Category Archives: FYI

After the Election

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I don’t want to write about Donald Trump, the U.S. presidency, or politics in general. However, I feel I would be remiss if I pretended this all didn’t happen.

Part of the problem is knowing my readers already know what I have to say. Do I really need to preach to the choir today?

Part of the problem is knowing other writers have already said it as well or better than I can. What more can I add?

This is what I believe: Trump won because a large segment of the male population could not stomach the idea of a woman in the White House. According to http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-news-exit-polls-how-donald-trump-won-the-us-presidency/,

The gender gap was substantial. Trump beat Clinton by 53 percent to 41 percent among men while Clinton won among women by 54 percent to 42 percent.

Clinton won among black women by a 93 percent to 4 percent margin. Among black men she won by 80 percent to 13 percent.

Let me go ahead and spell that last one out. Some black men voted for Donald Trump rather than vote for Hillary Clinton. I can’t even imagine the cognitive dissonance a black man would have to live with in order to think he would be better off with Donald Trump in the White House.

This is what we know: Trump was elected overwhelmingly by white folks. According to the aforementioned website,

Trump beat Clinton among white women 53 percent to 43 percent.

Clinton lost to Trump among [white, male voters] by 63 percent to 31 percent.

This is also what we know: Trump was elected by the under-educated. Again, from the same website,

Trump did best among white voters without a college degree, beating Clinton by the enormous margin of 72 percent to 23 percent. Trump also won among white, non-college women 62 to 34 percent…

Nobody reading this needs me to explain these things. We already knew all of this. We only hoped we were wrong.

What does the election of Trump mean for me? I don’t even know.

I  texted a friend the morning after the election and said, I should probably write about the election, but I don’t feel I have any new insight.

My friend said I could write about how I was going to respond, what I was going to do differently, to focus on what would change in my real life.

Honestly, I have no idea what I am going to do differently. I suppose if Trump privatizes public land (and I have no idea if he has the ability or intention to do so), I’ll have to figure out a new way to make money. Perhaps I need to think about keeping my big mouth shut, as the results of this election reinforces that this country is not a safe place for outspoken women. It’s not as if my big mouth has ever changed anything, as if being outspoken has ever done anything more than make me feel a little bit better.

Another friend said as an old revolutionary, I should be happy about this. That friend sees this as the beginning of the end, I suppose. When I pointed out that people were going to suffer under the new administration, my friend countered by reminding me people are already suffering. True enough, but the suffering is going to be worse now.

Don’t go thinking I saw Hillary Clinton as a savior, or Barack Obama either for that matter. The system is flawed. The system is oh so flawed. I just thought maybe, maybe things wouldn’t be quite so bad under Clinton. I thought maybe, maybe the suffering wouldn’t be so great under Clinton.

Do I think the election of Donald Trump is going to make people rise up and change things for the better? Nah. For the people who are doing ok financially, there are movies to watch and vacations to take and knick-knacks to buy. The people who are struggling are going continue to concentrate on just barely keep their heads above water, buying groceries and getting a collage education that will qualify them to work a slightly better shit job. The comfortable aren’t going to give up their comforts, and the poor barely have the time and energy to fight.

Yet, some things have changed in my lifetime. I never thought I’d see the legalization of same-sex marriage. I never thought I’d see legalization of marijuana anywhere, much less in Nevada. I never thought Denver would do away with Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. So maybe I ought to not give up hope.

Since I don’t know what to say, what to do, what to think even, I will leave you with the words of a dear, old friend:

I send love to everyone who feels less safe and welcome in this country today. I honor you and your struggle, and I pray my actions reflect these words. Know that I stand with you, especially my Muslim brothers and sisters, my immigrant brothers and sisters, my LGBT brothers and sisters, my African-American brothers and sisters, my Native brothers and sisters. My white, Christian brothers and sisters, I’ll stand with you too. If you stand for love and compassion and justice, I’ll stand with you.

 

In Praise of Truck Stops

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When it comes to boondocking in the city, I vote for truck stops!

