Days Getting Shorter

As August turns to September, we’ll still have another month of heat, but the long days are over. We have just less than 13 hours of sun now. Oh, we’ll still get over-105º days, but not as many, and not every day. The pool will cool slowly, and I’ll be able to take morning walks again.

© Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved.

© Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved.

For those of us who live in the desert, winter is the time we treasure. Summer is too hot, too harsh. And it’s losing its grip. Time to celebrate.

Quinn McDonald is a poetic medicine practitioner.

Repurposing the Scrap Book

After using the scrap book I made (from scrap paper and corrugated cardboard) as a calligraphy practice book, I realized that it wasn’t the right use for the book. The paper was too dark for subtle inks to show. The paper was also soft, and wasn’t right for pointed pens, fountain pens, or anything else except markers.

Time to re-purpose the scrap book. It seemed OK for a nature journal. Before you laugh, we have more than one kind of weather in Phoenix. We do have four seasons–often very subtle changes. The times of the seasons are different than the East Coast, and how people react is different.

The scrap book is converted to a nature journal by adding leaves, petals and a feather on the front page. The initial postcards is from A, B, Seas.

For example, in February in New England, if the dog wants out, you crack open the door and encourage the dog to get out. You may keep an eye on the dog to make sure it’s not too cold for him. The equivalent happens here in July. You let the dog out, but keep an eye on him. The heat can overwhelm a dog in a few minutes.

The nature journal I have in mind is not an exact scientific study piece. I’m less interested in subtleties in barometric pressure. I’m very interested in knowing when the temperature at night will drop below 80 degrees F. Once the night time temperature drops, even 100-degree temperatures in the day won’t be so bad.

It's OK not to be serious, even in a nature journal.

Once the humidity ebbs, the temperatures are not so serious. But I don’t know when that will happen. I don’t remember from last year. So using a heat map and decorating it in hot, fluorescent colors seemed like a good way to cover some of the previous exercises on this page.

Red beet paper makes a bright contrast to the dull grayish-brown scrap book journal.

To cover the last of the calligraphy marks, I wanted to use something bright, but natural. When I cooked the beets for the beet and chocolate cake, I used some of the beet puree to dye some washi paper. I glued the paper into the book, although I don’t know what I’ll put on that page yet. I covered some of the other pages in a woven map, gesso and paint and newspaper clippings. It’s casual, but so is the whole scrap journal. I think this is a better use for the book.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach. She engages in creative projects not just because she loves to, but because it is important in knowing what her creative clients experience.

Morning Light

I’ve never been a morning person, but my cat doesn’t care. Injured in a fight last year, he’s up pre-dawn, begging to patrol the perimeter of our yard–he won’t stray beyond the fence. This time of year, pre-dawn means 4:15 a.m. or so, and in order to let my husband get some sleep, I get up, feed the cats, watch the sky tuck night behind the horizon, and head out for my walk.

© Quinn McDonald

Life is not always filled with fun, eagerness and joy. Sometimes you have to do work you wish you could palm off on someone else. Sometimes you feel run down and have to wind yourself up. Sometimes you have to attend to duty, suck it up, and stop whining. I live in a land of extremes–extreme drought, extreme heat, extreme beauty, extreme poverty, and extreme laws. There is little middle ground here.

© Quinn McDonald

So this morning, when I saw the sun come up, I just let it feel good. I didn’t think about what was hard in my life, I didn’t think about how much I have to do, I didn’t think about obligations, or money, or responsibility, or the future. I just watched the sun come up.

© Quinn McDonald

The sun came up far North of East. It pushed fingers of light into the sky first. It struggled with the clouds, lighting them from behind, then burning through them. I thought of many metaphors of light and darkness, of sunrise and a fresh day. And then let them go. Sometimes a good sunrise is all you need.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist, and certified creativity coach. Her book, Raw Art Journaling, is being shipped to stores right now.

