Bye bye birdie

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 13, 2017 8:27 PM

As of the end of 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wildlife Strike Database had reported 70,577 incidents of birds striking aircraft. They started keeping track in 2010. The amount, which has undoubtedly risen in the first nearly six months of 2017, averages out to one strike every 45 minutes. Those are just the ones that are documented. It’s possible there are more. The good news is that only 7% are actually damaging events.

One of the most famous bird strikes occurred in January 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia in New York. Two eight pound geese flew into each of the plane’s engines, causing massive failure and the famous water landing that’s been dubbed the Miracle on the Hudson.

Birds have been known to dent aircraft. They also don’t discriminate. In 2012, birds hit Air Force Two, with then Vice President Joe Biden onboard, as it was landing in Santa Barbara.

I bring this up today not because I was in an airplane that was struck by birds. Rather, I was in a house that suffered a strike this morning.

As I have written about before, our house has a lot of glass. Glass on the front of the house, not as prolific as glass on the back, but still prevalent, looking up onto the hillside behind us from the dining room, the front door, and the kitchen. On that hillside, are birds. Ravens and falcons are the big ones that haunt everything and lord over everyone. They occasionally land on the roof but never attempt to fly through the glass. Smaller cactus wrens, woodpeckers, humming birds are more brazen. The biggest culprits seem to be doves. 

This morning, as I was sitting in my office, I heard a horrendous crash, the noise coming from the vicinity of the dining room. Kevin had already asked me earlier if I had a bird hit the glass in my office. I assured him that what he heard was me slamming a fly swatter against a very large wasp. But this noise, this crash, was obviously a bird. I came out of my office, Kevin out of his, and we met in the dining room. There, on the glass, was a lot of red, some feathers and streaks where the liquid was running down the glass. 

I gulped, afraid to look down into the portico below. As I got closer, I realized that what was on the glass was not what I feared. It actually had seeds. And was more pink than blood red. But laying in the portico, not dead, was a white winged dove. We’ve had bird strikes before, some that have killed the poor creature. Most times, though, it simply stuns them. They sit, very still, staring straight ahead. Eventually they fly off.

This bird had obviously tried to fly through the glass with a piece of saguaro fruit in its mouth. It was the fruit that splattered on the glass. The dove was lying in a pool of juice. It was breathing, its eyes were open, but we were concerned. What to do?

Eventually, it righted itself but didn’t move. A longer time later, it began to walk around. We noticed an initial few drops of blood but then nothing. It extended its head, its tail feathers fluffing up and out. It tried to fly but had some trouble, instead settling down onto the portico, in the shade. 

We checked on it regularly. We hoped that it would be OK. We felt bad. After all, someone – us – dropped a house here in the middle of its desert. In the middle of the homes of all the desert creatures. It’s why we don’t kill anything, especially if its outside. Inside might be another matter. We have killed two scorpions and several spiders. We had a red headed centipede that we had to kill. But generally we try to be respectful. And we don’t like that we have caused several birds harm, including today.

After a number of hours, when the bird hadn’t yet been able to fly, I called the Tucson Wildlife Center. They’re a hospital for rescuing, rehabilitating and then releasing all manner of wild creatures here in the desert. I was all set to scoop the bird up and drive it to their facility. I couldn’t let it stay there all night, exposed, hurting, perhaps dying.

Riley stood at the window and whined throughout the day. And then, he stopped. I went to check. The bird was gone, having flown away, finally, and hopefully to continue living it out loud in the desert above.

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live out loud

There is a delight

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 11, 2017 8:59 PM

On March 15, 1910, just over a year after he left office, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that “there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” He was in Khartoum at the time, leading an expedition to Africa in search of specimens for the Smithsonian’s new Natural History museum. Khartoum is in the Sudan, and at the time, was a burgeoning metropolis. It is now the capital of the region. But at the time, it was surrounded by the white sands of the desert and the rich fauna of the Nile Valley. He wrote those words about the vistas and landscapes he had encountered. I use them today to describe the vistas and landscapes we encountered this morning.

