Unusual Occurrences in the Desert

A couple of days ago, Marcia and I did an absolutely stellar hike of about seven miles, starting and ending at our temporary home in Sedona. Our favorite hikes tend to be loops (in preference to “out and backs”) with some “there’s a there there” spots along the way. This walk met both of those criteria well.

One of the highlights of the day’s ramble was clambering atop a rock formation called Hole in the Sky atop Brin’s Mesa, affording really wonderful 360° views of the various Red Rock formations north of town. There was a young couple from Louisiana atop the rock when we arrived, and with attention to safe social distancing and masking, we swapped photos with each other, eschewing the usual selfie approach. Here we are atop Hole in the Sky:

After exchanging thanks and pleasantries, I walked to the other side of the rock and snapped a southward-facing vista. It looked like this:

I shared that photo on a web forum where I’m active, and as I saw it on a bigger (e.g. non-phone) screen for the first time, my eye was immediately drawn to what appeared to be a figure sitting on a log just below the rock, in the sort of scalloped curve in the yellow stone that shapes the lower left quadrant. Dammit! Did someone photo bomb my scene? Grrr! I had neither seen nor heard anybody down there, so it seemed a sneaky surprise. I blew the photo up a bit and looked closer:

Hmmm. Is that a black-clad goth grrrl sitting on a rock with legs crossed, leaning with elbows on knees while looking back up at me? That seems odd on such a hot day. Or did I capture some hidden person or desert spirit or (burnt) wood nymph enjoying a sunny day instead? Another zoom:

Yeesh. Now it’s sort of starting to take on monstrous proportions. Were scary things moving in the desert in advance of Hallowe’en and its second blue moon of the month? Did I need to investigate paranormal activity hereabouts? By all popular accounts, there’s a lot of it.

After I posted that first blow-up image on the web forum, other folks pointed out some additional oddities in the scene to the left of the Ghostly Goth, highlighted in orange below: a couple of smiling heads at top left, a ballcap-wearing ghost at center, a strange cat-bird hybrid at bottom left:

I’m sure if we kept searching, we’d find plenty more haints and boogers and ghouls and horrors in that clearly haunted little dell tucked in below the big rock. Or, conversely, we’d find more fine examples of pareidolia, defined as “the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music.”

Did we see something ghoulish in the desert on Thursday, or did we see a jumble of wildfire-burnt logs and rocks stacked up randomly per common natural causes? One of those explanations is fun and freaky, especially given the season. One is not so much so. You be the judge. We’re heading out into the rocks again today, so I’ll update you if Ghostly Goth Grrrl and her Parade of Pareidolic Phantasms turn up again . . .

(P.S. Count yourself a good music nerd if you know from whence I cribbed the title of this post).

Driftless

At about 8:15 AM this morning, Marcia and I drove across the US-20 bridge from Jo Daviess County, Illinois, into Dubuque, Iowa. This marked our final re-entry burn into Iowa, after more trips out of and back into the Hawkeye State since 2011 than we could begin to count. We then worked our way down to Interstate-80 in Iowa City, and drove west to Des Moines, the last time we’ll drive that highway as well, again having done so more times than we could count, or enjoy.

We had spent the long weekend in the Driftless Area, situated around the point where Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois meet along the mighty Mississippi River. The name doesn’t mean that the area, its inhabitants, and us while we were there existed in a state with neither aim nor direction, but rather refers to the fact that the region is free of glacial drift, and seems not to have been covered by the Pleistocene ice. It’s geologically unique in the Upper Midwest accordingly, and is a spectacularly beautiful part of the country. We’ve traveled through it a bit over the years, and it seemed an apt place to make our final Iowa road trip, at the peak of autumn color, of which we don’t expect to see much once we drive off to Arizona next week.

We stayed in Galena, Illinois, a lovely little tourist town with some deep history of national import, most especially having been Ulysses S. Grant’s home through his post-Civil War career. We also drove up to Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is one of the most historically and visually stunning locales in all of Iowa. While there, we hiked up to the famed Hanging Rock (no picnic, alas) to bask in the extraordinary views of the Mississippi River valley in its gaudy autumnal attire. Very nice, all around. Recommended if you find yourself in that out of the way part of the country.

I snapped away as I always do, so if you’d like to see some of the color and scenes, click the happy couple selfie below (taken at Hanging Rock) to see the full photo album. The next one I post will likely look much, much different!

