A visit to Tombstone

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 3, 2013 12:29 AM

For the past few Saturdays, we’ve spent our time in tile and kitchen and bath stores. While that’s fun and ultimately necessary, we thought this weekend we’d do something a little different. Something that didn’t involve anything house-related but only exploring-related. We went to Tombstone.

Tombstone is most known for the shootout at the OK Corral, a confrontation between the Earp brothers and the local outlaws known as the Cowboys. The Earps, the eventual gunfight and the Cowboys were well chronicled in several somewhat modern films: Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner and Tombstone with Kurt Russell. I’m a fan of the second version largely because I’m a huge Kurt Russell fan for absolutely no reason other than I love his hair and his eyes. Several weeks ago, Wyatt Earp was on one of the movie channels and I stumbled upon it around 10:30. It had started at 10. Kevin was snoring on the couch; I was surfing a bit. I thought I’d put it on for a little while and then we’d go to bed around our usual time of 11ish. He woke up and we both got sucked in and stayed up to watch the whole thing until at least 1. And it’s not really all that good.


Kief-Joshua winery dog, Tommy, after too much wine

Tombstone was founded in 1879 and it prospered until about 1890 because of the silver mines. During its heyday, it had a bowling alley, four churches, an ice house, a school, two banks, three newspapers, an ice cream parlor, 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls and countless dancing halls and brothels, all of which were situated on top of the mines. It was also home to the famous Bird Cage Theatre, billed as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” This is where Wyatt Earp first spotted his final wife Josephine. She was an actress and her troupe toured through Arizona. We went to the Bird Cage today. There are still bullet holes in the bar, the wall and the ceiling. The mirrors behind the bar are original. It’s a lot smaller that it appeared in both films. The theatre is in the back, the bar is in the front and upstairs is where the ladies of ill repute entertained.

Tombstone is now a thriving tourist attraction. The entire main street is really nothing but gift shops crammed with silver and turquoise jewelry. There are “saloons” and places to eat. There is a three-times-daily restaging of the famous shootout. You can watch it for $7 each. We didn’t.

Instead we went to the Inaugural Tombstone Winery Wine Festival. It was in a dirt field across the street from the main drag. There were nine local southern Arizona wineries there. For $18, you got 10 pours. We wandered through the dirt, scoping out who was there and what they had. I had on cowboy boots – I thought it was appropriate – and they were quickly covered in dust. All I needed was a cowboy hat and a horse and I would have fit right in. Oh, and my leather chaps complete with fringe.

We tasted only reds, and ended up buying seven bottles plus the most delicious port that we plan to pour on Thanksgiving, for dessert.


The new wine line up from Tombstone

The wines aren’t as good as California wines. The climate is different after all. But there were some that were quite good; obviously, if we bought as much as we did. Two were from the Tombstone Winery. Both cabs. One a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon called Gunslinger and another from 2004 called Justice. While they were good, I think we also liked the Cowboy nature of them.

We were only there for a couple of hours and then we climbed into our big red horse for the journey across the plains. We’ll dine tonight on game (or twice baked potatoes) and whatever else we can rustle up from the land. Probably a salad with blue cheese crumbles and a nice vinaigrette. We’ll pop open the flask or bottle and then roll out the bedroll to sleep under the stars.

I think we’re also going to order up Tombstone on Netflix. Seems appropriate.

Celebrating the wild west tonight and wondering if maybe they had been drinking wine instead of whiskey there would have been a different outcome at the OK Corral. Something to ponder while I rustle up dem vittles. 

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Chilling out

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 31, 2013 12:16 AM

This morning I woke up with a headache. I think it came from the window being open all night and the cold air stuffing up my nose and my head. Kevin was already up and Cooper had taken up residence on his side of the bed. I listened to the sound of the city, the cars rushing by out on Campbell, swooshing air, invisibly filling the room. The wind had already come up, the palm tree fronds were rustling. I could see the pink of the flowers just outside the window. Cooper stretched. I shivered. I reached for my phone, always next to the bed, and hit the weather button. 52º. I shivered again because I’m always cold. When it’s 72º, much like Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally, I’m still cold.

The entire day stayed cool, never getting above 65º which I realize for folks on the East, is not cool and is in fact just the opposite. But 65º and breezy is cool here in the West. I actually had a sweatshirt on today over my shorts.

