Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ajo, Southern Arizona's Desert Glamor Capital

The odd attraction we both shared for beat, busted, perhaps dreary or at least out of the way and unlikely places. Small towns, almost exclusively, with corny bowling alleys, broken-hearted bars, a lot of local businesses, oddball old buildings, cheapass motels and desolate but beautiful surroundings. The more local history and the stranger the tales (and for me, the rarer the cacti) the better. A strange place with plenty of rough charm that fits the bill is Ajo, Az.

Ajo used to be a copper mining boomtown, and features an unbelievably huge copper strip mine just south of town on the way to Why, AZ. Here is the copper mine as seen from space:

and here's a view of both the mine and the town, just for scale:

We first stayed in Ajo after our first trip to Baja, on New Year's Eve 2006/2007. That year, we were on our way back to one of the worst snowstorms in Santa Fe history and returned to more than 3 feet of snow still on the ground.

La Siesta Motel rents "cabins," which are actually small mobile homes. Pure small town Arizona. The walk up the street that runs right past La Siesta puts you in fairly pristine low Sonoran Desert right away, with sunsets and stars and Gambel's quail and the whole desert scene.

The Border Patrol guy at the checkpoint north of Ajo asked us, on our way home, why we were in Ajo. I told him we had been there on vacation. He was flabbergasted. "You went to Ajo on vacation?" he said. "Yeah, yes we did."

On the way over, from Madera Canyon, we took a detour up Ruby Road and I finally got to see some Coryphantha recurvata in Arizona, up in the rocky hills. C. recurvata is more common down in the Mexican hills south of Arizona, and this small population in Santa Cruz County is the extent of the species' foothold in the US.

Another beautiful and rare desert plant to be found in this area is Agave parviflora.

One of the days in Ajo, I met a cactus friend of mine from Tucson over in Sells, AZ and we traveled to some habitat south of there to look for Mammillaria mainiae and other stuff. Mammillaria mainiae is a beautiful Mammillaria, not very common in AZ, and, like Coryphantha recurvata, more common in some habitats down in Mexico. Just north of Moctezuma, for example.

Back up in Ajo, I was looking for the local population of Echinomastus erectocentrus ssp. acunensis, to no avail. But I did see some great local plants.

Echinocereus nicholii is very common here:

Some desert scenes from the Ajo area:

A brief stop at the mining museum was cool. The museums in some of these small towns can be fairly amazing. I didn't take very many pictures.

Not sure who this mine worker was or why he rated a portrait.

I assume this intersection has nothing to do with *that* Elliott Schwartz.

The last adventure of the trip was a brief dip down into Sonoyta, Sonora, to visit the fairly robust population of Echinomastus erectocentrus acunensis down there, catching a great many in flower.

A spectacular finish to a wild week. It was rough going back to Tempe.

Rickie Lee Jones - Little Yellow Town

Ornette Coleman "Bach Prelude"

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Liz Waldner's Wishness


There is this wish, that wish, and the other wish.

There is the wish not
to feel this way.

There is the wish in the heart
of the geranium leaf
such that where the leaf is lighter,
its shadow is darker.

There is the wish on the part
of my hair that fell in an arc
to have fallen in a circle
that it might be connected still.

There is the wish to be born.

There is the wish to be known,
and there is the wish to be known.

Liz Waldner, _Saving the Appearances_

Liz Waldner's Of Unknowing, The Cloud

Of Unknowing, The Cloud

In the morning would the white
cat nose the tall grass
along the driveway.

Careful not to touch, knowing
at a distance. Smell the synapse
as is the green thing springing
forth from the earth
also good to smell.

In the morning would the white
cat carefully
go its nose naming along
in the morning. It would, yes,
it did go. And in the morning watching
she thought this: it is important to remember
there is really no certain way
to be. What she wanted
to think is: I'm allowed.

Liz Waldner, _Saving the Appearances_.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Canyon in Spring

The next leg of the trip in March of 2010 was down to Madera Canyon, west of I-19 on the way south of Tucson toward Nogales. Madera Canyon is a fantastically beautiful place, in the Coronado National Forest, up on the west facing slopes of the Santa Ritas. Just over the mountains to the east is Santa Cruz County and some great savannah-ish dry grasslands. The dramatic thing about Madera Canyon is the sudden steep rise off the desert floor and the quick transition through a few life zones heading up.