I don’t know what compelled me to move west. This magical place was just where I always imagined myself to be. I do know what compelled us to move to the desert. It wasn’t anything we’d ever even considered but when we brought Justin to school here in August of 2009, we knew it would eventually be our new home. Settling into the east side of town, we continually marvel at the vistas and landscapes. We are surrounded by rock and mountains, by saguaros and ocotillos and trees. From our house on the hill we can see for at least 10 miles and probably more. The desert, rimmed by mountains, stretches before us to infinity.

Kevin was up early this morning, by 6:15, early for a Sunday, the day we jokingly refer to as “the day of rest.” He didn’t sleep well, probably because he was overtired. Yesterday he started rocking outside, finishing the lower swale, at 5 am. He was done by 7:30 and then he switched to finishing the front brakes on the Classic. Luckily, I convinced him to buy an air conditioner for the garage so it was at least somewhat hospitable in there while the temperatures raged outside. He worked all day, and then couldn’t sleep. 

I got up about a half hour later, when I heard the coffee pot sputter and snarl and spit signaling that it was almost done brewing. My boys were on the deck. I poured two cups of coffee and went out to join them. We marveled at the calm of the morning, at the temperature just in the low 70s. At 7:30, I said it would be a great morning for a motorcycle ride and suggested we go. I didn’t have to suggest twice.

We climbed aboard the Gold Wing and took off south and east. We weren’t going anywhere in particular so we never reached a destination. Instead, we simply meandered, finding a road we’d never taken before and following it. The day was still early; there were almost no cars where we were. Even the churches we went by, and there were many, weren’t yet open for business.

We went past Saguaro National Forest east, something that often makes us smile since we seemingly live in a saguaro forest of our own. We headed toward Colossal Caves knowing that we weren’t going to stop, but it gave a place to turn around. The road surface was smooth, unlike so much in the desert. There were no stop signs or stop lights, just a wide open two-lane road. The sun was warm but not hot. I watched quail and roadrunners crossing the road; I watched for deer and cattle. We saw horses, and an osprey that landed in the middle of the road to extract something that used to be something else. In the trees to the east, huge black ravens sat perched on the branches of mesquite trees, their feathers glistening in the morning sun.

I was struck by the vastness of it, the desolate nature, and sheer glory of this Sonoran desert we call home.

The fuller Teddy Roosevelt quote says: “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” That from a republican president. Something to celebrate on this Sunday.

And I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 1, 2017 7:53 PM

Saturday mornings are my refuge from life. Especially when it’s cool, the temperatures moderate under a cloudy sky and only the faintest of breezes drifting through the desert. This was the situation today when Riley and I set out on our Saturday morning walk. We go alone, just the two of us, mom and puppy, a woman and her dog. Saturday is Kevin’s day of working outside and I respect that. It’s his respite from the week previous; mine is the long walk with the dog. Soon it will be too hot to do this so I take advantage of it while I can.

Leash secured, I zipped up my sweatshirt, donned my sunglasses – a must even if it’s not currently sunny because my eyes are sensitive and because the sun might pop at any moment – grabbed a water bottle, slipped my phone into my back pocket and off we went. 

Riley is a good walker and like all dogs, loves it. He prances along, sniffing everything in his path, stopping to stare down any errant leaf or twig that wasn’t on the road yesterday. It’s comical to watch him as he dares whatever it is to move. Naturally, it won’t, unless there’s a sharp gust of wind. We had none of that today.

We started down Mira Vista Canyon Place, heading west. Like the canyons of Southern California – Topanga, Malibu, Decker, Benedict, Laurel – there is only one way in and one way out. It’s one of the scary things about California. If there is a natural disaster, the people who live in these canyons all must exit the same way at the same time. I suppose it’s scary here, too. We are surrounded by desert fauna, and at certain times and especially in the summer, that fauna is dry, tinder for a brush fire. There would be a rush toward the exit. But we are not heavily populated here; there are only 14 homes. 

