Captured at the speed of a shutter click

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 22, 2015 8:37 PM

In 8th grade, we had to choose a profession and do a report on it. I chose photography and to this day, I can’t tell you why. I suspect it sounded glamorous and artistic and fun. The fact that I didn’t own a camera and had probably never taken a picture in my life was immaterial. I still remember the cover I did for the report. Yellow construction paper with the word Photography written in colored magic marker. I don’t think there was a photograph included, on the cover or inside. Regardless, I got an A. It must have been well-written and researched.

I did take a photography class in high school. I had an old Canon SLS camera at that point. We shot on black and white film and learned how to open a canister, and put the roll onto a spiel inside a black bag in order to develop the negatives. I became quite adept at it, but I was never a great photographer. And truth be told, I didn’t really like it.

Kevin loves to take photos and he’s good at it. His dad was a photographer, and heavily involved in a camera club when Kevin was growing up. I think Kevin even had something to do with the club when he was in high school. We have several of Tom Michel’s black and white photos here in the house.

Our friend Gene, a musician by trade, is a great photographer. He has a good eye and an easy way of capturing life.

And then there’s Roy. As an artist, he sees everything differently than the rest of us. He can look at the house, and where everyone else is trying to figure out how to get all of it into one picture, he simply takes a portion of it, capturing the unique angles at a unique angle. He views the world through his viewfinder. Even the photos he takes of his cats are spectacular. We’ve always told him he should do an exhibit just of animal photos.

He has had one painting in a theatre in Phoenix, chosen through an anonymous jury. He has another that will be displayed for the last part of this year, October, thru December. A month or so ago, the theater, the Herberger, had another call to artists, this time for photography. Labeled the “candid” exhibit, they wanted life shots, captured at the speed of a shutter click. We (because it was a team effort, though most of the work was done by photographer Roy and his trustee sidekick extraordinaire, Bobbi) submitted 10 photos. Today we got word:

“On behalf of the Herberger Theater Center, I would like to congratulate you on being chosen to participate.” The piece that was selected is entitled “Dog in Fiat.” It was one of 30 chosen out of 370 images, again by a blind jury.

"Dog in Fiat" by Roy Guzman, Photographer

I obviously never seriously pursued a career in photography. I never even dabbled. But I know good photography when I see it. A good photograph can catapult you into the image. Suddenly you’re walking on the beach at sunset, you’re lost in the vineyards of Santa Ynez, you’re next to a hummingbird on a flower, you’re watching the fog roll over the ocean in Oregon, you’re inside a cave in Antelope Canyon. You’re standing along the road, watching a fiat go by with a big dog in the passenger seat. It just takes a click and you’re there, celebrating. Living it out loud. 

Life in the presidio

by Lorin Michel Friday, August 21, 2015 8:33 PM

On August 20, 1775, Captain Hugh O’Conor, an Irish mercenary working for Spain and leading a company of Spanish Army soldiers, was tasked with moving all presidios to the state of California. He never made it that far, instead selecting an area overlooking the Santa Cruz River floodplain. He named it the Presidio San Agustin. Nearby was a small O’odham village named S-cuk Son.

This was a new frontier, a year before the country declared its independence from England. Where presidios provided protection for those working the silver mines. The Spanish came up from the south, from a place called Tubac, and found their new fort is pretty sorry shape. There was no place to live, little food. They got to work, setting up a ramada to put a roof over their heads. Over the course of several years, they built a gate in the center of the west wall, with a chapel located on the east wall. The commandant’s house was in the center. Homes, stables and warehouses grew up in the center. The exterior walls were fortified adobe to help protect against occasional attacks from the Apache who would often come to steal the animals.

Soldiers hunted on Sentinel Peak, a place that eventually became known as “A” Mountain. They guarded the community, protected their families and grew to love the town that was Tucson. In 1775, there was no politics, not even any news from the rest of the country. This little jewel in the Sonoran desert, filled with greenery and life-sustenance , didn’t even know about the American revolution until 1780.

