Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

How Green Is My Desert

Flowering shrub is bird-of-paradise

The Artist and I have never stayed in southern Arizona this late into the spring before, never seen the desert so green, and every day the change from bare, dead-looking winter trees and shrubs becoming vibrant with leaves and blossoms astonishes us anew. “Are there many deciduous trees where you are?” my son asked me on the phone this morning. Oh, goodness, yes! The mesquite is often more of a large shrub than a tree, but it is ubiquitous, and it is deciduous, and some individuals reach tree size and can have beautiful shapes, and right now all are leafed out, providing shade for cattle and hiding places for birds to build nests. But mesquite is only the beginning. In the photograph just below, looking past the bird-of-paradise and down into the wash, there are at least four more large, green, deciduous plants, three of them trees. At the far right top (back corner) is a walnut tree. 

Nogal in leaf and bloom

The walnut tree’s leafy crown dances in the afternoon wind, and suckers sprout at the base. For five years I’ve been wondering what kind of tree this was, and how I see another farther back behind the neighbor’s fence, and down the road just past another neighbor’s house I’ve spotted a whole row. I don’t know if this is the Arizona or the Texas walnut, but either one goes by the Spanish name nogal, the plural of which is nogales. It’s walnuts that give the name to that Mexican border town, and I am happy to know this beautiful neighbor tree by name at last.

In the center background (and not sharply in focus) of green things growing along the wash is a netleaf hackberry tree, a tree I've written about before. In winter there have always been enough dried berries and dead leaves on the hackberry that I have been able to identify it almost from the beginning of my desert stays, but it looks very different now, clothed in green. 

Center left of that composite shot but not all the way to the left, the light green tree you see is desert willow, another newly learned-by-name tree to me and one that charms me in every way. Since learning it, I’ve found myself photographing the desert willow at different times of day. It is not, you should understand, a true willow. It is a different genus and member of a completely different botanical family from the willows along the no-name creek just north of my Michigan farmhouse. 

Flowers on the desert willow below the cabin have not yet opened, but when we went for a little ride down Chiricahua way, I was happy to spot a desert willow in bloom. 

Does that flower remind you of a catalpa blossom? Both trees belong to the Bignonia family, the desert willow’s flowers smaller and more colorful but very like those of catalpa trees back in Leelanau County, Michigan.

We have never seen the wash flowing with water, a phenomenon that arrives only with the summer monsoons, each flood lasting only a few hours. Over closer to the Chiricahua Mountains, though, where streams flow for much of the year, water-loving sycamores are found. Some are of magnificent size, although during the winter, when they look like ghost trees, it’s hard to believe they are alive. 

Arizona sycamore in winter 
Now look at the difference! It seems nothing short of miraculous. 

Arizona sycamore mid-May

Oaks are deciduous, also, but in this climate they hold onto their leaves through the winter and bring forth new leaves in the spring, at the same time that they begin to drop the old, gradually, with never a bare season to them. Oak trees near streams and in mountain canyons are peaceful places to rest the eyes all year-round.

Cochise County and I have been getting acquainted since January of 2015, but my desert is still full of surprises. Of course, what surprises me is familiar to those who have lived here all their lives. How can I call the desert “mine” at all? 

It’s true I’m a newcomer, but I do love it, more deeply each year, and this year – this strange spring of the COVID-19 pandemic, with stay-at-home orders in Arizona from mid-March until the end of April, being here in a whole new and unexpected way, I feel I have paid a few odd dues and earned at least a beginner’s merit badge in Arizona living. 

Our resident roadrunner has accepted us unconditionally. Bless his little heart!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Little Things Add Up, in Nature and in Society

In mid-May in southern Arizona, to stand under a blooming mesquite tree or pause near a low-growing mesquite shrub is to become aware of a low hum emanating from the blossoms. The calmer the day and hour, the louder the hum. This is harvest season for small pollinators, and they are hard at work.

