Saguaro Sentinels

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At sundown, they stand in silhouette

Silent in the fading orange light, ultimate icons of the great West

How many parched cowboys, with sweat stained bandanas drooped about their necks, have lead weary, spavined horses through the Sonoran Desert, weaving under and around the massive arms and prickly spines of the Saguaro cactus; all three with their own story of survival?

–No one can look at a Saguaro cactus for the first time and look away.

Saguaros are viewed as much more than a plant.  People see in them what they want to see.  Some loan these desert giants giant John Wayne personalities and loads of Wile E. Coyote animation!  We put Santa outfits on them at Christmas time.  Other seasons find them standing guard in subdivisions, sporting clown-sized sunglasses with a ten gallon hat and a shiny gold star pinned to their chest.  Woodpeckers peck bullet holes in them.  They accept these insults with a wink.  Saguaros steal our hearts because we feel empathy for them, stoic in their thirst against a blinding blue sky.

Saguaro Cactus are part legend, part song, and can be found everywhere–not just growing in portions of southern and central Arizona and northwestern Mexico!   A forth grade classroom in Wisconsin in February has Saguaros pictured and plastered across a cork board in the hall.  These sentinels stand in our living rooms while we watch Clint Eastwood “Hang ‘Em High” all over again.  Saguaros live in everyone who has experienced them (and they are an experience!)  Their arms hold our awe.

I am a changed person after having seen, felt and “knowing” them for the first time at age 54.  They are patient.  They are still.  They are funny. They are real.  They are strange.  They are heroes of the southwest.  They are inspiring and beautiful.  They are survivors.  They are miracles.   They stole my heart.

Facts About Saguaro (pronounced “suh-wha-ro”)

  • Bigger ones are 25-35 feet tall, some reaching 50′
  • The average Saguaro is 125 to 175 years old
  • They don’t grow “arms” until they are at least 50 years old
  • A mature 35′ cactus can weight 7.5 tons or 14,000 lbs.
  • They are 95 percent water
  • Of all U.S. states, only Arizona and California (with only 100 of them) have Saguaros
  • They started to grow in Arizona only 10,000 years ago
  • They produce 40 million seeds in a lifetime and only one seed might survive
  • In full sun, a Saguaro seed will die so they find “nurses”…thriving only under rocks or plants to hide under for protection
  • Cactus spines are finally tough enough at 12″ tall to deter predators such as birds and caterpillars
  • Average annual growth is 8″ to 9″ because they are busy growing a massive root system
  • A mature Saguaro can drink one ton of water after a heavy rain
  • It breathes at night, when air is coolest
  • The spines or spikes can provide as much as 70% shade for the plant
  • Reproduction starts at about 50-60 years of age
  • Their flowers blossom at midnight and die by next day’s noon sun
  • Once pollinated, the flowers become fruit and a source of nutrition for desert animals and insects such as bats, birds, bees, desert tortoises, javelinas, rabbits, squirrels, wood rats coyotes, and foxes.
  • Winged white doves eat the fruit and the seeds are pooped out and spread this way
  • They are reluctant bird houses for gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers as these long beaked birds dig out cavities to raise their young
  • Saguaros, enjoying celebrity status, bring in the most scientific research dollars to the desert habitat

 A Western Legend about the Saguaro (a tall tale) that is worthy!

Joe Mulhatton was a man living on Arizona’s frontier.  He wears a big hat, boots that go jingle-jangle, and a fringed jacket that’s too clean and well-kept to be anything but decoration.  He is sitting behind a glass of really horrible whiskey in a shack-like saloon telling a story that shouldn’t, by any reasonable standard, attract a single believer.

He lived in Florence, southeast of Phoenix, an area where saguaros grow as thick as the tales, and in 1899 (true story) he told the following tale that was picked up and printed by several newspapers around the Territory.

Joe claimed that giant saguaros around Florence exerted an extraordinary magnetic force, probably , he theorized, from vast beds of copper running beneath the earth.  Because of this great power, each plant could attract or repel any object that drew close.  In his story, Mulhatton told of two unsuspecting tramps who took refuge underneath some of these monsters and of the grisly disaster that ensued.  He swore:

“One of the men was at once drawn up to and impaled on the sharp blades of the cactus, while the octopus-like arms folded around him crushing him through and into the cactus, where his blood, flesh and bones turned into a pulp very much like ordinary mucilage, which trickled out slowly from the aperture made by the passing in of the man’s body.