Workers at truck stops (or travel stops or travel centers, as most of the chains now refer to themselves) are accustomed to seeing vehicles parked in their lots at all hours of the day or night. From big rigs to delivery vans to motorhomes to U-Hauls to sports cars, people park their vehicles at truck stops while they get some rest, often overnight. Delivery drivers ahead of schedule can pass some time at truck stops. Folks on cross-country moves or vacations road trips can stretch their legs at truck stops. Of course, the businesses cater to truckers who need to refuel and/or take mandatory rest breaks.

In my early days of van travel, I’d always call ahead to make sure my van would be welcome overnight at a particular truck stop. Over the course of multiple trips across the U.S.A., I was only turned down a handful of times. The attitude of the person I talked to on the phone was usually Why are you asking me this? Of course you can park here overnight!

If anyone at a truck stop figures out a person is sleeping in her van, it’s unlikely to seem strange.

Another great thing about truck stops is that they’re open 24/7. Increasingly, I find Wal-Mart stores (even the supercenters) are closed for a few hours each night. A closed store makes a nighttime bathroom emergency problematic. Also, a vehicle parked overnight might stand out if customers aren’t coming and going at all hours. No such problems at a chain truck stop, since they’re always open.

What I love about truck stops is that everything I could want or need is right there. Fuel? Check! Restrooms? Yes. Showers? You bet. Hot coffee and most other beverages? Yep. Pizza at 2am? You know it! Video games? Well, yes (if that’s your thing). A selection of gadgets to make trucker life (and maybe van life too) easier? Yes. Snacks, maps, and souvenirs? Of course.

Some TA travel centers even have motels if you want to splurge on a night out of your rig. I’ve also encountered a couple Pilot travel centers with free internet access.

Different truck stops have different amenities. I try to stick to truck stop chains. Flying J is my favorite, followed in descending order of like by Pilot (which merged with Flying J some years ago), Love’s and TA. I’ve been in some dismal truck stops that weren’t part of chains. I’ve seen filthy showers, barely stocked coolers, and one place that I’m pretty sure had no fuel to sell. My experience with chains has been a lot better, although not every location is great. And while not every location really has pizza at 2am, the bigger the truck stop, the more amenities offered around the clock.

I’ve done laundry in truck stops, and it’s been hit or miss. Not every travel center has washers and dryers, and most that do have them only have a couple (maybe three) of each. Usually the cost is a little high, and on at least one occasion at a Flying J, I’m convinced my clothes were dirtier when I pulled them out of the washer. (Read about my adventure at that Flying J here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/12/another-adventure-in-cleanliness/.) However, if your clothes are dirty and you’re at a truck stop with laundry facilities anyway, it can be a great convenience to be about to wash, dry, and fold in the middle of the night.

In the past, truck stops have had a bad reputation as dangerous places. However, the corporations seemed to have tried to clean up their images in the last few years. I think that’s part of the reason for the shift from “truck stop” to “travel stop” and “travel center.” If Mom and Dad and Sis and Brother feel safe stopping at these businesses, the businesses can reap the benefit of making money off average travelers too.

I’ve never once been harassed, propositioned, or hassled in a truck stop or in a truck stop parking lot. No one’s ever tried to sell me drugs (or anything else) or buy sex on truck stop property. No one’s knocked on my van or tried the handles while I’ve been parked at a truck stop. I’m not saying such things couldn’t happen, but none of them have happened yet. (Knock wood.)

Of course, I keep my guard up wherever I’m spending the night. I’m polite (but bland) if someone speaks to me, but I don’t initiate conversations in truck stops. I don’t smile, wink, or bat my eyes at men. I don’t dress provocatively. (My typical style of long hippy skirts and loose shirts doesn’t tend to make men think I’m looking for sex–either for free or for a fee.) I walk with my head up, aware of my surroundings, but I’m not out and about in the parking lot at all hours of the night. When I’m inside the truck stop (waiting for a shower or for my laundry to wash and/or dry), I keep my nose in a book (or my notebook) or look busy on my phone so I don’t invite conversation.

