Yellow Snow, But Nicer

WINNER of the Book Spine Poetry Contest. There were too many that delighted me–so I wrote the names of 10 wonderful entries on index cards and let my cat walk across them. The first and last ones he stepped on were the winners–Andria of DrawingNear blog and Paula in Buenos Aires, you won a copy of my book Raw Art Journaling! Books will ship when I get back from  teaching at Valley Ridge, the week of May 7.

*   *   *   *   *

One of the delights I experience every spring is the blooming of the Palo Verde trees. The trees have tiny leaves and tiny yellow flowers on green branches supported by green trunks. Palo Verdes evolved to survive the Sonoran Desert by shedding leaves and small branches in the searing heat of the summer. The trunks and big branches do the photosynthesis work, so thy are green.

The trees’ tiny yellow flowers drop off the trees and create the look of bright yellow snow. A slight breeze will cause drifts of blossoms and for a few weeks, these yellow snow-like masses shift and drift on curbs and in corners.

The path to the library is lined with Palo Verdes and today was a perfect day for yellow snow–the nice kind.

-Quinn McDonald is a naturalist who thrives on the Sonoran Desert’s surprises.

Bloomin’ Spring

There’s a time of year in the Sonoran Desert when plant life is perfect. That time is now. We have a few hot days and a bit of rain, and the Ocotillo, which looks like a collection of thorns and sticks, breaks out in leaves and flowers.

Close up, the flowers are incredibly beautiful, but they have no scent. Although hummingbirds don’t seem to mind.

Then there is a paddle cactus in the front yard that is covered with blooms. In the morning they are bright yellow.

In the afternoon, they deepen to orange.

And in case you aren’t completely sure if you prefer pink or yellow, this agave has a flower spike of each one.

It’s a wonderful time of year, it lasts about four weeks, and then hell comes to spend the summer. But right now, it’s gorgeous.

–Quinn McDonald is a naturalist, artist and creativity coach who lives in the Sonoran desert.

The Orange Smell

There are gifts of winter that are sacred. When I lived in New England, it was crunching over fresh-fallen snow, the kind of snow that smelled of ozone and renewed the world.

Ripe oranges, magically fragrant

Here in the Sonoran desert, two gifts appeared this afternoon. One was a songbird, happy to be at the end of his migration. Our birds arrive in winter and remind us that there are birds other than pigeons and grackles.

The other winter gift is my favorite. The first orange on the tree turned fragrant today. The oranges are early this year, and for the last few weeks, I’ve watched them turned bright from the navel up. But today, as I sniffed at one, I got the first whiff of real orange. Not the neroli scent of the blossoms, but the rich floral fragrance mixed with a bit of zest and a bit of bitter peel. You won’t ever smell it in a grocery store. The ones in stores are picked long before they are ripe.

These oranges, picked, lose the incredible fragrance within hours. But from now until the end of December, every day I will go out and inhale that smell that makes me glad to be alive. It’s a gift.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who lives in the Sonoran Desert.

Summer in Phoenix: It’s Baaaack

There is a season we huddle in our houses–no sense ruining your day by going out. Comfort drinks to soothe you while you listen to the weather report, wondering when it will all be over. That used to be winter. Now it’s summer in Phoenix. It will be 110 degrees by the end of the week, and it will be followed by 120 more days that are 100 degrees or above.

Things I’ve learned from my second summer in Phoenix:

—You CAN fry an egg on the sidewalk. This is best done around the summer solstice, when the sun is directly overhead at noon.

Victoria's page in the Sonoran Traveling Journal

Victoria's page in the Sonoran Traveling Journal

—A dip in a 95-degree pool is refreshing.

— You will walk half a mile in heat so hot your feet get stuck in the parking lot tar. This is not to get close to the mall entrance. This is to get that space under a tree.

—You carry a small cooler with a water bottle or 3 in it. A water bottle left in a cup holder is hot enough to make soup.

—You don’t leave CDs in the car. They melt. Even in the CD player.

—You don’t carry a black purse. The contents is too hot to touch.

—You put your iPhone in a light-colored cover. No one believes that iPhones  don’t work if it gets over 95 dgrees except for residents of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.

–You bring plants in for the summer. It gets too hot for many plants outside.

—You know there will be churning dust storms and rain storms so violent they are called “monsoons.” You leave extra time to clean your pool after these storms.

—“Geezer Glasses”–those giant sunglasses that slip over your regular glasses suddenly seem like a good idea. The glasses that get dark don’t work in your car because your windows are tinted. And you can take them off when they fog over when you walk into a store.

—You carry a sweater into a store because the difference between the outside temperature and inside temperature is often 30 degrees or more.

— At midnight, it’s still 96 degrees. You think that’s cool.

One of the Traveling Journals came back–Summer in the Sonoran. It will go out next week, I need to keep it for my class at Changing Hands on Saturday. That’s an image done by Victoria Pearman, above.