Sometimes I wonder if it is still that removed. I wonder if it’s one of the reasons we love it like we do. There are politics here now. There are politics everywhere. But it’s not as bad as most people might think especially since this is Arizona, the land of the rabid right and ridiculously xenophobic. Interesting that the state was founded by Native Americans and those from Mexico. Tucson was actually part of Mexico, fighting for Mexican’s independence in 1821, not becoming part of the United States until 1854. But to acknowledge that is to somehow betray our heritage. Not so much here, though; not in our little island of blue. And green. Where orange and purple flowers and ripe red prickly pear fruit are the norm. The lush oasis of the southern desert.

S-cuk Son, or Tucson, celebrated its 240th birthday yesterday. To my knowledge there wasn’t a cake, nor were there fireworks. For its age, it looks pretty good. There are some cracks and lines, some sagging in the middle, mostly from the underground aqueducts. But there’s a reason people settled here then. It’s much the same reason people stayed, giving birth to generation of Tucsonans. The reason people like us now call it home.

It’s the people. It’s the atmosphere. It’s the remarkable terrain. The creatures. The sky at night. The history. Our history. And when the birds take flight as storms gather and rain down, it is past meets present. It’s life in the presidio, with adobe walls and homes and agriculture and animals that still need to be protected though no longer from the Apaches. It’s wondrous, still a great place to build a fort. We have. And we couldn’t be happier.

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The obsidian skull

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 18, 2015 10:10 PM

The silhouette of a woman stood outlined against the fading sky. Soon it would be night. That’s when the song would start. A low hum from the ground, vibrating through the rocks, calling to her. Every night she waited to hear it, wanting to understand its meaning, its power. But it eluded her, making her wait longer; she wondered how long. In the valley below, fires began to appear, the tribe readying itself for the night, warding off the evil spirits. The walls of the pyramids glowed. From inside, the dancing colors rose to the sky. The woman, Azul, followed the colors to the moon and beyond. She looked to the planets and saw that they were aligned. Tomorrow night, there would be a sacrifice under the obsidian skull.


Justin has been in Mexico since July 9, traveling with the show from Mexico City to Guadalajara to Monterey. He went to Mexico with us when he was young, but this was work, and decidedly not resort towns. He did enjoy visiting the ruins of Teotihuacan, an ancient city built around 200 BC. No one is entirely sure who built it, with its largest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, eventually completed in the year 100 AD. It became a city of great power, with a population of up to 200,000, home to potters, jewelers and craftsmen. Craftsmen who worked a great deal with obsidian.

Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass, produced when felsic lava cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth. It’s hard and brittle, with black being the most common color. It can also be found in shades of brown and green. In rare instances, it can be found in red, orange, yellow and blue.

Teotihuacan was built after the eruption of the Xitle volcano, an event that caused lava to flow and cool fast enough to form obsidian.

Many centuries later, there are still a number of craftsmen at Teotihuacan, creating sculptures and pieces of art, and selling them to tourists like our Justin. He came home last night for a week. When there’s a change over, like going from one country to another, the crew gets a week off. The show, packed into trucks, takes that long to travel from Monterey, back across the border and on to Kansas City where the next leg begins next Tuesday.

He rented a car at the airport and arrived here around 4. We laughed and talked and then, he opened his bag. He had brought presents. Maybe it’s because he knows how much we love Mexico. More likely it’s because we raised a thoughtful, loving young man. First there were the bottles of Agavero Tequila. He remembered! When we were in Cabo San Luca, staying at the Villa La Estancia, we were downtown looking for a really good tequila. We don’t know anything about tequila so we had no idea what to choose. We chose one based on the bottle, a dark blue rounded bottle with an etched agave plant. It was spectacular. The best tequila we’d ever had. Yesterday, he brought us two bottles. We were thrilled because we haven’t been able to find it here in the States.

Next came something wrapped very carefully. It was inside a plastic bag. He was handling it very carefully. As he pulled the outside bag away, it revealed a skull, but a skull unlike anything we’d seen before. It looked like cut glass. He pulled stuffing out from inside, used to protect it. And set it on the counter.

It’s wild, and weird, and stunning, and different. And we love it. He picked it out for us. We put it on one of the column caps, near the fireplace. We looked at it and marveled at the oddness of it, the color, the obsidian. It made me think of a mystery, a deep, tangled tale from the desert of Mexico. Maybe I’ll write a story someday, a mystery involving sacrifice and music and the wonder of the sky, of the earth.


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There’s a tarantula in the portico. Now what?