I’d rather spend the night in a beautiful natural setting or with friends, but if I can’t get to either of those places, a truck stop will be my next choice.

 

 

Whimsical Mushrooms

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I have a friend who is a fantastic artist. She wire-wraps shiny rocks and crochets purses and water bottle holders and headbands to cover cold ears in winter. You can check out many of the items she has for sale in her Etsy shop, Nirvana Creations,  at https://www.etsy.com/shop/NirvanaCreations.

Ammonite Non-Tarnish Copper Wire Wrapped Pendant

This is an example of a wire-wrapped ammonite from Nirvana Creations . Image from https://www.etsy.com/listing/398635131/ammonite-non-tarnish-copper-wire-wrapped?ref=shop_home_active_3

A few weeks ago she posted on Facebook some lovely ammonites she had wrapped in copper to make pendants.

This is what Nirvana Creations says about the ammonite pendants:

This ammonite pendant was handmade by weaving copper wires into these elaborate designs. There is no glue or soldering in the creation of this piece, it is firmly held in place by the handmade setting. Each of these pieces is made with only the utmost love and care, to present the purest and most healing jewelry available. All the pieces are one-of-a-kind, there will be no other exactly like it in the world.

I love ammonites and I love my friend and I love my friend’s work. She is so talented! I told her I wanted to order one of the ammonite pendants.

My friend is also very nice. When I told her I wanted to buy one of her pieces, she said she wanted to do a trade. Of course, I was flattered she wanted to trade with me and told her she could have whatever of mine she wanted. She picked out a couple of things she liked, and I added a couple of other things I thought she should have and sent it all off to North Carolina.

A couple of weeks later, I received a package from her, and I got such a sweet deal. She sent me so much good stuff. I am a lucky woman!

In the package were three (three!) mushroom pendants I knew would look so good on hemp necklaces. I hadn’t even touched my jewelry-making supplies since spring, but I was so excited about the mushroom pendants, and I pulled out my supplies and made three necklaces on a slow afternoon at work.

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These are the three necklaces I made with the three mushroom pendants my friend sent to me. Each necklace is 20 inches long. Each costs $23, including postage.

 

If I had to pick a favorite of the mushroom pendants, this would be it. The cap is made from purple and blue clay. The stem is made from a tiny stick. That's right! The stem is a piece of wood. I hung the pendant from a necklace of purple and blue hemp. The necklace is 20 inches. The price is $23, including postage.

If I had to pick a favorite of the mushroom pendants, this would be it. The cap is made from purple and blue clay. The stem is made from a tiny stick. That’s right! The stem is a piece of wood. I hung the pendant from a necklace of purple and blue hemp. The necklace is 20 inches long. The price is $23, including postage.

 

This amanita-esque mushroom pendant is super cute. The cap is made from red and yellow clay. The stem is made from a crystal (!) maybe tourmaline. I used red and variegated earth-tone hemp to make the necklace, which is 20 inches. The cost is $23, including postage.

This amanita-esque mushroom pendant is super cute. The cap is made from red and yellow clay. The stem is made from a crystal (!), maybe tourmaline. I used red and variegated earth-tone hemp to make the necklace, which is 20 inches long. The cost is $23, including postage.

 

This mushroom has a lot of color. The cap is made from clay and includes browns, reds, yellows, blues, and GLITTER. The stem is a QUARTZ CRYSTAL. I used blue and red hemp to make the necklace, matching the blue and red of the mushroom cap. The necklace can be worn with either the mostly blue side or the mostly red side showing, so it's like getting two necklaces in one. The necklace is 20 inches long. The price is $23, including postage.

This mushroom has a lot of color. The cap is made from clay and includes brown, red, yellow, blue, purple, gold, and GLITTER. The stem is a QUARTZ CRYSTAL. I used blue and red hemp to make the necklace, matching the blue and red of the mushroom cap. The necklace can be worn with either the mostly blue side or the mostly red side showing, so it’s like getting two necklaces in one. The necklace is 20 inches long. The price is $23, including postage.

All of these beautiful necklaces are for sale and would make lovely gifts.

