A tortoise with a purpose

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 11, 2016 10:12 PM

I've been curious as to why we haven't seen any tortoises this year. It's not that they're especially prolific but they do tend to live up here in the hills where they can exist somewhat autonomously, and without too much human interaction. There are, of course, creatures to avoid. My understanding is that Roadrunners in particular love to feast on tortoises. Roadrunners are fast; tortoises not so much. These prehistoric creatures plod. Their short, elephant-like legs motor along as fast as they can but they will never break speed records. They're methodical and thoughtful; they get where they’re going. They just do it with purpose. 

This morning, Riley and I left for a Saturday morning walk. Saturday morning walks are a little different than regular day-of-the-week walks because he and I go alone. Kevin, madman that he is, gets up early on Saturday mornings to work in the yard. Granted, our yard consists of rock and dirt and cactus, the proverbial desert landscaping, rather than a more traditional yard with grass and trees. We do have trees in the form of mesquite and palo verde, but we have no towering oats, no maples, no pines. We do have a small palm tree growing on the east side of the house. We have no idea how it got started. Whatever seeds a palm must have dropped from a bird and taken root.

He rises at 5, much to my chagrin, and he puts on his heavy work pants and his long sleeve tee shirt that was once white but is now more a dingy gray. Too much sweat and dirt have comingled to ever become clean again. He laces up his heavy work books and he puts on his wide-brimmed hat. Out he goes into the still gray morning. The sun isn’t even up yet, which is why he goes out so early. Once the sun spills over the hills to the east of the house, bathing the area in rising oppressive heat, it becomes harder to work because it’s hotter. It’s also dangerous. Lately, since we’ve journeyed into June, he is usually done between 8:30 and 9. 

I try not to begrudge him, though sometimes I do. He loves to work outside. He was born to have a yard, even one that’s the Sonoran desert. It’s just that when he does this, then he’s pretty much toast for the rest of the day and by evening, he’s falling asleep at the dinner table. No amount of nagging from me changes this early Saturday morning behavior. Even his doctor has said it’s not especially healthy to do, but do it he does. 

Where was I? Oh, yes. Trotting with Riles. 

So there were we were, me and my puppy, in the burgeoning heat. We were moving at a pretty good clip west on Mira Vista. We stopped to say a quick hi to John who had just come out of Winnetka Court, where he lives, and was walking east with his dog, a rescued boxer. Then Riley and I continued along, climbing one of the many hills. I always keep an out for critters and creatures, of all sizes and all ethnicities. There are lizards and rabbits, desert squirrels and snakes, toads and spiders, the occasional javelina or deer. Several weeks ago, the carcass of a gila monster was on the road. I surmised that it had probably been dropped by a bird as it was in pieces. This morning, in front of us, was a fairly good sized rock. And it was moving. 

“I think that’s a tortoise,” I said to Riley who spotted it almost at the exact time I spoke the words. He started to pull and whine. Let me at ‘im, mom. Let me go. I can take him. I’m fast and he’s slow. I’m the fastest ever. 

That was Riley, channeling Muhammed Ali. Badly. 

Instead and much to his chagrin, I pulled up on his leash, keeping him closer to me and thus really straining his ability to make contact with the rock, which stopped as we got up along side of it/him. The elephant legs were poised to take off; the head was out and alert. If anything like the blonde fur ball made a move, I knew the tortoise would pull all of his limbs inside his shell with lightning speed, the kind of speed not used when plodding. I took a picture and then we continued on. I worried that a car might come along but I also knew that whoever did would stop. These wondrous creatures are protected here in Southern Arizona; you’re not allowed to touch them or keep them as pets. 

Soon enough I heard a car coming up behind. I waved. I hadn’t heard any squealing tired; I hadn’t heard a crunch. All was good. When Riley and I returned, the tortoise was gone. He had obviously moved off the road all by himself. I looked up into the hills, through the rocks, thinking I might see him but he was long gone. I have no doubt he had started to plod north, maybe moving toward home. He had a purpose, our Mr. Tortoise, and he was moving toward it, methodically, thoughtfully, prehistorically. Beautifully.

