Camouflage

A tiny spot of movement catches my eye this morning, and I spy a 2 ½ inch gecko frozen in the shade on our block wall. His tiny arms and legs are spread-eagle and his miniscule toes secure him firmly to the concrete. As I look at my paper to write about him and then look back, he disappears. I now see his minute head and eyes peaking at me, shy but curious, around a corner of wall.

Dropping to the ground, he is indistinguishable from the gravel; his presence betrayed only by his movement. And now I’ve lost him completely.

Suburban Wilderness

One evening at dusk my husband glanced out the windows onto the backyard and saw two adult coyotes loping by. As we rushed to secure our mini-dachshund inside I’m not sure I really believed they were actually coyotes. We both hurried out to the back fence to get a better look.

Just as I caught sight of them, a couple of backyards past ours, one turned to look back at us.

The animal was unflinching, bold, and one of the most beautiful wild creatures I’d ever seen. He stared at the two ridiculous humans as if contemplating our nutritional value, then turned and continued down the canal with his mate.

Living along one of many criss-crossing Phoenix canals has been an educational experience. We live in a somewhat densely-populated, suburban neighborhood, 10 minutes from downtown. The Highline Canal runs parallel to South Mountain, borders our backyard, and provides a convenient route for wildlife and humans alike between the mountain wilderness and the suburbs.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see one of the most beautiful, and dangerous, inhabitants of the wild southwest outside my backdoor. Because of their lush, grey-brown coats, highlighted with gold, cream and black, and black-rimmed unblinking yellow eyes, coyotes are often romanticized by humans into a noble beast. They are, in truth, quick and smart but also driven by their natural instincts to hunt food wherever they can find it, be it sheep, ground squirrel, or a small pet. Admittedly, we humans are intruding into their natural habitat, and they have become fearless and not easily discouraged.

I cannot describe my feelings as I came eye to eye with this truly wild animal. It was electric! I can only say that seeing such a wild, albeit dangerous, creature in photos or on TV is nothing compared to seeing one live and free.

I consider the experience a gift.

Saguaro Strength

On most mornings during the summer South Mountain is hazy with heat. It stands rugged against a pale blue early morning sky, its peaks bristling with desert brush and the profiles of stately saguaro cacti.

The monsoons usually come at us from the other side of the mountain. They roll in from the south, up against the south facing crags, over the peaks and ridges, and down the north side and into our backyard.

Every day I recognize the same saguaros along the ridge lines; their profiles firm and strong, storm after storm. Amazingly they live for as many as 100 years, and I realize just how many monsoons they’ve endured and how strong they must be.

Sometimes I wish I was that strong…in the face of my own storms!

Southwest Poppies

The Arizona monsoon season can be violent, destructive and frightening. But the humungous thunderheads that push miles-high and wide walls of dust before them as they barrel across the Valley of the Sun bring much needed rain.

In their wake the flash flood waters soak into the baked earth with amazing and awe-inspiring results. The desert plants have adapted themselves to long dry spells and wait for the monsoon rains to burst into deeply-colored gem-toned blossoms.

One such plant is the Poppy. With large, brilliant orange blossoms composed of 4 to 5 broad petals, I am reminded of Dorothy’s field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz. Such saturated colors seem to be a characteristic of the Southwest in response to the harsh climate.

The Chuckwalla – Daily Sketch 07/25/12

The Chuckwalla

Several weeks ago I was visiting a cactus garden on Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale. As I walked along the trail I took advantage of the deepest, coolest pools of shade provided by the mature mesquite tree canopies overhead. In one such spot, I stopped to catch my breath, have a drink of water and listen.

My eye was caught by the distinct sound of rustling nearby. At the base of a boulder, a lizard took shape out of the desert landscape. I watched fascinated as she frantically scratched around in the dust. Suddenly a larger, darker version appeared somewhere near my feet in a distinctly defensive posture, making me uncomfortably aware of my bare ankles. (Have I told you we have poisonous snakes here?) They were both approximately 8 – 9 inches long, with a wide midsection, flat head, and a fat tail. I snapped several photos and moved on up the trail, delighted by the encounter and wondering what the heck I’d run into.

