March 31, 2007

A Colorful Evening

It was a colorful evening tonight. The contrails were lit up like big magenta arrows all pointing toward Los Angeles. It was also an exciting birding day for Sonja, with four life species. This morning, when she dropped me off at work we spent a couple minutes strolling the trails looking for a Painted Redstart that has been seen displaying for the past three days. No luck on the redstart, but we did spot three life species for Sonja. They included a Bewick's Wren, several Lucy's Warblers, and a Common Black Hawk that we watched fly down to the stream bank to pounce on some unsuspecting invertebrate. That last one was a particularly cool sighting.

And this evening, just minutes before I snapped that picture of the sunset, Sonja saw her first ever Vermillion Flycatcher. I attempted to get a picture of it, but with the dim light, the distance to the bird (it was about 50 yards off), and the fact that I was taking it through binoculars, the results weren't as dramatic as I had hoped.

You can see the brilliant red on this beautiful bird even from this distance. Certainly, if there is any bird that doesn't need a close-up to demonstrate how striking its plumage is, it's this one. Even so, here's a photo of it a little closer so you can see what you're looking at.

We also got to watch a pocket gopher excavating its burrow with a mouth full of dirt.

I took a movie of this little guy, too, but it's even more boring than all the other movies I post on here. So I decided to spare you.

March 29, 2007

Cowpies and Saddle Mittens

Sonja and I took the dogs for a hike this morning. It had been a while since we took them on a really good walk, and since Harvey's arthritis seemed to be under control, opted for a nice 4 mile round trip into the red rocks of Sedona. We also chose this hike because it was so close to Sonja's work that we could go pick up some meds for the dogs to help get rid of these. But I didn't write this post to talk about fleas, as interesting as they are. I had no idea they were so hard to squish. They're heavily armored little suckas.

So, anyway, back to our hike. After a slow drive up a "high clearance vehicles only" road in our not-quite-high-clearance-Subaru, we started our way down toward the Cowpies. Actually, what we saw are a bit different than what you may be familiar with. According to this site, Sedona's Cowpies tend to be rather "swirly" and "vortex-y", not squishy and flattishly brownish-green. We only skirted the edges of the Cowpies on our way up to Mitten Ridge Saddle. For a little change of pace, I'll let most of the photos speak for themselves today (but, as always, you can click on the images for a larger version).

Luna, Sonja and Harvey on the edge of a Cowpie.

Happy dogs!

Mitten Ridge Saddle.

The rest of these are photos of some of the plants living on the edge of the Colorado Plateau.

Lichens on Slickrock.

I've titled this one,
"Little Yellow Flowers with Stick"
(haven't gotten an Arizona flower guide, yet)

Little Yellow Flower Without Stick.

Century Plant
Agave parryi

As you can probably tell, it was a very enjoyable way to spend a morning. Next month we're planning a hike down into the heart of the Sonoran Desert to try to catch the saguaro bloom that is forecast to occur within the next couple weeks.

March 24, 2007

Medieval Madness!

Let's be honest. The only reason we decided to move back to the Lower 48 was so we could attend an honest-to-goodness Renaissance Festival. And there is no better place to get a real experience of medieval Europe than deep in the saguaro forests of southern Arizona!

So last week, Sonja and I found ourselves surrounded by bards, jesters, knights in shining foil, and tavern wenches galore. And to top it all off, the high temp for the day peaked at around 99 degrees, which just meant I was allowed to buy all the authentic 64 oz. medieval sodas filled with mini ice-cubes I wanted. It was fun just to walk the streets poking around in all the shops and marveling at the ability of the costumed fair-goers to withstand the opressive heat while wearing very elaborate and heavy outfits without passing out every five minutes. I had a hard time doing that and I was in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals!

The most exciting part of the fair for me, by far, was the Dungeon Museum. I mean, come on! Who doesn't like a good dungeon?!?

And I knew this was going to be a super-special dungeon, well worth the $1.50 it cost each of us to enter, when we saw this sign at the ticket table.