The other day, somewhere along the line, a bee got into our car, and, thinking at first glance that a large spider had hitched a ride on my bare leg, I hastily brushed at it with my hand. Not far enough away, though, as became evident when I felt the sting on the underside of my thigh. Moving quickly, I saw a struggling bee on the seat beside me and realized that the insect had had just enough wiggle room under my leg to deliver just enough sting to cause me to move before smothering it completely. The sting burned for a few minutes before it subsided quickly to a small, raised red spot not much bigger than what a mosquito bite would have delivered. No great harm done to me. But I’d inadvertently caused the little bee mortal injury. 

How often do we think about how we and other mammals and birds are largely dependent on the work of these much smaller creatures? Pollination of fruits and vegetables, if we had to do it all by hand, would barely keep us alive. Large grazing mammals feed on grasses and other plants that reproduce by seed, that seed requiring antecedent pollination of flowers sometimes so small and insignificant we rarely notice them at all. (Grass flowers? Yes.) Many species of bird rely on seed and berry diets, a berry being nothing more to nature than the covering of a seed or seeds, and even the insects and other invertebrates that carnivorous birds feed upon feed first on plants. Without bees, wasps, flies, and all the other myriad pollinators and their unpaid labor, earth’s menu would be very short for the rest of us, not to say nasty and brutish. 

Bees are small. Seeds are small. We don’t generally look at grazing cattle and thank bees for doing their part to produce beef. I’m thinking about bees and cattle now because I am living in their midst.

And in these stay-at-home days of COVID-19, I’ve had time to see and think about things I’ve never noticed or don’t often think about. One of my small new observations is how often birds clean their beaks. A bird will stand on a twig (flying to it after a stop at the suet feeder snack bar) and lean forward to swipe its beak to and fro against the twig in front of it. It looks like a bird sharpening its beak as one would sharpen a knife, but most ornithologists think cleaning is the primary purpose of the behavior. The curved-bill thrasher was the first bird I noticed doing this, but then I saw others doing the same, and now all the time I see birds cleaning their beaks. A small observation, but how can I have missed it all these years, when they are doing it continually?

Mesquite flowers, now. Often these long, caterpillar-like catkins hang in clusters, and the other day I noticed for the first time – really looking at the plant -- that within a given cluster, the flowers blossom sequentially rather than all at once. I imagine the seeds will ripen the same way, much as happens with clusters of blackberries or other bramble fruit, berries within each cluster ripening in turn rather than at the same time. My observation is small and, when I think about it, unsurprising. So what? Still, I wonder what advantage the plant gains. A longer season for the seeds to be disseminated abroad? That would make sense. 

Big change of topic --

The murder of a single human being is never a small thing. Whenever it happens, it is tragic. In the United States, one of our national tragedies is the frequency with which black men are murdered while simply going about their daily lives, and a second tragedy is that those victims’ murderers are rarely punished. On and on it goes, and the hearts of black parents who fear and grieve in advance are, sadly, not unreasonable in their fear and grief. Here, then, is yet a third tragedy, that of decent, law-abiding parents who must raise their children in fear in their own country. Over a century after slavery was ended and long after Jim Crow laws have supposedly been put behind us, how is it that we can live with this continued national shame, with an America offering such very different experiences to its citizens, based on nothing but the color of their skin?

As I say, this is a big thing. Nothing little about it. 

What I see as little are some of the things white people can do, each of us, one at a time, to try to bring about change, to work toward bending that oh-so-recalcitrant arc of justice. Lists of books are put forward to raise awareness of white privilege, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of raising that awareness, but a question I raised recently with Facebook friends is, once awareness has been raised, what can one go on to do to bring about change?

Of the various comments and responses, perhaps the most helpful I received, because it contained a lengthy list of calls to action, was this from my stepdaughter, 75 Things White People Can Do For Social JusticeIt’s hard to imagine anyone, black or white, who could check off every item on the list and say at the end, “Yeah, I did all that,” but still I found the list itself helpful, even encouraging. It’s not saying that we all have to rush out and do everything at once but that there are many ways to contribute. I was encouraged to see that while I hadn’t done a lot of big things, I have done several little things, and I see more on the list that I can do in future. 