As mentioned in a previous post, the "luxury" accommodations at Santa Rita Lodge. Rustic, actually, but right in the canyon, facing the dry stream bed, with a view of wild turkeys, etc.

One thing I appreciated about the place was it made me feel younger, as it seemed like a visit to grandma's house:

It was an odd combination of romantic, claustrophobic, connected to the outdoors, corny, tender and strained, intimate and alienated, desirous of reconciliation and resentful and for me, skittish and guilty and ashamed and defensive. Somehow Tucson was easier. Wild spaces threaten to reveal everything. Since I was still an unregenerately self-centered, dishonest, fearful liar liar with my pants on fire on this trip, I was definitely in a lot of restless denial here. It might have been easier if I still smoked a pack a day. Definitely would have been easier in the short term with three bottles of Wild Turkey to match the odd birds wandering around outside. And some of the tipsy old folks. The Poetess and I were perhaps 20 years younger than the rest of the visitors.

The flora in the lower parts of the canyon is interesting, with what seems to be relictual desert plants like Echinocereus rigidissimus, Ferocactus wislizenii, Cylindropuntia spinosior, etc., beginning to transition to more montane stuff. The Echinocereus coccineus-like plant in this area is Echinocereus santaritensis, a recently named form with perfect flowers, as opposed to the gynodioecious flowers of coccineus.

The Poetess had an obsessive eye for real estate, especially of the fantastically remote, getaway variety, especially including ramshackle fixer-uppers. I never used to think about houses until after I spent some time traveling with her. Now, it is just as much a way I size up any place I visit. I sometimes scare myself with essentially nihilistic fantasies of disappearing for good, buying some incredibly remote, tiny, off the grid place and just tossing it all. The impulse is romantic, and connected to my occasional death wish idle fantasies. It is a yearning for absolute and total hermitage, an isolating impulse very strong indeed. It grows stronger as I grow older. It has been suggested to me that it is perhaps a facet of the progressive disease of alcoholism, in its devouring and life-denying aspect. The same sort of yearning for oceanic oblivion that used to accompany drinking. This may very well be. A part of the fantasy is something like this too though: in such a situation, in such a place, I will finally love myself, because I will finally be able to meet myself, and in that encounter I'll be healed. I'll not want or need for anything. That exact same motion toward oblivion is also a desire for the union with the divine. To be insane with God at every moment in a tiny shack somewhere, a notepad and a drumset and not one goddamned thing else. Of course, this is all fantasy. But through these travels, over these nearly two years, I have edged closer to the purity of it. Each time out as far as I can go, wrapped in nothing but horizon. Catching thermals. But then: back to Tempe, to teaching, to AA. Glad for that too. At least, so far.

And the ironic thing about some of these oddball tiny houses: they are probably hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everyone has the same death wish and perhaps forms of the same dream. To just disappear. Then the escape property sits empty most of the year because it's just too damned lonely and hard to get to.

Echinocereus rigidissimus:

Mammillaria wrightii wolfii:

Some sort of fantastic bird or other. Most people visit Madera Canyon not for cactus hunting, but for bird watching.

A short distance away, in the flood plain, in the valley a few thousand feet lower, the relatively rare Coryphantha robustispina:

A view of the canyon from the desert floor, with a balletic Cylindropuntia spinosior.

The next leg: from Ruby Road to Ajo, with a side trip south of Sells to see Mammillaria mainiae.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Acidulous Anti-Love Letter, or Percipient Pro-Real Love Manifesto Outline

A recent emergence of some connected feelings for a former "just friend" of mine has reminded me of some of the unpleasant yet healing lessons of the past year. My prayers are to stay grounded and realistic and honest, baldly, boldly honest and without any agenda or behind the scenes, under the table secrets.

Here's the text of an email, amended slightly, that I sent this morning to this friend:

I do not think either one of us was or is foolish, but human. Optimistic. Inclined toward what feels good. Knowing you and being known by you definitely felt and feels good. It is foolish to want more, I guess, (or for whatever this fantastic gift is to not be sufficient, to not simply be enough) or to try to name or control it, or to try to manage it, or make it all stand still, or roll back, or pick up tempo, or whatever it is we might do when wrestling with it or trying to direct it, wishing the river would wait, or change course or shaking our puny fists at the ocean, as The Poetess used to say. But not recognizing it is part of its charm, for a time. Yes?