He went on to tell how the cactus loses its magnetic power while it is digesting its victim.  “So we were enabled to look at this wonderful yet gruesome sight and report about these particulars.”  A negative cactus repelled the second tramp and heaved his body about 100 feet against a positive one, whereupon he met the same fate.

Mulhatton’s story originally ran in the Florence Tribune, and it so impressed the editors of the Tombstone Epitaph that they printed a subsequent version with added details. 

It seems Mulhatton himself approached to within 100 feet of one of the man-eating cacti, but it was “all he could do to resist its influence to draw him in.”  He then returned to the town to fetch a rope, planning to tie it around his waist while four of his friends wrapped their arms around him and held on.  Mulhatton wanted to “approach near enough to minutely examine the wonder without danger.”

A traveling salesman in his work life, brave Joe, we can assume, was accustomed to approaching thorny customers.  In telling his story, however, there is something more going on than a prankster creating nonsense for kerosene-lamp entertainment. At the bottom of the Tribune version, Mulhatton concluded:  “There is very little travel through this wild section of Arizona, or this species of cactus would have been written about sooner.”  (Note the implicit danger in that statement, the romance and the mystery.  What’s out there?   Will I survive it?  Am I tough enough?)

Everyone who ever braved the Western frontier has asked those questions.  The man-eating cactus was less a story than an invitation–a dare to test ourselves against “wild Arizona,” using the saguaro as the lure.  Joe Mulhatton was an early practitioner of the art of promotion, a pioneer in more ways than one, and his legend lives on.

 

Harmony

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Bright blue, blinding cotton-candy skies shifted above me, demanding sunglasses.  A light, cooling breeze drifted across my forehead as I navigated a Kevlar clad canoe around the rocky outcrops and pebble beaches of the Michigamme Reservoir on an eighty degree June day. 

 

 

 

 

It was a day when the sun’s rays beat the waves into submission and they penetrated my bare shoulders until my skin emitted a summer, smoky smell.

 

 

Way up in a solar glare, birds with wing spans of four feet soared this way and that on the breeze; hang-gliders!  Deer, driven out of their grassy beds by mosquitoes, stood in the open, at the water’s edge, quenching parched throats with long, protracted sucks as though through straws.  Bees buzzed in the wildflowers and jumping frogs escaped from shore.

Harmony.  The swift, silent canoe blended into nature’s scene and through its silent glide, it afforded me the opportunity to observe nature undisturbed.

It lifted my soul as we (my faithful dog, Remi, and I) paddled from island to island one glorious afternoon last year.

 We began the trip together in the canoe.  

She sitting forward and not a jiggle.  I paddled.  On this day, though, it occurred to me to experiment with the dog by pulling up to a beach, off loading her, and then resuming my paddling to see what her reaction would be.

Harmony.  As I maintained a distance of about ten feet from the shoreline, she continued to run along with me, happy as a clam. 

 

We were both confident in this new endeavor and the resulting partnership was fun. She proved herself a true athlete, climbing cliffs and swimming in bigger water, next to the canoe, when we had to get to another island.  I marveled at her busy feet, stroking to an internal count, underwater. Her gait was steady, confident, and strong.

We traveled in silence, each under our own power.  We were a team.  We were on an adventure.  We learned to trust.

Harmony.  A very special day for both Remi and me.

 

If You Feed Them, They Will Come

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During this winter, in particular, the forest animals that scrape out a living on our Michigan farmland have suffered record breaking arctic blasts of wind and cold.  Last week, the mercury bottomed out at -26 degrees for days on end.  The wind chills are reported nightly at -30 and higher for extended periods.  Several astute shoppers reported a deer sighting in aisle 12 at the Walmart store, where long johns are sold.  Considering all that the squirrels, deer, and birds are enduring, it is amazing to me to see, in so many of them, a persistent cheery disposition.  It is more than I can say of myself.