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Summer

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 2, 2016 8:50 PM

We did not get a lot of rain this winter, not nearly as much as we were supposed to get according to the expert weather people. El Nino ended up being more or less a bust, especially for the southwest. The northwest got plenty of rain; we did not. We got some. We received a lot of cold. There were nights when we didn’t go out for sunset because it was simply too cold to sit on the deck. Every night that we did, we put on coats; sometimes gloves. And it was only 5:30.

The spring was not too bad though we’ve noticed that many of our desert creatures have arrived earlier this year than last. We don’t know what to attribute that to since we haven’t been here long enough to completely understand the workings of the desert. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. They’re here and as of today, it’s hot. “Africa hot” like Matthew Broderick’s character in Biloxi Blues said. So hot that stepping outside feels as if you’re stepping into an oven. 

I went out with Kevin to check on his grape vines. We’ve been having some issues with our vineyard. He’s doing everything right. The way they’re planted is the way they’re supposed to be planted; he’s watering them the way they’re supposed to be watered. The vines are a varietal that grows in the desert. But the first six died. The place we bought them from guarantees their vines, so they sent us six more. They’ve been in the ground for two weeks as of this afternoon. He’s taken pictures, he’s been in contact with the vendor, and they tell him he’s doing everything right. But they’re not growing. It’s frustrating. And sad. 

I told him I wanted to see what they were – or weren’t – doing, since I hadn’t been out to see them in a while. He waters three times a day, essentially morning, noon and night. He’s attentive, he’s diligent. He fairly hovers. I asked him to tell me when he was heading out to water.

After lunch, I heard him call my name. Well, actually, not my name. My nickname. 

“HB? I’m heading out.” 

HB stands for Hunny Bunny from the Amanda Plummer character who robs the diner in Pulp Fiction, our first movie date. I’m not sure when he started calling me that but it’s been years now. It’s even how he has me listed in his cell phone which would be a problem if anyone ever had to call his wife. 

But we don’t think or talk about that. 

I told him I’d be out in a minute, and went to grab my sunglasses. I can’t be outside during the day without sunglasses. It’s physically painful. I even wear them when it’s not that sunny out. But that was decidedly not the problem today. I put on my Maui Jim’s and pulled open the front door. The alarm system gave its telling beep-beep-beep and out I stepped. Into the inferno. 

I could feel the heat burning my skin, the prickliness of it, my hairs standing on end, searing. As hot as the air was, the road was even hotter. The pavement was radiating. It was nearly excruciating. We looked at the plants, and their lack there of growth. We discussed them; we wondered. And then we got the hell inside because hell was literally outside.

Last weekend was in the 70s. This weekend it will be 111º. Welcome to June in the summer in the desert. Something I’m sort of celebrating. Because air conditioning.

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The still

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 14, 2016 7:50 PM

I was struck this morning by how still it was. Living in the desert, especially as spring transitions to summer, the winds can be insistent. Gust at 25 miles per hour aren’t uncommon here on the hill. Even down on the road below, the winds blow fiercely, daring you to ignore them. I don’t like wind. I like a breeze. This morning there was nothing.

Riley and I walked west along Mira Vista Canyon, toward the gate. It was just after 7 and already 75º. Nothing was moving, there were no sounds anywhere. Often times in the morning we hear the horses that live just to the south. Occasionally there is a rooster; a dog bark. The birds are usually flitting between trees and cactus, woodpeckers try their luck on the metal fireplace chimneys that top all of the houses here. But there was nothing. 

The sun turned the mountains red, the tips of the cactus lit up like fire. 

I could hear my sneakered footsteps hitting the pavement. Riley was trotting along, panting. He is normally anxious in the morning because he has anxiety issues. But not this morning. This morning he was mellow, at least mellow by a 2-year old Golden Retriever’s standards. 

When it’s still like it was, I am both amazed and even a bit frightened. It seems unnatural, the world has stopped and it’s if something bad is about to happen. In California, a still like that sometimes precipitated an earthquake though not always. I haven’t figured out what it means here and probably nothing at all other than it was early Saturday morning.

When it’s still like it was I want to savor it, enjoy the quiet, let it wrap around me and hold me tight. It’s comforting, the stillness. It invites introspection which can be both good and bad. I’ve always tried to be introspective, to question even myself. Did I handle something right? Could I have handled it better? What could I have done differently? What will I do differently in the future? 

What am I going to be when I grow up? 

