Elemental Duet

The elements: Earth and Water

The mood: Contemplative

Earth:  The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, in Oregon. Water:  Reflections at Bellevue Botanical Garden and Heronswood, in Washington.

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The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon, is a remarkable visual record of events that began over 30 million years ago. As the mountain range we now call the Cascades was being formed by volcanic eruptions, ash and tuff (rock formed from volcanic ash and cinders) blew eastward and drifted to the ground. It slowly weathered and solidified with pressure. Over millions of years climate changes caused subtle bands of color to form in the deposits.

The reddish layers contain more iron and aluminum, left behind from sub-tropical times when wet weather caused other minerals to leach out, bringing iron and aluminum to the surface. Areas with less color are sedimentary clay, silt and shale – what I like to think of as really old mud, left behind in cooler, drier periods.  The dark patches are areas where tropical plant growth turned into lignite, a kind of peat.

Ultimately, newer, softer soils eroded away and beautifully undulating, multi-hued layers of time were exposed.

Hidden away in this geological stew are a multitude of fossils, making this and its sister sites, the Clarno and Sheep Rock Units of the John Day Fossil Beds NM, important research locations for paleontologists. At least one of my readers has a geology background. He (you know who you are!) can probably explain the processes better than I did.

I appreciate the science, but the bottom line for me is the essential beauty of this landscape, which I visited a month ago. A bonus was the string of amazing small towns in the area that retain a genuine Old West atmosphere and whose residents offer warm hospitality – at least for now. The region is smack in the middle of the August 21st solar eclipse path of totality. One shudders to think what these relaxed, friendly towns will feel like when they’re inundated with thousands of eclipse watchers.  I’m staying clear!

As for the reflections of spring leaves in moving water – that entails some luck. The light has to be right, and you have to be able to photograph the water from the right angle. I balanced on stepping stones for some of them. Then you may need to experiment a bit with camera settings, and again, with processing.

The moving water images struck me as harmonizing nicely with the Painted Hills images. So: a duet, or even a pas de deux, in shimmering hues of earth and water.

BORDER BLUES

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Regular visitors to this blog know it’s usually image-heavy, without too much text. This time it’s the other way around. There’s a story I can only hint at here, an important one. If you’re interested, follow the links to learn more. And if this isn’t your thing, be assured that next time I’ll revert to the usual emphasis on photography.

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In a recent post I featured cacti and other unusual plants at Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona, which I visited in January.  As much as I enjoyed the extraordinary Sonoran desert landscape, I could not ignore our troubled border with Mexico, which forms the monument’s southern edge.

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Being present at the border brings home everything you hear in the media, and more. International borders are political concepts, often drawn for colonial interests that ignored existing human, cultural and ecological realities. These territorial boundaries directly impact the land, the people, and even animals and plants in unexpected ways.

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On the US – Mexico border it’s obvious that living standard inequalities butt up against each other. We know that communities on either side offer different opportunities and face different challenges. Some of those differences were heightened for me when we drove down a park road parallel to the border. Thick smoke from fires on the Mexico side obscured the way ahead on a road littered with trash which had drifted over and gotten snagged on the rough vegetation.

And more than smoke and trash drift across this border.

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People have been crossing this border to find a better life for a long time. Many will cross illegally and will find work as farm laborers, in service positions, in construction. They will likely stay and contribute to the US economy.  Some will cross to sell drugs here – another path out of poverty.

Back in the 1990’s I managed the grounds on an estate outside of New York City and worked with Mexican men who were probably undocumented.  A pleasure to work with, the men I knew were reliable, friendly and above all, able and willing to do hard labor. It’s become a cliche in America to say that Mexicans do much of the labor that people born here are unwilling to do and I suspect there’s quite a lot of truth to that.

But that’s just one side among many of a complex issue.

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For years there wasn’t much to impede illegal crossings at certain sections of the border with Mexico. In the 1990’s Border Patrol attention increased at urban locations, pushing people to the fringes, like the wide open desert lands of Organ Pipe. With little but barbed wire holding people back, smuggling grew into a huge problem. Organ Pipe became known as America’s most dangerous park. In fact, much of it was closed after Kris Eggle, a park ranger, was killed while pursuing drug cartel men in August, 2002.