I certainly appreciate my friend gifting the pendants to me to use in my work.

 

You (Don’t) Need a Man

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Apparently at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous some man (or men) told a woman (or possibly more than one woman) that she/they couldn’t travel/live in a van alone, that she/they needed a man (or at least a dog).

No man told me I needed a man. I heard the story from a young guy who’d heard it from his female friend. The female friend had been told (by a man) that she needed a man (or at least a dog) to travel with and (it was implied, I suppose) to protect her. This woman was already suffering from anxiety from being around so many people at the RTR, and this dude’s little public service announcement (not!) was more than she could handle. She packed up her camp and left.

When the young guy told me this story, I jokingly asked if we should go rough up the man (or men) who made such a stupid statement. First, let me say, I honestly had no intention of perpetrating violence against someone who’d made a stupid remark. I used a hyperbole (an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–https://www.google.com/search?q=hyperbole+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8) when I probably shouldn’t have.

After my comment about roughing someone up, the young guy started saying as a Buddhist…nonviolence…etc. Point taken. I get it. I didn’t really want the young guy to get physical with dudes saying something dumb. But I did want him to say he’d gone with his female friend to confront the guy(s) or that he’d spoken to the guy(s) privately. I didn’t get the idea either of those things happened.

Some people will probably say I shouldn’t be spreading this information. After all, it didn’t happen to me. I don’t even know the woman it happened to. At this point, I’m repeating a he said she said that guy over there said. Fair enough. But I’m repeating this story anyway because I believe it happened, if not at the RTR then on a Facebook group or on the Cheap RV Living Forum or somewhere in the rubber tramp world. In my experience, it’s common for men (in all walks of life) to tell women what they need (to be or do or get).

No fellow has told me I need a man (probably because I’m too old and fat and hairy and most fellows wouldn’t want me to take them up on what they probably fear I would take as an offer.) Men like to tell me I need solar or I need a five gallon propane tank. But it doesn’t take much imagination for me to believe a scenario where some dude tells a young woman that she needs a man (or a dog, he might add hastily, if he’s trying to make it seem like this isn’t some kind of pickup line).

In the interest of community, I’m going to address all partied involved and share my thoughts and advice.

Men, quite telling women what they need (to have, to be, to do). You want to know the last thing women need? The last thing any of us needs is some dude bossing us around.

If you are attracted to a woman and trying to start a relationship (or even just get a night of sex), cut the caveman crap and try listening to what the woman has to say. (And if you don’t care what a woman has to say, buy yourself an inflatable sex doll and a tube of lube and leave us alone.) Want to try something revolutionary? Ask a woman what she needs. Ask her how you can help.

If you honestly fear for a woman’s safety (maybe she’s inexperienced, maybe she’s taking dangerous chances), offer her your assistance. Address particular issues. Tell her what you see, and offer your help. If she doesn’t want your help, drop the subject. You tried. You’re not responsible for her actions (dangerous or otherwise), but you’re also not the boss of her.

And men, if you didn’t know, most women who are physically and/or sexually assaulted know the perpetrator. According to the National Institute of Justice (http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/rape-sexual-violence/pages/victims-perpetrators.aspx),

most perpetrators of sexual assault are known to their victims. Among victims ages 18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the offender. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that 6 in 10 rape or sexual assault victims said that they were assaulted by an intimate partner, relative, friend or acquaintance.

The American Bar Association (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/resources/statistics.html) states,

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1998 and 2002:

  • Of the almost 3.5 million violent crimes committed against family members, 49% of these were crimes against spouses.
  • 84% of spouse abuse victims were females, and 86% of victims of dating partner abuse at were female.
  • Males were 83% of spouse murderers and 75% of dating partner murderers

So when you’re saying you need a man (and implying to protect you), a woman who’s been abused by her dad or raped by her husband might be thinking incredulously, Yeah, right. Even if we haven’t experienced violence at the hands of men, many women are probably thinking the same thing because we likely know women who have been abused by men. We know that simply having a man around does not mean we are protected.