The whole week is supposed to be like this. Cold nights and cool days. The sun stays warm but never warm enough to heat up the day. I love this time of year. This is what fall is like here and while fall is over in the East, all the leaves having fallen to the ground where they were raked up and burned, fall in the desert consists of simply lower temperatures, brighter mornings and earlier evenings that are exceptionally dark.

I chilled out all day in my sweatshirt. I worked but it was a quiet day. Few phone calls, few emails. Lots to do but when it’s quiet it’s easy to push everything aside and concentrate on more fun things, like thinking about the holidays and gifts to buy. We’ll have a houseful for Thanksgiving this year and we are excited. Justin will be home, Roy and Bobbi are coming, as are Diane and Gene. Perhaps Justin will scare up a friend.

Bobbi and I talked today about reviving our Christmas card franchise. Years ago, in the early 1990s, Roy, Bobbi and I would do hand-made Christmas cards for all of our friends, family and co-workers. We would come up with a concept. I would write a story or a poem, Roy would illustrate it, Bobbi would design it and we would have it printed. We’d spend hours over several weekends assembling cards and preparing them to send. Each year people looked forward to those cards; many still have what we did long ago. There was a children’s book about a tree and a star; a carousel poem that took the form of a scroll. There were many cut-out mobiles that people would hang and leave up year round. We haven’t done one since the late 90s. But we’re thinking of doing one this year. We’re going to brainstorm this weekend to come up with a concept. I’ll write, Roy will illustrate, Bobbi will design and Kevin will program it online.

As the weather turns, these are the things that travel through my mind. Creative thoughts and ideas for gifts and cards. What to cook this year for Thanksgiving; what we’ll do for Christmas. When it will be cold enough to wear jeans all day and big fuzzy socks at night in front of the fire sipping wine, watching old movies on TMC. I need nothing more than the change of seasons to settle my soul.

During the Tang Dynasty, a poet by the name of Han Shan, which translates to Cold Mountain, wrote: “Swiftly the springs and autumns pass, but my mind is at peace, free from dust or delusion. How pleasant, to know I need nothing to lean on, to be still as the waters of the autumn river!”

It’s falling toward winter, even here in the West where it will dip down to the low 40s tonight, and I’m celebrating the idea of chilling out.

A song for you

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 18, 2013 10:07 PM

I am a woman of limited interests and I’m just fine with that. I like wine, I like writing and reading, I like dogs. I hate to admit that I’m a bit addicted to politics. I’ve tried very hard to not be but it keeps sucking me back in. I also like the desert and am fascinated by its complexities, by its harsh reality and its incredible beauty. In that way it’s much like life, both difficult and uplifting. It’s also much like love.

I also love music of all different genres. Classic rock and standard jazz. I like new age and fusion jazz and rock and roll and oldies and even some country. It all depends on my mood.

Lately I’ve been alternating between several stations on my live365 feed, one of which comes from Ontario, Canada. It’s called KMan, and they play music from the 70s and 80s, mostly what is derogatorily labeled as soft rock. Phil Collins, Elton John, Hall & Oates (a guilty pleasure) and Simply Red. This morning, there was a version of A Song for You playing and I found myself reaching over to the volume control, cranking it up and sitting back to listen. I wasn’t sure who it was at first and I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to let the clarity of the voice and the haunting melody wash over me.

I remember the song first as something sung by The Carpenters. I admit to liking some of the songs of Richard and Karen but much of it was way too sappy, even when I was kid. I tended to like songs of theirs that bordered on darkness, if you could ever label the Carpenter’s music as dark. I always liked Superstar for instance, and even Rainy Days and Mondays. You can keep We’ve only just begun or Close to you. Ditto Sing. They did a cover of Ticket to Ride that I actually liked quite a bit.

A Song for You was written and recorded in 1970 by Leon Russell. It was a slow and painful plea for forgiveness and understanding from an estranged lover. It is one of Russell’s best known songs and in addition to the Carpenters was recorded by everyone from Joe Cocker to Doc Severinsen to Willie Nelson to Whitney Houston to the group that I heard this morning on KMan, Simply Red.

