Archive for March, 2010

Winter is Hard on the Forest

March 28th, 2010 | Category: Arizona

Here are the results of an evening hike around Walnut canyon.  The recent melting of thick snow has revealed the winter’s damage; the trees have it pretty hard.


Two of the winter’s victims


Forest wreckage and the rising moon


Two-foot diameter trunks have been snapped in half like twigs under the weight of ice, snow and the effects of heavy wind and low temperatures. I examined the wreckage on the ground; the trunk was not rotten. It took out a few smaller trees on the way down.


A lot of the snags (that’s what standing dead trees are named) have been hit by lightning.  It’s not visible in this image, but the lightning usually blasts off bark in a spiral pattern.


This tree points an accusing finger at the moon – for what I can’t imagine.


This gnarled tree isn’t dead, just dormant, but its twisted shape is a testament to the shattering winters it has seen.


The long low light from the setting sun infuses the forest with enchanted light.


At the other end of the sky, an antipodean moon keeps balance.


At intervals, tantalizing glimpses of the gloriously snow-clad peaks.






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March 27th, 2010 | Category: Uncategorized

Lately I’ve been thinking about “seriousness.”  Check out this article:;col1

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In snow, we have young eyes

March 22nd, 2010 | Category: Arizona


Snow wipes away the age of the land and makes it fresh to see with new eyes, washes away the color of cynicism and world-weariness; with its untouched purity there is fresh awareness.


For this place – Walker crater, in the neighborhood of the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona – there is a long history of creation and destruction sweeping  past, dancing and merging until the two realities have become indistinguishable.  In the still darkness of an ocean’s depth, chalky dust blanketed an infinite plain until the unfaithful seas fled to new adventures.  The dusty creaking crust of seabed was seared from below, swelling with liquid stone, creating snow’s footrest.  Throughout, a tireless flow of animals and plants roared overhead; now the volcanoes’ velvet coating has been shaved by the unforgiving razor of fire and the more savage appetite of – us.

When I was here in the summer, the destroyed forest dominated my sight; but the snow has been a balm to my perceptions.  The deep snow makes a soft leveling blanket that makes it easier to roam about (with snowshoes!).  Animal tracks, nearly invisible in the dry months, tell me that this place is not totally dead.  The mountainsides have been here a long time; maybe this is only an irritant to the forest.


In the distance I can see the edge of the Grand Canyon.  In another direction I can see rocks of the painted desert glowing with the fire of the setting sun.  It was almost 70 today, but there’s still 3 feet of snow on the ground and now that the sun has set, the top crust grows stronger.  The world turns blue with cold and the sky takes a plunge into winter again.  In the distance I can see route 180 arrowing towards Grand Canyon Village; I can see a ranch in the plain below, but I can’t hear or smell any evidence of people beyond the occasional ski track accompanied by dog prints.


Coming down this volcano is so much easier than going up!  I skate down the unrelieved pitch of the cone with giant, slipping strides, smearing the perfect texture of the snow’s surface with my giant paddled feet.  There is something amiss with the trees – are they really that short?  Every now and then I stab my hiking staff into the snow to check that it’s really 3 feet deep.  I feel like a water strider squirting about the eddies of a creek.   Winter has brought a strange ability to walk in midair.


After reaching the base of the cone I stride over the stubbly remains of the burned forest. I did the same thing when there was no snow and it was hard going; the surface is complicated, covered with potato-sized volcanic stone, all manner of burned logs, and the occasional small cave-in that sucks in your legs and fills your boots with pebbles.  Now, with the snow’s blessing, I glide easily over the broken ground, feeling like I’m swimming a shallow sea over a coral reef. With perfect timing, I make it back to the car as the last shreds of light drain from the sky.

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Snow hike near A1 Mountain

March 20th, 2010 | Category: Arizona

Flagstaff is so cool.  I’ll often drive around and see scenes like this.  That’s the San Francisco Peaks, and on the left is A1 mountain.  Both are volcanoes.


Since almost all of the land is national forest, which has nonrestrictive regulations about land use, I can simply find a place to park, get out, and walk into the woods! I drove up a forest road until I reached a place covered with snow and the road was closed.


I didn’t have snowshoes in the car, which would have helped a lot.  At least I had my gaiters, which made all the difference, but it was still tough going.  Every 10th footfall sank 3 feet into the snow.  I just chose a compass heading, looked at a map, and walked for a couple of miles.


No other people were present and I heard almost no human noise – just the crunch of snow under my feet. When I stopped to drink or look at the compass, it was starkly silent unless the wind was blowing.  Air temperature today: around 60 when I started!  I saw a coyote and plenty of woodpeckers, as well as an owl or hawk in the distance.


I used my hiking pole as a monopod (it has a camera mount under the handle) to get these images with a cool little digital camera that Holly gave to me.  I don’t usually take images of myself, maybe I should now and then.  That’s the San Francisco peaks in the background.

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Commuting, Flagstaff Style

March 11th, 2010 | Category: Arizona

I’ve really been enjoying my “commute” lately and I thought I’d share.

Mountain weather is so variable.  This is a view of my neighborhood from the the observatory.  One minute it can look like this:


… and in less than an hour, it’ll look like this:


There is a good deal of snow on the ground – about 2.5-3 feet, and in the woods where there is shade and drifting, often much more.  Once the snow has seasoned a little bit, it’s just right for snow shoeing.  I tried to do it when it was fresh and powdery and that was a bad idea!  That episode also taught me the value of a good pair of gaiters, a clothing item I thought I’d never need.

Now there’s a good semi-solid base with a few inches of powder on the top.  The woods look brand-new; hardly anyone has been walking around there, even in this city of outdoors people.Walking through there feels like exploring virgin territory.  Because the deep snow covers all of the rocks and logs, it’s a lot easier to walk around now than it is in the summer.


I saw a story told in fresh snow: in the obscurity of early dawn, a hare crossed a forest road, visible now only as a break in the trees – and a fox jumped out from behind a stump and tried to kill it.  But the hare shot off at a sharp angle down a steep mountainside, and lived to see another day.  The tracks were as clear as a map.  I could see just where the hare knew it was being chased, and just where the fox gave up.

The hillside is steep, but it’s so pretty I don’t have to make myself want to do it. Here’s my office window view:


The evening has come – it’s snowing lightly, and the sun is levering under the clouds just enough to shine dramatically on the peaks.  Time to commute home





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Snowy Sunday in Flagstaff

March 07th, 2010 | Category: Arizona

A typical snowy day – probably tomorrow, the brilliant blue sky will sit next to the snow. The historic Clark telescope dome is visible on the upper left.


The local target isn’t selling electric blankets anymore “because it’s spring.”

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March 07th, 2010 | Category: Uncategorized

I just finished listening to a good musician (Jeff from Lowell) play a superb Bach Fugue in a Flagstaff church. I was transported on waves of subsonic sound, saw the great wheel turning, had my toast recursively buttered, and grinned uncontrollably. What a lovely way to spend Saturday night. Organs are as intricate as the music they enable. For future reference, it was the Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542.

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