Two years later a barrier that keeps vehicles out but allows animals to cross was erected. Humans can still walk across but the barrier has reduced problematic vehicle traffic. Significant increases in personnel were made, surveillance towers were built, and things steadily improved. In recent years there has been an overall decrease in illegal border crossings.

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The double vehicle barrier above extends for a short distance, then continues as a single barrier along the road out to Quitobaquito Springs, a welcome if isolated slice of green in a sea of camel-colored sand. For thousands of years the spring and adjacent pond have been important landmarks to people living here and passing through. Just a few hundred yards away, busy Mexican Federal Highway 2 connects points east with Tijuana, to the west.

The area around the spring was closed to most visitors for years because of smuggling, but it’s accessible once again. I know our experience as American tourists was nothing like what people trying to cross into America illegally experience here. Too often, Mexicans and Central Americans trying to cross under the radar are not prepared for the harsh conditions in the desert. It’s 99 degrees F right now, on a mid-May evening at 6:15pm. Imagine the heat on a summer afternoon.

People die here. Sometimes they are misled by traffickers who promise a short walk across the desert to a pick-up spot that can’t be found when the time comes. Like I said, it’s a complex situation.

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Many visitors to Organ Pipe stick to the scenic Ajo Mountain Loop near the Visitors Center, which we took our first day at the park. Wanting to see more, we had ventured south the following day on Rt. 85 to the turn-off for Quitobaquito Springs.

We saw only one other car on that mid-January weekday. It wasn’t a rental car or an RV – it looked like a local car. Two people were inside, driving at a brisk pace on the gravel.

We reached the parking area, where another sign greeted and cautioned us. The roar of trucks barreling down Mexico’s Rt. 2 made it easy to orient ourselves as we walked to the spring.

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A lone coot swam in the pond. Mourning doves called and last year’s leaves crunched underfoot.  We traced a narrow creek back through the desert to a wash, then lost the creek in the brush. Wandering away from the spring, we came upon a mound with a  gravestone. It stood all by itself in the desert, miles from any habitation.

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Jose Lorenzo Sestier, the Frenchman who died here in 1900 at the age of 74, was a shopkeeper – yes, once there was a store in the area, selling food, clothing and mining supplies. It was a moving sight, this hand-lettered grave marker overlooking lonely desert hills that roll on for miles to a ragged horizon of dark purple mountains.

There were more signs of humans.

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Discarded water containers, a common sight, reminded us of those who came to this place in more desperate circumstances than ours.

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A helicopter buzzed off to the east. We had seen plenty of Border Patrol vehicles and passed checkpoints so we weren’t surprised by a Border Patrol helicopter – until it was directly over us. It circled closely to get eyes on us. We gave a slight raise of the hand – not enough to indicate trouble, just enough to show we were OK and meant no harm. The helicopter dipped and circled away.

Feeling uneasy, we returned to the car. We hadn’t seen anyone since that one car on the road out to the spring and they had disappeared.  We decided to head back to the highway.  Along the way we relaxed a bit and curiosity pulled us to a detour down another park road. Storm clouds threatened and an odd looking flag waved in the distance. We pulled over, walked towards the flag, and found this:

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Emergency water. It was left there by Humane Borders, or Fronteras Compasivas. Their mission is “to save desperate people from a horrible death by dehydration and exposure and to create a just and humane environment in the borderlands.”  They are volunteers who recognize a need for humanitarian assistance in this harsh environment.  On their website and printed on a brochure I picked up later, is a map showing locations in Arizona where human remains have been recovered. The map is pockmarked with red dots, each evidence of tragedy.  I stared at the red dots for a long time, trying to make sense of it all.

There are initiatives to try to identify remains but the spreadsheet on Humane Borders’ website tells a grim story: many remains are never identified. Too often, by the time remains are found the bones have been picked clean, clothing is long gone.

Not far away we found another emergency station offering a red call button with instructions in English, Spanish and O’odham, the language of the indigenous people, the Tohono O’odham – the Desert People (formerly called the Papago).

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The solar-powered tower holding the sign can be seen from a good distance, like the flag attached to the water barrel.