When it’s still like that I embrace the early hour, I enjoy each step, each slap of the rubber of my shoe on the warming asphalt, the gentle panting of my dog, enjoying his walk, closely eyeing every rock on the road, every twig. When it’s still, I think.

I think about the week past and the day ahead. 

I think about my life thus far and where it’s going. 

I think about what I’ve done and what’s still to do.

I think about what I’m going to make for dinner. I think about nothing and everything and then some more. 

I think about the stillness of the morning – the still – and I celebrate that I am alive.  

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Smoke detector beeps, Gila monster creeps, and one freaked out dog oh my

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 24, 2016 8:04 PM

We have seven smoke detectors in the house, one in each of the bedrooms, one in the west hallway, one in the east hallway, and one on the way out to the garage. We also have two carbon monoxide sensors. One of the east side sensors calls out a mechanical "fire." We found this out shortly after we moved in and it went off one very early morning. We were up and out of bed like we'd been shot out of a cannon. It turned out it had a short, but it begged the question: why do smoke alarms only ever sound when you're sleeping? 

This question occurred to me last night as well. You can guess why based on the title of today's post. It was 2:50 am. Riley had already become agitated several hours before when he was sure he saw something anything and maybe a bear outside. He squealed at the bedroom window as he stared out into the still illuminated night. The moon is waning but it was full just two nights ago so it's fairly bright. Then he raced to the bathroom window, the floor to ceiling wall of glass behind the bathtub. He wedged himself between the tub and the glass and squealed some more. I didn't have to see him do this to know where he was. He does this all day long. On his third trip between the two rooms, I got up to look. I saw no bears, no things. I gave him a kiss and told him to get back in bed. He did. And all was quiet for about two more hours. 

Then. Beep.

Oh, crap. Beep.

Come on. 

Beep. 

The smoke detector in the bedroom was having a battery moment. It’s the kind of beep you want to ignore because you know it’s not smoke nor fire, but it’s so high-pitched and shrill that it’s impossible to sleep through it. Plus the dog was completely freaked out. I imagine the every 30 or 40 second BEEP hurt his ears. It did mine. We trudged out to garage to get the ladder, Riley leading the way, his tail tucked firmly between his legs. He was getting out of the house and away from the noise and fast. While Kevin maneuvered the ladder into the house I took the dog out to pee. There was a baby deer standing on the rocks looking down at us. I wondered if his parents knew where he was at that hour of the morning. 

We finally got the battery replaced, but it took at least 30 minutes to coax the dog back into the bedroom. Kevin finally lured him with cookies. An hour plus later, we finally got back to sleep. All of us. 

This morning it was as if the beeping had never happened. Except for the fact that we were exhausted and our eyes were puffy and we were cranky and the dog didn’t even want to get up. He finally did, and Kevin let him out on the deck. Within minutes, he was barking and howling and whining and pawing at the edge of the deck underneath the rail. Let me at ’em. This was more than the usual someone-is-driving-by-on-the-road-below-and-I-must-be-alert fuss. This was real. Something was down there. Kevin, manly man that he is, went to check. It was 8 am, the sun was already warm. The morning had been fairly quiet up until that point. He returned to the door within about 20 seconds, motioning me to come quickly. You gotta see this. 

And there it was, down below the rail, on the desert floor, motoring south, as quickly as they ever motor: the season’s first official Gila monster. Pale orange and black and about 15 inches long. And Riley did not like it one bit.

Within a five-hour period he encountered a rudely beeping smoke detector and a slinking lizard. It would be enough to freak out a low-key and mellow dog, neither of which have ever been used to described our Riley.

Somewhere in the hills above, the baby deer was still watching. That’ll be enough to send Riley Boo to the moon tonight. Oh my.

The pitter patter of what the hell is on the roof

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 24, 2016 8:14 AM

It was just after 5 am. I woke up startled. At first I thought that something was wrong with the humidifier. Tap, tap. As the fog lifted from my brain, I realized that it wasn’t the humidifier and decided it was obviously raining, never mind that there is no rain in the forecast for weeks, and that we haven’t really had any clouds. Tap, tap, tap. Faster and faster. I raised up in bed because of course that would allow me to hear better. As I did, Kevin woke up, too. “What’s up?”

“Is it raining?” I asked, understanding the sheer stupidity of that question. But the sound, the tapping, was very reminiscent of the pitter patter of rain on the skylight.