Simply Red, an English soul band, stopped producing music and touring in 2010. Up until that point, they were known for their blue-eyed soul, a new take on rock and even occasionally their foray into reggae. In 2005, they released Simplified, an album billed as featuring new rearrangements of some of the band’s old songs as well as some new songs and two covers, one of which was A Song for You. Where Leon Russell’s voice is deep and gravelly, a trip through dark terrain, Mick Hucknall’s is lyrical, rich, like a reed. He makes this song his own, in ways Karen Carpenter never did. While I always loved her voice, her delivery was always too clean, too devoid of any emotion. It was like she was holding herself back; there was no passion, no soul. It was just technical precision. Simply Red’s version is haunting in its clarity. It made me want to get the whole album.

So here’s a song for you, my loyal readers. Enjoy Mick Hucknall singing it out loud. 

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Cactus Jack gets it in the kisser

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 15, 2013 10:50 PM

The episode began innocently enough. At 7:15, Kevin got up, slipped into shorts, a tee and sneakers, and took Cooper out to pee. I got up, made the bed, threw on a pair of shorts, a tee, and slipped into my flip flops. Soon, I heard the telling sound of Cooper padding back into the bedroom, the tags on his collar singing like a small wind chime. In the kitchen, Kevin was busy rinsing plates from last night’s dinner that hadn’t yet made it into the dishwasher. I heard him start the first pot of coffee for the day. He called to Cooper who turned from the bedroom and charged back toward the kitchen and dad. Time for a walk.

I put on my sunglasses and went out to meet my boys.

In the morning, I am on leash duty and Kevin is on clean-up patrol. In the evenings, it is the opposite. Kevin handed me the leash and I walked out the front door. We started down the sidewalk toward the gate in order to get out of the ‘hood for our usual morning walk. Along this sidewalk there are a number of different types of cactus, set back a bit. Small saguaros and prickly pear as well as cholla. Saguaros are the typical cactus most people associate with the desert. Tall, with arms that jut out and turn toward the sky. Prickly pear are short, bush like cactus with big flat paddles. Cholla cactus are rather like squat trees with cylindrical branches or stems and joints that grow up and in and over each other. All are covered with nasty needles.

We are always very careful to keep Cooper away from any form of cactus for obvious reasons. They bite. And when you end up with a cactus burr stuck to you, whether it’s to an item of clothing or skin, it is usually best to use pliers to grab it and pull it directly out and away. It is not fun. It would be equally bad in fur.

Maybe I was more tired than usual this morning. Maybe I simply wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I had been lulled into a false sense of complacency because he has never shown any interest in cactus previously. Maybe it was a combination of all three. Regardless, he moved in toward the cholla. I saw it at the exact time Kevin yelled: “Cactus!”

Too late. Cooper pulled himself back, yipping, hysterical, a cholla branch embedded in his mouth and the left side of his precious little face.

Shit, shit, shit!

I tried to grab it and pull it loose. It is nearly impossible to grab a piece of cactus without also getting impaled. I didn’t care. I managed to get most of it off and then shook it loose from my fingers. A small piece remained in his fur. I grabbed that, pulled and then shook that loose. Cooper was still yipping. There were several thorns stuck in his whiskers, in his mouth and he was shaking his head, pawing at the side of his face and crying. We turned and ran back to the house. Luckily we weren’t far. Kevin was leading the way.

“Get the tweezers!” I yelled as he burst into the house ahead of me. “I’ll meet you in the bathroom!”

Cooper and I flew into the house behind him. I kicked the door shut and holding tightly to his leash, keeping him moving forward, we went into the bathroom where the light is best. I sat down on the hamper bench, and forced Cooper to sit so that my legs could grip him, essentially trapping him. I wrapped the leash around my right hand to keep it taut, then I grabbed his head to hold it as still as possible. Kevin crouched on the floor, tweezers in hand, and one at a time, he pulled the thorns from our sweet boy’s face.

He had them embedded in his gums, in his bottom lip, under his nose. Thank dog none had gone into his eyes or into his nose. After about ten minutes, much wrangling, and one nip at mom’s hand – he caught my left thumb – we thought we had them all. Upon closer inspection, there was one still inside his mouth. Kevin went to the garage and grabbed work gloves for both of us. We were taking no chances of getting bit. Once again, I held Cooper’s head and mouth while Kevin surgically extracted this last of the offenders.