The bunnies, skunks and racoons are bundled up in underground nests and haven’t stopped by to say hello in a long time.  I think my two fat nanny goats are still alive.  It is hard to tell because they have stuffed themselves into a small, straw filled dog house in their barn stall.  Their only sign of life this winter has been when I hear a bunch of scritch-scratching inside the dog goat house.  Eventually, one gets unwedged enough to stick a nose out to “see”  if I’ve got a treat in my pocket.    I found a fur-lined mouse nest in the corner of my barn that was chock full of the little devils and I didn’t have the heart to turn them out.

A little six point buck. We’ll let him grow another couple of years before he ends up in the freezer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our favorite pastime has been keeping the binoculars pointed at the blue corn can at the edge of our woods.  (I was going to write “forest” but I think “woods” is really more accurate.)   On Saturday mornings, we pour shell corn into the can.  Without this supplement, I think many of our pregnant does would perish or abort.  Then we keep a suet stash going for my woodpeckers and pour lots of seeds and nuts in the tube feeder.  When the first winter blizzard  hit, we noticed a clutch of hen turkeys spying the bird feeders and they couldn’t reach them.  Now I dump 25 lbs. of bird seed a week on the ground, at the base of the old shell bark hickory tree, for them.  We hit pay dirt last night with a hard count of 46 turkeys gobbling up the food. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m fully expecting a kill-off at our pond this spring.  I hope not, but will not be surprised if all the fish have suffocated due to the thickness of the ice.  We had a fish kill situation about ten years ago and I had never seen anything like it.  Dead fish by the ten thousands were strewn up on the shoreline, suffocated and washed up.  Very sad.

This spring we will be watching something new and exciting in our woods.  Two eagles have claimed our land and have built a magnificent nest high in the tree tops.  Traditionally, eagles have only been spotted in northern Michigan.   We are happy to host them but they had better keep their beaks out of my hen house!  We didn’t lose any chickens to them last year so I am guessing that they are good fisherman on the big lake and even better  mousers in the fields.  Yesterday, I saw a couple of mackinaw clad ‘possums hitching a ride out of town on the noon train–obviously adopting a “better safe than sorry” strategy!

Look at Mr. Bushy-Tail

 

 

 

Locked and Loaded

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I’m pretty excited about THIS so I’m using lots of capital letters.

The iCPooch is REVOLUTIONARY.  This INTERACTIVE care device was invented by a 13 year old girl who had a dog that suffered from separation anxiety.  AND IT WORKS.  You can feed and talk to your dog when you are away.

Lock and load some treats in one of the four little trays that slide down a hopper.  Mine doesn’t stay clean long…usually there are bacon crumbles or cracker bits laying on the bottom.   Sync the feeder to your phone using the app.  (It was so easy even a 54 year old could do it.)

Now leave the room or leave the house or leave the state or leave the country.  When the spirit moves you, open the app to send a signal to DROP A TREAT!  There is a mechanical sound when the chute pops open and it took my dog 1.5 times to memorize it.   Works better than hearing aids.  She might not move when I call her from the next room, but let that chute sound off and BOOM.

Now here’s the best part…if you have a tablet laying around, you can opt to attach it to the front of the feeder to talk to your dog and see your dog on FaceTime.  SERIOUSLY.  YOU CAN CALL YOUR DOG ON THE PHONE.  Have her do tricks for you, too, sometimes, before releasing the treat.  I feel like I’m living in the future, in a Jetson’s cartoon.

iCPooch is fun for both of us and if you have a spare buck fifty laying around, get one.  It works on cats, too.  But I don’t like cats.  Not yet, anyway.  Everyone says I will when I get old.   I’m all about that pup, ’bout that pup, ’bout that pup…no kitties.

Here’s the website:

http://www.icpooch.com/

 

Conehead, the Barbarian

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Zipping through open fields on a frosty winter morning, hunting Birdies in Michigan, is all fun and games until someone ends up sporting a cone. 

Miss Priss had been working those ditch rows for pheasants, racing for hours with the grace and agility of a pronghorn antelope–or maybe it was like the “seven lords a leaping,” ~you decide.

At times, she was only wild ears flopping and rapid-fire recon eyes with a heart that wouldn’t quit.  The switchgrass is so tall; she was essentially running blind and bursting up through it.  She made course corrections this way.  You don’t have to teach a dog to hunt, you have to teach a dog to listen and to obey.

All day, she cut right or left to the whistle and aligned herself with the shotgun and the man that would ultimately produce her prize.  Teamwork.  After a couple of productive hours, our son, Adam,  had six birds in the bag. 

 Good dog, good day. 

 Then there was the blood.  On the floor.  That night.   Diagnosis:  a torn front foot pad. 

We put a little bootie on her foot and added a blow up donut ring around her neck for “insurance.”  Everyone went to bed.  In the morning, the bootie was gone.  She ate it.

Next up, the cage muzzle.  We didn’t have one so I ran to two pet stores to find the best fit. This way, I thought, she could get around easily, heal up, and it would prevent  her licking the paw to death me from having bruised shins and calves (if we had to go nuclear with a cone).  I tied extra straps to it for “insurance” and confidently went to work.  I am an overachiever, after all.

When I came home, she was at the door with an angel face–but the devil is in the details:  she was dragging all the yarn, five miles of medical tape, and the muzzle from her collar.  The foot was inflamed,  raw meat was hanging off of it, and she crapped a blue bootie, too.   Next stop, the vet’s office.

Yes, Remi,

my industrious

German Shorthaired Pointer,

my liebling gummibärchen,

you have earned that cone of shame.

 

 

 

Pussy Galore

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Six days of searching for any big cat sign, hunting in the wilderness five hours east of Vancouver, in Canada,  yielded little more than some minor chaffing and disappointment.  My husband was smelling ripe after wearing the same clothes ever since his outpost cabin burned down.  Admittedly, he was jinxed getting a lynx.

On the last day of the hunt, in the last hour, he heard a big Tom screech.  His mind’s eye flickered with a flashback to the old Mercury car commercials….it was the throaty growl of a confident cougar!  High stepping in stealth mode, John stalked it.  When he was within 50 yards, he realized that this old boy was about to mount a female.  Two cougars!

He turned off the safety, gingerly raised the barrel, took aim through the scope, and expertly blew that big Tom right off of the back of his woman.  185 lbs. of muscle and mean collapsed and fell to the ground.  He thought about letting the cat have his fun first, but he thought, “Oh, this cat is screwed already.”  With daylight fading, he really had no choice but to pull the trigger.  BOOM.   John gutted it and flanked the hide over his shoulders for the walk out.

The next morning, he transferred his trophy from the outfitter’s truck to the roof of a rented Alero and headed for the border.  There was six inches of fresh snow on the road and a blowing arctic wind swirled mercilessly with whiteouts; visibility was less than 20 feet and it was pitch-black-out-early.  No moon.  He had lots of luck on this trip, but it was mostly bad.

Now it is one thing to travel internationally with a rifle, a load of bullets, and some raw meat and quite another to do the same without identification, luggage, or money and projecting an aroma much like Pig-Pen’s from the Peanuts Comic Strip.   The fire had reduced all of his worldly possessions to ash.  He had no real shelter, no water, and no  civilization for a week. There were tracks as wide as I-75 in his under britches and his socks smelled of something that died a long time ago.  He was technically destitute in a foreign country and had to prove  he was a U.S. Citizen to the Consulate in Vancouver by knowing the full names, dates of birth, and cities of birth of both of his parents and his wife.  Successful, he was then photographed in his filthy clothing and his sprouting, grey beard.  New Passport in hand, he had what he needed to claim a seat on the next flight home.  I was thankful not to be anywhere on that airplane.

With his usual luck, the next best flight home hopscotched across the country in every direction with three big layovers and four connections lasting two days.  He landed in hot climates wearing his only shirt, a heavy woolen one, which caused beads of sweat to fester between his shoulder blades and roll down into his butt crack.  He soldiered on in his wet pants and heavy boots, arriving in Detroit 20 hours later.  I saw a lady being wheeled out with an oxygen mask and wondered, “Coincidence?”

 

 

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