Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Spring Fever

No doubt about it! Early Saturday morning is my favorite time. The day and weekend are new, fresh and promising delights, surprises, adventures and memories.

Last Saturday morning, looking out the kitchen window, in the distance I saw movement beyond the fence in the bunch grass. At first, the size and color led me to think it was a coyote but, when it came into better view, it turned out to be a large jackrabbit -- probably the largest I've ever seen. He was a hare on a mission and passed by in less than two seconds. I've been trying to get a decent photo of a jackrabbit but they tend to be skittish and every photo has been in poor light or at too great a distance. Later in the morning, another jackrabbit came inside the fence and stopped for a moment. I snapped a photo and intended to zoom out and take another but this hare had business elsewhere and posed for only one photo. It's not a good photo, but it's the best I've been able to get.

Jackrabbit. (Larger version)

In my world, the best season for birding is during periods of droubt when streams are dry, ponds nonexistent, and mud holes have become dust holes. The snow is gone and birds come to the yard in search of water. Flickers, Robins, Pinyon Jays, Juncos, House Finches, Townsend's Solitares and others returned repeatedly over the weekend.

I tried to count Juncos on Saturday but gave up and estimated the flock at seventy-five birds. Flocks of twenty-five to over one hundred Pinyon Jays raid the feeders and drive away the smaller birds. One lone thirsty visitor was a Scub Jay, the first I've seen in the yard. He was much better behaved than his Pinyon cousins. I had broken the ice about sunrise but it had frozen again and he was working to get a little water from the sides of the black tub that were being warmed by the sun.

Interestingly, a Townsend's Solitare landed on the side of the water tub, refused the water, jumped down to the ground, picked up a chip of ice and flew off. In a few moments, he returned twice and took two more pieces of ice.

Scub Jay
Scrub Jay. (Larger version)

I have a need to walk -- neither a desire nor a wish but a need as in food, water, shelter, intimacy and walking. On Sunday we set out on a ten miles walk. About one mile west of our house, we reach a summit between two cinder cones. From this vantage point we can see the snow covered summits of the San Francisco Peaks. These peaks are sacred to the Navajo, beautiful to all but the most hardened cynic and an indirect contributor to global warming. The peaks are on the north side of Flagstaff so many houses have been oriented north and constructed with large picture windows to harvest the scenic view. The view is paid for by heat loss to the north and a loss of solar heat gain on the south.

San Francisco Peaks
San Francisco Peaks. (Larger version)

I was born and lived the early part of my life in the mountains on the Virginia - West Virginia border. For many years I thought paradise to be synonymous with mountains, late sunrises, early sunsets and short views. Sometimes, I miss the aged and weathered mountains but I've come to love prairies, open spaces, big skies, beautiful sunsets, distant storms and breathing room. Julie and I always hike with binoculars and find it exhilarating to see some speck in the distance which, with the aid of binoculars, turns out to be pronghorn or some other animal.

Julie searching the southern horizon
Julie searching the southern horizon. (Larger version)

Our walk was in the Coconino National Forest. As the view to the south shows, the forest needs breathing room also. The National Forest includes the tall Ponderosas and a buffer area surrounding them. This is the home of pronghorn, tumbleweed, jackrabbits, wind, pack rats, sunshine and coyotes.

National Forest
National Forest. (Larger version)

The two eastern-most Ponderosas that we've found are growing about three miles west of our house. In the recent past, there was a third tree but it's lying near the two survivors and is completing Nature's cycle. These trees are surrounded by several Junipers and a few Pinyon Pines. Until recently, I thought these were the closest Pinyons but we've discovered one small tree growing about one-half mile from the house. It's about five feet tall and took root in the protecting arms of a dead Juniper. Some day perhaps, but not within my lifetime, the Juniper may slowly break apart and leave the Juniper to battle the winds and droughts without its protection.

Ponderosa Pines
Ponderosa Pines. (Larger version)

I enjoy trying, learning, experimenting. I've been reading on solar closets, heat gain and the effects of texture, mass and color. To the west of Cochrane Hill by the Ponderosas is an area of fine black volcanic cinders. The temperature was in the mid-forties with a slight cool breeze. I knelt down and felt the ground -- warm, very warm. I was struck by a vision of lying in the warm black coarse sand and feeling the breeze. On impulse I called out "Julie, sit down and feel the warmth!" Thankfully, she has a sense of adventure and play.

Warm Volcanic Cinders
Warm Volcanic Cinders. (Larger version)

On the southeast slope of Cochrane Hill are four white posts. In the past, we jokingly referred to them as a grave because we couldn't identify their purpose from a distance. We climbed about halfway up the west side of the hill and began walking around the hill to investigate the posts and try to decipher their real purpose.

As we walked around the hill, we passed through a garden of Mormon Tea. I've read that in the 1800's the Mormons used the plant to make a tea. I wondered what it tastes like but said nothing. Julie broke the silence and questioned the taste of the tea and the recipe for making it. She broke off a piece to take home with plans to research the plant and make tea. (Hmmm? This happens frequently. Do happily married couples develop some form of telepathy? Can she read my thoughts? That could be scary!)

1916 Survey Marker
1916 Survey Marker. (Larger version)

When we arrived at the posts, we discovered a survey marker dated 1916. The posts were four inch PVC standing on top of the ground. Curious as to why they didn't fall over, I lifted one post and found a steel post in the center of the PVC. At the base of the steel post, inside the PVC, was a small white bottle. I checked the other posts and found two more bottles which matched the first one.

Mining Claim
Mining Claim. (Larger version)

I opened one bottle and found a mining claim dated 1984. Gold, silver, copper? No, volcanic cinders. Some cinder cones are being hauled away to provide cinders for snowy winder roads, septic systems and other construction projects. I didn't check the other bottles but assume they laid claim to the rest of the cinder cone.

Hunger and some pain in Julie's foot from surgery last fall and walking on the slope of the hill caused us to turn toward home. By the time we arrived, our walk totaled about eight miles.

Rabbit Outside Kitchen Window
Rabbit Outside Kitchen Window. (Larger version)

About supper time I happened to look out the window and noticed a rabbit drinking from the water tub. We live in a area where the range of hares (jackrabbits) overlaps with rabbits (cotton tails). Jackrabbits keep their distance but rabbits are more trusting. Many mornings, when I go out in the dark to fill bird feeders, I find a rabbit eating seed below the feeders. Generally, the rabbit will move a few feet away and wait until I replenish his larder.

Thirsty Rabbit
Thirsty Rabbit. (Larger version)

The weekend was perfect. It began Friday evening with a full moon party at a friend's house, continued though Saturday with work around home and ended with a rejuvenating walk on Sunday. Monday at work wasn't as enjoyable. I like my job and I enjoy my coworkers but it's almost spring and I have a bad case of spring fever. I don't want to be here. I want to be outside -- playing, exploring and discovering.

But, no sense living in the past. Last weekend is over. However, we've already planned next weekend's adventure!