You can write in the journals, too. Check out the details about all the journals here. Or, drop me an email at Rawartjournal [at] gmail [dot] com.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and journal keeper who loves living in Phoenix.

Spring Color in the Desert

Flowers along the trail

Flowers along the trail

When I tell people I live in the Sonoran Desert, they often say, “How dull, I could never live there. It’s all brown and tan.” Not always. Here’s what Spring looks like in the desert.

The orange flowers are Desert Globemallow, the red are Easton Penstemon, the pink are Desert Pennyroyal, and the yellow are Desert Marigold.

Wildflower on Thunderbird Mountain

Wildflower on Thunderbird Mountain

Wildflower bush

Wildflower bush

Living Sunshine

Living Sunshine

Red wildflowers

Red wildflowers

Pink wildflower

Pink wildflower

Crossing the Desert: Phoenix to Los Angeles

The biggest surprise about driving across the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts is the mountains. The drive is flat in parts, but you are either driving past mountains or into mountain ranges. With a speed limit of 75 mph, it’s easy to miss the scenery.

Leaving Phoenix, you drive out of the Valley of the Sun–the mountain bowl that surrounds the city and suburbs. As you drive into the Sonoran desert, you see Saguaro cacti–in fact, that’s how you know when you are in the Sonoran Desert. Once you cross into the Mojave, in California, you will see Joshua Trees. The odd, ancient trees look like a cross between an angry rosemary bush and the Cookie Monster. Joshua Trees are found only in the Mojave.

I create maps of my trips. Not carefully drawn to scale, but as a visual reminder of the sites I loved.

It’s smart to get gas when your tank is half empty. While there are gas stations on the entire route, some of them are 50 miles apart, so it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the gas guage.

You leave Arizona and cross into California between Quartzsite and Blythe. Quartzsite is on the Arizona side, and when I made the drive today, the gas was more than a dollar cheaper on the Arizona side. The towns are less than 20 miles apart, so if you are driving from California, it may well be worth the wait to tank up on the cheaper side.

Crossing from Arizona to California, I passed a sign that said, “State Prison,” then shortly thereafter, another one that said, “Do not pick up hitchhikers,” and a third, just beyond the warning that said, “Rest stop, 1/4 mile.” While I was wondering about the logic of putting a rest stop so close to a prison, I realized that the stop, Wiley’s Well, had been there long before the prison, and had served horses, mules, trains and humans as a watering stop for centuries.

In the middle of the desert, West of Blythe, you see, on the North side of the Interstate (10) an interesting structure tucked into the Hayfield Mountains. Three pipes jump down the foothills and disappear into a long building. They are the result of a failed reservoir, built in the 1930s. The reservoir was built on porous ground and wouldn’t hold water. The pipes were added to provide Los Angeles with an emergency supply from the Colorado River in dry seasons. It’s now part of the aquaduct that will eventually cause a struggle over control of the water in the Colorado River.

A more modern capture of nature startles you as your climb into the San Bernadino Mountains in Palm Springs. Hundreds of white wind turbines hum on either side of the road. I have no idea how many there are, but if you told me it was 300, I’d believe it. They are huge and

amazing, turning in the mountain winds, providing electricity for Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.

The trip, which most people expect to be flat and dull is anything but. A photographer’s and painter’s dream, the shadows and clouds, sand and mountains make you catch your breath time and time again.

The trip takes 5 to 6 hours, and is worth every mile. Don’t miss a side trip to the Salton Sea, a saline lake caused by a bursting dam on the Colorado River, which flooded an entire town and railroad yard. The water was contained by huge blocks dropped into the narrow straights surrounding the water, forming a lake.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She owns QuinnCreative, and gives workshops and seminars on writing, presentations, and journal writing.

Sleeping in the Desert

The usual picture we have of any desert is the cartoon image of the big cactus with “arms” and people crawling across the sand, leaving a trail by the skull of a long-dead animal. But many deserts are teeming with life. The Sonoran desert in Arizona is no exception.

lizardThe saguaro cactus is the one with “arms” and a full-grown one will hold about 600 gallons of water inside. Birds drink by  poking small holes in the cactus, and owls build nests in them. The cactus itself is held up by a skeleton of tubes. When a saguaro dies, it leaves a skeleton of these tubes, and even they are useful. They keep smaller animals off the ground so they can rest from their prey. The large lizard here is an example.

The mountain lion is another animal that lives in the desert. This one has had a nice meal and is napping in a crevice of rock. They are dangerous animals, despite his peaceful look. There was also a foot of glass between us, and I was grateful.mountain lion

Lizards, snakes, tarantulas, desert squirrels, mice, shrews and a host of insects and birds thrive in the desert. They have adapted to the heat and scarce water. Now it’s our turn.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and naturalist recently transplanted from Washington, D.C. See her work at Images and text, (c) 2007, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.