by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 19, 2016 6:44 PM

The desert is many things. A glorious habitat of life and death where everything bites, and some can kill. It is not a comfortable place; it is not for the fain of heart. It is harsh landscape and towering saguaros, jagged rocks and crusty sand. It is filled with creatures that slink and those that haunt. Deer stand like statues and stare, javelinas snort and puff, ravens and falcons caw and cry, mountain lions crouch and coyotes howl at the moon. It scorches in the summer and freezes in the winter and when it rains, it destroys. 

It is the land of extremes, a place where there is 50 degrees difference between noon and midnight, where the sun rises over the Rincons to the east and sets beyond the Catalinas and the Tucsons in the west, dragging a painted sky with it. Desert sunsets are like nothing before seen, perhaps even imagined. Impossible colors mix and melt into clouds and jet trails. More times than not, your breath catches for its sheer beauty.

In the summer it is 100 plus, in the winter it is 20 degrees, sometimes colder. And when the wind blows it's with enough force to stop you in place. Up on the hill, where the house is, the wind can be vicious. Steady at 25 miles per hour, gusts up to 50, sometimes more. These winds and gusts can be frightening because they're so fierce. Like an animal that shouldn't be caged, it thrashes and scratches and tears at the world, indiscriminate as to what it touches and rips. We've had cactus uprooted, rocks tumble down. It's amazing more doesn't happen.

We have a neighbor whose house is also on a hill. Like us, they love it here. But the extremes can occasionally infiltrate the psyche and you find yourself howling at the moon, the sun and the desert. Our neighbor describes it like this: "Too fucking hot. Too fucking cold. And too fucking windy." She says it with a great deal of affection. You have to love the hot, the cold and the wind to live here. 

Last night, the winds stirred. By midnight, the air was a swirling cocktail of needles, leaves, of ocotillo branches hitting the house and wind chimes clanging outside the open windows. By this morning, it was 25 miles per hour as we walked the dog. For more than two miles we pushed, or it pushed us. All around, we heard chimes clanging. We saw leaves take flight and birds coast along without having to flap. We felt the warmth of the sun struggling to push through. Underneath, the air was cool. It was too windy even to talk. The wind carried all words and laughter away and stuck them to a cactus somewhere. 

Beyond the relentless wind, all we could hear was our neighbor’s voice and laughter, up in her house on the hill. We could see her shaking her head, and as she struggled to pull a door closed, she was saying it. Over and over again. Too fucking windy. Too fucking windy. Too.

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I’m listening to the wind howl

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 3, 2016 9:45 PM

In the late afternoons, as the sun is listing toward the western horizon, right before it melts into the mountains, the air becomes incredibly still as if everything is afraid to move lest they disturb the beauty and tranquility of the desert. And then at the exact moment the sun disappears, the wind rears up in protest. Don’t go. But it goes anyway and dejected the wind dies down, leaving the desert darkening and quiet once again. Or at least it does usually.

Sometimes, the wind gets angry early, for no apparent reason, or if there is one, it’s lost on me. Today is a day like that. This morning was quiet and gentle, barely a breeze. The air was thicker than usual, like it had rained over night, though we didn’t hear it. If the rain falls in the dark, and everyone is asleep, does it still ping the skylight? There were still some residual clouds, left over from yesterday’s rain, but they were scattered, unable to regroup before the sun made them dissipate. 

By 11 am, though, when I walked down the hill, the wind was starting to blow. I had to take care of my neighbor’s dogs again. She had to drive to Palm Desert unexpectedly to care for her aging mother, and her dog sitter wouldn’t be able to get to the house until later. Would I mind? Of course not. It’s a welcome break, a reason to get up from my desk and go outside. It also doesn’t hurt that I can build up my step count on my fitness tracker. I told her that and she laughed. I know she feels like she’s intruding, but she’s not, at all.

I walked down, and then down again. If it’s possible, their drive is even steeper than ours. I let myself in, and promptly got pretend-mauled by Brody. Jax simply sat down, staring at he through his big brown eyes, his Rottweiler head steady and calm. I always wonder what he’s thinking when he sees me. He’s so gentle but is he secretly thinking of ways to attack? I have no such wonder when it comes to Brody. He’s a big goof of a boy, a black golden doodle and he happily jumps and growls and air snaps. 