Because what’s the point of playing the “Ain’t-It-Awful” game? The point is to make the world better, one little thing at a time. Maybe one little thing every day – for instance, one letter or telephone call or e-mail every day. 

For today, my one little thing is sharing a book list on a new separate page of this blog. As I wrote there, I welcome additions and suggestions. The page will be a work in progress. We all need to claim our power to make change. Thank you for reading today.

Friday, May 15, 2020

We Are All on a Rollercoaster

This  has nothing to do with my subject, but she always calms me down.

How are you feeling? Where are you, emotionally? Contented? Restless? Anxious? Got cabin fever, or are you grateful for unstructured time -- or both in turns? Angry at fate and fearful of what’s coming? Counting your blessings? Downright depressed? Maybe confused about what you’re feeling?

A friend said she woke up a couple days ago and felt calm, and that worried her: Had she lost her mind? Had her brain ceased to function? Where was her usual, reasonable, familiar pandemic anxiety?

And it came to me, reading her messages, that we are all on a rollercoaster, every single one of us, but we are all at different points in the looping path on any given day or even at any given moment, so while no emotion any of us feels is inappropriate, we can sometimes be impatient with each other’s expressions. But the feelings themselves are perfectly (can I use this word?) normal. Given the times. All of them.

Gratitude feels good. Anger doesn’t. Sometimes we can shift gears to get from a bad feeling to a good one, and other times we just have to ride out a sickening stretch until we get to a smoother, easier section. Despair at night, joy in the morning – or the other way around, depending on your temperament. Fear, even terror. A blue funk. The sunshiny flash of unexpected happiness, the glow of contentment, or the sweet respite of calm – unless the calm brings worries of its own, as it did for my friend. 

“I’m just tired of it.”

“I want it to be over.” 

Me, too. I’d love to return to that old expectant (false but happy) sense of security I had in early winter 2019 when looking ahead to summer 2020, lining up Thursday Evening Author guests for bookstore soirĂ©es in the Artist’s gallery! Those days of planning now seem like some kind of long-ago lost innocence.

My philosophy of life in a nutshell, which is about all of anyone’s philosophy that most people want to hear, is simple: Everything is a double-edged sword. Or, as Joni Mitchell so memorably expressed in her song “Both Sides Now,” there is an upside and downside to everything. In her lyrics, the singer looks back to her past positive impressions, compares them with present cynicism, and concludes that she doesn’t “really know” clouds, love, or life “at all.” But listen to the song. What she can’t help believing in are her “illusions,” that is, the joy and magic that she isn’t feeling in the present moment. 

Can we believe in something when we’re not feeling it, or do our feelings overpower us and create our beliefs? More specifically, can we continue to believe in hope when we're feeling hopeless?


I started writing these thoughts and had to set them aside for a couple of days. Was I depressed or just irritable and blue? 

Depression is a family curse, so I am familiar with it, but in my experience true depression is like interior weather (not situational or caused by something in the outside world), and there’s a horrible physical component to it. I describe it as being encased in a suit of dread. Imagine it as a rigid suit of armor that you’re locked inside. So, no, I wasn’t there, thank heaven! But neither was I enveloped by contentment or anything positive. I went for a walk and dragged myself along, hardly enjoying my surroundings or a pleasantly cool desert morning.

Quite frankly, while I have a lot of happy moments or even hours, positive moods can seem pretty fragile these days. Easily dispelled. Personal contentment can evaporate in an instant with a single blast of bad news, of which there is no shortage. Which brings me back to my rollercoaster theme and its limitations. 

When you go to an amusement park and ride a rollercoaster – when one rides, I should say, because I have never been on a rollercoaster in my life – my understanding is that (1) you know approximately how long the ride will be, (2) that you'll be safe, and (3) that the car will eventually stop and you’ll be able to get out right where you started. Well, right now, these days, on the coronavirus rollercoaster, we have none of these assurances. All we have is uncertainty.