As for you being closed down, I am sure this is a factor in the "equal and opposite reaction" that the thermodynamics of the soul and heart seem to adhere to. Lots of analogies come up.

One of the saddest and most baffling things about this love business is how undesired we feel after a time with our lovers (and it is we who feel it, even if we are still desired), especially after a stretch of domestic business and all that bald humanity. When that desperate hot flame gets muted or perhaps snuffed by partnership, by irritation, over-familiarity, by the inevitable disappointments, by the loss of the magic. By the other person seeing us all too clearly and our resultant resentment. I think you remember the phrase "ruinous numinosity," and how the gods and goddesses start to walk the earth embodied in the lover, awakened in ourselves loving. But then they retire, go off to the mountain top, get distracted and wander off to addle some other poor saps, take the bus back to their condos in Florida, go back under the streets where they came from. What is left is altogether too real and broken and full of pain and emptiness to cause much excitement. Simply a couple of puny humans, staring each other in the face, sobered by the vacation of the invisibles.

I have often wanted to stay with the person as a partner at this point, because I still enjoy her company, her mind and imagination, her humor, her history and our shared history and memories and obligations and even purpose and our knowledge of each other. But I have not been able to reconcile the loss of admiration, desire, passion, interest and excitement (really, the blow to my own ego of being a disappointment) with the enduring partnership of friendship, respect, ease, sometimes deep connection, growing intimacy. Is there anything more anathema to romance than a shared bathroom? Unless you swing that way, of course. But then it will be another room in the house that does it. Let's say, the kitchen. Or the "TV room" which is now in many houses every goddamned room.

Maybe the worst trauma any long term love can weather is not sexual or emotional infidelity, the death of a loved one, terrible secrets, financial insecurity, debilitating illness, but in fact loss of passion, what The Poetess used to call "bed death." I am not at all referring here only to sexual passion, of course. You know how there's that inevitable moment early in a new connection where we are up all night, talking, and the sun starts to come up and we are amazed and we have been tricked again into thinking or even saying "wow, I have found someone who really gets me, at last, and I get her, and I want this to be the way it is from now on!" And how the "really getting and being gotten!" might be true enough, just might be, but the last impulse, the "here on out!" part contains in itself already the kernel of DOOM. And then somewhere down the line there we are at dinner (like in that bittersweet movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and we just have not one thing to say to each other, not even for 45 minutes. And when the check arrives it just feels like the Governor called and there was clemency and we can hurry home to book or computer?

I remember after about 2 years together, I grabbed a book to read in bed before falling asleep and The Poetess got pale and I thought I saw a tear form in her eye and she said "well, that's the beginning of the end." It was a funny and sad moment. At the time, I thought her pronouncement was awfully over-dramatic. But for the rest of our time together we did not read in bed together without unease. For me, the death knell sounds faintly on the horizon if I start to watch television, either alone or with my partner, or for that matter, too many movies on a Saturday night, altogether too cozy and like a filial slumber party. Of course, other, much more unsettling death knells have always and without exception arrived for me, including magnetic attraction to other women, a gradually exaggerated fantasy life, shame, guilt, silence, secrets, acting out behavior, resentment, rage, suffocation and constant crushing sadness and remorse and desire for escape. The good stuff.

These acidulous observations meet boisterous objections, both within myself and from others. "The trick is to...." (fill in blank). "It's not that bad!" "You just haven't found the right person yet!" (uh...well, here I am at 50. I'd assume the right person is actually me. I just haven't found me yet.) All of these negotiations are similar to what ill advised and well meaning people say when a loved one dies. All in fact very similar to "well, he's in a better place." Or "At least his suffering is over." The reality is lost in the rescue. Love is love. Death is death. The death of love is the death of love. What's left is partnership, friendship, mutual history and mutual support. Or rage, jealousy, bewildering and killing loneliness, violations of our values, blame. I do not think there is much "better place" until or unless reconciliation, forgiveness and honesty create some freedom for both partners. Have the goddamned funeral and get it over with. Nothing new can come in if the whole partnership is directed toward CPR. This is why I think "couples therapy" is probably often a waste of time and money. If I were a couples therapist, the first thing I would say would be "you are here because your love has died. I cannot help you revive it. It was entirely delusional to begin with. You will either form an entirely new kind of partnership or you will split." Who wants to hear that? Especially at $225/hr.