“No,” he muttered and put his head back down.

I got up to investigate. The nearly full moon was low in the western sky, intertwined with some haze. It made the sky both darker and lighter, almost ghostly. Hauntingly beautiful. I went into the bathroom and stood under the skylight. Whatever was tapping wasn’t tapping from there. In the bedroom, Riley yawned. The humidifier bubbled.

I moved back toward the bedroom, tap tap tap tap tap scratch.Taptaptaptaptaptaptap scratchscratchtap. I stepped up to the window and looked out, half expecting something to be crawling either up or down the side of the house. The two electric control panels are there, one for Tucson Electric Power, the other for Solar City.

But there was nothing there. No critters. No giant lizards. I was relieved. The tapping went away temporarily, but soon, it was back, tapping and scratching across the ceiling in the bedroom. Something was on the roof, something not small but not big. Something that was probably a ring-tailed cat. 

Ring tailed cats are tiny nocturnal creatures. They’re usually between 24 and 32 inches long with a tail that adds an additional 12 to 17 inches. They weigh about 2 pounds. Sleek and dusty brown in color, they also sport an elongated, pointed nose and a mask. The tail is often black and ringed white, hence the name. They can climb anything including the side of a house, using the tail for balance. They also eat just about anything they can find, and it’s not unusual for them to get inside a house via the ventilation system. The famous hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is known to have ring tailed cats walk across the beams of the dining room ceiling in the evening.

Fun fact: ring tails are not members of the cat family but rather of the raccoon family. 

It’s the State Mammal of Arizona, since August 13, 1986. It’s evidently also the creature most likely to take up residence on our roof, amongst the solar panels, in the wee small hours of the morning.  

Last night, the pitter patter and tap tap tap tap scratch of its little paws was enough to wake me up. Enough for me to actually think it was raining. I almost wish it had been raining because the thought of a critter in the walls, or the ventilation system, creeps me out a bit. I can just imagine looking up and seeing a small pointy face looking back at me through the HVAC vent above the door. Blink blink.

I think he was on the roof though. I’m pretty sure. I hope he was. In fact, I’d stake tonight’s sleep on it. And if he’s back and the taptaptaptaptaptaptap scratchscratchtap returns, I’m going to just roll over and pull the covers up, and pretend that there isn’t a critter perhaps watching me. Once the tapscratching stops, I’ll peer up and by the light of the moon, make sure a little ring tailed cat isn’t looking back at me as he taps it out loud.

It’s not. It can’t be. Is it really Spring already?

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 20, 2016 8:10 PM

I joke all the time that Christmas will be here before you know it. I woke up this morning, on this first day of spring to realize that it’s true. Yes, it’s only March 21, but think about the last months. Have they flown by? They have for me. I look back and I have to strain my brain to remember what I did in the last nearly 90 days. Most of it involved work. Some involved play, but not much. We did a lot around the house and still we have yet to complete a project. The garage has been partially organized. The wine racks haven’t been started. The rock walls that we’re building on the hillside to help keep the house in place when we have our torrential rains aren’t done. They’re close. Kevin has been doing an amazing job, but when you really only have Saturday morning to work, it takes time.

I have completed the guest room. Once my brother shipped the old Wire Recorder it really made the room. I put two side tables in, added a shelf to the bathroom, and hung some of my old Gorman tiles. It looks good. Of course, the room hasn’t been used all of this year, at least not yet.

Other than completing small work projects, that’s it. The sum total. The pinnacle.

The year is flying by as my grandmother always said it would. Each year seems to get faster than the last. I’m not quite sure how that works, don’t know if there’s a scientific explanation for it. I think it’s because we get busier, we have plans that don’t come to fruition, and perhaps it’s because we’re closer to the end than to the beginning. It’s similar to how a trip home always seems to be faster than the trip going. There’s anticipation in the former, resignation and knowledge in the latter. 

The desert is blooming. The flowers on the ends of the ocotillos have turned blood red. The saguaros are starting to show signs of blooming. It’s early this year, because it’s warmer this year than last. The plants and wild life don’t quite know what to do. The mesquite trees are brilliant and green; the palo verdes have bright yellow flowers. Soon there will be lizards and gila monsters, snakes and tortoises. But not yet. 