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Some of the undocumented border crossers who perish in the desert wind up at County Medical Examiners offices. As of 3/20/17 the Maricopa Medical Examiner had over 200 sets of remains, at least half are probably people who crossed the border illegally and died in the process. Illegal crossings have dropped overall in the last ten years due to tightened borders in places like Tijuana/San Diego, but people still try, and still die trying.

A difficult and moving article about undocumented crossers can be found here, along with an excellent series of photographs documenting the items left behind and the places where remains were found.

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On the way out of the park a Border Patrol car passed us and motioned us to a stop. The officer rolled down his window and “chatted” with us, carefully sizing us up, asking questions in a casual way that didn’t fool us for a minute. We wondered if he was after the people we passed earlier. Maybe he was checking to be sure we weren’t there to make a deal with them. It’s complex.

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Back on the main road to Ajo where we were staying, we took one more detour. We headed down Highway 86 into the Tohono O’odham reservation.  Tohono O’odham people lived here long before the US – Mexico border existed. Now their land straddles the US-Mexico border, dividing them in two and profoundly disrupting their lives.  It’s their land, severed by our border.  At least that’s one way of looking at it.

Roadside memorials, bleak in the overcast January skies, dotted the road. We saw few houses on that stretch of road.  I learned later that drug traffickers pass through tribal lands at an alarming rate, leaving trash and tempting tribe members (whose average income is way below the rest of the state) with promises of quick money.

Even if they are an enrolled tribe member, a person who lives on the Mexico side can be deported while visiting on the US side. It’s a risk that prevents people from visiting friends and engaging in activities that would preserve the culture of the Desert People.

To which nation do they belong?

US/Mexican border issues are especially ironic when a reservation resident hears a knock on the door from a desperately thirsty man crossing the border to find a better life in the US, or when the family dog brings home a human bone.

 

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We’ll see what happens if an attempt to build Trump’s wall is made here. The Tohono O’odham people are understandably against further incursion into their lives.

Wandering through Ajo the next morning I came across a graphic representation of a nation divided painted on an alley wall:

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And this:

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The flyer pictured below was posted on a billboard. It references the three-nation complexities of this region.  Fine print on the left says:

“We stand together in cultural solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our environment, our rights, our safety, our health – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

                                  MEXICO   –   TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION   –   USA

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That chilly Saturday in January local residents were selling vegetables at the farmers market. We bought artwork from a man who makes prints from fish, breakfast burritos fresh from a local woman’s kitchen and pastry from a baker.  Then we headed north to Phoenix, to catch a plane bound for Seattle. We missed that flight, but three long weeks later, we finally made the flight home.

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Borders and immigration are fraught topics, like many subjects in public discourse these days. Simplifying and polarizing do not help; the complexities involving three cultures and deep history would benefit more from a nuanced, intelligent and compassionate approach.  It’s been interesting to learn about the ways Organ Pipe National Monument is intertwined with the human struggles that surround and overflow into it. Getting a sense of how an entire culture is affected – a culture that called this land home well before “America” and “Mexico” came along – that was a truly eye opening experience.

Spring in Black and White

Spring is all about growth and the return of color: fresh greens, sparkling blues, deep purples, cheerful yellows. But black and white can also convey the message of renewal.

These photographs were taken in various gardens and parks in the last month or so, all in the Pacific northwest. It’s been an exceptionally wet, cool Spring, conditions that suit our plants just fine, but we humans tire of the endless days of mist and rain and long for the warmth of the sun.

Still, if you dash out between the heavier showers, the wet conditions can be rewarding for outdoor photography. Overcast skies do not create harsh, distracting shadows. The even light enables you to see shape and form. And if the sun does break through, maybe you’ll catch a ray of light in the forest or a sparkle on the raindrops.

It’s challenging to look over my photographs with an eye towards which ones might work well without color, and we know challenges bring rewards. Sometimes color is the story, and sometimes color can distract from the story.  This selection is a reminder to look for more than color, and enjoy.