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place (Update #2)

I rode 75.1 miles today, the fourth jaunt in my “Rollin’ in Place” Anno Virum version of the Tour des Trees. That puts me at about 84% of my mileage goal, which I should finish early next week. I had originally planned to complete the 321 miles in six rides, but I’ve been going hard enough that I will get it done in five instead. Zoom zoom!

On the fundraising side, I’m at 69% of my goal. I’m truly grateful to those who have supported me and TREE Fund already. (See this post for more information on how these funds will be used). I’d be even more grateful if other readers would consider making a gift to the good cause. If you do it this weekend, I may be able to complete the money part of my commitment around the same time that I complete the physical challenge. That would be most satisfying. You can click the image above to get to my fundraising page. Easy peasy!

It was chilly out there today, in the high 30s when I rolled out, frost still visible in the fields. Hoping for a little balmier air next time I take Trusty Steed out . . . but if I need to be bundled up to get the job done, so be it. Worse things happen at sea.

Autumnal

Yeah, I know that the astronomical autumnal equinox happened the week before last, but from a “boots on the ground” standpoint, we’ve been just a bit behind the curve here. (As is often the case in Iowa. Zing!) But that’s changing now, and quickly. Our daily walks over the past few days have involved more clothing layers than usual, and occasional hats, and tonight we’ve got our first frost warning posted. I’m planning to do a long bike ride tomorrow (for this), and it looks like the temperature will be ~36º F when I get rolling. More layers!

But that should be a short-term situation, as  today marks the three-week point before we load up the jalopy and move to Sedona, Arizona. Which means that unless global weirding queues up some particularly extreme and abnormal scenarios over the years ahead, 2020 should the last year that I spend dreading cold season, while trying to enjoy the pleasant elements of autumn. Not complaining. After 35+ years living in the frozen, damp, windy climes of Iowa, Chicago, Upstate New York and Idaho, I’m more than ready for a bit of year-round dry heat.

That said, I do note that I have raw, primal reactions to two common stimuli experienced in Northern autumns: hearing the sound of geese migrating southward and seeing Orion hunting in the Zodiacal plane on crisp, clear nights. I think these sights and sounds must resonate in our collective unconscious from centuries when shorter days and falling temperatures didn’t just mean higher fuel oil bills or extra lap blankets, but instead meant that the most perilous time of the year was nigh, and many of a community’s weaker members wouldn’t live to see the return of sunlight and warmth. Any time I hear the geese fly over, I involuntarily stop in my tracks and look up. Any time my eyes are drawn to the night sky and light upon Orion’s belt, they stay there, taking an active effort of will to look away. Those sounds and sights evoke awe, which I think of as wonder leavened with fear.

Autumn is a bittersweet season, at bottom line. I love the color, I love the weather . . . but winter is coming soon. For inside workers, it doesn’t really change the day to day pattern of our lives. But for those who spend warm months on the land, I imagine winter is a much different experience. I wrote a poem about these sorts of feelings back in the early 2000s called “Harvest.” It doesn’t explicitly mention geese or Orion, but it does try to evoke the sense of awe the season inspires in me. When I wrote it, I kept feeling like I should end it, then kept tacking on extra triplets (it has an odd structure), much in the way that we cling to the last leaves on the trees, the last warm days, the last pleasant evenings, lingering before the darkness falls and the snow is upon us.

While I was looking for that poem today in my old writing files, I stumbled over a few other pieces that also seem to evoke that autumnal spirit for me, some directly, some obliquely. They’re all posted below, for your consideration. Perhaps they’ll read well with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate?

HARVEST

Let’s take a long deep breath
and ponder the pasture
and our place in it:
we’ve got the harvest in,
the orchards are pruned and
all our wood’s been split;
the leaves have long since gone,
the frost’s on the pumpkins
and it’s cold at night.
In less than four short weeks
we’ll stand here again and
see a sea of white.
We’ve stored the grain inside,
stacked hay in the stalls and
put our tools away.
The growing season’s done,
the colors have faded
into brown and grey.
It doesn’t seem that long
since last we all stood here
at this time of year.
We’ll hunker down inside
for five months or so and
try to fight the fear
that winter brings to us:
the cold and the darkness
and the sickness too.
We’ll count the days for months
and pray for the spring, that’s
all that we can do.
These bittersweet fall months
are fraught with emotion
in these farming fields:
we’re glad the harvest’s done,
we’re proud of our work and
happy with our yields,
but now we hibernate
like beasts in the forest
(less the gift of sleep).
We take one last long look
and walk from the fields, and
many of us weep.