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 16, 2015 8:17 PM

Welcome to today’s edition of “what the f#$% is THAT?!” As usual, our story takes place in the portico. For some reason, that small, covered walkway seems to attract all manner of creatures, especially now that it’s blisteringly hot following the 2” plus of rain we got on Tuesday. The three Ts are supposed to be regular occurrences in monsoon season. We’ve seen our fair share of Toads, they of the poisonous variety, who haunt the portico and the Cooper area (where Riley pees) just teasing the dog. We had three last night, which Kevin relocated using his magical dustpan with the long handle and a broom.

On Friday, when SolarCity Charlie was here, we had a Tortoise. We think he was trying to elude the roadrunner. Kevin donned gloves (the tortoise was much too big for the dustpan) and picked him up, set him on the driveway and off he motored toward the eastern desert.

Two Ts down. We knew it was just a matter of time before the third one appeared. After all, we haven’t seen one since September of 2013 and given our current locale, in the middle of the Sonoran desert, we knew they were lurking, probably under a rock somewhere. In fact, every time I moved a rock last weekend, I expected to see something fuzzy and sinister looking back at me with an “excuse me, I’m hibernating here” look. I didn’t. I was glad.

But today, oh, today. As you might surmise from the title of the post, the third T made an appearance. Kevin had gone out to the portico to sweep up. Ever since Orkin started coming on a regular basis, we tend to get a good number of dead bugs in the portico as well as the deck every day. Add in some wind, and there tends to be an accumulation of carcasses, dirt and leaves. The portico is sunken, three steps down from the driveway. As such, it’s a magnet for stuff. 

My brave husband was out there barefoot. It was the middle of the day and on Sunday, he generally refuses to wear shoes. It’s at night that the scorpions come out so he figures he’s safe. However, when he was doing the dishes after breakfast, he jumped back like something had bit him. 


“Something just twitched past my foot,” he said.

We both immediately moved to put something on our feet. Me, the flip flops that were at the bar; him, the slippers that were on the other end of the bar. Armed with footgear, we went back to the scene of the alleged crime and found … absolutely nothing.

The flip flops and the slippers got removed again. Let’s pick up our story from there: The husband unit was outside in the sweltering heat, sweeping. I was at the bar, working. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up. My barefoot husband was standing in the kitchen window, gesturing frantically. Come here! Now!

I cautiously opened the front door. He pointed. I looked. And didn't see anything.

“It’s down under there, in the corner.”

Uh-oh. I bent down.

“I still don’t see anything,” I said, not knowing what it was I was supposed to be seeing but figuring it was probably bad based on the wild gesticulating. 

“There,” he pointed again. I looked closer and there it was: a furry leg coming down from under the house. 

“Well, crap,” I said getting up and backing away. “What are we going to do (we actually meaning you)? We can’t leave it there.”

He sighed, resigned. We went back inside. He got the long-handled dustpan. He put on his slippers. He looked at me again, and turned toward the door.

“If I don’t come back, take care of our boys.”

It promised to be a battle for the ages.

In one corner, Tommy “the terrible” Tarantula, weighing in at 2 oz. He’s really slimmed down, Bob. Look at him dance on all eight feet, lighter than air.

And in the other corner, Kevin “the mere mortal” Michel. He looks good, strong. But he’s in slippers, a little leaden, and that can’t be good.

In the end, the mere mortal defeated the terrible, scooping him into the long-handled dustpan and relocating him into a pile of rocks across the roadway where the arachnid eyed the humanoid with some disdain, vowing that he’d be back. And that he’d bring friends.

Great. Something to look forward to. Something to … celebrate?

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In today’s edition of desert life …

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 8, 2015 8:06 PM

I worked in the yard. Now we don’t have a yard, of course. Not in the traditional sense. In the desert, unless you’re a golf course, yards, specifically grass, are frowned upon. Even some golf courses let their grass grow brown under the brutal heat of the desert summer sun. Must make for interesting ball movement.

Whenever we’re out and about now, and come across an area that has grass we both say, almost simultaneously and tinged with disgust: “Wow. They have grass.” We say “grass” like it has three syllables. I guess that means we have truly acclimated.

Our yard is awash with cactus of all sizes, heights and types. We have desert grasses, the long, tall weeds that are dusty in color and wave in the breeze. We have a tremendous amount of rock, both loose and on which we are built. We have, of course, dirt. And when it rains we have debris. Lots of debris.