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  1. A Trillium (probably T. ovatum, the Western Trillum) at Heronswood, a botanical garden and nursery in Kingston, WA.
  2. A pair of Trillium buds at Heronswood. Heronswood grows many different trillium species, so I hesitate to guess which it is when the flower is still in bud.
  3. A beetle on a woodland wildflower that hasn’t bloomed yet, at PowellsWood Garden in Federal Way. This plant, probably False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) or Star-flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum), has name problems! Why false? I get that people named another plant (Solomon’s Seal) first but really, honor the plant with its own name next time. It’s not false anything, it is completely itself. And the Latin names for those two plants vary. The genus used to be Smilacina but is now Maianthemum, and not everyone has caught up. And don’t doubt for a second that there aren’t a myriad of common names for both plants –  Solomon’s Plume, Starry Solomon’s Plume, Feathery False Lily-of-the-Valley, Starry Lily-of-the-Valley, etc. Well, there’s work to keep botanists busy.
  4. A fern fiddlehead, possibly a Lady fern (Athyrium Filix-feminia), at Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, WA.
  5. Peering through the fronds of an Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) at the Rhododendron Species Garden. The species name, struthiopteris, comes from the Greek: struthis means ostrich, pterion means wing (says Wikipedia). Obviously the scientific name was given because the fronds rightly reminded someone of ostrich plumes (see the photograph below). That means ostrich plumes had to be pretty well known in Europe back when the plant was given its Latin name. Indeed, Linneaus published his Systema Naturae, the groundbreaking book whose binomial Latin name system for plants and animals enables speakers of all languages to communicate clearly about the natural world, in the mid 1700’s. By then the distinctive flora and fauna of Africa was familiar to Europeans. In fact, Pliny wrote about Ostriches almost two thousand years ago, and sultans are said to have made gifts of them to European rulers. The Ostrich fern grows in northern locations in Europe, North America and Asia.
  6. A large planting of graceful Ostrich ferns at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  7. New Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree leaves at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Many readers probably know that Ginkgo trees are the oldest living “fossil trees” in the world, having survived on earth for many millions of years. Rarely if ever found in the wild, they were cultivated at monasteries and temples in China, where they once did grow wild. Now they are planted in many cities as street trees – they survive pollution and rough conditions admirably. Was it all the good training they received in Buddhist monasteries? Here is a terrific Ginkgo website. And here, a scientist argues against continuing to plant Ginkgos for a number of sound reasons – though I am very fond of them!
  8. A Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) fiddlehead at Paradise Valley Conservation Area, Woodinville, WA. Why do Sword fern fiddleheads take that odd turn south on their journey of unfolding? I love it!
  9. Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) at Kruckeberg Botanical Garden, just outside Seattle. This native beauty blooms in the woods here in April or May.
  10. Bleeding Heart flowers and foliage at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland, WA.
  11. Unidentified plants grow out of the shallow water of a retention pond in Redmond, WA.
  12. An old Douglas fir tree that split into two trunks early on, at Paradise Valley Conservation Area. The tree’s Latin name is Pseudotsuga menziesii – another “false,”  this time false hemlock – psuedo, and tsuga (Japanese for hemlock). Classified and named in the 1800’s, it is not a fir, a pine or a hemlock, but another kind of conifer. Of course, native peoples had their own names for this grand tree, which can grow to well over 300 feet and live to perhaps a thousand years.
  13. Another Sword fern fiddlehead takes a turn on the dance floor, at Meerkerk Gardens on Whidbey Island, WA.
  14. Tulips at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  15. A fading tulip at Bellevue Botanical Garden.

 

 

ADAPTATIONS

Life as usual

isn’t.

Routines have changed and I’m evolving, shaped

by circumstance, wriggling into

new spaces, expanding into

unfamiliar realms, making it

mine,

adapting.

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Just short of four months ago, my partner and I traveled deep into the Sonoran desert, near Arizona’s border with Mexico.  We had come to explore Organ Pipe National Monument, part of a vast desert landscape ranging through parts of California and Arizona, and Mexico.

Slicing across this desert is an international border – a political boundary, not an ecological one. The border is crossed fairly easily by plants and animals, at least while there is no wall. But people – they fight over this line in the sand. Some of them suffer deeply because of the border; many have lost their lives because of it.

The evidence of this struggle is quite apparent in the desert and the small towns, and between border conflicts and a difficult desert environment, it’s clear that adaptation is what every living being must do.