I was thinking last night that I haven’t been back to New England in about a year and a half. It doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long but it is. I have a picture on my digital picture frame of my sister and I standing on the deck at Gregg’s house in Maine. There is fall behind us. We look cold but not chilled through. November. This summer, which is about a week away, will mark a year since Khris came to visit. She has talked about bringing Shawn out in the next month or so in order to look at colleges. ASU and UofA. Shawn wants to go to school somewhere warm. It’s definitely that here. 

It’s already been close to six months since my mom and Aunt Barbara came for a visit. It’s already been over six months since we saw Justin; already three since Roy and Bobbi were here for Christmas.

I am forever amazed at the passage of time. I try not to think about it because if I dwell on the things I haven’t yet accomplished, I’ll get depressed. Instead, I choose to focus on the small things that do get accomplished, even if on a daily basis. This blog post is one. A walk with the dog in the morning to wipe the night cobwebs away is another. A glass of wine on the deck with my husband each night as the sun sets. 

I woke up this morning to discover that it’s Spring. It’s already here. A quarter of the year, already gone. I’m going to get some work done. I think we’ll take the dog to the park. Tomorrow is another day, the first one ever. It’s an opportunity, a possibility, and a reality that is always worth celebrating.

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Wine at sunset

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 16, 2016 9:54 PM

Every night, just before the sun drops below the Tucson mountains in the west, I hear the telling click followed by the slide of the weather stripping on the tile. Kevin has opened the wine room door, and that can only mean one thing: sunset. Nearly every night since we’ve moved in, we step outside to watch the sky become painted in shades of orange. Some nights, especially when there are clouds, it is spectacular. Luckily there are clouds a lot. 

Last Spring was our first true experience with these desert sunsets even though we’d lived here for more than a year and a half. From the rental, we could see the sky set ablaze but we were down low, in the city. From our vantage point up here on the hill, with completely unobstructed views, it takes our breath away. Even the nights without clouds, when the sun simply drops behind the mountains in a glorious game of hide and seek, it’s stunning.

In the summertime it was often almost too warm to sit on the deck though we’d go anyway. It was more than a habit; it was a ritual. It was the exclamation point at the end of the day. It signaled the time when the day could be safely retired into evening and then into night.

Sunset was usually between 7:30 and 8. But as the summer turned to fall, the days got shorter until sunset was around 5. Having wine at 5 is lovely but it’s a little too early to end the day. I still have work to get done. And once I have wine, I’m relaxed and my brain begins to drift into shut down mode. We would have a sip and then put it away until a bit later.

The days are starting to lengthen again as we move ever faster toward summer. Tonight, just after 6, I heard the bottom of the door scratch the tile. I heard the pop of the cork, and soon enough, my husband came into my office, on the west side of the house, holding two glasses of wine, each with a mesh lid to keep out the bugs. We stepped out onto the deck. It was still warm, almost hot. We’ve had unseasonably warm weather. I refer to it as obscenely warm, certainly in February. Two weeks ago it was 25º in the morning. Now it’s at least 20 degrees warmer at the same time. 

Today was around 80º. Tonight it wasn’t much cooler. The sky was clear; no clouds. The sun was low and already blazing orange, silhouetting the mountains. We stepped outside, sat in our Adirondack chairs. We like the west deck for sunset for obvious reasons. It faces directly west; there are no obstructions to the view. 

We sat tonight like we do nearly every night save when it’s raining or just too cold. We talk, we exchange dissertations on our day, we watch Riley as he bounces around the deck with a toy, loving that it’s sunset and the end of the day. Because his days are so hard. 

Tonight’s set wasn’t nearly as dramatic or lush as some nights but it didn’t matter. It was the end of the day. Days that will get longer in the months ahead. Soon enough, we’ll be back to our 7:30 sunsets. But for now, we’re enjoying what we’ve been enjoying for almost a year now. Wine at sunset. On the deck. May we never grow tired of it.

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Furious blow

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 1, 2016 9:12 PM

I am not a nature freak. I don’t dream of spending a week in a cabin in the woods without running water or electricity. I’m not ever for sleeping in a tent. I love the desert. I love to hike. I love to walk slowly on the beach at sunset. I love to lie awake in the early morning and watch the sun rise.