Last night, we had two episodes of torrential rains. Rains so hard we thought they were going to break the skylight in our master bath. Rains that pounded the flat roof and caused fire-hose like spouts out the scuppers. The wind howled, ghostly and mean, and the rain drove down, and we worried and wondered what fate awaited the house. When your house is built on a hill, you can’t help but be curious and fearful that one day it will wash down and into the desert.

The house is built on a 100 vertical foot rise from the desert below. It was designed, as we requested, to look as if it had been born of the desert, rising up from it to become part of it. It works with the hillside, flowing in a near half circle. The colors we chose are earthy, desert colors. It stands out even as it melds with its surroundings. But it is on the edge of a hillside. There are huge pylons that dig deep down into the rock and the earth below, supporting the cantilevered deck. There are retaining walls, poured into footings that went down and into the rock. It is a solid mass of stucco, steel, wood and glass. And yet, I worry. Especially after the rains.

This morning, as the sun rose, so did we. We took Riley out and got our first glimpse of the carnage. Standing water along the foundation wall to the east. Deep crevices carved by flowing water, carved into the ground. The swails and rocks we have put into place thus far seem to be holding, with a few minor adjustments and additions. But there was damage both on the east and west. As Kevin readied his tools to continue rocking, I took Riley for a quick walk. The air was humid but only about 71º. The drive was strewn with rocks and more debris that washed down from the hill. At the first turn, a huge rock sat in the middle. A rock that will take at least two of us to push to the side.

When we returned, I donned the appropriate attire to work in the heat. Long pants, a long sleeve shirt, a bandana around my head, a brimmed hat and gloves. It was my job to secure more rock and stone. Up the hill I trudged with my wheelbarrow. Filled it as much as I could so that I could still control the device coming back down the hill, wheeled across the driveway and delivered the contents to my husband who was down on the hillside, placing stones together, applying mortar, shoring up the hill in the hopes that the next time if pours, and it will – again and again and again – there will be places for the water to hit before shooting off into the desert below.

We worked in the yard today so that our house stays put, and that’s definitely worth celebrating.

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by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 6, 2015 8:38 PM

At 2:05 a.m., my cell phone rang. I have become a cell phone fanatic, addicted to my iPhone in the way teenagers are addicted to theirs. It goes with me everywhere. I maintain text messages with a number of people; I also use it to actually talk to people, both for business purposes and family and friends. I check the weather on it several times a day; I check Facebook. It is surgically attached and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my iPhone. It is also the only phone I have. While we have a landline, it is only so that we can buzz people in when they call from the front gate. What does this have to do with anything, and especially the title of this post? I’m getting to that.

My phone rang, and I was instantly awake. I reached to the nightstand to grab it and it stopped ringing. I don’t think the two were related. I think it was probably a wrong number. The interesting thing is that, looking at the screen, which was still illuminated with Missed Call, I could swear I was looking at my own number. Which immediately led to my freshly awaked brain wondering how it was that my phone called itself and why, followed by that can’t be right, followed by snuggling back down under the covers.

It is August, as you already know and don’t need this blogger to tell you, but August everywhere in this country means one thing. Heat. And we’ve been getting a ton of it. I was out running some mid-day errands yesterday and the temperature gauge on the dashboard read 111º. I think just seeing that made me reach over and turn up the fan another notch. We are in that phase where we go from air conditioned car to air conditioned house, or we simply don’t leave the air conditioned house.

Which means that the house is always pleasant. We have two air conditioning units, one for each side of the house. We keep them both set at 78º. Not overly cool. Some probably think that’s too warm, but it’s quite pleasant for us, and keeps the electric bills more manageable. At night, I turn the west side unit, the side where the master bedroom is, down to 75º. We have a ceiling fan. The air swirls and cools, making snuggling down under the sheet and the comforter very comfortable, and very necessary.

I buy bed-in-a-bag. I started doing this years ago when we had Maguire. No matter how much we tried to keep him off, he often ended up on the bed. It was the only piece of furniture in the house that he ever seemed to care about probably because it was big enough to accommodate his rather large self. Whenever we couldn’t find him in the house, we would go to the master bedroom and there he’d be, looking at us from his perch up against the pillows, in the sun. What?