How people adapt or fail to adapt to the political and economical situation here is a complicated story that I don’t feel equipped to tell, except to say that the signs I saw – the border fence and checkpoints, the helicopter that buzzed us when we went off trail, the empty water jugs, the graves and roadside memorials – those signs of struggle were impossible to get away from. In retrospect, it’s almost as if those signs were a portent of the life-threatening change that would throw us completely off balance within hours of returning to civilization, a change that forced us to adapt beyond what we would have imagined.

But as we walked and drove through the desert we were purely in the moment. I was focused on taking photographs. Needless to say, I took a lot.*   Looking through them now, an obvious category is the flora the brilliantly adapted, tough and prickly plants of the desert that tell their own stories of adaptation.  Another group of photographs will wait for another post. Those pictures touch on the stark realities of the border and this desolate, unforgiving country. For now, the plants:

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The familiar looking Englemann’s Prickly Pear cactus (familiar because similar cacti grow in many parts of the US) is found scattered throughout the park. I love the soft green color of this cactus, but in black and white, attention is drawn to the contrast between the round shape and spiky spines, which I find compelling.

The large, multiple-stem cactus that gives the park its name is the Organ Pipe cactus. It’s more common in Mexico but inches onto the southern edge of the U. S. here in the hot Sonoran desert. This cactus and others that are rare in the U.S. are the primary reason the park land was set aside, way back in 1937.

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I’m not big on interpretive signs, preferring to keep fresh eyes and form my own take on things. Once in a while I do read them though, and a sign along the winding, scenic road through the park informs visitors that wind blowing through an Organ Pipe cactus makes a strange and beautiful sound. It was a breezy day so we tried it. Choosing a huge old specimen, we gingerly stuck our heads into the mass of spine-cloaked stems. The sound was enchanting and otherworldly – a kind of breathy, ethereal hum that is perfectly suited to the spare, quiet landscape.

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Another cactus seen more often in Mexico than America is the Senita cactus, below. It has a similar growth habit to the Organ Pipe, but the details are different. Older specimens in the second photograph show the Senita’s distinctive hairy looking tops. I was fascinated to learn that a moth has co-evolved with this cactus; both species have adapted to the environment and each other in a complex evolutionary dance. The moth larvae live on Senita cacti and eat the fruits; later, the moth pollinates the Senita’s night-blooming flowers. This cactus can grow tall, to 13 feet.

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Twenty-six species of cactus live at Organ Pipe; all are adapted to life at temperatures ranging from over 100 F to below freezing. Rainfall here is scant and unpredictable. Plants must be able to take full advantage of rainwater when it comes; storing it has proved one of the best adaptations to this environment.

Below is a typical jumble of the peculiar forms of Saguaro, Ocotillo, Senita, Cholla, Brittlebush, Palo Verde tree, and others. They all vie for space in the arid environment, making Organ Pipe National Monument essentially a lush, desert garden.

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Perhaps the most common cactus is the Saguaro, seen here in the foreground and scattering up the hillside to the left.

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Below is an example of the rare cristate mutation on a Saguaro. The cause might be frost, but no one is sure why the cactus sometimes grows in this ornate pattern. In fact, over a hundred other plants sometimes exhibit this abnormal growth pattern too, called fasciation. 

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Cacti can be seen at Organ Pipe in all stages of growth and decay. Both Organ Pipe and Saguaro cacti often begin life hidden under a desert tree such as the Palo Verde. The small tree or shrub provides just enough shelter for the cactus to get a good grip on life. Once we started looking for them, we saw many young cacti under trees and shrubs, like the Organ Pipe cactus growing out of the middle of a Palo Verde, below. You can see a shorter stem in front of the main stem.

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Below is the skeleton and peeling “skin” of a fallen giant – in this case, an Occotillo.

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The fallen Saguaro below pulled the desert floor with it when it toppled, exposing the rough rock it grew in.  Below, you can see the “skin” of a dead Saguaro and the woody structure underneath.

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This oddly beckoning skeleton is probably a Jumping Cholla cactus. Further down, you’ll see a live one.