Is it any wonder our emotions are all over the map? It's easy to say we should "live in the moment" and admit our powerlessness, not so easy to maintain that attitude throughout each passing day. 

I try to make most of my posts here upbeat, to brighten readers' days, and I'm certainly not trying to bring anyone down today with reminders of what you already know, that these are damn difficult times. I just thought it might help, if you're feeling blue, to know that you're not alone in that, either. It's okay to feel bad. We all have our private storm clouds.

But if you're not feeling great this morning, I hope you will feel better this afternoon or tomorrow. As for me, I think I've got my "second wind" and can pick up my feet and go on until the next storm hits -- wherever the hell it is we're going!

Into the unknown!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Lake Dunes in the Desert

View across playa toward Dragoon Mountains from Hwy 186

Playa is Spanish for beach and also the term geologists use for dry lakes, such as the Willcox Playa, called Lake Cochise when referred to in its Pleistocene incarnation.  But the playa in Cochise County is not always dry. In fact, owing to a wet summer and fall, this past winter the so-called “dry lake” held more water than we ever saw in it before — bearing in mind, of course, that our personal memories here are only five years long. Right from the start, though, even bone dry, the playa exerted a fascination for us, as vast empty spaces tend to do. 

Our first year, on every trip to town, we would gaze out over that apparent void and speculate on its prehistory, straining our eyes to determine if we were seeing water or a mirage over on the far shore. The playa seemed so near and yet very far away -- and, always, utterly mysterious. 

Public access off Kansas Settlement Road
Now we learn that the section of the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County (the northern end of the valley is in Graham County, its southern reaches in Mexico) has two drainage basins, Willcox in the north and Whitewater in the south, and that the heart of the Willcox drainage is the playa. Furthermore, the Willcox is a closed system, an endorheic basin, which means that water draining from the mountains down to the playa does not join ever-larger streams and rivers and make its way the ocean. Water may (and often does) evaporate or soak into the ground before ever reaching the playa, but it isn’t going anywhere else, and this kind of “unintegrated interior drainage” (Gilluly, Waters & Woodford, 1959) is typical of deserts.

View from 191 overpass, looking across corner of playa toward Willcox

Just as today’s Lake Michigan was once the much larger Lake Nipissing, what is now a playa was also once much more. An Arizona Heritage Waters website, hosted by Northern Arizona University, puts it like this: 

About 15,000 years ago in Willcox Playa, Lake Cochise reached a maximum depth of 46 feet and covered 140 square miles, maintained by the relatively cool, moist Pleistocene climate. Currently, with a mean annual rainfall of 18.5 inches per year and a mean annual temperature of 90, the modern playa can support only shallow, ephemeral ponds that form after heavy rains or snows. The most recent high lake level occurred about 9,000 years ago.
For more, see here

“It’s temporary!” Cher’s character screams at her father, when he objects that the “engagement” ring she shows him is a pinky ring. “Everything is temporary!” he memorably retorts. Ah, yes. Even mountains fail to pass the test of eternity. Ephemerality, as concept and reality, is an essential component of time, without which the world would be frozen and static.

We will not always be here. We are barely insects caught and stopped all too soon by the windshield of time, but my mantra is “We’re here now!” and so, while here, I am endlessly (note the contradiction) fascinated by what my Michigan eyes see as dunes on the Dos Cabezas Mountains side of Highway 186, miles from the extant playa in the opposite direction. 

This area reminds me of Lake Michigan sand dunes. Even the vegetation along the road looks somewhat similar — with alkalai sacaton here in place of Michigan’s marram grass — but mountainward, or “inland,” as I can’t help thinking of the land even farther from the playa, the look of the land and its vegetation is nothing like the Great Lakes region of the northern Midwest.