I had met a pair of female Chuckwallas, one of many lizard varieties native to Arizona. They will be appearing with more detail in my drawing E-Tutorial, How to Draw the American Southwest, Animals & Cacti of the Arizona-Sonoran Desert. Here’s a sneak peak!

 

I have also started a new blog: www.makeartbehappy.wordpress.com…and will be posting inspirational and motivational thoughts and suggestions for increasing creativity and improving life.

Creative Work: Daily Sketch 07/20/12

 

I’ve been undercover the last few weeks, and devoting blog time to writing and illustrating my first e-book, a tutorial entitled How to Draw the American Southwest, Animals & Cacti of the Arizona-Sonoran Desert. I plan to complete a chapter a week, and will be sharing studies of my illustrations here.

Chapter One: Hummingbirds

Next week, Chapter Two: Chuckwalla (I love this word!)

Daily Sketch 06/15/12 ‘Darth Vader’

The Darth Vader of the Sonoran Desert small animal kingdom streaked into my happy little urban landscape this morning.

I noticed her (yes, I believe it was a female) because of her sudden movement. With her small pointy head down and in line with her stretched neck and long tail, she suddenly ran towards a half dozen tumbling, wrestling, playful young ground squirrels – all of whom immediately disappeared down conveniently placed holes in the earth.

Enter, stage left, the Roadrunner.

I’d heard this sometimes clownish (beep-beep) but predatory bird ate baby quail ‘like candy,’ and upon further research learned she consumed anything small and slow enough to fit into her cruel beak.

 As she zipped (they can run up to 15 mph) across the dusty track toward my backyard oasis, I stepped from my backdoor – pajama-clad – to defend my tiny domain. Up close she measured about 18” from beak to tail tip. Unfazed by my defensive stance and flapping arms, she turned and zipped away down the track. Neither of us was inclined to attempt to make friends.

 Ten minutes later she streaked back up the track and past my backyard, a hapless lizard dangling from her beak. I thought she might have babies of her own to feed.

 I had recently wondered how the city would control what seemed to be an explosion of baby ground squirrels and hoped they wouldn’t call in an exterminator with poison. Now I know they won’t need to. Ms. Roadrunner fills her niche in the desert ecosystem just fine. I can respect that, but I still don’t find her easy to like.

Daily Sketch 06/15/12 ‘We Have Babies!’

 Yes, indeed we do. Henrietta, our tiny nesting hummingbird, has been tending her fortress-like, golf ball-sized nest in one of our backyard trees. I wasn’t sure she was actually as attentive as she should be because it seemed she was absent most of the time.

Two days ago I glanced up and there were two tiny bills sticking straight up out of the nest! The babies had taken about two weeks to hatch and now their mama was dashing back and forth from the nest to wherever, stopping only long enough to feed her brand-new offspring.

How tiny are they? First of all, both babies fit into their nest (think ‘golf ball’ here) with Henrietta sitting on top. Second of all, their bills are only 1/2″ long – tiny miniatures of their mother.

I know I’ll be checking on them everyday. I thought perhaps all the attention we were lavishing on her would scare the new mama away, but Nature seems to be much more resilient than that. I’m pleased she’s allowed us to be a part of her world.

 

 

Daily Sketch 06/08/12 ‘Junior’

 I have never seen such a squabbley, awkward, demanding and adorable offspring! Junior seems to have outgrown his mother’s tiny fortress nest while we weren’t looking, and taken to following her everywhere…at least during these last few days.

 Unfortunately I cannot tell one hummer from another except through their daily habits, so I’m not at all sure this is Henrietta.

It seems she can change the appearance of her size and shape at will depending on the circumstances. When she’s relaxed she appears to be no longer from the tip of her beak to the tip of her tail than 2″. Her feathers are smooth and she looks very slender. When she’s flustered, defending her nest or feeding source or zipping about, she fluffs up into ball of pure energy and appears to be larger.

 And Junior (right) seems to have her (left) at her wits end!