FREEZE

Outside, we can tell the air itself is thickening,
while we ponder cold weather wear we’re ordering
from fall catalogs, the rate of cooling quickening
with the first frost freezing hard the backyard bordering,
the once green growth succumbing to nature’s savaging,
organic ice orchards wilting first then splintering.
By night, we hear the winds all whistling and ravaging,
and know that before we’re ready, we’ll all be wintering.

MIGRATION

Gotta go the long way, fly along the highway,
high above the flyways, flat upon our backs.
Order over-rated, over-saturated,
rate the ones we hated, stop them in their tracks.

Wing as sharp as knife edge cuts into the first hedge,
watching from the high ledge, just above the stacks.
Flightless in the liner, lines from here to China,
over Asia Minor, chin up, Uncle Max.

Gotta go the long way, drive below the flyway,
park it in the driveway, fill and seal the cracks.
Watching the migration on a TV station,
where’s the destination? I’m so bad with facts.

GEMINI SNAKE

Gemini Snake coming out of the forest,
as the leaves fall, he rolls on, he rolls on,
I had a dream he was headed this way, and
I’m thinkin’ he’ll get here tomorrow, ’round dawn.

Gemini Snake at the edge of the farmlands,
he never stops, he rolls on, he rolls on,
went to the church to tell Preacher he’s coming,
and bone up a bit on those visions of John’s.

Gemini Snake in the next village over,
spinning off sparks, he rolls on, he rolls on,
on the horizon, we see smoke arising,
and harvest our crops, and chew bitter pecans.

Gemini Snake coming faster and faster,
right into town, he rolls on, he rolls on,
passes the town square and court house on Main Street,
damned if he doesn’t roll right to my lawn.

Gemini Snake passes straight through my property,
he doesn’t stop, he rolls on, he rolls on,
where he is headed now, I can’t imagine,
but I’m quite relieved by the fact that he’s gone.

HAPPINESS

There’s a lantern in the window
and a wild boar in the wood
as I’m standin’ in the plantin’ field
and feelin’ pretty good
’bout my farmin’ situation
an’ my plans for wintertime,
’bout that woman from Winooski,
‘an how glad I am she’s mine.
Got a bottle in the bureau,
and a smokin’ ham out back,
as I look about my holdin’s,
there ain’t nothin’ that I lack,
‘cept that boar . . . he keeps escapin’
every time we hunt him down:
like a ghost he disappears and leaves
us shootin’ at the ground.
I got ‘coons and I got turkey,
I got squirrels and I got deer,
shoot ’em, skin ’em, cook ’em, eat ’em,
that’s the way we do it here.
But that boar, he keeps eludin’ us,
he’s smart as twenty men.
I b’lieve I’ll know true happiness
when I make a ham of him.

Gemini Snake is a particular loathsome specimen of the hoopsnake genera, clearly.

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place (UPDATE!)

A couple of weeks back, I publicly stated my commitment to support my former employer, TREE Fund, by participating in their Anno Virum “Rollin’ In Place” version of the organization’s long-standing alpha community engagement and fundraising event, the Tour des Trees. I’ve ridden in five Tours, and they were truly wonderful, in many, many regards that I’ve written about at length here multiple times before. (Here’s last year’s report). While I will certainly miss the spirit of community that defines in-person Tours, I sincerely applaud TREE Fund for taking the safe and sane approach to the big event this year. I’m glad to do my part, where I can, however it can help them. So motivated, I defined my goal for this year’s activity as follows:

I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’m pleased to provide the following status report, updated after a solid (but cold, and windy) ride today of 70.2 miles:

That’s a screen cap from my fundraising page. You can get to it by clicking the image. Hint hint hint. For the record, I’m at ~61% of my cycling goal after three rides, averaging around 65 miles per excursion, all on real roads, in real-world conditions. Just like the Tour. I’m at ~51% of my fundraising goal, and would like to see those two metrics running in parallel. I’d be most grateful for your support, as would TREE Fund. Every gift counts, especially this year, when so many sources of funding are drying up or being redirected in the face of the pandemic and its related economic tumult.

Throughout the years that I served as TREE Fund’s President and CEO, I wrote boodles of words and articles explaining what we did and why it mattered and why donors should fund us. I think my favorite of those various fundraising pieces was one called “The Trees We Live With.” I reproduce its text below to help frame TREE Fund’s work, if you’re not already familiar with it. Their mission is important. I’m to glad to continue supporting them as I am able. I’d be deeply appreciative if you’d join me by making a contribution to my campaign on their behalf. Here’s the link again. Thanks for your consideration and support, as always. It means a lot, and it makes a difference.