Cactus Cooper, post cactus

Finally finished, we all collapsed on the floor. Kevin and I were affected more than Cooper. For Cooper, as soon as the last thorn was pulled from his bottom lip he was fine. Tail wagging. Ears perky. Let’s have breakfast.

And so the Tuesday morning tale of Cactus Jack gets it in the kisser comes to a fitful desert end.

Celebrating tweezers today, and the incredible resiliency of animals. Though Kevin and I are still traumatized. 

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On the bike again

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 13, 2013 9:53 PM

When Kevin and I first started dating, I was into biking. I had bought a hybrid several years earlier, shortly after my divorce, and spent many a happy Saturday and Sunday morning merrily riding through the canyons of Calabasas, Malibu and Agoura. Enter Kevin, who wasn’t a cyclist. He had a bicycle, an old 10-speed, that he had somehow procured in his divorce but it had belonged to his ex-wife so it was too small for him. Still, he liked the idea of getting into biking as well so we tooled around a bit, his lanky 6-foot frame on a bicycle built for someone 5’6”.

He ended up liking the idea so much that he also bought a hybrid. For the uninitiated, a hybrid is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. They were very popular in the early to mid 1990s with people like us buying them because we didn’t really want to ride on trails and we didn’t really want to spend the money for a good road bike.

It was Kevin’s first brand new bike and he was thrilled. He had a bicycle that fit him and it was top of the line for the time. 

The more we rode, the more we enjoyed it and the quicker we realized that the hybrids, as great as they were, just didn’t suit our purposes. We really needed road bikes. We bought our first roadsters around the time we moved in together, in 1997. They were great and we put a lot of miles on them. Road bikes are lighter, with thinner tires and therefore travel much further much more easily. We put so many miles on our new road bikes that we quickly realized, again, that we needed something even lighter. After quite a bit of research, Kevin decided that what we needed were KHS so that’s what we got. 18 speeds, two chain rings so the low gears are more powerful for cranking on the flats and getting some good speed but the high gears don’t give as much ease for climbing. We don’t have what is known in the cycling world as “granny’s.” Granny gears allow someone to sit on their saddle and climb a hill, their legs churning without working too hard and the bike taking virtually forever to get anywhere.

We’ve had the KHS bikes for a number of years now. We used to ride 50 to 100 miles a week. But that has dissipated. In fact, we haven’t been on the bikes for at least six months if not closer to a year. Maybe it’s even more. I’ve lost track. Life gets in the way; we haven’t made the time. But when we go into the garage, we never fail to gaze longingly at our gorgeous metallic blue road bikes hanging on their hooks, gathering dust, their tires now devoid of air. Lately we’ve been talking about getting back on them. And today is the day that happens.

Kevin has dusted them off, re-inflated the tires, lubed the chains. I’ve found the water bottles and they’re filled with cool, not cold water. We only drink water when we ride; no electrolyte beverages for us. Water is what we need; water is what we have.

We’re going to slip into our biking clothes, the black spandex shorts with the padded crotch and the brightly colored Lycra tops. We’ll slip into our cycling shoes, the kind with clips on the bottom that attach to the peddles so you have to clip in and clip out when you start and stop. I hope we can remember how; otherwise we’ll tip over. We’ll put them into the Range Rover and head east, to a nice stretch of road that climbs a bit at first. We’ll get to the end and then turn around for more of a coast on the way back. We’ll have parked where there’s a great coffee/breakfast place we like so that afterwards, we can get some coffee, maybe a muffin. It won’t be a long ride, but it will be a good ride, one to get us back on the saddle again, and on the road again.

All apologies to Willie Nelson. 

I hear the sound of my husband’s motorcycle approaching

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 11, 2013 10:53 PM

Kevin and I are motorcycle people. We love them. He had bikes in the past, before I came into the picture. I always wanted one. I had friends in college who had bikes, sport bikes – or crotch rockets as they’re affectionately known – and street bikes. Cruisers weren’t really all that popular until the last 15 years or so. Two of my guy friends in college, Kevin (no relation) and Mac, had the same street bike. It was a Kawasaki 450, if memory serves. One of them was black, the other blue.