We walked toward the gate and like most Saturdays I planned to exit through and walk further than weekday mornings. There is time; and today there were favorable conditions. We pushed along, Riley trotting by my side. We stopped for some water and continued on. There were no creatures out. We saw no deer, not even a rabbit. The only car that drove past us was the non-waving Mabes. There’s always one unfriendly neighbor in every neighborhood.

At the gate, we climbed up the small rip rap hill and walked around and out. At the end of the road, I usually go left. Left there are homes and paved roads. I went right instead. 

There is a sign just past the turn to our road as you climb north. It says Primitive Road, Not Regularly Maintained. There was pavement for several hundred feet but as we crested the short hill in front of us, that pavement ended. To the left was Ponce de Leon. I love saying that name. Ponce de Leon. Much like I like saying Kuala Lumpur.

Again, we went right, onto Coronado. The pavement crumbled into dirt and rock. There were no homes along the path, though there were the old tracks of off-road vehicles. Riley and I trudged up and down hills, carefully picking our way through rocks and brush, my eyes constantly down watching for snakes or Gila monsters. We stopped again for water and I surveyed the desert. The saguaros are beginning to bud, the ocotillos are already waving with orange flowers. Mesquite and palo verde trees, brittle bush. Everything green and lush by desert standards. To the north, more houses dotted the hills leading up to Mount Lemmon; to the south were the homes in our neighborhood and the city far beyond. 

We kept going. I worried that it might be a harder hike than I anticipated but nearly two and half miles later, we found the paved road of Winnetka Court. Again we turned right, south this time, and found our way back to Mira Vista Canyon Place and home.

We could’ve gone the normal way, the expected way. But I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises. And it made all the difference on this Saturday.

Anadotal. The evidence is in.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 28, 2017 8:47 PM

My husband loves to mispronounce words. He does it on purpose, mostly to aggravate me. And mostly I let him do so. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, and an English major before that, but I’m a stickler for proper spelling and proper pronunciation. I strive to do both; sometimes I succeed. Usually when I don’t it’s not on purpose, as opposed to the husband unit.

We’ve been engaging in this dance for quite some time. Whenever I bring it up he usually tells me that it has something to do with some comedian named Norm Crosby who evidently made a fairly decent living mispronouncing things. In fact, Crosby was known as a master of the malapropism, the use of an incorrect word resulting in a “nonsensical, often humorous utterance.” So sayeth Wikipedia. So sayeth my husband, too, a man well-practiced in the art of the malaprop. 

Yesterday, in the shower, he started talking about anadotal evidence. I don’t know what the original conversation was about, and it was probably about politics, because as soon as he said anadotal, my mind went blank and my brain started to steam. 

“Anadotal,” I said in a tone so flat as to be shoe leather. 

“Yep,” he said, scrubbing shampoo into his hair. “Ana Dotal. She sat in front of me in 4th grade.” 

“Anadotal. Ana Dotal. So… the c is silent?” 

He grinned and stepped under his shower head to wash the suds away and down the drain. 

So we have anadotal evidence of things that aren’t necessarily true or based on fact, much like our current administration. There is no truth or fact because we are living in the world of alternative facts and truthy truths. 

Which leads me to today in the desert. I was in the bedroom, making the bed, or cleaning up or doing something worthwhile when I heard Kevin call to me. He sounded full of angst and/or pain. I came out quickly, wondering what could possibly be the matter. He was grimacing, standing in a weird position, with his body thrust forward, his butt pushed back. 

“What?” I asked, concerned. “Are you ok?” 

“Is there something…” he turned around… “here?” Stuck to his pants was a rather chunky piece of cholla. 

“Yep,” I said, laughing. “Want me to remove it?”

He glared at me. I grinned back.


The cholla I pulled out of the husband-unit's butt

Anecdotally, the husband unit had a piece of cactus stuck to his butt. It meant something, likely that he should stay away from cholla, and that he shouldn’t put his butt in places it doesn’t belong.

Anadotally, of course.

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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live out loud

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

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