Dog hair and dog grime tend to eventually and fairly quickly destroy a comforter. Bed-in-a-bag always gives me an opportunity to refresh both the bed and the bedroom. I change the top bedding every six months or so; the sheets once a week. I always buy comforters, never bedspreads. I don’t even know if you can get bedspreads-in-a-bag. I don’t tend to like bedspreads. We’re more comforter people.

Which works perfectly for snuggling under the covers. A comforter provides comfort and warmth without ever being heavy. Again, ideal for being under the covers.

After the phone rang, and I turned my brain away from wondering how I was calling myself; after I cooled down from the initial flash of hot from waking up so alarmingly, and got myself ready to return to dreamland; after all of that, I pulled the covers up to my chin, turned to face the window and the sleeping body of my husband. The city lights were dancing in the dark, and lightning was softly flashing in the far off clouds. I was under the covers, I was safe, I was warm. I was asleep.

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It’s like we knew, one day, some day

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 1, 2015 9:03 PM

A long time ago when knowing your color season was what everyone did, I found out that I was an autumn. Because of my dark hair, my brown/hazel eyes and my skin tone which has more red in it than yellow, it was decided that I looked best in the colors most associated with fall. Browns, golds, greens, oranges. Warm colors. I had always felt most comfortable in those colors anyway so I was glad I didn’t suddenly have to start wearing brilliant reds and blues.

My love of warm colors always translated to my taste in furniture and accessories. I suppose it’s also one of the reasons I’ve long loved pottery. Pottery, regardless of the glaze used, is still made from clay, by nature earthy. I used to love to visit pottery studios and galleries when I was young; I still do. I took pottery in college, and have taken two recent classes here in Tucson.

Years ago, when I was married to my first husband and the Southwestern decorating style was all the rage, I bought two big pottery type lamps. They were tall, about 5 feet each, with broad bases that were rough in texture and creamy in color. I still have those lamps. I recently put new lampshades on them, silk-screened shades with browns and greens, golds and oranges. They’re perfect in the new house.

After husband number 1 and prior to current and favorite husband, I dated a guy named David. One weekend, we went up to Cambria, about 3 hours north of Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful coastal town filled with galleries. I fell in love with an amazing hand-shaped vase in a pottery studio. Rough red clay base with drips of blue, orange, red, purple glaze. He gave it to me for Christmas that year and I still have it. It looks absolutely gorgeous on our new fireplace hearth.

Kevin and I spent months trying to find a dining room set we liked when we moved into our Oak Park house. We finally settled on pieces that are sort of Scandinavian in design. The wood is a dark red. We still have the table and the hutch here and they look perfect with our tile.

Ditto the leather couches we bought several years ago as well. They’re a taupe color, overstuffed, comfortable. Perfect in the great room.

I stand and look at my new house and I realize that I’ve actually been decorating it for years, perhaps even before Kevin and I got together, but definitely since then and long before we actually built it. From the iron sleigh-type bed we bought for our bedroom along with the side tables, the bed that Kevin made for Justin that we repurposed for our guest room, the pub table and stools that were in our kitchen and are now in the breakfast nook, the antique music stand, the other eclectic pieces of furniture and accessories. Everything looks like it was bought specifically for this house and none of it was. The only exceptions: the three bar stools at the eat-at bar, and the deck furniture.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve always had similar taste, and that I tend to like furniture and things that are earthy in color, never ornate, but always interesting and hopefully comfortable. Maybe we’ve been buying everything in anticipation for building this house in the desert. Maybe we knew that one day, some day, it would all come together beautifully in a house that comes out of the desert, surrounded by greens and browns and golds. My colors. It was meant to be.

The mone is blewe

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 31, 2015 11:27 PM

Last night, the sky was blue. Navy mixed with slate. I noticed an odd cast in the western sky, a pale gray that was odd. It was clouds, obviously, but still an awkward color. As the night went on, and the darkness deepened, what is usually nearly black was instead the darkest of blues. I remarked on it to Kevin who acknowledged it only with a “hmmmmm.”