For men who would never try to tell a woman what to do, support your women friends when they tell you about men who do try to boss them around. When I told a female friend at the the RTR my concerns about women there being told they needed a man, her husband absolutely dismissed what I was saying. He said he hadn’t heard anyone say anything like that. I looked at him and said, Of course you haven’t. You’re not a woman traveling alone. Because he hadn’t experienced it happening, he refused to even entertain the notion such a thing could have been said to a woman.

Nice guys, hold other men responsible for the way they treat women. You don’t have to call other men out publicly or get into a physical altercation. But let them know you don’t think it’s ok to boss people around. Even just saying, Buddy, I don’t think you’d like it if someone tried to tell you what to do gives the guy something to think about.

Women, guess what? You don’t need a man. I’m living proof, and there are plenty of other women in the world traveling alone.

Being scared is valid. Most people are nervous at some point, especially when they try new things. If you are afraid, ask people you trust for advice about whatever aspect of traveling alone is worrying you. There are several groups on Facebook for solo women travelers. If you go to the RTR, attend the women’s meetings and ask for help there. Make friends with woman who are already living the way you want to live. Consider taking a self-defense class. Research self-defense online. Read up on situational awareness. (I’ve read two good articles on the topic. The first can be found at http://www.artofmanliness.com/2015/02/05/how-to-develop-the-situational-awareness-of-jason-bourne/. This article is suitable for people of any gender, despite the name of the website. The second is at http://www.survivethewild.net/situational-awareness/.)

We’re into the second decade of the 21st century, and while male companionship is something many women desire, none of us need a man in order to live on the road. As the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin said, sisters are doin’ it for themselves.

(Read more about the 2016 RTR here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/23/report-on-the-2016-rubber-tramp-rendezvous/.)

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The Bells

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Whenever I think about the windbells at Cosanti and Arcosanti, eventually Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells” (published in 1849) sneaks into my head.

I first read “The Bells” in 11th grade English class. I have always enjoyed the way the poem seems to start out light and happy with “silver bells”, then progressively descends into the madness of “iron bells” singing a dirge.

I won’t try to explain it. How can anyone explain Poe, after all? I’ll just post it here so you can read it for yourself. (I suggest you read it aloud. Be say “bells” every time it’s written.)

The Bells

                                       I.

HEAR the sledges with the bells —
Silver bells !
What a world of merriment their melody foretells !
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night !
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight ;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

                                       II.

Hear the mellow wedding bells
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells !
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight !
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon !
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells !
How it swells !
How it dwells
On the Future ! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells !

                                III.

Hear the loud alarum bells —
Brazen bells !
What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells !
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright !
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor
Now — now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells !
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair !
How they clang, and clash, and roar !
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air !
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows ;
Yet, the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells —
Of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
In the clamour and the clangour of the bells !

 IV.

Hear the tolling of the bells —
Iron bells !
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels !
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy meaning of their tone !
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people — ah, the people —
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone —
They are neither man nor woman —
They are neither brute nor human —
They are Ghouls: —
And their king it is who tolls ;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls,
Rolls
A pæan from the bells !
And his merry bosom swells
With the pæan of the bells !
And he dances, and he yells ;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the pæan of the bells —
Of the bells :
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells —

Of the bells, bells, bells —
To the sobbing of the bells ;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells —
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells —
Bells, bells, bells —
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

(I copied this poem from http://poestories.com/read/bells. My website didn’t let me copy the poem exactly as I found it, so much of the spacing is off. I pray Edgar Allan Poe forgives me. To see the poem in the format Poe intended, go to the aforementioned website.)

I took the photo in this post.

Beep! Beep!

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Growing up in the Deep South, there was a lot I wasn’t taught about the Southwest.

For example, I wasn’t taught that the saguaro cactus is IMG_4558

found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert.

[The cactus is found] in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. A few stray plants can also be found in southeast California.

(Thanks to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for the info.)

I grew up thinking all cacti (I did know the plural of cactus was not cactuses) were pretty much that same and all cacti  grew in all deserts. WRONG!