I gave them some water, gave them some pets, and then bid them adieu and perhaps later. (Turns out I didn’t need to go back as the dog sitter arrived mid-afternoon.) I trudged back up the hill, into a wind blowing stronger than when I got there, and I’d only been inside for 15 minutes or so. By the time I got back up to our house, winded and hot, the desert was blowing at me pretty good. 

Strong and whistling, making my wind chimes hit the wall and the glass of the windows, clanging rather than just singing prettily. By the time the sun began its trek toward the west, the whistle had turned to a sorrowful howl, a wounded animal in search of attention and love. It will get none from me. I don’t like wind. I find it rude and intrusive, sometimes, depending on the gusts, I find it dangerous, strong enough to rip trees from the ground, to make the solar panels on the roof moan with the struggle to stay attached.

It’s amazing to me how alive something so invisible can be. How alive and vibrant and terrible and tyrannical. I’ve never understood why wind needs to be so forceful, not when a nice breeze will do, thank you. But blow and cuss it does. And so I sit here, listening to its jangly song, watching as it whips the buffelgrass and the fountain grass and the ocotillos and the mesquite trees, watching the saguaros sway. And I celebrate the fact that while it is blowing it out loud out there, I am perfectly protected in here, and that makes me happy.

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There was a dead snake along the road this morning

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 1, 2016 9:09 PM

It was just after 8 am. The sun had long since risen above the house and was busy warming the day. Riley and I got a late start on our walk but since it was only hinting at 70º I knew we’d be fine. We trudged along, me saying “slow” about every ten feet. I’m trying to train him to not be such a puller and I’ve never liked the word “heel.” Dogs know the words they taught, and I’m teaching “slow.” His leash was wrapped around my left hand; I was keeping him close to me.

There were workers at the Strobel’s house. Kevin had mentioned that he heard what he thought were trucks and trailers down below, where the house is being built. He asked me to take a look as I went by, just to see who it was and whether we should call the sheriff. It was the contractor – I recognized his truck – and several others. All were busy working. The contractor saw me and waved. I waved back. 

We trudged along, Riley and I. No one else was out. No cars passed us. I always keep my eyes open for creatures, namely javelinas or coyotes. I look to the right and the left and dead ahead for the entirety of the walk. Javelinas can be nasty and dangerous. Coyotes not so much because Riley is a big dog. But I fear Riley would freak and cause a scene. I watch for Gila monsters that can bite down on a dog and not let go; I watch for tortoises that will bite if provoked and attacked. I watch for snakes. 

As we rounded a gentle curve, and began to walk down a small decline, there was one on the side of the road. A rattlesnake. We haven’t seen many snakes up here. We know they’re around; how could they not be given the terrain and the climate? I saw one in what was call the Cooper Area, where we take the dog to pee during the day and before we go to bed at night. There was the one that somehow got into the house. Another that was on the road another morning. We kept Riley close and made a wide circle to get around it. When we returned it was gone. 

I pulled Riley’s leash closer. He didn’t see it, but I kept my eyes on it as we continued by. When we came back past, it was still there, still in the exact same position, part of its scaly body looped over the other. This time, Riley saw it and stopped. He stood staring, his body extended in the direction of the snake, his head forward and down. He didn’t try to pull. He just watched, waiting.


I picked up a rock and tossed it. The snake didn’t move. It was dead. Completely intact. No apparent trauma. Perhaps one of the falcons or ravens had grabbed it up and then dropped it from a great height. Maybe it just died of old age. It didn’t matter. What mattered was there was a dead snake along the road. 

We continued toward home, my dog and I. I watched and listened for other predators. I nodded toward the contractor again. I thought about the snake and its symbolism. Rattlesnakes are lethal creatures, striking to kill. But it was dead. Could it be that it somehow also symbolized the death of fear?

We all live in fear, sometimes it can be crippling. Most times it just gnaws at the back of your soul. Fear of failure, of loss. Fear that we’re not good enough, fear that we’ll never be what we dreamed of becoming as children. Fear of life. 

A rattlesnake is but one creature representing the personification of fear, but it’s a just representation. If it can die for no visible reason, could our own insecurities and fears die as easily? Can mine?

The death of fear. The death of anger. The death of lashing out, of striking out. All manifested in the death of one snake along the road this morning. Something to think about.