Early Summer in Phoenix

It’s easy to think of Phoenix in terms of familiar desert scenes with hot sun and lots of sand. The Sonoran Desert doesn’t look like the Sahara. Only 40 percent of Arizona is desert. Flagstaff, 140 miles north of here, gets more than 100 inches of snow in the winter. The Mogollan rim has more Ponderosa pines than Maine.

But here in the desert,  we have a large variety of small-leaved trees that make early summer–late April to the end of May–green and beautiful.

So if you think that Phoenix looks only like this:

Or like this:

You are missing some amazing parts of early summer. There are yuccas and agaves that shoot up

long spikes of flowers. When the spike is finished blooming, the plant dies and a new one takes its place. The spike is about 20 feet tall.






We also have ocotillos, a cactus that looks like a collection of long sticks. The octotillo has small round leaves that fall off when the heat and drought get too much for it. Give it a good rainfall and the leaves come back quickly. In the spring, the ocotillo develops orange-red flowers that last almost a month. An octotillo looks like a bunch of candles in the yard.

The desert willow has purple flowers that look like orchids. They bloom in April and May when the lacy leaves are still light green. The desert willow has long, draping branches that catch the wind.

Our palo verde trees have green trunks. The tiny leaves falls off in the heat, so the tree has evolved to photosynthesize through the trunk and branches. The palo verde and sweet acacia drop tiny leaves and pollen that drifts. Older sections of town have flood irrigation from the canals. Some of the water runs into the streets and washes the pollen away Some days we have just a bit of pollen:

And some days we have so much that it fills the gutters and puddles in the streets.

Here is a green pollen-pool that looks like a leaf:

This time of year the roses are in bloom. They will start to bloom in March and bloom through early May.

Once we get regular 100-degree days , the roses go dormant. We had our first 100-degree day on the first of April. We haven’t had one since, and I’m grateful. We normally hit 100 degrees in early May.

After the hard freeze we had in late January and early February, a lot of trees died. It’s nice to see them coming back from the root. This one will be blooming again next year.

This time of year is wonderful. The nights are cool and the days are warm–well, OK, hot. The migratory birds have left to go back north, but we have hummingbirds, finches, gila woodpeckers and great horned owls that stay around all year.

The state has a huge diversity of ecosystems. Come visit and enjoy them before it gets too hot. And Happy Earth Day!

Quinn McDonald is a writer and naturalist who lives in Phoenix.

So Hot, You CAN Fry an Egg

Grease pan, crack fresh egg into pan.

Every year, in July, I try to fry an egg. (See last year’s report.) Not on the sidewalk, that’s a liability and too messy, not to mention the smell or clean-up.   I use a pot, grease it, crack in an egg, cover the pot and put it outside.

By “frying an egg” I don’t mean over-easy with crispy brown edges. It’s hot here in Arizona, but even at 114 degrees F, it’s not a stovetop. You have to be patient, and give it a little time. I cover the pot to keep out flies, ants, curious cats, javelinas and coyotes. It helps keep the heat in the pot as well.

That lid keeps an amazing array of creatures out of the pot.

Today, I put the egg pot out just before noon and retrieved it six hours later. We are in typical July weather–it was 99 at 6 a.m., over a hundred by 10 a.m., and reached 114 degrees by 3 and stayed there till about 5 p.m. As I write this at 9:30 at night, it is 108 outside. The pool water is at 100 degrees, it feels warm when you get in. (Not to worry, you get out and the water evaporates so fast, your teeth chatter. Then you get back into the warm pool.)

Here is the egg, as it spent most of the day–in a small, covered pot.

The sun was almost at high noon when I started.

In the early afternoon, I peeked in, and found it starting to cook.

Egg slowly cooking in the Arizona heat.

In the later afternoon, the white was set, and the yolk was soft, but set at the edges. More than coddled, less than poached. And no, I did not eat it. It’s an experiment, and I think it wise not to eat eggs that have been in the sun for hours.

All done--not hard-boiled, but a long way from raw.

All done for another year. Maybe next year, it’s time for a new experiment. What would you like to know about the limits of heat in Arizona?