I also love technology. I am lost without the internet even though I love to curl up with a book and read for hours, something I rarely do because I simply don’t take the time. I am regularly surrounded by my Mac, a PC, my iPhone and my iPad. I ground myself with the 1920s Royal typewriter that sits on the corner of my desk. I’m sure it was very hi-tech in the early 20th century. 

Our car has the requisite bells and whistles and then some. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about it. It’s why I wanted the first one; it’s why when it came time to get another car, I didn’t even look at anything else. Kevin asked me if we wanted to consider maybe a Jeep or a Toyota, perhaps a Lexus. I had no desire. They all have bells and whistles, too, in some cases more. Like backup cameras. But I wanted my Rover. I wanted its bells and whistles.

Sometimes when I drive with all of my technology, including my phone on Bluetooth, I open the sunroof so that I can experience the day. I love to feel the sun drifting in; I love to hear the wind. I love the meeting of tech and nature.

Living up on this hill, we get a tremendous amount of both sun and wind. We live in our contemporary house, with the latest technology to keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We have the latest in window glass; the stone we used is engineered to the highest standards. We have solar panels on our roof; we’re harnessing the latest in renewable energy from one of the oldest stars in the galaxy. Luckily our powerlines are underground.

Last night, before we went to bed, the wind picked up. I mentioned to Kevin that we should move our table and chairs to a safer location. We needed to move the chairs and couches closer to the fireplace to shield them from what was predicted to be horrific. It was. 

The wind howled. It shook the panels of glass in the frames. It threatened to tear the skylight away from its mooring. The ocotillos that are close to the house, whipped against the stucco and the glass in the bathroom. The solar panels howled and hissed, groaning under the ferocity of what can only be described as gale force. Gusts were over 50 miles per hour. I lay there in bed, listening, afraid to move as if my moving might cause the house to lose its tenuous grip on the hillside and fly to Oz. Never mind that we have caissons that go down into the earth – into the rock – some 10 feet, or that the house is firmly attached to those caissons. These were like miniature hurricane winds. A warning was issued by the county. 

Somewhere around 2, it began to rain. It was as if a fire hose has been unleashed against the glass. It pounded, requesting – no demanding – that it be let in. I wondered if somewhere on the roof, its wish might be granted.

This ferocious wind lasted all night and all day. It was loud and dangerous. It seemed at times angry, at other times simply insecure, as if blowing harder would allow it to get noticed. The rains pounded, then snow fell and the wind died down.

I was thankful to be inside, safely tucked away in my castle on the hill, away from the elements, surrounded by my technology, with the heat on to ward off the chill. I’m not a nature freak but I do appreciate its power – I am, in fact, in awe of it – even if I wish it would blow away.  

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Foxy

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 11, 2016 9:08 PM

We have a fox. I suspect we've had our fox for quite sometime. I further suspect that we may have more than one. But we've only seen one so I'm going singular. Our fox was first noticed several months ago when Kevin was down on the main road meeting with Dan the weed man. Foxy sauntered out from the brush at the bottom of our property and across the road. 

"Is that a cat?" Dan asked. Kevin shrugged his shoulders. He didn't think so but he couldn't be sure.

"Seems like the tail is too fluffy to be a cat."

This morning, Riley was on the deck as he so often is in the morning after we return from our walk. He likes to take one of his toys - one of his "guys" - and survey his kingdom, watch the desert go by. This includes barking at the neighbors who deign to leave their houses and whining at any perceived injustice such as a bird flying too low or the whiff of some creature that can only be seen by him. We heard a whine followed by a shrill yip followed by more whining. Naturally we opened the door to tell him to settle down. 

He was fixated on something down below and just to the east. Kevin recognized it immediately. The cat that is actually a fox. Cute, small, lithe. It moved easily up from the road, at an angle, under the lower cacti, along the rock out-croppings. The rocks are mostly an icy gray and near black but are also sprinkled with corral and terra cotta. The fox continued along the rocks, up the hill, finally disappearing into the desert. Riley, of course, was not convinced and continued to huff and puff, whine and squeal, and stare. He was sure that it was still there, not that he knew what it was. He just knew THAT it was. And that it was sure to come back and when it did, he would be ready. To squeal and huff and whine and puff and let that pesky fox know it was on his land, his territory. By dog.

