Sunset at Saguaro National Park West

Another year begins and I still have to figure out where the last one went – and that is a good thing.  It means, to me at least, that I was busy doing things I enjoyed, that I was not too idle, but idle enough at times to enjoy my surroundings, and that I am still interested in learning and open to new experiences. 

It also means that I am physically (mostly, must have a talk with my knees) and mentally able to do them.  I have been lucky to meet and make friends with people from all over the country and the world with an incredible and varied amount of interest and knowledge about things I never knew.  And I am able to share some of my knowledge and experiences with others.

One question that I often heard before retirement was “what are you going to do with all that free time?”  My answer always was, to the beffudlement of some, “would you like to see my list?”.  A few did nod their heads in agreement, they knew exactly what I was talking about, but others could not understand.

Retirement is a hard earned status, you work all your life to get there.  It is not, does not have to be, the end of a productive life.  On the contrary, it is an opportunity to begin catching up with a multitude of things that were never done or tried because of the many obligations one has during ones lifetime.

It is a curious thing.  As time goes by and things on that list are accomplished, the list grows longer instead of shorter.  In reality, I have not gotten around to do many of the things I had originally planned to do.  Instead, I have found a whole lot of other things to do.    New experiences, exposure to new people, all seem to add multiple new things to look forward to for every one item crossed off that list.

As a matter of fact, I have been so busy that I am now on a three week vacation from retirement.  Looking forward to getting back to ‘work’!


Or at least, winter as defined in Southern Arizona, but my down jacket came out from the depths of my closet. 

The weather forecast for last Friday predicted a 60% chance of rain and high winds, so I took my potted plants down from the fence and surrounded them by patio chairs to prevent the javelinas from feasting on them.   The dire predictions had not materialized by bed time – no clouds, no rain, no wind – and I happily went to bed thinking the weatherman had been wrong.

Sometime around 2AM, the wind woke me up.  This house is not very tight, and I could hear the wind whistling as it found its way down the chimney and through a few cracks in the wall. 

Then the rains came.  I was nice and warm in my bed and decided not to get up to check for anything going wrong at that time.  I was also greatly relieved to find out in the morning that nothing of importance had blown away in the storm.

After a few clouds Saturday morning, the day turned out to be glorious!  A perfect Fall day (for Vermont) that had all the local residents shivering in their shoes.  The wind died down and the sun was shining brightly, but the temperatures never went higher than the mid – 60’s.   

I spent the day outdoors at a craft fair in a lovely park, surrounded by trees.  When I left the house early in the morning, I thought that in typical Tucson fashion, it would get hot during the day, so I put on a long sleeve cotton top and took my down jacket ‘just in case’, but drew the line at wearing wool socks.  I must admit that I actually felt cold, even wearing my down jacket, standing in the shade of those trees.  I kept looking for the sunny spots in the park, something unheard of in this part of the world, where everyone is constantly looking for a shady spot. 

I must remember the clothing ‘mantra’ from up north – layers, layers, layers – so you can peel off and add on during the day as needed.

This morning is overcast, really and truly overcast, not just a few clouds in the sky.  WeatherBug says it is 49F degrees outside, 79% humidity, with an expected high between 61F and 66F, and 40% chance of rain for tomorrow. 

Am I in Southern Arizona?

‘snakes’ run from both ends of the house to the blockage (about 80 feet one way), down a side line to take care of the problem in the second bathroom, several phone calls and a house ‘colonoscopy’, the tentative diagnosis is not good. 

It appears, after they ran a camera into the bowels of the plumbing system, that there may be a break in the main line that takes waste water out into the sewer system.  Then they used a beeping sci-fi rifle looking contraption with 2 large balls on the barrel to locate the problem.  Of course, the break has been located buried in the slab under my one-year old saltillo floors, about a foot from my bed.

The solution is to break through the saltillo and the concrete slab to get access to the area and replace the pipe – 3 days of work, not including replacing the floor tiles.  I am now waiting to get an estimate. 

At least the rest of the plumbing in the rest of the house is working normally.