Farther inland and into what appear as dunes, mesquite dominates, as it does on the rangeland around Dos Cabezas. In both places occasional mesquite trees reach impressive size and stand out from their shrubbier fellows. The commonest cactus in Cochise County, cholla, is ubiquitous here, too, with foot-high cholla common and taller individuals commanding recognition. 

So it really has very little in common with the Great Lakes; however, these “duney bits,” as I can’t help calling them, continue to fascinate my mind, pulling me to them like some prehistoric, displaced mirage.

Sarah likes it, too. Of course, she likes to be wherever we are.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Take the Time, While It's Yours to Take

In the early evening, the cows pass by.

Halfway through a nonfiction book that shall here remain unnamed, I set it aside for the fiftieth but perhaps last time. The author was annoying me. He imagines an ideal world if everyone would only live as he is trying to live, but he doesn’t see that the only reason he is able to try to live that way is because only a handful of other people are doing it. Population density, I think with impatience. He ignores it utterly

My bookshelves, however, are full to overflowing. Maybe a novel? There is one about Custer, but I have no desire to read about Custer, novel or otherwise, and don’t care if his wife’s family did have a summer cottage in Leelanau County, Michigan (in Omena, to be precise). There must be something else….

Here is a book about wilderness with a promising introduction, in which the book’s author tells in quick outline the story of artist-poet-adventurer Edward Ruess, a well-known story but new and fascinating to me. So I pack The Telling Distance: Conversations with the American Distance, by Bruce Berger, along with sandwiches and apples and cold water on a Sunday drive to the Dragoon Mountains, and in our camp chairs at a site near the mountains that we luckily find unoccupied, I read a page or two to the Artist. 

But later, back at the cabin, I get into the book’s main text, and the first section is about one wilderness expedition after another made with large groups of friends involving complicated strategies about how many cars to take, where to leave them, how to choose each night’s campsite and each person’s tiny plot within the site -- and I grow impatient. The introduction was all about one man who went out to meet the wilderness alone. I feel like a bait-and-switch victim and set this book aside, also.

But Fate has blessed me, because in the packet of mail sent on to us from Northport by a good friend, there was within that large envelope another large envelope, and it contained – oh, joy! Bound galleys! The first volume of the Copper Canyon Press “Legacy Project” of Jim Harrison’s poetry, Collected Ghazals

Images, not argument. Experience, but also fantasies and daydreams. No chronological or logical arrangement. Couplets, most often six to a page, sometimes related but more often not. 

Surreal jump cuts. This. Then that. Now something else. Each couplet presenting an image complete and perfect in itself --

A pure plump dove sits on the wire as if two wings emerged 
from a russet pear, head tucked into the sleeping fruit.

But to slice a couplet from its ghazal home, separating it from couplets before and after, is to render it false, because directly following the dove pear of peace we are slapped with --

Your new romance is full of nails hidden from the saw’s teeth 
a board under which a coral snake waits for a child’s hand

It takes my breath away. No act of violence, but the readiness of it, the inevitability of blood and death. Nor is that, however, where the poem ends on that particular page – but I leave that for you to discover. 

Here are words on paper that carry me aloft on wings, float me on water’s surface like air sacs, and drag me through knife-edged grass and mud. Here are lines that toss and slap and lull and discard but never make me feel manipulated. The poet is not trying to be other than who and what he is, and he doesn’t care what I think of what he has to say. Each page is a dose of strong medicine. Swallow it down or spit it out – it’s all the same to the poet. And I am right there with him in city, on the farm, in the wilderness. This. Then that. Now something else. Here. There. 

When I lay this book aside – temporarily -- it is not with impatience or disappointment or boredom but only with a glutton’s desire not to have “more” be too soon consumed, even as I know (oh, joyful thought!) that I can feast again and again without the pantry ever being any less full. Glutton, miser, spendthrift, sybarite – with this precious slim volume, I can be all at once, every time I take it in hand. 

Then they go on their way.