I didn’t know that foxes were indigenous to this area but I shouldn’t have been surprised. With all of the other creatures we have haunting the premises, a fox is relatively minor. We’ve been told we shouldn’t be surprised to see a bear. A bear. We’ve already seen herds of javelinas, a number of deer, coyotes, snakes, tortoises, gila monsters, tarantulas, falcons, ravens, skunks, desert squirrels and all manner of insects and lizards. We haven’t yet seen the famed ring-tailed cats, nor bob cats. So a fox or two really isn’t out of the ordinary. 

The Arizona Gray Fox has a silver-gray coat with reddish fur on its legs and chest, and white on its throat, belly and inside of its legs. It has a long bushy tail with a black tip and black strip. It’s actually a member of the dog family but is known to use its hooked claws to climb trees. It likes to live in the rocky canyons and ridges. A fox can weigh up to 5 pounds, stand about 15 inches tall, and live their 7 – 10 years in a den.

They’re also fairly adorable. Cuddly. Though I’ve no doubt they’d scratch and claw to get away from a hug. 

We’ve named our fox Foxy. Clever, I know. He or she is gray and black and orange and white. Small. It’s what I’m celebrating today.

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Things that happened

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 31, 2015 3:09 PM

It seems like just a year ago it was snowing. I ran to the window every 15 minutes or so, like a kid, watching and waiting for the flakes to begin. When they did, I squealed with delight. Yes, squealed. It set the tone for 2015 and I was ready. 

We started the snowy year filled with anxiety and anticipation. Our house was nearing completion and Roy’s gallery opening was looming. We had hoped to be in by the end of January but we were still finishing, still tiling, still shopping for lights and mirrors and accoutrements. Cooper started to get sick and the vet kept insisting it was Valley Fever when it wasn’t. He put him on prednisone and it seemed to perk him right up. But it would be short lived. 

February came and went and we began to worry. We booked movers. We had Roy’s show coming up and we needed a house for the party we were throwing. We pressured Mike and he gave a date that was soon moved back. We simply weren’t finished. We paid a point and a half on our loan because we hadn’t converted from construction to residential. Tick tock went the clock.

Finally March, a move in, a show, a party and the loss of our beloved Cooper. I’ll never forget how sick he was just a week before the move. How he seemed to get better and then how he went completely down hill. I remember being frustrated with him and hating myself for it. There was so much going on and I needed him to be better because I didn’t have time to worry. But I did worry. And then he died on March 29, the day after Roy’s opening. 

We were in the house. Now came the task of putting it all together, and then the realization that a new house didn’t actually mean there was nothing to do. Quite the contrary. Project after project materialized. Some were completed; most were not. Works in progress. Projects in progress. 

Riley arrived on April 27 because I simply could not fathom living here without a dog. It was always supposed to be for the three of us. Our beautiful boy, whose name is still attached to the area on the side of the house where Riley pees and poops. The Cooper area. He never got to use it but Riley makes up for that every day. 

We experienced our first monsoon up here, watching the sky turn green and fly toward us at breakneck speed. Torrential rain, fierce winds. One day, a microburst that hurled our furniture across the deck, breaking one of our Adirondack chairs. 

Visitors came, two by two. Kevin’s brother and sister-in-law, people I’d never spent any time with in the 20 years he and I have been together. What fun we had. Roy and Bobbi. Diane and Gene. Justin, who walked in and stood in the foyer. “Holy shit.” My sister came in July; my mother and aunt in November. We made new friends and missed our old ones. Wished they could always be here with us.

There was travel to Los Angeles, a road trip to Paso Robles. Wine tasting, cooking. Volunteer work and work work.

Birthdays, anniversaries, phone calls and Face Time, face time and emails, text messages. New iPhones, new iPads, a new computer for me.

Tick tock goes the clock. Ever forward.

Older, wiser. Some days happier, some days curious. Other days wondering did we do the right thing? So much change, so much. 

We end the year with high clouds and cold temperatures. No snow, not even rain in the forecast. We’ll light a fire and sit near the glow of the Christmas tree on this last night of the year. We’ll remember all we’ve accomplished, all we’ve celebrated, and what we’ve lost, what we’ve had to give up, the people we always miss, and we’ll toast to each. Happy 2015. And welcome a brand spankin’ new 2016. Let’s take it out for a ride and see what it can do.

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