From Death to Drenched

The Southern Arizona Summer engulfed us last June, like like the fiery blazes of hell! 120 degrees for days…100+ for a month. The only thing that kept us sane was looking forward to the cooling rains of the Monsoons, officially declared to start on June 15th. Sometimes- I think last year, in fact- they started early. We were hoping the same this year, we desperately needed the rains…the desert was dying!

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By the end of June we still had no rain. Not even a hint. The heat was depressingly oppressive!  You know its bad when the drought tolerant/heat tolerant cactus start to shrivel up and die…

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We thought this poor agave was a goner!

June dropped off the calendar-still with no rain.We started feeling like the cactus!

But, the 4th of July would be here soon, and we ALWAYS get rain on the 4th!! However, independence day came and went with only the booming of fireworks- not the booming of thunder we had counted on. Aaauuuuughhhhh the agony!

Todd even went to the extremes of putting sprinklers in the yard on some of our cactus to try to salvage some of  them! Something he had never had to do before. We noticed some of our neighbors were doing the same.

It wasn’t until about a week after the 4th, that Monsoon finally arrived! As we watched the lighting streaked clouds come rumbling in, Todd stationed himself on top of the shed to act as a human lightning rod….

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Here’s a little taste of the desert monsoon….

An no…Todd was not still sitting on the roof as I shot this!

I wish I could share the smell the rain drenched desert and feel the cool mist floating in the air. A mist that’s created as the rain dances on the parched desert ground. There is nothing like it! The temperature generally drops from 100+ to about 75 in a matter of minutes! The relief is almost euphoric!

Since then, over the past month, it has rained, and rained- one of the best Monsoon seasons we have had in years! Todd has marked over 7 inches of rain so far! Most of the plants that melted with the heat, rebounded!

Here’s the heat ravaged agave- unbelievable that it came back to life!….

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Now as Fall approaches, we can enjoy the beautiful desert, revived, refreshed and blooming! We celebrate nature’s gift, even though the ‘dry heat’ has turned muggy and mosquitoes  abound- we raise our glasses to Mother Nature with a toast: “Even though you can be a ‘bitch in heat’ or a frozen mother ‘f’er, when you pour…girl, you Reign!”

 

 

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The Unearthly Hour

Cue music and let the story begin…

Something haunting and mysterious happens when the sun sinks low in the sky and lingers for just a brief period of time.  The sun’s setting rays illuminate the desert landscape with dramatic effect. All of the strange little details are revealed, that, which might otherwise go unnoticed. The hour has come which turns Todd’s Backyard into a strange place, not of this world…

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The show begins when some cactus catch your attention, having suddenly turned into bizarre silhouettes. Their shadowed forms, outlined with spiny halos, are transformed into some kind of grotesque creatures springing from the ground! I can almost imagine them like the many-headed serpent the ancient Greeks called the Hydra, hissing and writhing …(As if rattlesnakes weren’t scary enough ;o) !!!

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Some of the cactus on our porch turn into wooly alien creatures that can make your own hairs prickle with the anticipation…Just waiting to see if they might start dancing or climbing out of their pots like little gremlins. Oh, the mischief they could cause!

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Spiky flames, that were once agave, flicker with moving shadows, setting the yard ablaze in a shades of green…

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Patches of short spiky spires carpet portions of the yard. Neither man, nor beast dare walk in their prickly path!

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And as the visual drama heightens the senses, the bird’s happy songs turn into the screeching cries of souls that loom among the lightness and the dark! (Ok, maybe a little too sinister?)

But this IS rather sinister…Spider webs appear out of nowhere, now to be seen glistening among the cactus throughout the entire yard! (Yikes…now realizing how many spiders we have!)

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And then, with only moments before the show ends, the sun sizzles on the horizon like a fierce red eye casting it’s gaze on the landscape, creating shapes and shadows that devour the yard in it’s glowering wake.

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For that unearthly hour each day,  the spell has been cast.  We can put reality aside and just imagine. Be it monsters, fairies, demons or angels…It’s the time when our minds can play after a long day of work and possibly a few drinks ;)! And it is with this climatic ending,  that the curtain falls. The sun has sunk behind the hills and Todd’s Backyard returns to the serene sanctuary in the desert preparing for a peaceful slumber and the dreams to come….

I just hope I don’t have nightmares!….

Auuugh spiders….. and cactus gremlins…

Sweet Tree-ts

Todd’s Backyard is basically a desert forest. When we moved here 9 years ago, the property had a lot of mature mesquite trees and Todd decided to plant a few more, just to fill it in. Now, the trees that Todd planted over the years, have grown into beautiful green canopies that shade the desert landscape from the scorching summer sun! A relief to us, as well as our local desert dwellers!

Of course, the yard has become a favorite hangout for all of our feathered friends! The birds have flocked to this branchy paradise, so you will at find at least one bird… or two in every bush 😉

And, since we are on a bird migration route, we sometimes have bird guests, that baffle us. We keep our handy bird book on the porch so if we don’t know who they are, we can look them up!

I think I have identified this one as a White Tailed Kite?…Similar to a Falcon.

The cardinals have been particularly high-profile and prolific this year. There are several cardinal families that have put on some great shows for us, feeding their babies! It’s the dads that actually feed their offspring…who knew!

They make and incredible racket when doing so, so if you don’t spot their brilliant pop of red among the treetops, you just need to follow the tweets!

In Todd’s Backyard, the birds are boutiful, but it’s not just the birds you’ll see in the trees…

We have some real tree-huggers here!

And some tree slitherers!

And some furry little acrobats!

You may want to call Todd’s Backyard a desert forest, but whatever it is, it’s always entreetaining 😉

Beaugliful!