Now I conduct an experiment: pick up again the Berger and open to an entirely new section, almost 200 pages in, and see how it reads after Harrison’s ghazals. My mind takes two sentences and pulls them from the page, making of them a couple of two long lines:

Is this the record of two animals that passed at separate times, sharing the canyon’s life blood? 
Or is this evidence of mortal chase, a frozen moment before deer’s narrow survival or lion’s successful kill? 
[from the essay “Cold Pastoral," lines rearranged]

And instead of hurrying on to the bottom of the page, I read these lines over and over and take in the entire scene they evoke, until it is spread out before me and surrounding me, all at once.

Some essay collections make a continuous argument from first to last and need to be read in order, as one reads a novel or a philosophical or historical treatise, but I don’t think The Telling Distance is that kind of collection. I’m not going to read it that way, anyway.  “Make every sentence count” is a piece of advice often given to aspiring writers. How long did any written sentence take to form in a writer’s mind before it was committed to a page -- and then, not deleted or erased or written over, but maybe it was -- or maybe it came back in some new form or was replaced by something entirely different. This sentence, these lines, as deserving of careful contemplation as the sleepy, lethargic bees that spent the night in the white bowl of a prickly poppy flower.

When have we ever had as much discretionary time at our disposal as in these days in the time of coronavirus? At last, there is time to pay attention to the world. To the nuances of a loved one’s face, to the unfolding of green leaves and the opening of flowers, to the habits of birds that were always there, perhaps unnoticed, to the way a line of poetry or prose unfurls and then the one after it does the same so very differently.

And if you've read this entire post, thank you for spending the time with me. I appreciate company here in life's slow lane, still out in the Arizona ghost town, far from my northern Michigan bookstore. Although, truth be told, northern Michigan has plenty of slow lanes, and I have always sought them out.

We hope they will visit again soon.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The World of Then, The World of Now

Original digital photograph

Then: I was younger and tried hard to make my bookstore a year-round business. I even bowed to pressure from locals to serve coffee every morning one winter when Barb’s Bakery was closed, hoping to disprove a former landlord’s advice, gleaned from personal experience: “The key to a seasonal business is to keep it seasonal.” 

Now: I’m older, still working and still dependent on my business income, but I’ve given myself permission for several years now to take “seasonal retirement” during the off-season.

Then: When I took the photograph at the top of this post, Woodruff Palmer owned the building, and I managed sales for his Painted Horse Gallery, along with running my bookstore. 

Now: With Clare Gengarelly as the building’s current owner, a wall separates her space from mine, and Dog Ears Books has its own entrance. Very slightly farther down the building than this photograph shows, next to my door, is the door of David’s Grath’s studio and gallery. 

Then: We undertook our occasional travels with light hearts and a sense of excitement. An annual September getaway to the Upper Peninsula took us back to familiar scenes that pleased year after year.

Now: In the time of coronavirus, as spring progresses across the land, we continue to shelter in place in our winter rental cabin, leery of taking the road home and with hearts heavy over the many divisions in our country.

Then: My photograph of the snowy scene on Waukazoo Street appeared only in digital form on my blog. 

Now: One of David’s cousins has had it reproduced for us on canvas, even after the printer made the cousin sign a form saying he would accept the results regardless of resolution. The printer didn't think the image was good enough to reproduce. Really! Who expects a clear image in a blizzard? This is perfect! And not as dark as it appears below -- sorry about that!

Photograph reproduced on canvas

Then: Our reality was a daily commute from home to village on icy, snowy, slippery roads. Spring came gradually, backsliding frequently but eventually settling into days of sun or rain. We could count on spring wildflowers in the woods, and we hoped no late frost killed cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossom
Altered orchard!

Mesquite blooms
Now: Our present reality is mountain scenery, birds at the feeder, quail coming for a morning drink at the water bar, mesquite forming almost solid green across the high desert floor. We follow the weather and other news from Northport and expect to be there again eventually but are unsure when that will be or what we can expect when we get there. 

Then: We looked forward to a summer of hard work, with a few weeks’ window of financial reward to get us through the next winter.

Now: It’s anyone’s guess what the future will bring. We do, however, draw on a rich store of memories.

