A great egret (aka a great white heron) is perched atop a ‘rice trunk’ while taking in the sun as it sets over a marsh in the coastal wetlands of South Carolina. A rice trunk is a gravity-flow mechanism that uses tidal energy to transfer water from one place to another. It was used in the 17th century for rice farming; today they are typically used to create ideal habitats for birds that thrive in wetland ecosystems
Brilliant colours in the landscape as the sun sets over the red rocks of Sedona in the state of Arizona in the USA. This one is for my sister Marj.
This morning I was waiting outside a public library as it got ready to open. Others were gathering around me too and an elderly couple ambled slowly along the path, holding hands. As they approached, they greeted another fellow standing across the sidewalk from me. This other fellow asked how they were doing. The elderly man replied: “So far, so good”. His partner chuckled and said to the fellow: “He always says the same thing – So far, so good.” The elderly man smiled to himself and my eyes drifted to his hands, which were lovingly caressing hers. I saw the wedding ring on her finger and saw her respond by tightening her hands around his. It gave me happiness and a comfortable and warm feeling inside just wondering about the path they took in life to arrive at this moment together. A nice way to start the day.
I decided to visit Arizona for the Easter long weekend. Good decision: as I write this, Chapel Hill is undergoing a deep freeze of 30-50° F (6° C) while I am thoroughly enjoying the warm and dry 94° F (34° C) weather.
It was not a difficult decision to come here. Arizona offers intense hiking opportunities, awesome and raw natural beauty, and a major plus is that an equally keen adventurer friend of mine is based here. He and his wife recently had a baby boy who I was eager to meet. And so the plans were drawn.
It’s my first time here and I was surprised to discover that Phoenix has 4.2 million people in the metropolitan area. This makes it the sixth largest city by population in the country, according to Wikipedia. The metro area also includes the large and well-known towns of Scottsdale and Tempe, which is where I have spent my time so far.
The town of Tempe is home to the campus of Arizona State University and like most college towns in the US, it has a vibrant, hip and liberal feel to it. The streets are pedestrian-friendly, decorated with palm trees, and lined with trendy bars and restaurants, yoga studios, and smoke shops. You’ll see young professionals chatting it up over cocktails and beers and students sipping iced coffees and pounding away on keyboards trying to get their papers finished. Still, I was horrified to see one bar with its patio sliding doors thrown wide open and its air-conditioning system cooling the city air at full blast. And another restaurant across the street was spraying misted water on to its patrons to cool them down. (I found the temperature to be quite balmy.) I had gotten off the plane just 30 minutes earlier and so unfortunately these were among my first observations of my life in the Phoenix area …
My friend Paul and I stopped at the Handlebar Tempe, a restaurant with an airy beer garden out back. We ordered sausages, burgers and sweet potato fries accompanied by cold local ale. That was enough for me to declare it a meal of champions!
The roads around Scottsdale are lined with Saguaro cacti and palo verde trees which are among the dominant forms of fauna here. The entire area is situated within the Sonoran Desert, one of four desert ecosystems found in the United States. Despite the low amounts of precipitation in this climate there is apparently enough rain (or groundwater) to sustain some life. Certain types of plants have evolved to thrive here, but they tend to have a dusty or dull brownish and greenish colour to them and this is a dominant feature of the landscape.
Scottsdale city authorities have undertaken efforts and put rules in place to protect the sensitive local environment. For starters, developers are apparently prohibited from removing the road-side brush. The result is that nearly every road is lined with the original desert vegetation and resident and commercial developments are a secondary feature, blending more readily into the landscape. I understand that homeowners may only plant species of vegetation which are native to the area and which are adapted to the low rainfall levels. Moreover, as a water conservation measure, properties have drip-irrigation systems built in at the time of construction which are designed to provide only a minimal amount of water to the plants growing around the home. And you’ll notice from the photo below that there is no grass – just light-coloured grey stones. Where grass exists, it’s usually Astroturf! These efforts are quite a contrast to the waste of water I witnessed in downtown Tempe.
Another dominant characteristic of the landscape is its sharp mountainous relief. Everywhere you look you will see conical or triangular shaped mountains rising abruptly out of the desert. These are the McDowell Mountains. Some of them rise only a few hundred or a thousand feet, while others must be easily twice that height. It is funny because as we were driving along the way, I found it difficult to tell where the homes and businesses were, so well were they obscured by the same landscape that was occupying our attention.
Early one morning, Paul and I decided to hike up into one such set of mountains, following the Pinnacle Peak Trail. The hike was about 2 miles long, with an elevation change (both up and down) of about 1,300 feet, and took us about 2 hours to complete. There were dozens of other hikers and joggers on the trail with us. I wondered at those who were running up and down the mountains. I thought to myself that they must be doing interval training (an exercise format that aims to improve strength and recovery time after highly intense periods of physical exertion).
From the top of Pinnacle Peak, you can see a few golf courses built into the desert.
And one home with an infinity pool, set into the mountain side.
After a night dancing under the full moon in the desert outside of Los Angeles, California, seeing the sun rise over the mountains seemed like the right thing to do at 5:00am. Seize the day, right? I headed in the direction of the brightening sky and climbed to the top of the nearest hill. At the top of it, I realized I was at the start of the mountain ranges of the Mojave Desert where the ridge of each mountain seemed to be higher than the last. I continued on, climbing up and down for what seemed like forever. Finally, at a certain point, the sun had risen high enough that it came over the top of the ‘last’ mountain and there I was.