Nor did I know much about the roadrunner. Oh sure, I saw the cartoon Road Runner on Saturday mornings, but I didn’t necessarily believe a roadrunner was a real creature. I saw Bugs Bunny too, but I knew rabbits couldn’t talk (much less sing opera), so while I might believe there was a bird called a roadrunner out in the big world, I was pretty sure it was nothing like the one on television.

I was right about that.

I didn’t see a real live roadrunner until I was an adult. I was so excited when it ran across the road, I bounced up and down in my seat and squealed.

Of course, the cartoon Road Runner looks a lot different from a real, live roadrunner. Real roadrunners are mostly brown, while the cartoon Road Runner is decked out in shades of blue. The cartoon Road Runner is much taller than a real roadrunner, and the decorative feather flop on the top of the cartoon’s head is much bigger than anything a real roadrunner has going on.

But still, when I saw the real roadrunner hurrying across the highway, I knew exactly what it was.

According to the All About Birds website Close Up Photography Roadrunner at the Top of Red Surface during Daytime

A bird born to run, the Greater Roadrunner can outrace a human, kill a rattlesnake, and thrive in the harsh landscapes of the Desert Southwest. Roadrunners reach two feet from sturdy bill to white tail tip, with a bushy blue-black crest and mottled plumage that blends well with dusty shrubs. As they run, they hold their lean frames nearly parallel to the ground and rudder with their long tails. They have recently extended their range eastward into Missouri and Louisiana.

WHAT?!?!?!? Roadrunners in Missouri and Louisiana? THAT is exciting, but how is a desert bird going to adapt to all the humidity?

Not too long ago, I woke up with the sun. It had been hot out, and there weren’t many other people around, so I hadn’t hung my side curtain when I went to bed. The lack of curtain helped with airflow, but when the sun rose at 5:45, there was a lot of light in my face.

I was looking at Facebook on my phone and hadn’t even put my glasses on when I heard a thump on the van. I looked up and saw…something…standing on my side mirror. My vision is very poor, and I can’t see much past the end of my nose without my specs. (Yeah, I’d been holding the phone close to my nose.) I suspected it was a bird on the mirror, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was some kind of super jumping desert squirrel that had leapt up there.

I reached out for my glasses, thinking my movement would scare of the critter. Nope. The critter didn’t go anywhere. I got the spectacles on my face and saw a roadrunner on my mirror. A big roadrunner. A roadrunner with a tail as long as (maybe longer than) its whole body. It turned around a few times on the mirror, so I got a good look at it from all angles. Then it flew up to the roof of my van, where I heard it thump a couple of times as it walked around. When all was silent, I knew the bird had flown away.

If I’d been in a cartoon, an anvil or a safe would have crushed my van. Thank goodness I’m living in the real world.

Since I didn’t get a photo of the roadrunner, I’ll post one of a saguaro in bloom. I took the two photos of the saguaros. I did not take the two photos of the roadrunner. The photo of the bird comes from https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photography-roadrunner-at-the-top-of-red-surface-during-daytime-158097/.

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A Few Things I Know About Cacti

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I took this photo on the BLM land near Saddle Mountain in Arizona.

I didn’t grow up in the desert, but after two guided tours at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and a couple of hours at the Desert Botanical Garden, I’ve learned a few things about cacti and other desert plants.

For example, what makes a plant a cactus? I first contemplated this question when Ranger Mark told me during a restroom break on the Ajo Mountain Drive tour that the ocatillo is not a cactus. When I asked him what makes a plant a cactus, he admitted he didn’t know. Low and behold, at the Desert Botanical Garden, I found the answer. All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus.

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All cacti have areoles. If there’s no areole, the plant is not a cactus. This photo was taken at the Desert Botanical Garden.

 

So just what is the areole of a cactus? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/science/areole),

Cacti can be distinguished from other succulent plants by the presence of areoles, small cushionlike structures with hairs and, in almost all species, spines or barbed bristles (glochids). Areoles are modified branches, from which flowers, more branches, and leaves (when present) may grow.