Thank you, Jim!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sheltering Far From Home

No, we are not open!
The only home we own is an old farmhouse in Leelanau County, Michigan. The Artist and I are 83 and 72 and still self-employed in side-by-side seasonal businesses in Northport, my bookstore and his studio/gallery. We came out to the Southwest in December, for a few months of “seasonal retirement” in a rented ghost town cabin, expecting to return home in the spring. Now spring is here, but for the present we are sheltering in place in Cochise County, Arizona, far from our Up North home. 

Family members and some friends urge us to stay where we are, understanding that we feel safe here and dread travel and that there is no real urgency calling for our immediate return. Other friends (a mix of the encouraging and the impatient) tell us that travel is no big deal and we should get right on the road and come home now. They say that -- although still others back home write letters to the editor of the county newspaper saying that “summer people” should not come north! 

Are “snowbirds” and “summer people” one and the same? I don’t think so. We are not “summer people”! But does the virus care? I doubt it. The way I’m pretty sure the virus sees it, travel is travel.

When we peruse the road atlas and read advice about where to find food and restrooms and overnight accommodations, we look up at each other nervously and ask, “What do you think?” Our car is old, our dog is old, and we are old. The decision to stay or go – that is, when to go – seems overwhelming.

Cochise County morning
Setting that troublesome question aside, our life here is peaceful. Yes, the days have heated up, but it is the famous “dry heat” we’ve heard about forever, and in the shade, with a gentle mountain breeze stirring the air, the hottest days are quite tolerable. At night, the high desert cools down quickly, and we welcome the onset of cool darkness. 

Never birders before, we have taken to putting out water and feeders and watching the passing parade at all hours of the day. On a regular basis we see finches and sparrows, cardinal and pyrrhuloxia, hummingbirds and ladderback woodpecker, the curved-bill thrasher, canyon towhee, and cactus wren. It’s big excitement when Mr. and Mrs. Quail come to visit or when Pete the Roadrunner hurries through the yard, as if late for some important engagement.

Gambel's quail


The Artist paints. I write. We both read. Now and then we must screw up our courage, don our masks, and make a run to the grocery store, hardware store, or (yikes!) laundromat. Otherwise, every day is pretty much the same, one “month of Sundays” now having segued into another. 

Back home in Michigan, it is the time of wildflowers in the woods, the lovely spring ephemerals. We are missing the gone-wild daffodils planted long ago by someone who lived in our old house way back when. Soon the grass will be ready to mow, and front porch season will be underway. I think of that porch with longing.

Porch shadows, Michigan

At the same time, we are enjoying more desert greenery than we have ever been here to see before, and a short evening drive only a few miles down the road gives us the opportunity to watch colors in the sky – the sky stretching above the grasslands, pressing against the mountains -- change gradually, imperceptibly, seamlessly from blue through all the warm colors of sunset and beyond, to star-pierced black of night. Next morning, we are wakened by a neighbor’s rooster and the lowing of cattle as close as our windows. Yes, there is a cow with a couple of little calves, right by our gate! I cannot express what joy and contentment the cattle bring, especially now, against the current social background of anxiety and existential dread.

We have been here another moon already
If we left the ghost town today and were home by the end of the week, we would face a 14-day quarantine, but I doubt I would feel comfortable opening my bookstore to the public after those 14 days – or that many of the public will be strolling up and down the streets of our little northern village and in and out of shops. I miss my bookstore and am anxious for its future. I don’t see myself going in the direction of online sales. It isn’t me. Then what? Right now, I have no clue

Here and now, anyway, far from home and bookshop, I can still read and write and share books with readers of my blog.  Because connecting readers to books and authors has always been the core of my mission as a bookseller, posting book reviews is my #1 mission at present. It’s something I can do that feels worth doing.

And so, day after day, we postpone our travel decision. The default is doing nothing, staying put. Deciding not to decide brings us relief from anxiety, temporary though that relief must be.

Dos Cabezas, AZ