A ladybug shows off in a North Carolina strawberry field.
The snowy egret standing proud on Alcatraz Island in California, showing off its pristine white plumage. I am attracted by its sharp facial features and the way its head-feathers have a mohawk style. The bird, once considered endangered, has rebounded in population numbers since the establishment of the US Bird Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
I love this anti-smoking law in New York. I’m amazed that it’s being respected. We’ve had the same law in Quebec for about 10 years, but you wouldn’t know it.
So, after I left the restaurant where I had met family, I didn’t end up going down to the coffee shops my cousins suggested. I turned around and went back to see that cute bartender at Detour. That place was the jackpot. It was almost exactly like the bars I would normally go to here in Montreal, only everyone spoke English and the live music was cerebral and impulsive. I knew I was on to something when the first three songs I heard from the sound system were from the Beatles.
When I walked in, there were a couple of guys my age at one end of the bar nursing martinis and a table off to the side with a handful of thirty-something women. The bartender was outside on the step having a cigarette and warned me that she’d be in shortly. Nobody from the band had shown up yet.
The two men to my left were artists from a paper-back novel. One is a filmmaker who does most of his studio editing in Montreal in what he considers the most affordable quality-city in North America. It happens, Montreal has developed some very fertile ground for film talent. Concordia University has a reputable film program. One of this year’s big winners at the Cannes festival was from Montreal. It was a big deal around here.
The second artist is an aspiring actor. I get the impression he’s not originally from New York. He’s one of the many actors who’ve left home for a chance to shine in NYC. For one, he’s a baseball fan, but he was talking about Kansas City. Also, I could detect a hint of an accent on his tongue, by the effort he put in to covering up whatever was there in the first place with a distinguished Frasier Crane pseudo-Brit-in-America kind of deal. He is working more with the administration of a theatre company than he seems to enjoy, probably because he can’t get acting work. A really nice guy, though, he very interesting.
I never spoke to the older women, but I overheard them arguing over which group it is that forbids sex and alcohol, Scientology or Christian Science. The bartender seems like the typical college student away from home on Daddy’s dollar paying her apartment without much serious responsibility. She’s having fun and enjoying life which is good, because working in a bar, if approached with the wrong attitude, can become terribly depressing and she doesn’t seem capable of dealing with anything too heavy. I had a long chat with her and noticed that there was really nothing much to her beyond her blue-eyed smile.
Then the first member of the band showed up with only a black, box-shaped case, soon after the group of women finished their round and left. I wouldn’t have known he’s a musician had the bartender not asked him if he was playing that night. The band turned out to be a three-piece arrangement of drum, bass, and xylophone. The young musicians were relatively skilled considering their lack of experience and their homeliness was vintage in its authenticity. They began their set to an audience of two men, myself included, after the two artists had decided to call it an early evening. It was, after all, a Sunday.
I chatted with the xylophone player before and after the set. He had toured Canada once. It was with a songwriter/musician who’s name meant something to me, but I could not place it until he linked him to Ani DiFranco. He had some great stories about being on the road and about his experience with Canadians. I was amused when he commented that Canadians don’t have guns. My reply wiped the confusion off his face and replaced it with disbelief: “Canadians don’t have pistols. They have shotguns and rifles meant to fill caribou and bears, not people. There’s no reason to bring a gun to the city, in Canada.” He smiled and joked, “I guess there’s something wrong with us.”
Shortly after the live improvisation began, a half-dozen underage-clubbers stumbled in to the wrong bar and got carded for their fancy-named drinks. They were somehow successful, most likely at selecting the right people to order. Sill, they didn’t last long and were gone before the end of the first set of four formatted pieces consisting of xylophone solo, bass and drum accompaniment, bass solo, drum solo, and then all the musicians together. Overall, a fairly unoriginal performance, but perfectly respectable.
It was exactly the night I would have scripted if I had attempted to form any expectations. Instead I let myself go limp to be blown by the wind in whatever Robby Robertsonnesque direction that may be. I left the bar after the band had sat down at their instruments to prepare their second set of the night. I waved to my temporary friend behind the massive metal mallotted melody-maker, thanked my kind hostess, and walked as far as Union Square before deciding I was too tired to spend an hour walking in the cool damp air. That’s where I hailed a cab that brought me right to the lobby of the hotel.
When I woke up the next morning, I was hungrier than I would have expected to be after a meal as filling as the non-Chinese Chat and Chu, but satisfied that I had enjoyed my vacation as much as possible. The only problem is: I want to do it again.
we all shine on…
Helicopters flying all over L.A. today. Cars are out in droves with flags flying high, and balconies everywhere are draped in the “Stars and Stripes”. Other than that, everybody is acting fairly normal. Stores are open, and business appears to be as usual.
In Montreal, Concordia University activists protested against a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. Check out an article written by Jake Morrissey and photos taken by same on Jake’s Wordiness site [site now offline].
The following day, the Concordia administration imposed a temporary state of silence on public debate concerning the situation in the Middle East. This drew even more criticism, including this piece [now available at the Internet Wayback Machine] from Josh Bernatchez, writer and concerned Concordia University student.
I had a couple of hours today and I managed to get the rest of the photos from last week on to the site. Check them out!
In other news, I’m in it. Check out this local newspaper [article now offline] from the West Island of Montreal. Pretty wild. :) I made the paper!
Ok boys and girls, take it easy..