I'm thinking of putting a similar sign at our front door. Cuz, you know, dungeons can be rather expensive to maintain. And you certainly don't want someone wandering around poking holes in your furniture and miscellaneous torture devices with their sword or staff. Anyway, the dungeon itself was a pleasant break from the Sun-of-Dhoom beating down on our heads outside. They even had authentic medieval fans inside to blow all the body odor around. I was amazed at how crowded the whole fair was, and being herded into this paper-mache' tunnel only reinforced this.

The dungeon exhibits filling the dungeon museum were...well, they just were. This one was my personal favourite (notice the medieval spelling? It helps set the mood for the post). I particularly liked the expression on the guy's face.

I was anticipating some sort of "jump-out-at-you" moment near the end of the tunnel, but the only thing that even came close was a display showing a man with his head in a cage full of talking rats. I was so dismayed (and disappointed that the rats weren't saying anything interesting) that I forgot to take a picture of it.

We headed over to the King's Arena for the obligatory jousting tournament. I don't remember if Sonja had ever seen one of these before or not. But judging from her cackling at the "action" sequences, I'm assuming she hadn't. It was the pretty standard routine. You cheer for the knight (shouting "huzzah", of course) that corresponds to the section you chose to sit in. Then a bunch of grown men run around on horses, hitting each other with sticks and waving swords around. That was it.

Now, I'm not saying I wouldn't jump at the chance to do something like that myself. Cuz it was still really cool, though. Just see for yourself:

Ours was the "green knight". He was the best, of course. Although, we didn't stick around until 5 for the grand finale "joust to the death." Yeah, supposedly when the black and red knight (he's a bad guy) hit the green knight (the good guy, cuz he's blonde) in the back with his lance he set in motion a nasty cycle of chivalrous insults, and therefore deserved to be jousted to death. I'm assuming that the Green Knight survives and is victorious after outmaneuvering assorted dirty tricks perpetrated by the Red and Black Knight. At least, that's what I tell myself in order for me to sleep at night. I couldn't stand it if the Green Knight didn't win. After all, he's STING! And Sting ALWAYS wins!

And no Renaissance Festival would be complete without...llamas???

Yes, apparently medieval Europe was famous for its llama rides. Something the history books never tell you.

March 21, 2007

Global Warming and Flame Retardant Babies

"If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action."

-Al Gore, 03/21/07, testifying before a joint hearing on climate change of the House Energy and Science Committees.

You've gotta love Al. Who else could get away with comparing flame retardant babies with global warming? But it's a great analogy that really gets to the heart of the ridiculous accusations against the science that is unanimous in its conclusions.

Unfortunately, there are still a few morons in Congress (thankfully, the numbers of Congressmen like Texas Rep. Joe Barton are diminishing) who have their heads stuck so far up their asses that they refuse to acknowledge the fact that global climate change is a very real, very HUMAN-CAUSED global crisis. I mean, how can anyone with half a brain ignore the evidence?? Well, I suppose the whole "half a brain" thing does sort of explain it with some of these neo-cons who always cry about "hurting the economy" when someone mentions fighting global warming. What's surprising to me, however, is the recent paradigm shift that seems to have taken over ol' Dubya. Someone must have shown him a pop-up book about global warming or something. Not that I think any of his ideas of how to solve the problem are worth the paper their printed on, but at least he's not publicly denying the fact that we are causing climate change anymore. It's a start. Sort of...

Anyway, if you haven't yet seen "An Inconvenient Truth", I implore you to do so. Every human being, and particularly every American (since it seems that this is the only country left on the planet where debate about the issue is still an issue), should see this movie. There is no issue facing humanity that is more pressing, more urgent, and more dire in its global consequences than climate change. If all of us fail to change our lifestyles and the very way we think about ourselves and our place on this world, no act of terrorism could compare with the global catastrophe that we will face. That we are beginning to face today, even.