. . . the bane of my existance!

When I lived ‘up North’, over a period of about 30 years I experienced the joys of burst pipes in winter, leaking air conditioning drip pan in the attic, leaking hot water heater, water heater blowing a gasket and a number of more mundane plumbing related events.  Since the weather is so much milder in this area, I thought my encounters with plumbers would be much reduced.

For the third time (actually, the fourth time if we count the burst water pipe in the carport due to freezing temperatures last winter) in a year, I have had to call a plumber to the house.  The house is not new, and except for the master bathroom, it still has all the original plumbing.  Well, guess which area of the house is the one that has given me the most headaches. Yes, the newly-renovated-about-10-plus-years-ago master bathroom.

Perhaps because the master bathroom is at the opposite end of a long house from where the main line joins the sewer system, this is the second time any and all water from any and all appliances in that bathroom has refused to go down the drain, and has actually started to come up where it should not be coming up.  Not to be left behind, the shower drain in the other bathroom was very, very sluggish.  Suffice it to say, it was not a fun day and I will spare you the details.

Thankfully, the home repair insurance company was able to find an ’emergency plumber’ who made an appearance with a somewhat reluctant assistant, about 3 hours after I called.  He really seemed to know what he was doing.  After sacrificing my kitchen rubber gloves to a higher cause, he went into action right away.   He ran a ‘snake’ from the master bathroom down the line until it found resistance.  After he was done, all water was running smoothly down every single drain.  

Is this a story with a happy ending?  Not at all, the patient required more testing since the water from both bathroom showers stopped draining the following morning.  More to come . . .

On the way home today I saw a desert tortoise attempting to cross the road, it was about half way across the pavement.  I made a u-turn as soon as I safely could, and slowly drove, with the flashers flashing, to where I had seen it, while a couple of cars barely missed driving over the tortoise.  With some trepidation, I stopped the car in the middle of the road leaving a bit of distance between me and the tortoise and hoping that no one would rear end my car.  But, that if someone did, the tortoise and I would be far enough to be out of harms way.

As soon as I got near the creature, its head and legs dissapeared into the carapace.  I sweetly murmured ‘hello sweetie, don’t pee on me’ (if you have ever attempted to move a desert torotoise, you will understand my murmurings) and carried it to the side of the road I thought it was heading for.  Obviously, I was wrong, because as soon as it was back on solid ground, out came the head and the legs, and after a swift u-turn, it headed back towards the pavement.  Once again I sweetly murmured to it and carried it to the other side of the road.  Apparently this is what it wanted, because once the head and legs were out again, it made a bee line for the brush.

You may now be asking yourselves about the heading of this blog and what it has to do with helping a tortoise cross the road. 

 The Arizona Game and Fish Department has an adoption program, administered in this area by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, for desert tortoises that cannot be released back into the wild and I have been thinking of adopting one.  Adoption is not exactly correct, because when one adopts a desert tortoise, one becomes its guardian.  The desert tortoise is not yours, it belongs to the State of Arizona, and one cannot sell it or give it to anyone you please.  If one cannot continue as the tortoise’s guardian, it must be returned to Arizona Game and Fish. 

There are some very strict requirements as to the size and location of the enclosure, the location and shape of at least one artificial burrow within the enclosure, the substrate and the type of plants that can be in the enclosure.  Obviously there are also some very specific guidelines for their diet and water requirements and the importance of having shade during all times of the day for cover is very much emphasized. 

I think I have a good area that is already enclosed that would make a good home for a desert tortoise.  There is a lonely shrub growing there that, if appropriate, could be nurtured back to health, additional plants could be added and it is shady in the mornings and has a shaded area in the afternoon.  I know several people who have adopted desert tortoises and they are very happy with the arrangement.  The question is – do I want that responsibility?

Since desert tortoises are now going into hibernation, I would not be able to adopt one until the Spring of next year.  Plenty of time to make a decision and do some remodeling.

Who has seen a tarantula ‘in person’?