I tried to have a motorcycle when I was married the first time, but husband number one was more interested in fast cars and particularly in Porsches. I was OK with that as I’m also a car person. I love old cars, new cars, sports cars and classic cars. I love our current 1987 Porsche turbo. It’s my second Porsche. My first was during HNO (husband number one) and I had to sell it when we got divorced because I couldn’t afford the maintenance. I wish that I had the foresight to keep it. I babied that car; it would still be a great car. The turbo was not babied until we got it. We think of it like a rescue.

A number of years ago, when Maguire was still young and Blockbuster Video was still in business, he and I went for a Sunday morning Rover ride to return whatever we had rented. On the way home, stopped at a light on Agoura Road, two cruisers pulled up alongside of us, each being driven by a guy; each with a chick on the back. They looked comfortable and cool. They looked relaxed. They looked like they were having fun. When I got home I told Kevin that I thought we should get a motorcycle. We had one the following weekend, a beautiful silver Suzuki 850 Intruder. But it was too small, so within the year we upgraded to a Suzuki 1500 Intruder, but we never really fell in love with it. It was awkward, oafish. One summer, in 2007, while Kevin and Justin were in Illinois visiting Kevin’s family, I was standing in the kitchen perusing Motorcyclist magazine and there was an ad for a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1500. A gorgeous bike with sleek lines, and built for two. It came with foot panels for the passenger and hard saddlebags, and a backrest. When Kevin got home, I broached the subject of maybe looking at one. We found a used one shortly thereafter and bought it. Metallic black, with lots of chrome and white-wall tires.  We’ve had it ever since.

Today, he had to run some errands and as he often does when it’s a beautiful day, he took the bike, roaring out of the driveway and down the street, the powerful growl of the engine disappearing into the desert as he rounded the corner and headed east.

I worry when he’s out by himself. He’s a great driver and beyond careful, but people don’t always see motorcycles and that leads to stupid accidents. When he goes off without me, he promises to text me whenever he arrives at his destination. I usually get nothing more than a simple “here.” He texts me again as he moves from place to place, keeping me updated so I know he didn’t go splat.


Kevin, returning home this afternoon

Sitting in my office this afternoon, the windows once again open, the cool of the day once again drifting in and around the room, I listened for the sound. Low and powerful, a lion’s purr, it’s very distinct. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but smile. He has returned safely on this fine piece of machinery, one of the finest we’ve owned. Sleek as a cat and ready to cruise, it’s joy on two white-walled wheels.

I hear it now. I hear him approaching. I smile. Soon, I’ll be smiling broadly, enjoying the view as he pulls into the driveway, safe at home. Definitely worth celebrating. 

And the desert smiles

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 7, 2013 12:07 AM

I’m in Tucson and looking out at the sun dancing in the Catalina foothills. It’s been a simply glorious day here, not too hot, a gentle breeze tickling the palm trees and running headlong into the millions of saguaro and prickly pear cactus that refuse to budge. Birds have been singing and the butterflies are everywhere in all manner of sizes and colors, from the smallest yellow to the largest orange and black. Occasionally there is one of ghostly white with gossamer wings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white-winged butterfly before. I wonder if perhaps the intensity of the sun has faded away the color it once had.

This morning we went for a walk along the expansive and dry Rillito River. The city has created pathways and bridges for walkers and cyclists that runs nearly the length of the river, a bed that I’m sure has water in it at some point during the year but never has during any of the times we’ve been here. There were plenty of people walking their dogs, others walking dogless like us. The number of cyclists was impossible to count. People on mountain bikes, others on road bikes; some out for a leisurely tour, others working up a sweat. Some were young, others older, still others old but all were happy and friendly. Good morning. ‘morning!

The sun crested eventually, dripping heat down upon us. We retreated to the air conditioning to watch a little football, do a little more work. Our entire weekend has mostly been about work and that’s OK. We have work; this is good. It is infinitely better than the alternative.

We relaxed. We enjoyed. We reflected.

Monday is knocking at the door already. It’s a faint knock but insistent. Tomorrow evening we’re thinking of going to the movies since we didn’t get a chance to do much of anything this weekend, at least not much of anything fun, not much of anything that was nothing. Sometimes nothing is what’s needed in order to recharge and re-energize. I did do a little bit of nothing later today. By nothing I mean simply enjoying the moment and not being involved in anything stressful. By nothing I mean something fun. I talked to a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while and it was delightful.