Now it gets down to the crystalline vision I have been having for the past year. This vision has proven to be a tremendous gift, in spite of its diamond sharp edges. It goes something like this: relationship is delusional. Delusional in the spiritual, fundamental sense, not psychologically or any other way. A true delusion. There is no such thing as relationship. It is a convenient fiction we tell in order to rest. We use the story to assure ourselves that we stand somewhere. Relationship cannot seem to come into being without duality, emerging from the false appearance of a real separation between two people. To have the security and story that buoys us up and makes us even willing to take the risk, we *must* reinforce the illusion of separation. In fact, this fiction of relationship emerges most strongly the more powerfully we encounter another at a core level and the more profoundly this reminds us that we are not separate. This is how we create the fiction of relationship. Now, relating is much different, and real, and mysterious, and not a story we can tell, and not anything at all that holds still or has any definite name or shape. It is protean, dynamic, unmanageable. It is a true encounter and all true encounters are with the divine, with the infinite, with capital R Reality. But in relationship, we are actually meeting only ourselves and the story we are telling. Then we begin to wake up to that crushingly disappointing fact ("oh, damn it! It's YOU again!") and rush to try to diagnose and fix "the problem."

It is comical, because *it is impossible to fix a delusion*. There are no tools for that. We can't fix it because, not only is it not broken, it *doesn't exist*.

I'm not talking about partnership, by the way, which is a set of manageable agreements consciously negotiated and renegotiated. Of course we can do that, with the universe's help, in some limited and realistic way. I do believe partnership requires a spiritual basis and is not possible otherwise. I also believe that from a spiritual perspective there is no particular reason for any one partnership to weigh more heavily than any other. We are not called to love one person or a few people and be entirely indifferent to or even outright hate the rest. That is not what this life is about, in my opinion. That is the crappy bill of goods we have been sold by Romantic Love Vendors, anachronistic tribalism, Nationalism and the consumer society. Materialism, for example, thrives on loneliness. The GDP would crumble to the ground if we all grew up and loved each other.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Spring Broke- Tucson

The trip in March of 2010 ended up being to Southern Arizona. Tucson, Madera Canyon, Ajo, with a very brief side trip to just south of Sonoyta Sonora, to see Echinomastus acunensis in flower. It was the last escape from Tempe for The Poetess and I, before we split up the household. It was the most bourgeois of all of our trips too, staying in motels. Including the "expensive" Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon. I used to think $100 a night was a lot for a room, but I guess I had a rather working poor perspective on that. Having spent almost $200 a night in Long Beach Island this summer, I've reset my sense of scale a bit.

For years, I have had an odd love/hate feeling about Tucson. It seems in many ways the quintessential southwestern town, crisscrossed by railroads, with a scattering of adobe houses mixed in with old West style brick, small but oddly cosmopolitan, like a working man's Santa Fe. But every time I try to romanticize it, it also appears as scruffy, beat, aimless and ominous, sprawling, a parody of itself, too small and culturally isolated. In other words, yeah, the quintessential Southwestern town.

The Poetess and I had contemplated moving there, both before we moved to Tempe, as she was accepted at the University of Arizona MFA program (but they didn't throw any money at her) and after she completed her program at ASU. I still contemplate moving there from time to time, just to get out of the madness that is Phoenix, but to still be in Arizona, and in something like a city. But then it doesn't seem possible to just move there alone. I imagine it would somehow break my heart. Then I remember it's already broken. But it would be like jumping into heartbreak soup. The Poetess and I mutually were skeptical about The Valley of the Sun, so it feels just masochistic enough to continue living here. haha. etc.

Some Tucson images:

The cactus part of this visit to Tucson was a trip up Redington Road, just west of the city, into Coronado National Forest.

Mammillaria macdougalii's Fibonacci elegance.

Beautiful form of Cylindropuntia versicolor stem joint.

What looks for all the world like Escobaria orcuttii, although I'm not aware of any records of this plant from this far west.

One of my favorite geographical races of Escobaria vivipara, bisbeeana.

Nice Agave. Always a fan of the ones with marginal indentations caused by leaf spines.

Still snow on the peaks in March.

Lots of Echinocereus rigidissimus

Cylindropuntia versicolor, in its purple, tree-like glory.

Coming up, Madera Canyon and more southern AZ glories.