Want evidence? Visit Alaska. It's ground-zero for the impacts of global warming. Here's an article that was published in "The Independant", a London newspaper, and picked up later by the Associated Press that describes the evidence of climate change you'll see when you go to Alaska (take special note of the quote they've got in the 6th might recognize the name). Still don't believe it? Email me. I'll send you all sorts of pictures and stories of stuff I witnessed myself.

Anyway, Gore's speech to Congress just got me all fired up. Not that I needed an excuse, of course.

Just go watch the movie.

March 18, 2007

Die Wiener Sängerknaben

A couple nights ago Sonja and I went to see the world reknowned Vienna Boys Choir (or "Die Wiener Sängerknaben" as they are known in Vienna), who were performing for one night in Sedona. They're really famous and stuff. In fact, you might even say they're IN-famous. Seriously, though, it was a really great concert. They even sang "The Lonely Goatherd" and "Edelweis" from The Sound of Music (which is set in Austria, which is where Vienna is).

Another exciting bit from last Friday has to do with me waiting in line at Starbucks in Sedona after dropping Sonja off at work. There I was, trying to decide between getting a tall or a grande double cocoa hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, when I see this vaguely familiar woman approaching. I keep staring at her, thinking I know her from somewhere, or met her recently, when suddenly it dawns on me. It's Parker Freakin' Posey!! You may remember her from such films as Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and Superman Returns. Yeah, so she got in line right behind me, but was on the phone so I didn't want to interrupt her to ask for an autograph, cuz, you know, that would have been tacky. And I'm classier than that. Anyway, I did notice that she ordered a grande double shot skinny latte. At least, I'm pretty sure it was her.

March 15, 2007

I Love the Smell of Birding in the Morning

I could definitely get used to this. Sonja and I woke up this morning to another beautiful sunrise and decided to go for a short birding hike to the picnic area. We've been hearing rumors that assorted neo-tropical migrants are starting to arrive (there's one in particular that I am really excited for Sonja to see), and thought we would take advantage of our day off together and take in the dawn chorus.

While we didn't see any new species, we did encounter a lot of Lesser Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Robins, Gila Woodpeckers, Abert's Towhees, and a beautiful Anna's Hummingbird. We also got a chance to watch a pocket gopher excavating mouthfuls of dirt out of one of its elaborate tunnels. That was a first for both of us.

Sonja needed to run into town for a few errands so I decided to go grab our camera and see what I could capture while the morning light was still good.

First up was a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk perched at the top of a sycamore. I watched it for about five minutes before it took off, diving out of view beyond Beaver Creek. I didn't see it again, so I can only assume it was busy devouring whatever unfortunate critter found itself getting pounced on by a fistful of talons.

Next was a very vocal Northern Cardinal in our backyard. Spring is definitely in the air as every single male bird is busy singing like he's got a pair. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Bet you didn't know I was such a good rhymer.

I'm planning to grow my hair out like this. Fortunately, this is still a viable option for me since, unlike some of my brothers, I still have a full head of hair.

And I just couldn't resist spending a little time with my new pal, Clarence the Shiny Black Beetle. Not quite sure what species it is, yet. My preliminary guess is that it may be a Psydrus piceus, a species of ground beetle. But I haven't taken the time to key it out, so chances are I'm way off. I've seen quite a few of these rather large beetles, always on the ground (hence my assumption that it is a "ground beetle"). Pretty smart guess, huh? Anyway, I thought he was cool. He even cooperated with me to perform this little high-wire acrobatic stunt (click on the picture to watch Clarence in action!).

March 14, 2007

The unicorn did it!

If you ever find yourself in a pickle, there's a new excuse that you can use. I'm not saying it's a GOOD excuse, mind you...just a new one.

So, I guess this means you should never let a unicorn offer to be a designated driver after you take a night out on the town. Apparently, they are not very good behind the wheel.

But it's never good to stereotype an entire species like that. Perhaps it just forgot to bring along its rainbow. Everyone knows that unicorns just aren't themselves without their rainbow.

And, in other news Apple Computers has recently announced a new iProduct. I think it's really going to revolutionize the way we all look at the world.

Thanks to Steve for bringing this new technological marvel to my attention.

March 13, 2007

But, it's a DRY heat!

The past couple of days have given us our first taste of "real" Arizona heat since arriving in the state. Today, at the castle the high was 88 degrees. Considering that the highest temps we ever saw in Seward maxed out around 79 degrees, this is pretty significant. Not that I'm complaining, yet, of course. But to tell you the truth, it hasn't been all that bad. And that means that the temps during the peak of summer only get another 20 degrees above this. I could do another 20 degrees. I think.

The heat we've been experiencing also means that my first ever encounter with one of these is approaching. My coworkers are even looking forward to my first rattlesnake experience. In fact, just this morning as I opened the visitor center I discovered a little present left behind by last night's closing staff. Yeah, I guess they figure leaving a fake snake inside the cash drawer of the register for me to find first thing in the morning is their way of prepping me for the real thing. It's not that I'm freaked out by rattlesnakes. On the contrary, I think they are way cool. . . an amazing example of evolutionary adaptation. How can you not think an animal that sees the world like the Predator from one of the best Ah-nold movies ever is neato? I'm actually looking forward to hearing the ominous rattle for the first time. Seriously, I think this is one of the only times that a human being can experience a primal instinctual reaction, at least in North America. Well, I suppose coming face-to-face with a grizzly might produce the same visceral reaction, but I've already done that. So this is all I've got left. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Anyway, that's not why I was posting this evening. Instead, I uploaded some pictures Sonja took on Sunday of her hike with the dogs on the Wet Beaver Creek Trail near our place.

This is actually the first time I've seen them. Here's a pretty flower she found. Looks sorta rose-ish or rhododendronny to me. Honestly, though, I haven't got a clue. Besides, it's not like it's anything important like a bird or something.

And a happy, post-swimming hole encountering Luna near the pretty flowery bush thing. Isn't she awesome? Best. Dog. Ever.

And, finally...

I figured it was about time I try to stop all the moaning and complaining that I haven't posted any pictures of the inside of our house, yet. So, I'll start tonight with our livingroom.

It's our couch. Well, not really our couch. More like the house's couch. Or the park's couch. Ok, so it is A couch. With a Luna attached. That's not our table or chairs, either. But the pictures on the wall are ours.

Not our TV, either. Nor is that our coffee table or entertainment center standy thingy. But the plants belong to us. As does all the crap sitting on the coffee table. I think the light bulb in the ceiling light may actually be ours, as well. But I could be mistaken. The house doesn't belong to us, either. But many of you already knew that. And I think the carpetting will probably stay with the house. But I've heard we get to keep any dust bunnies we collect. Which is pretty cool, since they make pretty good pets!

March 05, 2007

An Overdue Oscar Rundown

Ok, so being at a workshop in Denver for a week certainly cuts down on one's blogging frequency. And I was so excited to do a big ol' analysis of the Oscars. Oh well... Now that the excitement has completely worn off, all I can really do is acknowledge the winners and brag about the fact that, unlike most people, I correctly forecast the upset win of "Das Leben der Anderen" over "El Laberinto del Fauno" for best foreign film. Now I guess I should be sure to see Leben, eh?

As for the ceremony, I think Patrick had it right when he made the comment on my last Oscars post regarding its ho-hum-ness. Although, I loved Ellen's MCing. Her little camera bit with Eastwood and Spielberg was priceless! I could have done without all the weird dancing, that strange costume design skit thing, and the bizarre and completely unnecessary "Ra-ra, go America film industry!" montage. But as a whole I thought it was a pretty good show. Certainly worth the four hours and ten minutes I spent watching it.

Not much else to add right now. Although, on her way to come pick me up from work yesterday Sonja saw our resident wild felid as it ran in front of her car about 100 yards from our house. She chased it into the woods but wasn't quite as adept at navigating the thorny underbrush as the cat. Very cool sighting, though! And I suppose I need to get around to taking pictures of our house for those of you who have been bugging me to post some pictures. Although why anyone would want to look at photos of our unmade bed is beyond me.

And, just so you know...that's not our bed.