In the middle of the night, I awoke as I often do. Nothing in particular seems to wake me when this happens other than my brain spinning in too many directions. I rarely sleep through the night anymore. I’ve gotten used to it. Some nights are better than others. The worst are when I’m awake for hours at a time. Last night wasn’t one of those nights. But when I was awake, I looked out the huge windows that face south. I didn’t get out of bed. Rather I simply turned to stare out toward the city, flickering in the distance, at the various houses dotting the landscape below, at the sky. It was silky, the color of midnight lilies, of the ocean glancing off ice.

This moon, usually white, seemed tinged with blue.

Blue moon you saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own

Blue moon
You knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a pray’r for

All I could hear was Ella Fitzgerald, crooning about a blue moon, and I wondered. I know the moon referenced in the song refers more to emotion and mood, but what about the orb in the sky?

Turns out there is such a thing as a blue moon, and it happens officially tonight. Of course, after doing a little research I found out that a blue moon rarely has anything to do with color but rather with orbits and having two full moons within a single calendar month. It was described like this in 1528:

O churche men are wyly foxes [...] Yf they say the mone is blewe / We must beleve that it is true / Admittynge their interpretacion. 

That’s quotes from an anti-clerical pamphlet titled Rede me and be nott wrothe, for I say no thynge but trothe published by William Roy and Jerome Barlow.

Supposedly its reasoning was that the priests of the time could say anything, like the moon is blue, and people were to believe it. Today, we call that Fox News.

By the 1800s, “blue moon” was being applied to a rare astronomical quirk based on the discrepancy between the lunar cycle and the calendar year. Since the lunar month averages 29.5 days—shorter than every month on the Gregorian calendar outside of February—certain years have 13 full moons instead of the typical 12. Through the 1800s and early 1900s, the Maine Farmers’ Almanac defined a “blue moon” as the third full moon in a season with four full moons instead of the typical three. It’s a rare occurrence, happening once every 2.7 years. After the one tonight, we won’t see another until January 2018.

As for the blue color, here’s what has to say: “Even rarer than a “blue moon” is a moon that actually looks blue. This unusual phenomenon can occur after volcanic eruptions, forest fires or dust storms when tiny dust particles enter the atmosphere and scatter red light while letting through the blue light.”

We haven’t had any volcanoes erupting, nor fires burning. We do get a lot of dust though, when the wind kicks up and the air becomes gritty. Tonight marks an actual blue moon. Last night was but a precursor.

Again I hear Ella:

And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold
Blue moon. Now I’m no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart

Because in Tucson, on July 31, the mone is blewe. I believe it because I’ve seen it.

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The creature report

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 21, 2015 8:49 PM

I am not at all squeamish. I’m not particularly fond of bugs, but I can deal with them. I don’t like snakes but I’m not abnormally afraid of them. Quite the contrary, I think that my fear of them is quite normal. They slither, therefore they’re evil. I don’t have a problem with other reptiles. I’m actually quite fascinated by lizards of nearly all kinds.

When we used to travel to Mexico on a fairly regular basis, I always loved the iguanas. They are abundant in Cabo San Lucas, and often sit unnoticed on the rocks, sunning themselves. It wasn’t uncommon to walk toward one of the villas we had rented only to startle after seeing one. They weren’t skittish, nor were they friendly. Our favorite resort was a small, 60-room place wedged onto the coast called the Hotel Twin Dolphin. It has since closed and been bull-dozed, replaced by another. It had one lovely pool with a swim-up bar where we could  order a cocktail or even some lunch. Whatever was left from the lunch, the bartender would simply toss out onto the cement and tile surrounding the pool. The iguanas would then magically and quickly appear and eat it, especially the pickles. Iguanas love pickles.

For our honeymoon, we went to a resort called La Jolla de Mismaloya. The 1964 film The Night of the Iquana, starring Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner, was filmed there. It sits on the ocean, at the edge of the rainforest. The iguanas there are nearly big enough to ride.

We don’t have iguanas here, at least none that I’ve seen. But we do have gila monsters. They’re nearly as docile, and very slow moving. They’re generally orange and black or lavender and black, probably to blend into the colors of the desert. We see them occasionally, often after Riley has spotted them, crawling along the rocks. We have had two in the portico, one fairly large that also managed to crawl out on his own, another smaller one that somehow tumbled in but needed Kevin’s help to get out. He donned a glove – they bite and don’t let go – and lifted it up and out.

