descended around us. As we pause at the end of the road I can see Venus, Mars and Jupiter all lined up in the western sky. Their line is tilted upwards, as if pointing to the heavens. I feel my spirits lifted even as a sadness settles within my soul. This is such a great place to live. It is so beautiful here. The weather is great and the scenic beauty is outstanding. There are so many habitats, so many places to see. I have only lived here three years and I have barely scratched the surface.

When I was a teenager we always had spelling words to learn for a weekly spelling test in high school. One week the teacher gave us the word, “ambivalence.” I had never heard the word before but when I looked up the definition I was astonished. It became my word, my definition of how I feel much of the time. Ambivalence means to feel two strong conflicting emotions at the same time. This could be my middle name! It is how I am feeling right now. I do not want to leave this place, yet I am excited about new possibilities and new adventures. But how can I leave this beauty and this wild life? Has Arizona gotten into my soul and become my new love?

We stop at the Roadrunner Market in Corona de Tucson on our way home. It is pitch dark by now and Gus goes into the store while I step out and walk to the corner of the parking lot to watch Lesser Nighthawks whirl through the sky. They are hunting insects drawn to the bright street lights at the intersection. Their bat-like flight is erratic at best as they fly in and out of the darkness. I stand there silent and alone drinking it all in, trying desperately to preserve this memory in case I need it on some cold New England winter night to get me through.



This story begins in the previous post: Knowing

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Good-bye Chronicles Chapter 1: Knowing

DSC_0017 Sunset in Sycamore Canyon 7-17-10

July 5, 2010

I have known for 2 weeks that this was possible but so much has been going on. First my son arrived for his last visit before he goes to war in Afghanistan, then my sister arrived for her 50th birthday. While she was here Gus went off for an interview in the Boston area for a new job. I thought we were going to make it here. We both thought we would retire here. We had made it past the three year mark by which we had usually moved. We thought our job was secure in spite of the downturn in the economy. We never thought this would happen. So, we bought a new refrigerator and installed a hot tub. Two weeks later the company my husband works for laid off 250 people. A few weeks after that the program he worked for downsized. He found himself adrift in an unstable situation. Thus his search was launched to find a new job. And so it was that while Alex was home and my sister was here that Gus was in Boston interviewing for a new job.

Desert toad 7-3-10 Gus returned the same night my son left. My sister left the next morning. Now here I am trying to memorize every moment, every bird, every sunset, every star-filled night. The Sonoran desert toad that pokes its head out in the evening makes me smile. Every hummingbird that comes to my feeder makes me wonder if there will be anyone to fill the feeders for them this fall when the fall migration starts and 5 to 6 species of hummingbirds stop by to feed on their way south.

Winter Hummingbirds Last year I had a hard time keeping 5 hummingbird feeders full for their voracious appetites. Who will feed the hummingbirds now? Or the bats?

DSC_0107 lesser long-nosed bat gSeptember into October is the migration of the Lesser Long-nosed  bats. The bats know my yard now. They know they can count on food at this location. Will there be anyone here this year to feed the bats? Will anyone else care if they have something to eat?

In an effort to make each moment count and in light of the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico I see how every bird count I do in this area matters. I cannot go to the gulf to count birds, though I would in a heartbeat if I could, but I can count birds here.

Scott's oriole female Female Hooded Oriole 6-28-10 My Backyard

Already the bird populations have changed since I moved in here. Just down the slope from my house the building boom has resumed and there have been over 200 houses added to the once open desert where nighthawks and western kingbirds hunted in summer and raptors soared in the winter. This year the birds are finding their hunting ground gone, replaced by homes set cheek to jowl on hot paved roads where rabbits and ground squirrels succumb to overzealous and inattentive drivers. Where I used to hear great-horned owls on a regular basis, I have not heard one in a very long time. The birds are either moving up or down the mountain into more remote hunting grounds, but if the proposed copper mine goes in, all of this could change even more. The bird counts I do now will document how it was, in case it does change. In case our own version of an Oil Spill happens here.

DSC_0005 I was quite surprised when I researched my eBird records to discover that I have done relatively few bird counts in the greater Sycamore Canyon area. While I count birds almost every day from my own yard, my bird counts of various areas in Sycamore Canyon have not been consistent. Though I have lived here for over three years I was surprised to see that I had only submitted bird counts for the park area 23 times. In response to this knowledge I have been down to the park counting birds three times in the past week, and I plan on going more. I feel the urgency of collecting as much data as I can before I go. If I go.

DSC_0056 Female Costa’s Hummingbird 7-19-10

For now we wait. We will know in about a week what Our Fate will be. And then, I will really start to say  “Good-Bye.”


Friday, July 23, 2010

Skywatch Friday: Layers

DSC_0060Santa Rita Mountains 7-22-10

DSC_0064 Santa Rita Mountains 7-22-10

DSC_0071 Rainbow over Sycamore Canyon 7-22-10

With the monsoon in full swing I see storm clouds every day now and in the evening we have gorgeous sunsets. The billowy gray and white clouds brings out the layers in the sky and the mountains.  I so love the way the desert looks at this time of year, and though I did not get any rain at my house yesterday I did get to enjoy this gorgeous rainbow in the evening.

Skywatch Friday!

Go visit!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My World: My Own Peaceable Kingdom

1. Gambel's Quail male

Male Gambel’s Quail 7-13-10

On any given day I see so many creatures in and around my yard.

 2. Gambel's female Female Gambel’s Quail 7-13-10


3. Desert cottontail

 Desert cottontail 7-8-10

One day earlier this month I looked out the front window to see this bunny rabbit resting beneath my gold star (yellow bells) bush. I smiled even wider when I noticed a covey of juvenile Gambel’s quail lying beneath the same bush snuggled into the stones and the shade like little gray buns in an oven. Perched on the branches of this same bush and just over the bunny’s head was a juvenile pyrrhuloxia. In the upper branches of that same bush Lesser-goldfinches and Costa’s Hummingbirds were feeding or perching. That is when I realized I have my own little peaceable kingdom right here in my own yard. Throughout the rest of this month other birds and creatures have appeared. Often they are most comfortable in the company of other species.

4. juv cowbird Juvenile Brown-headed cowbird 7-5-10

5. juv pyrrhuloxia Juvenile Pyrrhuloxia 7-5-10

6.desert spiny lizard Desert spiny Lizard 7-17-10

7. male costa's Male Costa’s hummingbird 7-19-10 hiding in honeysuckle vine

8. female Costa's Female Costa’s Hummingbird 7-19-10 feeding


9. male BH Cow Male Brown-headed cowbird 7-13-10

10. juv BH cow and finch Juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird drinking from fountain with female House Finch 7-13-10

11. Black-headed grosbeak Black-headed Grosbeak 7-20-10

12. Black-headed grosbeak Black-headed Grosbeak 7-20-10

13. dove and quail

MY World Tuesday