I had never seen one ‘in person’ outside some sort of container until I walked into my bedroom one night about a year ago, and  see this big, fuzzy thing walking on the wall over my bed.  I was glad I knew enough about them not to be scared, scream and run away, because they really are impressive looking creatures.

Tarantulas are basically harmless to humans.  Yes, they can bite you if you poke them, and you may wind up with a bunch of urticating ‘hairs’ in your hand, which will give you mild discomfort, if you try to hold them.  But other than that, they cannot do much to you.

Tarantulas are part of the spider family and like all arachnids, have 8 legs.  The desert tarantula is quite large and the male is much darker than the female which is sometimes known as ‘blonde tarantula’.  Females usually stay in their burrows while males will go out spring through fall searching for females with the sole purpose of mating . 

They are pretty long lived, it takes about 5-6 years for them to reach maturity.  The male will die young, in the year he reaches maturity, after he has mated with as many females as he can.  The female however, will live on a few additional years .

Oh, and what did I do with the tarantula that came to visit?  I swept him out the front door.

at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum came to an end last Saturday.  I am going to miss them!

The Desert Museum is a different place after the sun goes down.  The animals act differently, many of them become active when the sun starts going down and the day begins to cool off.  That includes both the animals on exhibit by the Museum, and those from the neighborhood that come to visit.  Needless to say, we had quite a number of snake sightings, mostly Western Diamonback Rattlesnakes and coachwhips, particularly during the month of August. 

But for me, the highlight was coming across a coral snake – beautiful, colorful and quite small.  Its venom is quite potent, but its mouth is so small, you almost have to put your fingers in his mouth in order to be bitten.  Not to alarm future visitors, the staff is very efficient at safely catching the snakes and relocating them to another area where they are neither a danger to the visitors, nor the visitors a danger to them.

Another creature that literally shines during SSE’s is the scorpion.  Under a blacklight, scorpions flouresce.  Visitors, particularly the younger set, which are quite awake and curious until 10pm when the doors close, become avid scorpion searchers.  They shine their black lights into every crevice of the stone walls to find these elusive little creatures.  Who would have thought scorpions would be such an attraction!

Then we have the flying creatures, mainly bats, moths and other types of insects.  I was fascinated by the ecolocator, which allows us to hear the bat’s sonar clicks as they hunt for insects around the Riparian area.  I was somewhat less fascinated (but that is a personal bias, others were enthralled) by the variety of moths and insects that were attracted to a white sheet and bright light set up just for that purpose.  I must admit though, that a lot of the beetles and moths I saw were quite beautiful.  The moths looked as if they had been gently painted in some muted colors.   And I never would have imagined that some beetles had such gorgeous colors and patterns.  Others I will just say were interesting and leave it at that.

As if that were not enough, I found some visitors to be as interesting as the animals they came to see.  This is a different crowd than the daytime visitors.  Rather than out-of-town visitors and tourists, they are mostly local, knowleadgeable and they love to do this every year.   They come every Saturday throughout the summer for a stroll around the grounds and dinner at one of the restaurants.  I am happy to say that I have made friends with some of them. 

I did not meet him, but I heard about a young boy that has been coming for years(!) – his favorite stop is the saguaro stew station.  Kudus to the parents for encouraging him to learn about something that obviously fascinates his young mind.  Oh, and what is saguaro stew, you ask?  It is the rotting remains of a saguaro that has died and is chock full of little creatures of interest.  Well, you did ask, and yes, we do look at EVERYTHING in the Desert Museum.

 One couple is as knowleadgeable about the Museum and the critters as anyone I have met.  And after the Museum closes, they stop on the way home at various pullouts on the road looking for more creatures!

Another individual is an extraordinarily good photographer that has perfected a technique for photographing scorpions under a mixture of black and white light so that the flourescense shows and one can also clearly see details, including the very tiny babies on a mother’s back.  I am delighted that he gave me a couple of prints of his scorpion photographs.  And by the way, his hummingbird pictures are some of the best I have ever seen. 

So yes, I am going to miss going to the Desert Museum on Saturday evenings and meeting interesting people and critters.  Something to look forward to doing again next summer.