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Like the native Tohono O’odham people, who have lived here for many generations, cacti have adapted well to desert extremes.  Shallow root systems and flexible “skins” allow cacti to quickly gulp down rain that falls as unpredictably as a cat’s meanderings.  Pale colors reflect away over-abundant light. Spines provide protection from thirsty animals, guide raindrops towards the cactus flesh, and create slender threads of shade on sweltering days. Many cacti can put their metabolism into idle mode to wait out the calendar’s rough spots.

Below, a roadside scene at Organ Pipe where Cholla cacti and Saguaros are set against the Ajo Range. On the other side of the mountains is the 4,340 square mile Tohono O’odham (‘Desert People’) reservation, the second largest in the country.

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Where there’s water, plant life adapts and changes gears.  At Quitobaquito Springs near the border, trees and a wild tangle of grasses edge a pond.

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This harsh land has a strange beauty. The image below is an Ocotillo plant with the Ajo Mountains in the background. The Ocotillo’s peculiar spindly form is an odd favorite of mine. I was introduced to the plant at Joshua Tree National Park in California. It was good to see the Ocotillo’s eccentric scribbles punctuate the landscape again in southern Arizona.

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Some Ocotillos sport striped branches that contrast with new leaves, others don’t. Another adaptation? Maybe. The small, tough leaves can appear a few days after a good rain and fall off in dry spells, the plant going dormant for years if necessary.

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This is Jumping cholla, or Chain fruit cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida). This specimen, with its balanced, formal symmetry, reminds me of Victorian decoration.

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Below is another Cholla cactus, the Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigloveii). Its tiny, backward hooked spines are like little velcro magnets – get anywhere near them and watch out! They will detach and seem to jump right onto you. Good luck removing them! At Joshua Tree in California I saw a discarded T shirt in a Cholla patch – picking out the spines just wasn’t worth the effort (it would have been nice if they’d packed it out).  This cactus is also known for the way its spines catch the light with a warm glow at dusk.

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We were too early to see cactus flowers, except for a few. Below, the bud of a cactus, possibly a species of Mammillaria. Many species of Mammillaria cactus grow in Mexico but only a few thrive in the US, at least in the wild. They are popular as cultivated cacti. Below the flower, a barrel cactus with last year’s fruit, well protected behind a thick ring of sharp spines.

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Below, a rare Elephant tree (Bursera microphylla) wedges its water-swollen trunk and  branches into the poor soil of a rocky hillside. I would have inhaled deeply if I’d known the tree has a wonderfully pungent fragrance, which I learned later online (no interpretive sign for that!). With all the moisture it can store, the Elephant tree can go a year without rain, but it is very susceptible to cold, which is why it’s more common across the border in Mexico. The tree’s tiny leaves arrayed on delicate branches contrast with the tough-barked, swollen trunk. The leaves’ pores open at night, another way to conserve water.

Some indigenous people who used the reddish sap as medicine cautioned that it must be kept out of sight. There seem to be layers of mystery around this species – I was drawn to the tree and I wanted to sit under it for an hour, just feeling its essence. Unfortunately, I don’t usually have that luxury when traveling. I’ll try to remember these lessons for my next trip:

  1. Read up more before you go, if possible
  2. Work in time to just sit and take it all in.

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Another intriguing desert adaptation is the relationship between the Phainopepla, a medium sized bird, and the Desert mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum). When the bird eats mistletoe berries while perched on the branch of a host tree, the seeds are left behind, typically in a perfect spot for future germination.  This mistletoe is a hemiparasite that grows on desert trees and shrubs. Below you can see the berries growing close up, and Desert mistletoe in a Palo Verde tree.

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I bet that’s a Phainopepla feather caught on that mistletoe branch…

Our own adaptations to changing circumstances – physical, emotional, intellectual – may be less obvious at first glance than those of the plants at Organ Pipe, but they are just as interesting. Let’s hope we as a species can be as successful in evolving with rather than against our surroundings.

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* Taking travel photographs is challenging.  Every time I travel to a new place, excitement takes over. When I get home I realize all the things I forgot to do: I should have used a different aperture, I shouldn’t have left the polarizing filter on, I should have composed more carefully, held the camera steady, checked the exposure, etc. Maybe I should tape a small sign on my camera the next time I travel that says, “Stop. Think.”  The most successful photos above are thanks to practiced eyes and the miracles of digital cameras and software, in spite of an over-excited mind. The less successful ones are lessons.