That’s Mr. Tarantulasaurus Rex to you

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 10, 2016 9:02 PM

We grow ‘em big out here. By ‘em I mean, well, everything especially bugs. Our flies are twice the size, ditto wasps. We have crickets that are enormous; grasshoppers, too. Spiders are large. It’s not uncommon to see scorpions that are several inches long, whipping their nasty, stinging tails in the air to warn off predators. They are never a match for my shoes. I stomp them and then stomp them again, even though they’re outside. In fact, they’re all outside with the exception of the occasional wall spider. I kill those, too. I am not, by nature, a violent person. But I don’t think that scorpions deserve to live anywhere, even outside. As for spiders, I have no trouble with them outside. It’s when they’re prowling my walls in the bedroom that I find fault. 

These spiders, flat wall spiders, are usually an inch and a half to two inches wide. They’re probably harmless. Still. 

We’ve had centipedes, giant redheads they’re called, that are six to eight inches long. They’re blonde and scaly with two red pinchers on each end and a thousand feet in between. They’re ugly, a little scary and huge.

Like I said, we grow ‘em big out here. 

Witness what was in the portico this morning. Meet one Mr. Tarantulasaurus Rex. A tarantula. He was probably about three inches or so wide, from one hairy leg to the tip of the other seven. It’s our version of the T-Rex. They are terribly unattractive. I am not a fan though I admit to being completely intrigued by them. I know some people keep them for pets. I can’t imagine, in much the same way I can’t imagine keeping a snake for a pet. Some creatures are just not supposed to be cuddled. 

The tarantula, known by Aphonpelma chalcodes, is very common here in the desert. It tends to come out most during monsoon season – we are fast nearing the end of that – and into early fall. They dig holes in the desert that are about the size of a quarter where they nest. If a hole has silk in or over it, it’s an active tarantula nest. Females tend to hang pretty close to their hole while males are often hot footing it around the ‘hood trolling for a date. 

This creature is primitive, just like so many other creatures here in the desert, and has evolved little in terms of appearance in their some 350 million years on earth. Females tend to be light brown while males are darker. They’re furry, supposedly using their hair to sense vibrations which might indicate a predator or prey. They can also flick their hairs at an attacker. These hairs are barbed and irritating though not poisonous, at least not to humans. Neither is their venom. In fact, tarantulas are very docile and only bite when truly provoked. 

Females can live up to 25 years but males usually only live one year past sexual maturity which happens between 8 and 12. They don’t like water, which is interesting considering they come out in monsoon season, only drink occasionally, and in the winter, become dormant. Essentially they crawl into their holes and cover themselves up with silk and soil to wait for the cold to pass. 

They’re gruesome looking but they’re slow and steady and almost always outside. We’ve yet to see one inside. Thank dog.

So there he was, this guy in the portico. It really wasn’t a good place for him to be if only because I didn’t want to look at him. Armed with a long-handled dustpan and the broom, I walked out, swept him up and carried him out to the desert. It was part of the tarantula-relocation program. We run several such programs here including the toad-relocation program, and the Gila monster relocation program. They all get new identities and a new lease on life. In this case, I named our new friend Tarantulasaurus Rex. That’s Mr. T to you. A new friend to celebrate?

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The legend of the red beast

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 5, 2016 12:00 AM

It is said, by the natives, that a great red beast haunts the desert of Arizona. It can be seen at sunset, galloping through the dust, the skeletal remains of its passenger lashed to the saddle. Is it seeking revenge or redemption? Perhaps we’ll never know.

In 1856, Jefferson Davis, who would go on to notoriety as the president of the Confederate States, was the secretary of war. Having fought in Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848, he knew well the harsh climate of the desert southwest. When he became Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, in 1853, he was charged with updating how the military functioned. He promptly ordered 62 camels. They were transported by boat to Indianola, Texas, arriving on May 14 where they were then taken to Camp Verde in Kerr County. Camels, the thinking went, would be great in the desert climate because they can survive with very little food or water, and they have great strength and stamina. They also, evidently, have serious attitude problems. Or maybe it was just that they had to live in Texas. Either way, the camels refused to live with the horses and mules, and even fought amongst themselves.