THE TREES WE LIVE WITH

When friends and new acquaintances outside of the tree care industry hear that I am the “President of TREE Fund,” they almost always express enthusiasm for my work, although the conversation is often a little more complicated that you might expect, e.g.:

Friend: “Oh cool, I love trees! TREE Fund is the one that does tree planting events, right?”

Me: “No, that’s not us.”

Friend: “Oh, so you’re protecting the Amazon Rain Forest, right?”

Me: “No, not really, sorry.”

Friend: “Ummm . . . so you’re the organization that buys up land and puts it into trust so it stays forever wild, right?”

Me: “No, we don’t do that either.”

And so on, and so forth, sometimes for a few more rounds. In trying to cut to the chase politely on such conversations without diminishing people’s enthusiasm for my work with trees, the phrase I’ve found that seems to most quickly make their eyes light up with realization is when I say: “We fund research to benefit the trees we live with.”

People seem to embrace “the trees we live with” quickly and intuitively. These are the trees in our backyards, our street trees, the ones our children climb, the trees that shade our schools. They’re the formal arrangements that make our civic architecture more grand, the little glades that provide green backdrops to our developments, that killer oak along the fairway that costs us a stroke every time we slice a tee shot into it, the canopy above the cemeteries we visit on Veterans and Memorial Days, and so many others. The “trees we live with” are a part of our everyday lives and experiences. TREE Fund supports the science needed to sustain them.

I know, of course, that the benefits of our research and education programs reach well beyond that simple rubric. But getting people outside our industry to think actively about the myriad choices and decisions that can surround a single familiar tree over its lifetime is a great first step in helping them understand not only what TREE Fund does, but also the benefits that professional tree care services anchored in rigorous science can provide.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate “the trees we live with.” Bringing our work home for people that way can help us open the circle to new friends and supporters, one conversation at a time.

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place

I retired from my role as President and CEO of Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) in November 2019. That was right around the time that we announced that the next installment of our premier community engagement event, the Tour des Trees, would be rolling through Colorado in September 2020. Having ridden in and fundraised for five prior Tours (click here for last year’s report), I had fully intended to ride that planned 2020 mountain route as well, but those plans changed last Spring when I was awarded the opportunity to visit Ideas Island in Sweden, creating an irreconcilable scheduling conflict.

Then, of course, Anno Virum happened, and everything changed. I’m not posting from Sweden right now, and the Tour did not roll through the Rockies as expected. Bummers on both fronts. While losing the opportunity to work on a project at Ideas Island impacted only me, the loss of the 2020 Tour had far more consequential impacts on TREE Fund, significantly cutting into its ability to provide community engagement and fundraising to support crucial arboricultural research programs. The West Coast is burning as I write this post, demonstrating clearly and painfully how necessary and valuable scientifically-robust research findings and practices are to mitigating climate change, combating invasive species, and capitalizing on the myriad benefits provided by healthy urban and community forests. TREE Fund is a major player in that effort, especially as Federal funding for such work has evaporated or been redirected in recent years.

I was pleased, therefore, when TREE Fund announced plans for a “Rollin’ In Place” Tour designed to allow riders, runners, walkers, swimmers, hikers, whatevers support the organization safely from and in their own home communities. They’ve set a goal of $150,000, around the theme of “3-2-1 Go!,” explained thusly:

Traditionally, Tour des Trees riders would spend a week riding through a state or region, engaging with communities and raising funds for TREE Fund. Instead of riding 321 miles in the Rockies this year, we challenge you to take on 321 your own way! Ride 321 km a month the entire duration of the campaign, run 3.21 miles a day, do 321 pushups a week, walk your dog 321 miles, pogo-stick jump to a new record of 321 . . . you get the idea. 321 is the magic number!

I’m down to do my part on that front to help TREE Fund reach its event goals. I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’ve kicked things off by making my own contribution to the cause, and would greatly appreciate it if you would support TREE Fund via my “Rollin’ In Place” campaign. Here’s my fundraising page, where you can make your own gift to support the mission and goal. That page is linked to my cycling computer, so it will show progress updates as they occur, and I will also report them here, of course. Thanks in advance for whatever you can chip in to the effort. I am grateful, as will be the entire TREE Fund team.

Last year’s Tour team. We’re not together in person this year, but the communal spirit remains strong. (Click to enlarge and see if you can spot the very professional Ex-President/CEO throwing the metal horns. BRUTAL!!)