I’m standing at the window watching as two big bear-like dogs, Newfoundlands I think, are strolling with their owners. Plodding along, also enjoying the something that is nothing.

The last bit of sun is kissing the highest point of the hills; the rest is bathed in shadow, now flat and dark. The temperatures are starting to fall again. Soon the city will sleep and us along with it, before getting up to work another day, another week. Still, as the silence begins to settle, I am struck by the calm of it all. The desert, for all of its harsh reality is a beautiful place. It is filled with color and hope; with life. As the night begins to settle and the sun wanes, I think I can see it smiling. 

Thus the schizophrenic life I lead

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 5, 2013 12:45 AM

It’s Friday night, Fritini, and I am half way through my preferred Fritini cocktail of a Manhattan, straight up, ice cold with a twist. I have had a very busy day, careening from one job to a phone call to another job like a pinball flippered around in an old game. I wonder sometimes if I’m winning this game of life. I get tired. My eyes water after a yawn and my muscles start to cramp after each particularly long and therapeutic stretch. My hair droops; as does my skin. My exhaustion has always gone right to my skin. And then I look around at the miracles surrounding me and I know that I am in fact winning the game. I have a husband whom I adore and who adores me back. I have a nutbag dog. I have a wonderful home. I have the strength of family and endurance of friends. I have work. I am blessed.

Still.

I often feel pulled in too many directions. This is nothing new I realize. Everyone is always pulled in too many directions at once. In the primitive days of torture it was called being drawn and quartered, a particularly nasty way of destroying a spirit not to mention a body. I don’t usually feel pulled limb from limb but I do feel pulled in a myriad of directions. With a little duct tape I just put myself back together and move on.

I can be working on web content for one of my hospital clients and then I get a phone call about skin care packaging and then I need to attend to an article that’s due at noon. It’s enough to make the head spin. Mine often is like a top. It’s why between jobs and clients, I turn to the mindless chatter of the intertubes. I use my surf time to clear my head. There is perhaps nothing more schizophrenic than the news and politics of this country, and since I’m a news and political junkie I often peruse those types of sites during my surf time. These people can all talk out of both sides of their mouths and think nothing of the contradictions they spew at a rather alarming rate. Either they’re completely unaware of their idiocy or I’m too highly attuned to other schizoids. It’s fascinating to read.

Each week I am torn between writing work and making a living, and writing work that will hopefully someday make me a living. I love what I do. As I said, I am blessed. I am just not always able to keep up with it all. I bounce. I pivot. I sometimes don’t know what planet I’m on or what city I’m in.

Occasionally I am jolted awake in the middle of the night and for a split second I have no idea what day it is. It’s a very odd feeling. It makes me worry that I’m losing my mind. I know though that others have the same issue, so I think it’s more a function of overload. The mind just can’t always process what it needs to process simply because there is too much present and the mind is moving north, south, east and west all at once, pulled apart; drawn and quartered. Schizted out.

Interesting to equate my life with torture when I know that the life I lead is anything but. I may need therapy.

I have finished my Manhattan and have started cooking dinner all while working on this blog post, checking emails and thinking about the many different things I need to do this weekend, the many different directions in which I will be pulled.

I am not schizophrenic but I sometimes worry that I lead a schizophrenic life. As I gaze down at my outfit, I realize that I am dressed to mirror this fear. I have a Tucson, Arizona t-shirt on over a pair of Los Angeles, California sweatpants. It’s the perfect metaphor for this life I lead, being in one place with my heart in another and vice versa, one worth celebrating on this Fritini. 

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Lightning strikes

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 27, 2013 1:29 AM

I read today that Tucson is the lightning capital of the world. Granted I read it on a Facebook page that I follow, Downtown Tucson, but having spent some time in Tucson in the past, and especially in August, I am not at all surprised by the claim. It’s an accolade actually because lightning means thunder and both often are precursors to a fabulous storm. It all just serves to make a wondrous city ever more mysterious, interesting and gorgeous, from the sky down.

Evidently Tucson has been given this designation because it is in the desert, where the ground elevation is 2000 feet while the cloud base in the relatively dry atmosphere is usually around 10,000 feet so lightning bolts can zigzag through two to four miles of dry air, unabated, unchallenged. Lushly sharp.