—Quinn McDonald is curious about the world around her–from eggs to acacia trees that drop green pods that dry out and pop open in the rain.  She keeps a nature journal and is writing a book for people who want to keep an art journal but can’t draw.

Phoenix’s Winter in Summer

If you live in a place where winter lasts from October to April, you know the symptoms of deep winter–that period from mid-January to mid-March. You spend more time indoors, eyeing the thermostat. Special clothing keeps you warm, you eat heartier meals, play more board games.

Bird feeder with ant moat.

Bird feeder with ant moat.

In winter, you carry a few things in the car in case you get stuck–maybe it’s kitty litter that will add traction if you slide into a snow bank. You may carry flares and one of those blankets that help you retain heat.

Well, here in the Valley of the Sun, which sound much nicer than “Sonoran Desert Floor” we take protective action, too. Except ours is in July and August, all the way into September.

We bring plants in for the summer. Those tropicals hate 115-degree heat and full sun. So in they come. We put out extra bird feeders and bird baths so the birds don’t die. My hummingbird feeders have ant moats around the top. Ant moats keep the ants from marching hundreds of yards up the tree (or feeder pole), down to the feeder and then into the feeder to reach the sugar water. Before ant moats I had to clean the feeders daily, to get the ants out of the drinking spouts. After moats, I have to refill the moats two and three times a day because the finches who drink sugar water will also drink the moat empty.

Birds do die from excessive heat here, I’ve seen two Mexican doves do exactly that,  particularly if the highs stay above 110 every day and the lows don’t go below 90. Which is much of July and August.

Some animals even go through aestivation–a sort of summer hibernation. They don’t gear up for it, but they do go into a stage of inaction during the hottest part of the day. Aestivation is more for amphibians and insects whose ponds dry up, but I’ve seen birds stay in the shade without moving for hours at a time.

Some trees drop their leaves in July and August, and there are almost no flowers on trees on

Ocotillo without leaves.

Ocotillo without leaves.

cacti, either. Octotillo, a thorn bush, will get leaves back quickly if it rains, but for the rest of the summer, it’s a bare thorn tree.

You can’t plant a vegetable garden in summer because the heat simply wilts veggies, no matter how much you water them.

You carry water in the car, and a hat and long-sleeved shirt in case you have to abandon the car for some reason. Visitors who go hiking, thinking themselves fine athletes, often have to be rescued because of heat stroke. Last week, two hikers died from over-exposure to the sun.

You can’t walk barefoot; even flip-flops get very hot if the walk from the car to the mall is more than a short sprint.

There are places that close in July and August–petting zoos, balloon rides, desert exploration hikes won’t risk their clients’ lives.

So we stay indoors, glad for pools (you wear a hat and sunglasses in the pool) and board games. In September, the night time temperature begin to drop, although we generally have triple-digit days till early October.

Which is when life becomes the envy of the rest of the nation again.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches communication skills, including writing and giving presentations as well as how to make and use an art journal, even if you can’t draw.

The Longest Day of the Year

Today, June 21, the sun will strike the exact spot on Stonehenge and line up an arrow of light that has been constant since roughly 2100 BCE. For 4,000 years, mankind has been talented, observant and smart enough to know that the movement of the sun and moon makes a difference in our lives.stonehenge

The rest of us will check the Sunlit Earth widget on our computers, grin at the fat sine wave of shadow that shows the arctic circle has 24 hours of sun today, and the antarctic areas get none. Or maybe not notice.

My mother and father both died in June, my father 27 years ago, my mother more recently, four years ago. They figured they’d held the world together all winter and it was time to let go.

images-11.jpegIn the Western Hemisphere it is the beginning of summer, but there isn’t a crone who doesn’t know, secretly, that the sun now begins its journey back to winter. The hottest months are still to come, but the sun has hit the Tropic and will move back to winter. Although summer is the cheery, bright and happy season, it is always at the Summer Solstice that I realize, with a shock, that I have lived most of my life. That the time ahead is much less than the time I’ve lived. And I always wonder how much I can do to strike a few sparks that leave a mark.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at Images: Stonehenge courtesy; sun, (c) 2007 Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved.