Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday goodies: Great blue herons

Happy Monday! Time for a picture break. I need me some birds.

Before further (kid-caused, technology-caused, or other-issue-caused) ado -- herons! Great blue herons, to be exact. Fishing, eating, glaring, and generally being awesome.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday 5: Five things you should be doing tomorrow

The summer's been kind of ghastly, so it's no surprise that there were scant few festivities planned over the last few months that didn't involve air conditioning, ice cream, and/or water. I was hoping we were about to pick back up in the events department, but whoa, you guys. It seems that every one of my pet interests is throwing a party on the same day. I certainly can't be at everything, but if you want my opinion, you should totally be in one or more of these spots September 24.

1. National Public Lands Day

A great day to volunteer to spruce up your favorite land, and as a nice bonus, free admission to the Grand Canyon! And total do-gooder karma. Many different sites have organized clean-ups, renovations, and awesome-ifying efforts all over, several just in Arizona. Remove alien buffelgrass in the Ironwood Forest, restore mule deer habitat on the Kaibab Plateau, work on the South Rim at the Grand Canyon, pick up trash at several sites, and just generally improve things. And hey, free admission!

It's not just Arizona that's doing this one; it's the whole country. If you've got Saturday free, check it out and find something in your area.

2. Arizona Insect Festival

Seriously, could there be a cooler festival? For the first time, from 8 a.m. to noon tomorrow on the University of Arizona Mall, you can go learn all about venom, multifaceted eyes, decomposition, pollination, and all kinds of other awesome insect-related topics at more than 20 booths and displays at the 2011 Arizona Insect Festival. There will be stuff to see, magnify, hold, build, and -- if you're brave -- eat. They even have a zoo for the non-insect arthropods! Good times. Bring you camera!

3. Bye Bye Buzzards

So you may have heard me say once or twice how I like turkey vultures. Tomorrow marks the 20th annual Bye Bye Buzzards Day, celebrating the birds as the migratory flock heads to Mexico. Arrive early (the arboretum opens an hour early, at 7 a.m.) if you want to see the arboretum's resident vultures warm their wings and take off in the morning. They usually take to the air around 8 or 8:30. During and afterward, you can enjoy a bird talk and bird walk by ASU Professor Dave Pearson.

If you get there a little later, there's always the Arizona Game & Fish living exhibit of birds, reptiles and small mammals, which will be set up from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the Smith Building. They'll have a turkey vulture, of course, and always bring a rotating cast of photogenic birds and other animals with them, including hawks, owls, herons, hummingbirds, and other rehabilitated but unreleasable animals. Again, bring your camera.

4. Butterfly Bash

Head to the Chandler Environmental Education Center at Veteran's Oasis Park tomorrow for a huge (free!) dose of butterfly. Guided walks, booths, presentations, crafts, face painting, and more all celebrate everyone's favorite photogenic insects, with information on butterflies' lives and especially the remarkable monarch migration. Be there from 10 to 10:30 a.m. to watch a live release of monarchs -- if you're lucky, you might get to help.

I probably don't need to say it, but bring a camera.

5. Free Museum Day

Again, this isn't an Arizona-only observance, but Arizona's certainly got some good participating museums. Smithsonian Magazine has declared September 24 Museum Day. If you go to their website, you can download a ticket for two free admissions. That simple. I'm looking at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, if I can squeeze it in. Go to the site to see which museums are participating. It's a great way to check out a new one at no cost! If you have kids, I'd try the Arizona Museum for Youth, or the Museum of Natural History. You can't beat the dinosaur museum. (P.S. It has a ton of other cool stuff. But you know your kids call it that too.)

Those are my recommendations. There's more going on, but these were the biggest blips on our radar for Saturday. If you come to a certain entomological or scavenger-themed event, look for me!

If you run out of day tomorrow, there are plenty of ongoing things too:
  • The Big Bugs at Desert Botanical Garden. I'm totally going there. With a camera. Probably more than once.
  • The Flagstaff Festival of Science runs from today until October 2.
  • The Phoenix Zoo just got baby Komodo dragons! Yes, I do think they're cute. Yes, I know I'm weird. But they really are. Catch them through spring 2012.

And more. Share in the comments, or just tell me where you'll be this weekend. Happy weekend, everyone. Here's to hoping the fall actually remembers to arrive.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday goodies: Flame skimmers

Flame skimmers are one of my very favorite dragonflies, and that's saying something. For something so striking, so exotically gorgeous, they sure are accessible. Here, some recent shots, including a couple new ones:

They're just ludicrously beautiful, right?

Happy Monday, everyone.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday 5: Cooling off for cheapskates

September's well underway, with temperatures all the way down into the mid 90s, but OMG, you guys! Did you know that we had the hottest August ever? Well, yeah. If you live in the state and opened a newspaper, website, or magazine or watched television at all last month, you surely do know, because someone ran the "Breaking News! Arizona still hot" story at least once a day. But it seriously was really hot. Still, it was better than another hottest year I remember, when I didn't have the luxury of hastening from air-conditioned cocoon to air-conditioned cocoon.

When I was five years old, my family moved here from the Buffalo, New York area. My parents -- apparently operating under the logic that "We need a change of scenery" equals "Let's move to the most opposite climate possible" -- soon narrowed their prospects down to the Phoenix area and a few similar regions in the southern United States. I remember having fish named "Phoenix" and "Mesa" while we still lived in Depew. It was all terribly exotic.

Soon, we packed up our three cats (they were less than thrilled) and our family of five, and moved to the desert. At first, we lived in apartments and townhouses, but after a couple of years we got our own place, a double-wide mobile home at the foothills of the Goldfield Mountains, just outside of Apache Junction. Mobile homes out here kind of equal houses, and at that time especially, if you lived out in the boonies -- as we did -- it was the way to go. Wood siding was added, and it looked very house-y.

We had our home. We actually had our own section of road, a sizable front yard, and seemingly a whole mountain range as our backyard.

We did not have much money, however, and now my parents were responsible for all the amenities in our home -- and paying for them. Consequently, we did not have air conditioning.

This was during a summer that hit the 120s more than a few times. I remember sitting in the car (which also lacked air conditioning), waiting to pick up my dad from work. It was 123. Squiggly heat waves emanated from the parking lot. It was like sitting in an oven that's on top of a frying pan. My mom thought rolling down the window might help. The air outside was -- surprise -- 123 degrees, so this didn't accomplish much.

We couldn't afford air conditioning of any sort for a while. However, there were a few ways we found to beat the heat.

1. Ghetto swamp cooler

We couldn't afford swamp cooling either, for some time. With neither swamp cooling nor air conditioning, fans were an absolute necessity in our house. Still, there's only so much pushing-around-hot-air that you can do with any effect. It basically just felt like giant hair driers everywhere. So we improvised.

It was simple. Take a big box fan. Take a wet rag and drape it over the fan. Presto: your own homemade evaporative cooling system. There was no sweeter experience in our house that summer than having moist, coolish air blowing directly into one's face; unless one was also blocking the fan and hogging it from one's sister or brother.

2. Visiting the mall and library. A lot.

And K-Mart. And department stores. And museums when they had free days. If we could find somewhere that was air conditioned, we practically camped out. There are few things in my life that I've savored as much as the first gust of icy air as automated doors slid apart and I walked from the oven-temperature day and heat-softened asphalt into the cool respite of a grocery store.

The library was one of our favorite hangouts. I think I completed the library's reading programs in their entirety for three summers straight. They must have thought I was insanely crazy about books. I was, of course, but mostly we were just bumming off their air conditioning.

3. Swimming

A natural choice. We swam all the time. We went to Canyon Lake regularly, and hung out at the public pool a whole lot. But when we couldn't get to either one of those, we took a dunk in our own pool.

For those of you who remember my family's in-ground pool, that came WAY later. I mean our above-ground "pool." Such as it was.

It looked about like this:Keep in mind, I was at least eight to ten years old at this point, so this was pretty undignified. I didn't care. It was wet, and kind of cold, and if my mom wasn't looking I could splash my sister or throw mud on my brother, which made them cry, which was always entertaining.

4. Mooching

We certainly weren't above mooching. I spent several weeks that summer befriending a neighbor. We didn't have anything in common. She once dared me to jump from her shed roof to a power line to see if I would get zapped -- and I did it. (I escaped electrocution; I think she was disappointed.) She really wasn't a good influence. But she let me sit in her air-conditioned room while eating cold pizza and watching Duck Tales, so I was her friend. Another time, we took a van we clearly could not afford; but which had astoundingly cold air conditioning; for a much-longer-than-necessary test drive. I held my face in front of the vent until my nose hurt from the cold.

5. Indecency

My brother spent the entire summer in nothing but a pair of briefs featuring the character Mouser from Super Mario Bros. 2. My sister and I like to tease him, but we really weren't much better. I had a pair of hot pink shorts that I favored, mostly because the fabric was only slightly heavier than air. I think they were about three inches long. My sister had a very similar pair, and we'd wear them with any comfortable, small shirt we could find, which never matched. (I had an orange one I liked. No, I really don't know what I was thinking.)

My dad might have been the worst of us. He had a seemingly endless collection of what looked like well-worn hot pants from the '60s. They were usually red or yellow or some awful color, and he usually wore them with an equally awful and ill-fitting shirt in a clashing shade. My mom tried to rotate them out of circulation via the laundry pile, but they never did seem to disappear. I remember a particularly awful combination of red shorts and a "He who dies with the most toys wins" shirt that I think he must still be wearing.


I guess what I'm saying is we were desperate. Loving and happy, but sweaty and cheap and desperate. We're helping my mom move some stuff tomorrow, and her air conditioning's been in various states of not-working for the last forever. We'll only have to be in and out of it a few times, when it's not even that hot, but she's been dealing with it this whole time.

It will come as no surprise to any of you who know my mom to learn that she was the only one who probably survived the summer in the 120s with some degree of dignity and equanimity. Last month, with varied other hassles and troubles, and no air conditioning on top of it all, she didn't resort to sibling torture or sitting around in video-game-character underwear even one time. The lady's a trooper.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No fear

Someone told me again today. I should teach my son to fear. Revere? I asked. Respect? No, they said. Fear. A little fear is healthy.

The context doesn't matter. I've heard it many times. Fear strangers. Fear injury. Fear failure. Fear the other.

Fear God. Fear authority.

Fear me. His father.

Sometimes people actually say "fear" -- I am shocked, every time -- but sometimes, they only imply it. Better to fear injury than to be injured. Fearing parents means you obey them. Fearing the stove keeps you from being burned. Fearing gods saves your soul. You have to teach him to be afraid of something, don't you? You're not going to just teach him to go up to the whole world and ask it what's up, now, are you? What if THINGS HAPPEN?

Really, I can think of no more soul-crushing experience than fear. So yes; that's exactly what I'm doing. He'll know fear in his life, and I'm sad just knowing that. It's a natural, visceral reaction to evil or tragedy, I think, and it's understandable. But it should never be a strategy. It should never be a decision. I will never teach him to fear. For as long as possible, I'm going to keep him from really knowing fear. If I screw up everything else; I'm really, really proud of doing this one thing. It's not about being brave. It's about being alive.

Go on; change my mind. I'm completely serious. Tell me one single instance in which fear -- not caution, not prudence, not revulsion, but fear -- is the way to go. I'll make an exception.

You can't, can you?

What's up, world?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday goodies: Vultures

Happy Monday! I know the Tea Party debate is on and all, but instead of watching a bunch of black-and-red-clad carrion pickers flocking and fighting over the same scraps again and again ... how about looking at my vulture pictures?

See? Much more graceful.

Happy belated International Vulture Day, and you should totally come to the 20th annual Bye Bye Buzzards Day at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, coming up September 24th.

All new-to-this-blog vulture pics. For more vulturey goodness, check here and here (Day 46).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never forget ... to live

Confession: I forgot Sunday was 9/11.

OK. I didn't totally forget. I wrote a short post Friday about it, though to be fair, that post is mostly links to incredible works others have produced. I didn't forget. It's part of our identity now.

I got up this morning, though, thinking about life. And not even in a 9/11 or patriotic way, either. Just plain, happy, sunshine-on-my-face, broken-down-swingset-in-the-backyard-with-my-son, big-misshapen-blueberry-pancakes kind of happy. I think this is the right way to go.

"Never forget" always seemed a little odd to me. I know it's our way of honoring the victims and heroes of that day. I know it's about going back, at least once a year, to the day where the very worst brought our our very best. I know it means "Never become complacent," but somehow, I don't see that happening.

"Never forget" is superfluous, in a way. How could we ever forget? And it always looks like an admonition to keep the tragedy alive, to keep the deaths alive. I don't want to do that. I want to keep their lives alive.

It's not just 9/11. I don't remember the day my dad died. I never do. But I celebrate his birthday every year, in some way. I'm positive that's how he'd have wanted it.

"Remembering is all I can do," I overheard someone saying during a conversation this weekend. But, I wanted to say, it's NOT all you can do.

You're not powerless. You can make new memories. You can live more. You can love harder. And you probably are. You get credit for living. You should feel immensely empowered for that. That is doing something. It's not running away from 9/11. It's not forgetting.

I'm the very last person you want to go to for 9/11 expertise, so really, go elsewhere. But if you really want to know my opinion, I think we should add "to live" to our commemorative motto.

Never forget to live.

Maybe it's a reminder to me more than anyone. Because I sometimes do forget.

So I'm going to be sure, today and this week, to go on living. I'll post a "Monday goodies" tomorrow (someone please help me think of a better title for that feature) -- vultures. Which are all about life and beauty, despite what you may have heard. And today, I'll go back outside with my son and squeeze my oversized ass onto the undesized swing set seat once again. I'll hike and photograph and try not to get ant-bitten like yesterday. I'll help my kid bake some brownies.

I'll look east (if I can remember which direction that is) and yes, I will remember. There's a 9/11-shaped hole in my heart too. But I'll go on. Death will have the very last word, after all. I want to have as much to say on the side of life while I'm able.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday 5: 9/11

I'm writing another "Friday 5," but as I completed the story about accidentally pushing my mom off a cliff at Canyon Lake, it occurred to me that this might not be the week for it. Instead, here are a few really good things about 9/11 I've read or watched recently. Antidotes to it, really. They lean Arizona-ward, coverage-wise, but no matter where you're from, please do share others in the comments. The more we read and learn about each other's experiences -- any experiences, really -- the further away from terror we are.

1. Arizona teacher's life forever changed by 9/11

The local-guy angle, but as they all are, so much more. He lost someone. He comforted and was comforted. He sat, surrounded by thousands of raised voices, at the first World Series ever played in the state of Arizona, a short while later. Arizona won, but that was secondary. The soul of America, as he says, came out then. This guy is good people.

2. The Second Day

A few years ago, Brook Peters decided he would make a film about September 11 and its aftermath to give voice to a group of people no one had heard from much. He started filming his documentary, and managed to gain national and international coverage.

And then he turned 12.

He's 14 now, and this guy is pretty amazing. You can watch the whole film for $3.99, but you definitely should at least watch the trailer.

3. Surviving the Fall

If you haven't read "The Falling Man," Tom Junod's piece for Esquire, you should. The Falling Man. You know the photo. In the first essay, he tells about the search for the man. In "Surviving," he puts him to rest, in a way. Difficult, intimate and well done.

4. The mothers who found forgiveness, friendship

Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi are both mothers who have lost sons. Rodriguez lost her son in the World Trade Center attacks; el-Wafi's son was involved in the attacks and is currently serving a life sentence. They are friends. I really don't know how they do it -- either of them. This is amazing. They are amazing. Watch.

5. Gilbert, and "Mesa - the day before the 9/11 attack"

Please, especially if you're in the area, do read about and think about attending some of the memorial activities. Gilbert's Week of Tribute is wrapping up, concluding a week of activities to memorialize and commemorate not only those directly involved in 9/11, but all of our ties to community and family. There's a great "Preserving Family" event Saturday at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve (as long as it doesn't rain), with family activities galore, which I'll be trying to make. I've heard on good authority that solar telescopes might be out for public use too. Also, they'll have donuts!

Check here for more activities, and mostly, just have a good weekend with your family.

Also, Mesa. In Mesa, like everywhere, the world didn't stop spinning on 9/11. Stuff -- little and big -- didn't stop happening. It just seemed that way. Good story.

OK, so I guess I sneaked in an extra one there. I like these, though. Check 'em out if you haven't. Let me know what inspires you. And have a good weekend.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday goodies: Sunsets

You know something weird? Mondays are my favorite days. Really.

I think it might have something to do with my ongoing ineptitude at getting things -- anything, really -- done on time. I have imagination and wonder and creativity to spare, but sometimes it works against me, sort of paralyzing me from staying on any one course for longer than half a day. By the time Friday comes, I'm always it's here already, and me with so little done. And even on good weeks, Friday means the END of the week. No more stuff to accomplish.

But Monday? It marks new week, full of new possibilities. If I can catch the wave of productivity just right, it might turn out to be a week full of realizing a few of them. I love Mondays.

Also, I have a huge overflow of pretty photos of certain things. The problem is, I've already done posts about sunsets, vultures, spiders, and the half-dozen other categories the pictures seem to fall into. So, no lengthy babbling this time (I know; shocking!) but I figured my overflow (and bizarre affinity for Monday) can brighten your Mondays now. Or at the very least, if you're all schlumpy and Monday-y, you can come ogle some pretty pictures instead of working.

They'll have themes. Today: sunsets. And one puffy evening cloud. (Today, apparently, was International Vulture Day, but I had sunsets in the overflow folder last week. I promise vultures next week.)