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It is easy to see the areoles on the Straight-spined Barrel Cactus in this photo. The areoles are the dark areas from which the spines are growing. Notice that several spines grow from each areole. I took this photo at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/plant/Caryophyllales#ref594853) elaborates,

 Areoles are universal in the cactus family (at least in the juvenile phase)…Almost all species of cactus have tufts of spines that develop from the areoles. These spines are of two basic types, stiff central spines located in the middle of the areole or radial spines that grow out laterally from the edges of the areole; the former are probably protective or when brightly coloured attract pollinators, while the latter are often white and reflect sunlight, providing shade and protecting the plant body from solar radiation. In addition, these spines may be variously modified, depending on the species; for example, they may be curved, hooked, feathery, bristly, flattened, sheathed, or needlelike.

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I took this photo of an ocatillo on BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona . While I was visiting, I saw no ocatillo with leaves or flowers.

So if an ocatillo isn’t a cactus, what is it?  According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum plant fact sheet (https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Ocotillo.php),

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)…are…large shrub[s] with long cane-like unbranched spiny stems that grow from a short trunk.

I’ve recently learned many things about the saguaro cactus, most importantly, it is found only in the Sonoran Desert. Although the saguaro may be the cactus that really represents the desert for for a lot of people, if you see a saguaro representing the desert in New Mexico or Utah, or Nevada, well, that’s just wrong. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro,

[The saguaro] is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California.

I also learned saguaros often grow with the help of a nurse plant. According to a brochure I got at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument,

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This photo shows a saguaro cactus growing within the protection of its nurse plant. I took this photo on the Red Tanks Tinaja hike in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

[a]lmost any plant can become a nurse plant. Shade from the nurse plant protects the delicate cactus seedling from temperature extremes and sunburn. Shaded soil holds moisture longer. Slowly decaying leaf litter adds nutrients. Leaf litter hides the tender young plant from hungry birds or animals…

A nurse plant is not mandatory for the growth and health of a saguaro, but as the brochure says,

The saguaro cactus seedling grows best in this protected, humid environment and enriched soil beneath its nurse plant.

Finally, I learned that saguaro cacti grow very slowly. It takes about 10 years for saguaros to grow one inch! Saguaros will have grown about one foot tall after 30 years and about three feet tall after 50 years. Saguaros get their first flowers after about 70 years, when they are approximately 6 and 1/2 fee tall. They get their first arm at 15 to 16 feet tall, after about 95 to 100 years, and they reach their full height of about 43 feet when they are around 200 years old. (All of the information in the preceding paragraph is from the brochure mentioned earlier.)

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I took this photo of an organ pipe cactus on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stenocereus_thurberi,

Stenocereus thurberi, the organpipe [sic] cactus…is found mostly in Mexico, mainly in Sonora and southern Baja California. It is also known to the United States, but is much rarer, with the notable exception of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The plant is predominantly found on rocky hillsides up to 3,000 feet (910 m) in elevation. It is sensitive to frost, so the species is rare in low desert areas, which can be more susceptible to frost.

Unlike saguaros organ pipe cactus don’t rely on nurse plants for early help. The brochure says,

Most organ pipe cactus grow out in the open in totally unprotected settings.

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This photo of a cholla cactus was taken on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop in Arizona.

And then there’s cholla cactus. According to the Desert USA website (http://www.desertusa.com/cactus/cholla-cactus.html),

Cholla cactus represent more than 20 species of the Opuntia genus (Family Cactacea) in the North American deserts. Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti of this genus with cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. These stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

[C]hollas are the only cactus with papery sheaths covering their spines. These sheaths are often bright and colorful, providing the cactus with its distinctive appearance.

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I took this photo of a chain fruit cholla cactus on the Red Tanks Tinaja Trail.

Opuntia are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from…stems. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.

Before this year, I’d never given much thought to cactus and had no idea how varied and fascinating they are. Now I’m excited to learn more about them.

 

 

 

 

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Seguaro and the moon. I took this photo from my camping spot on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop.

I took all of the photos in this post.