Just before a storm, the sky swirls and darkens, moving from a light gray to a near black tinged with purple. I think it’s the purple that brings the lightning. Perhaps it’s the mythical aspect of the desert that encourages the sky to turn the color of midnight, dancing in the atmosphere, angry, forceful, purposeful, honest and true. It is a spectacular sight and when the lightning splits the sky, zigzagging down to connect to the earth. It is magical.

I’ve long been a fan of storms, and the ones that lace the desert are some of the most profound I’ve witnessed. I’ve sat on the balconies of the Westward Look, our favorite hotel in Tucson, with the air trying to cool but the humidity still high. Comfortable enough to sit with a glass of wine and watch one of nature’s most powerful shows. In the distance, the sky splits. Lightning always seems to be far away in the desert. It flashes quickly, lighting the air around and for a split second, the ground below. It’s often not accompanied by thunder but when it is, it is low and rumbling, until it cracks through the wall and rattles you to your spine.

Lightning is quiet. It just seems loud. It is all part of the monsoon season that strikes the desert in August.

The engine of the monsoon is the sun. As summer progresses, solar radiation warms the land and Pacific Ocean at different rates, inciting a tug-of-war with the winds. Until the land sufficiently warms, air flow above maintains a westerly flow. When the winds do an about-face, the monsoon begins.

The monsoon first begins in northern Mexico in May. The summer sun evaporates water from the Gulfs of Mexico and California and creates humid conditions over that produce rain. This rejuvenates plants. Vegetation begins to grow and moves water from the soils back to the air in the form of vapor in a process called evapo-transpiration. Humidity rises, fueling more rain and more transpiration.

On June 21, lightning zapped Pima County where Tucson is located 46 times, shooting electromagnetic pulses for each strike more than 400 miles across the landscape. Each pulse passed through a network of sensors that pinpointed where the lightning touched down. A day later, Pima County lit up with another 218 strikes, a large fraction of the 928 cloud-to-ground strikes that occurred on June 22 in the entire state of Arizona.

In other words, lightning strikes. And it is beautiful. It is stunning. It is magical. It is the desert and as regular readers know, I love the desert. I think the lightning is simply showing the way home.

Flight of fancy

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:41 AM

I sit at the window and look down at the clouds, at the patchwork of agriculture, green rectangles and squares, deep browns in a sea of sand. I wonder what is being grown and how since it is essentially desert as far as the eye can see.

Small pools of water dance under the sun, hiding in the shadows of the clouds. I see now how the green grows and the deep brown of the churned soil stays as it does, but only in certain areas.

Rolling hills and jagged land, deeply creviced, nature's musings, flow below in both one and three dimensions. The earth from this visage looks almost flat and deathly, haunted. As if another planet entirely than the one most of us know, love and visit on a daily basis. And yet those hills and crevices are as alive as the desert is, with its harshly beautiful landscape, its reptilian creatures, its cactus.

There are roads carved into the landscape, tributaries of civilization. There is the occasional house or other type of building. It is often impossible to tell just as it is impossible to see if there are cars traveling east or west, or if there are people perhaps outside, for however briefly they can stand the desert sun, the heat. It looks deserted, quiet.

Shadows from clouds drape and move across the landscape.

Sun pours in onto my shoulder warming only my left arm. The rest of me, in shorts, a tee shirt and flip flops, is cool though not cold. Maybe just my toes. I'm not wearing any makeup. My hair, washed and dried, is loose and curly, tucked behind my ears. I am tired and not entirely sure of what to make of my life these last few weeks. But right now I am content; I am relatively stress free. I am anxious to get home.

The roar of the engines fills my ears. I smell fresh coffee brewing but it smells bitter, over cooked. I don't want coffee anyway. I rarely drink it in the afternoon. I’m fine with my water, to keep hydrated. Later I’ll have wine. I can almost taste it from here.

Outside my window the desert is receding and more and more houses are coming into view. Small enclaves appear, up against the rugged terrain, nestled almost into the crevices. They are getting more dense. There is a lake, and another. The desert is retreating and civilization is taking its place, if one can called concrete and freeways civilization. I guess one can. It is definitely urban sprawl crawling and seeing it from above is always a sight to behold.

The sun is beginning its descent, as are we. The air and the ground have turned into shades of gray. There is some rain falling and it is good, cleansing. I am at peace. I am flying.

I am flying home.

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