After the Civil War started in January 1861, and Davis became first provisional president of the south in February and then officially in February 1862, the Confederate forces seized Camp Verde. No record remains of what happened to the camels but most historians believe they were released onto the Texas plains. 

This is where we pick up our story. In 1883, a woman living on a southern Arizona ranch was trampled to death by a huge red beast with a skeletal creature riding on its back. When local ranchers gave chase, they found only cloven-hoof prints and tufts of red animal hair. More sightings began to emerge, tales of a wild beast, a ghost terrorizing cattle and bears, one who could run faster than any other. Legend had the beast standing 30 feet tall with the ability to disappear from sight. 

Once when prospectors were working in the Verde River, the Red Ghost appeared. They fired their rifles and in its retreat something fell from the creature’s back that would later be identified as a human skull with flesh and hair still attached. The Mohave County Miner wrote that the beast might be a camel, but local residents dismissed that idea because there was no earthly reason for there to be a skeletal-being perched atop. Several days later, the Red Ghost appeared again on a lonely road. Campers were awakened in the middle of the night by a loud scream and encountered a huge creature. The men ran for their lives, hiding in the brush. The next day, all they found were cloven-hoof prints and red strands of hair. 

This went on for another 10 years. Then in February of 1893, rancher Mizoo Hastings saw the Ghost in his vegetable patch. With one shot, he brought the beast down. It was indeed a camel. With a human skeleton strapped to its back. The skeleton that had been riding the creature had been tied to the animal with thick leather straps many years earlier. No one knew who it was or who had committed this horrific act. 

Historians speculated that perhaps the man had been tied to the camel as a form of revenge. Or that perhaps he was a Union soldier tied to the camel by the Confederate invaders of Camp Verde.

Regardless, the animal’s back was heavily scarred by the rawhide strips. Perhaps it was seeking revenge. 

Some speculated that a prospector named Jake found gold, and that he loaded his gold onto his camel. He went into a saloon to celebrate where he told his tale of finding riches. A man in the saloon followed him and when Jake camped for the night, the man murdered him. Later that night, the camel attacked the man, killing him.

Decades passed. Centuries. One night, the ghost of Jake appeared, riding on his camel. At night, still, if you listen, you can hear them. If the moon is full, you can see them. Riding across the desert. Riding into forever. Riding.

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The plan

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 3, 2016 7:17 PM

I am a ridiculous planner. I'd use the term meticulous but it's more than that. It's borderline obsessive. I blame the Capricorn in me. We goats have to always have a plan. Even when I'm spontaneous I need a plan. It's sad I know, but I have come to terms with my neuroses. 

We've been planning a motorcycle trip all week. Just a day trip. Still, there must be a plan. Proper attire must be chosen for maximum comfort and ease. Sunscreen must be applied. Plenty of water has to be “packed.” Last weekend, the plan was to go to Apache Junction which is about two hours northwest of us. It's supposed to be a lovely little town, and there's an old mine aspect as well, with the remnants of a centuries past mining camp updated to have a cool restaurant called the Dutchman’s Hideout. It sits at the base of the Superstition Mountains, so named for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. According the legend, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz supposedly discovered a mother lode of gold in the mountains and only revealed its location when he died in 1891. The mine has never been discovered. Apaches believe that there is a hole in the Superstition Mountains that leads to hell. Others believe that winds blowing from the hole are the cause of the severe dust storms the area is known for. Superstitions abound. 

As a backdrop these mountains are stunning, red and jagged against a blue sky. But when the temps were forecasted to be in the 100s, that plan changed. Being on the motorcycle in that kind of unrelenting heat is brutal. We did it once when we took the bike to Las Vegas. I thought we would melt into the saddle. When we got to the Ritz-Carlton where we were spending the weekend, we both needed to be wrung out. We walked in carrying motorcycle helmets and backpacks. The lady at the front desk looked at us warily. 

I scrambled to find another place. I wanted to take a ride. I miss going off for the day, feeling the wind, experiencing the complete freedom that comes on two wheels flying down an open road. But where?

Southern Arizona is still hot at this time of the year. Sometimes hellishly so. I don't mind low 90s. I can handle low 90s, because when you're moving, it's more like mid 80s. Really. I searched for things east, for things south. Believe it or not, many areas south of us, heading toward Mexico, can be a touch cooler because the elevations are a touch higher. I found Patagonia. 

Patagonia is about an hour and a half south east of us. Population at the last census: 913. Total square miles: 1.3. It's an old Arizona town, nestled in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains in the distance and rolling fields of golden grass in the foreground. At one point, it was a supply center for nearby ranches and long-ago abandoned mines. Those mining camps are now ghost towns and dot the Patagonia Mountains to the southeast. The town is now primarily artists. To get there, we'll wind down Houghton Road to Sahaurita and head east to the 83 south to the 82 south. We'll poke around the two or three galleries, we'll mosey on over to the Wagon Wheel Saloon, belly up to the bar and have a salad and some water. Maybe in the old west, back when there were miners, they had burgers and a whiskey. We're old and we're in the west but any semblance stops there. 

Then we'll climb back onto our sturdy steed, all 900 pounds and six cylinders of it, and cruise home, reversing our course. Heading north toward our waiting puppy.

At least that's the plan.

Anniversaries and stuff

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 23, 2016 9:07 PM

Three years ago today, we changed our lives. Again. We had of course, changed our lives previously when we met, and then again when we moved in together. We changed them when we got a dog and bought a house. We changed them when we got married. One of the ways we were able to remember the sequence of events was that we had Maguire, we grew out of the townhouse, we bought the Oak Park house, we got engaged, and a year and a month after moving into the house, we got married. Maguire, house, wedding.

We got Maguire in February 1997, the house was August – we moved in the night Princess Diana was killed in Paris. We got engaged on my birthday of that year, and married on September 26, 1998. Justin started high school in 2005, and graduated in 2009. We moved him to the University of Arizona on August 21, 2009 and he started classes on Monday the 24th. 

On Saturday, August 22, we fell in love with the town that would eventually lead to us changing our lives again. On May 10, 2010, we bought 3.8 acres of hillside property on the Northeast side of Tucson with the resolve to eventually build a house. It was our dream.

While Justin was in school, we lived our California lives. We lost our precious Maguire on March 6, 2012. We got Cooper on October 26, 2012. We visited family, we had friends over to the house often. We hired an architect who designed our dream house. Justin was supposed to graduate in May of 2013 but he transferred schools and had to take an extra semester. Still, 2013 was the year. 

For a long time, we convinced ourselves that we would never really be able to move; we weren’t even sure we wanted to. We were sure we had nearly 4 acres of beautiful property that we would never actually use. I asked Kevin once if he thought we’d ever build the house, ever move. His one word answer: No. 

I never asked again because I didn’t want it to be true. I also didn’t want to have spent the money on something we gave up on. 

Finally, we made the decision. We wouldn’t have any more tuition bills after August. It was time. We sold the house in Oak Park, we packed everything up and on Thursday, August 22, the movers came. We were up all night, literally, and at 6:45 the next morning, we left. Kevin was driving a U-Haul and towing the Porsche. I was driving the Range Rover, loaded to the roof. I couldn’t see out of the back window. Cooper was curled up on the front seat next to me. We had to beat the movers who were also driving on Friday in order to meet us at our rental house in Tucson. It was one of the worst experiences we have had as a couple. No sleep, a 10-hour drive across the desert. In August. 

August 23, 2013. Three years ago. 

The Michels, August 24, 2013. And our jam-packed U-Haul.

But it was the start of our greatest adventure, our new lives, and so along with our other anniversaries, we celebrate it. We celebrate this day. We remember with horror our lack of sleep and the drive. We remember arriving at the rental in 100º weather to find that the landlords had left us wine (red and white), crackers and cheese. We remember thinking maybe this might work out after all. I think it has.

Happy Anniversary to us. And stuff.

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In which neighbor Aranka is engaged

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 22, 2016 9:47 PM

One of our neighbors came up to the house today. We’ve only spoken a couple of times in the year and a half we’ve lived here, and only met officially about a month ago. She’s in her early to mid 70s, and has had a number of health issues. We’d see her in the mornings, driving to wherever she was going. We would be walking the dog. She almost always ignored us. We never really gave it much thought. 

Then, several months ago, the board of the homeowner’s association, of which Kevin is one of the directors, began the process of taking over and ousting the president. There had been widespread unhappiness from the homeowners for quite awhile and it was time for all of us to be in charge of our own neighborhood.

After this takeover was finished, I sent an email out to all of the homeowners, updating them on what had been happening and what the plans were for Mira Vista now that we were in charge. We are planning on having the roads fixed; we hired a landscaper to do some much needed trimming and weeding. We put in a new and bigger mailbox. We fixed the lighting in the front entrance. I also informed everyone that the previous president was no longer involved and that any neighborhood business should now be presented to the board. We even got an email address and a voice mail number.

One morning, while we were walking Riley, a car came up behind us and slowed. It was our neighbor and she wanted to introduce herself – her name is Aranka – and to thank us for the email, and for what we were doing. She was and is lovely.

About two weeks ago, she called to ask about getting two new gate remotes. I called her back to let her know they were on order and that as soon as they were in, I’d call or email her. They arrived on Friday night. Kevin programmed them, we tested them to make sure they work and I sent her an email saying we’d be glad to drop them off. She sent an email back asking if she could pick them up instead. She wanted to see the house. 

Aranka's house

So around 4 pm today, she drove her bright purple Jeep up the hill and into our driveway, and in she came. Every time we’ve seen her, she has on a big wide rimmed black hat. Today was no different. We chatted for a while, I gave her a tour of the house. And then we got to talking. She told me about how she ended up here in Tucson, about her time in San Francisco, about getting married after her soon-to-be husband asked the seventh time; about him dying tragically not long after. She told me about some of her health issues, and then she said, she had recently gotten engaged again. Tell me all about it, I said, grinning. 

She had met him at the airport. She travels quite a bit, especially to Europe, where she’s from (Hungary to be specific). They hit it off immediately and now, unexpectedly and six years after losing Frank, her husband, she is engaged to Doug. He’s an ex navy seal, retired. He loves dogs, and he sounds like he truly cares about her. We’ve seen him driving through the ‘hood; the dog gave it away. Evidently she got a puppy about 9 months ago, but then had some health issues. The puppy was becoming too much, so the pup now lives with Doug, up on Mt. Lemmon. But Doug and Rotta come to visit daily with the now 60-pound puppy sitting in the front seat of Doug’s truck.

It’s been a whirlwind of a romance, and she’s in no hurry to actually get married. She likes living alone too much. But she decided why not. She’s in her 70s. Life is too short to not have someone to share it with. They go somewhere every weekend. They’re thinking about buying a motorcycle. And they’ve having fun, celebrating being together.  

Definitely what life is all about.

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We have a cactus down

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 13, 2016 12:00 AM

One of the things Kevin likes to do most is work in his yard. Of course, living in the middle of the Sonoran desert, the word “yard” is relative. We have no grass save for the hideous weed buffelgrass which can take over the world. It’s tall and green, especially after all of the rain we’ve received in the last two weeks, but it’s weak and we are in the process of destroying it, both on our property and in the entire development. Kevin has been working diligently the last few Saturday mornings, digging out clumps of buffel in order to clear it away from the rip rap below the house. There is much more to do and eventually we’ll have to hire someone. He’s just not up to removing buffelgrass from nearly four acres. 

He loves to work with all of the natural rock we have here. Called Catalina Gneiss, it’s a form of southwestern granite. The house is built on it. It surrounds us, to one extent or another, and we love it. It was one of the things we loved most about the property when we first bought it. Yes, it can be difficult because building on a mountain can require a lot of hammering, something our soon-to-be neighbors below found out when they spent nearly four months and double their initial hammering budget hammering out a buildable pad. 

Kevin uses the plentiful rock to create swales, rock ditches to help manage the flow of water. When it rains here, it is rarely nice. It’s often a violent, angry rain that dumps enormous amounts of water on us in a very short period of time. It pounds us from the sky and rushes down on us from the hillside above. We had some drainage when we moved in; it wasn’t enough. So he has been building up our rock-swales to divert the water away from and around the house. He’s done a remarkable job. 

On Saturday mornings, he gets up and puts on his work pants, heavy canvas to make the possibility of getting “bit” by all the many creatures and plants here less possible. He puts on a long-sleeve white t-shirt that long ago ceased being white. Steel-toed work boots. A hat. Heavy-duty gloves. And outside he goes for several hours. He sweats. He consumes large amounts of water. He strains his muscles. He loves every single minute of it. 

It’s his yard. He loves every aspect of it, too. 

Whether he’s rocking or buffeling, he is always mindful of the creatures, not seeking to disturb or harm any (except for maybe wasps, which let’s face it, must be destroyed). He is equally mindful of the various species of cactus that populate Southern Arizona’s Sonoran desert and thus our property. When someone who was attempting to put in the beginnings of a road above us, a project that has since been abandoned for its obvious folly, the guy flattened several ocotillos and prickly pears. Kevin grabbed them and replanted them on our property. Most if not all took and are now thriving. He had to move a tree once. He built a rock planter for it, and replanted that, too. And it is growing once again, lush and thick. He loves these plants, perhaps none more than the towering saguaros, the cactus synonymous with this area. The house being built below us had to remove several saguaros, and they hired professional saguaro removal teams. It’s a thing here. They’re protected. They can’t just be pushed aside. They have to either be moved or replanted, which is easier when they’re smaller. The 20, 30, 40 or 50 foot saguaros are almost impossible to move. 

When we built, we purposely built around several saguaros, taking them into account with the design of the house. We have three in the center of the driveway, one of which is at least 20 feet high if not taller. We also have a number that we built the lower rip rap around. They rise up so close to the house, right off the deck, that you can touch them. 

And yesterday, we lost one. I had gone into Kevin’s office in the afternoon for a reason that currently escapes me. I was looking out the French door that leads to his portion of the deck and something caught my eye. At first I wasn’t even sure what I was seeing. My brain couldn’t comprehend. I just knew that what I was seeing wasn’t right. In fact, it was very wrong. Oh. My. God. I said as I opened the door and stepped outside. 

One of our precious saguaros, the one that has been right outside the guest room, had fallen down into the desert, snapping at its base, taking its massive height and several spires (arms) down with it. We have no idea what happened and Kevin is beside himself. He loves these majestic plants.

So we have a cactus down. Our first one since we started building in December of 2013. We have pacified ourselves with the fact that even in the cactus world, there is a circle of life. This one has come to an end, but we will plant something in its place, and hopefully it too will grow and thrive. And reach for the sky.

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live out loud

And so

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 31, 2016 10:06 PM

I am struck by how many posts I pen while sitting on the deck in the early morning hours, absorbing the quiet, delighting in the gentle breeze that tests the resolve of the  temperature. Not will it rise, but when and how high. In the early morning on the deck, I can pretend that the hot summer is coming to an end and that I'll be able to soon wear long pants again.

Sunday is especially quiet out here away from town, away from people. Up on the hill, we survey our kingdom and think of The Lion King, a film that remain a favorite, perhaps because it reminds us so of Justin. When he was little, just three, Disney released the animated tale of a cub named Simba who grew to be a lion, and ruler of the land. Justin never went anywhere without his stuffed Simba. I think he was the young cub, come alive in the guise of a little boy with red hair and big glasses. Now he is the roaring lion, ruling his own kingdom with kindness and generosity. Perhaps that's why I hear Mufasa's words on these mornings on the deck. All the light touches.

As 7 o'clock becomes 8, I hear the horses down below, I hear the buzz of the desert, a sound that becomes as natural as the silence. It is the life of the Sonoran, with all of its prickly nature and prehistoric creatures. The cacti are all in full view but what lurks beneath, those making the music, remain mostly hidden. There but not.

Birds flit and chirp, not many, not nearly as many as the mid-day will bring. No one else appears to be up and about. There are no cars; no dogs let out after a night in the house to roar and bark. The houses remain in slumber even if its occupants aren't.

Lazy. That's the feel of the morning. A justified and accepted lazy. It's Sunday, the day of rest and relaxation, the day acting as precursor to a busy week. It’s soft and easy. The morning feels exactly that.

I am struck by my life. My good and plentiful life. On Sunday mornings when it's early and cool, I feel it most. Perhaps it's because I'm not consumed so much with what I have to do but rather can relish in what I have.

It will change when I go back inside, into my big beautiful home, with its artificial coolness and the world waiting inside my laptop. But I have these moments and I have this moment, on the deck, thinking about Justin, watching my dog survey his kingdom too, with my husband next to me. A cup of coffee. The desert.

And so I am blessed. And so I am.

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live out loud

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