Last Sunday, the first day of the new year, I sat on the porch trying to get inspired. For some reason, I’m just not that into 2012. Not just because it’s supposed to mark the end of the world on the Aztec calendar (in fact, the big New Year’s Eve party in Tucson was called Aztec Apocalypse) which in itself, is not a very optimistic celebratory title.

I had to shake my malaise, so I grabbed the camera and headed out to explore the backyard, thinking that I could capture that New Year’s Cheer in some beautiful photos. I had missed the New Year’s Eve excitement the night before, going to bed at 9:30 pm, trying to stay awake watching Dick Clark’s New Years Bash, or whatever the hell it was. I had to give it up when they started extolling the virtues the occupy Wall street idiots….Gag! Yeah, that’s great….let’s encourage self pity and class warfare…that’ll surely bring great things this year!

So…anyway… on New Year’s day, I thought I would just occupy Todd’s Backyard and be happy! But, as I scanned the yard, looking for some lovely photo ops, I was having a hard time. The winter blahs have started to ‘brown out’ the lush greenery of Summer/Fall past. And many of the critters are hibernating or gone for the Winter….Ok, a little self pity here…

 I was however, a bit startled when focusing on said dreariness, there was something beautiful here!

I continued my photographic exploration…

I was discovering very interesting,  almost otherworldly  scenes through the lens of the camera! A kind of beautiful ugliness, if you will.

My imagination started to kick in, my spirits lifted!

The moon among the rocks?

A coyote head in the cholla bones?

A rock garden atop a weathered table!

I was on a roll…then I smelled him…

I turned around, and of course, what could be more thrilling than a javelina snuffling among the garden sculptures…

And the aroma!….Immediatly  brought me back to thoughts of the ‘occupied’ people….Aaauuurrrrrggh!

Ok, snap out of it!

Life is good!

Be Happy!….Beaugliful!

Signs of Life

In the light of recent world events, it’s a good time to remember that out of bleakness comes brilliance. Renewal is one of the greatest miracles! Sometimes when looking at the bigger picture, hope appears futile. But focusing on the tiniest things, the smallest changes, can make anything seem possible!

In our little microcosm of Todd’s Backyard, we experienced the most devastating winter since we’ve lived here. Certainly not a dangerous, life changing event, but it did have significant effect on the plants and wildlife. With the advance of spring, the temperatures are warming and the days are getting a little longer. Finally we are seeing those small signs of life that will start to aleviate our winter woes.

Lantana buds are starting to peek out from under the frozen remains of last years greenery.

 

The barren branches are starting to bud. Hopefully, this summer, Todd’s kiwi (pictured above) will really take off!

And the bees are busy gathering nectar from the hummingbird feeders until the yard blossoms…

And it is blossoming!

One of the most exciting developments are the tiny fuzzy buds sprouting all over the Jactus!

We counted 13 buds…

And for anyone reading this that isn’t familiar with the Jactus, this is what we can expect in about 6 weeks….

And life goes on….

Wingin’ It

February in the desert. It’s that time between Winter and Spring  (I like to call Wing). Or perhaps ‘swing’ would be a better term, as Mother Nature is afflicted with wild mood swings! A few days of freezing cold, iced feeders and blanketed plants. Then a few days of wonderful warmth…all the critters lounging in the sun,  including us, as we don our shorts and flip flops.Then back to our jackets and fleece for another few days.  Every week seems to bring the same crazy temperature cycle. On those freezing days, we opine for the hot days of summer, easily forgetting how we opined in the summer for the cold days of winter! Whatever…we shouldn’t be complaining at all, after watching the national weather news. I mean, really, come on Todd….snap out-of-it! (Ok, I’m just as bad!)

Really, the kind of only depressing thing about this time of year is the rather dreary landscape. Most of the vivid colors have been sapped away, replaced by shades of brown and greenish-grays.

After the frost, the trees have dropped most of their leaves and the cactus are drooping….This is the first year the frost has actually effected the cactus. We hope they will bounce back, otherwise Todd’s gonna have fun clearing out tons (literally)  of dead cactus this spring!

The frostbitten aloe vera have turned into clumps of odd-looking alien plant life….

The barrel blossoms have petrified into spiney little pineapple-like pods….

And  the bones scattered across the yard have become more prominent in the withering landscape.

We should only have to endure our ‘unfavorite’ season for another month or so, but until then, we will keep wingin’ it, week to week! And we can certainly keep optimistic and inspired by the abundance of beauty that still surrounds us , even this time of year!

 

Prickly Pearadise

Tis’ the season to pick-a peck-of-prickly-pears (fruits)!  The end of October and into November is when they are plump and prime!

So, we spent two weekends (carefully)  picking, plucking and processing our colorful crop.

Then, turning the fruit into juice and preserving it for the rest of the year in  ice cubes… Here’s our process…

Not a particularly painless process, as you have to beware the pricklies. Plus the squeezing is a bit tedious….but it is worth it! Although, some may be asking why?…..

Prickly pear juice is packed with nutrients: Prickly Pears are low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. They’re also a good source of Calcium and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C and Magnesium. Plus it adds color and flare to various goodies such as pies, jams, jellies, fruit salads, fruit smoothies… just about anything with fruit! And of course…..Todd’s  famous prickly pear margarita….

With Todd’s ‘secret’ recipe!

And then there’s my new invention: The ‘TBY’ Sunset-

Mango juice and orange juice over ice (with 2 prickly pear cubes) and a liberal  ‘splash’ of vodka!

Or….The TBY Sunrise….(same recipe minus the vodka)….or not!

Not only is it really yummy and nutritious (-vodka), but it is also a drinkable work of art! Watching the brilliant magenta prickly pear cubes melting in the orange/mango juice is like watching a colorful watercolor unfold before your eyes! Even better + vodka!