We’ve also had a tortoise in the portico. Just a week or so ago, Riley was whining and crying and pawing at the glass of the front door. We went out to see what all the noise was about and there he was, at the base of the steps, right in front of the door. We have no idea how he got into the portico and figured it must have tumbled down the steps. The problem is that you’re not allowed to touch them to move them. Kevin and Justin got it to crawl onto a board that they then lifted to the pavers so it could crawl off into the desert.

Every night, we have toads. Every morning, I get this question from Bobbi: What’s the creature report? She derives great pleasure hearing about all of the things that crawl or slither or climb. Nearly every day, I have something to share. Some days it’s as innocuous as a desert rabbit, squirrel, skunk, or road runner. Other days it’s monsters. Today, we saw two deer climbing the hill behind us. Also a snake torn to pieces on the road below. Many dead grasshoppers. The other night there were javelinas down below the grill. And bats zooming about. Bugs big enough to fly passengers. There are spiders and centipedes and crickets. There are, thus far, no scorpions or tarantulas. But there are birds and owls and falcons and ravens. Bobcats, mountain lions. Supposedly there are bears.

The creature report is a daily chronicle. Sometimes it’s relatively innocuous. Sometimes it’s interesting. Occasionally, it’s frightening. On those days, the days where there are things that creep even me out, I don’t answer the question. Because if it creeps me out, it will elicit a squeal of disgust from Bobbi.

Seeing the constant flow of creatures, though, is a constant source of amusement. We had no idea some of these things existed. Sometimes, we’d like to still not know. But it makes life interesting, always, and worth celebrating, mostly.

Except for the centipedes. And the snakes.

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live out loud


by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 16, 2015 10:39 PM

In 1862, the Civil War made its way to the Tucson territories when on February 28, a small force of Confederate soldiers arrived by way of Texas. They numbered 120 and promptly proclaimed the area a western district of the Confederate Arizona Territory. Up until that time, Tucson had pretty much been occupied by Unionists – even then we were the blue in an otherwise sea of red – all of whom were either jailed or driven out of town. Evidently, the Confederates thought that sympathetic Californians would join them but Californians had other plans. They mobilized 6,000 Union volunteers and headed toward Southern Arizona. There was a great battle on April 15, and by May, the Confederates had been driven back to Texas.

The encounter took place in Picacho Pass, along the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, a stagecoach service that had operated until the previous year, carrying passengers and mail from Tennessee and Missouri to San Francisco by way of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Baja California and California.

Today, Picacho Peak is a state park in Picacho, Arizona. It’s located between Tucson and Casa Grande, and rises above the desert to some 3, 374 feet. It’s a big rock, covered in lava, tilted and eroded. It rises out of the desert like a beacon of hope.

Picacho, pronounced pee-KAH-cho, is Spanish for big peak. My husband insists on calling it peekachoo, spelled Pikachu, after the Pokemon character that is short, chubby and yellow. Its ears are pointed with black tips. It has a small mouth, small, brown eyes and two bright red circles on its cheeks. This, evidently, is where electricity is stored. I know this because of the internets. I should know it because of Justin.

When Justin was little, he was a huge fan of Pokemon. We currently have every 1st edition of the original cards ever made. He and Kevin used to shop for them on ebay, paying quite a bit of money to amass a collection that Justin decided to sell in a garage sale. Luckily, we intervened. Those cards, in a notebook, are safe in a storage facility somewhere.

Justin’s favorite character was Pikachu, the little rodent. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because of the electrical charges the yellow one could unleash to defeat his enemies. Maybe it’s just because he was kind of cute, in a yellow rat sort of way.

One Christmas, my mother wanted to know what to buy Justin and I said anything Pikachu. She found a large Pikachu pillow somewhere and against everything she knew to be true and right with the world, bought it. She was not a fan of Pikachu and his powers, thought it was stupid. To her credit, she knew that it was important to Justin and so for Christmas, he got a big, yellow pillow with red circles on its cheeks. It was a big hit. Justin carried that thing everywhere.

Every time we drive by Picacho, Kevin says “hey, look. Pikachu.” He knows nothing of the history of the peak. I’m thinking that if he did, it wouldn’t matter a damn. Still, given its history, perhaps Picacho could have used Pikachu to help defeat the south. It would have been electrifying to see.

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live out loud

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