Second Spring

Posted in Arizona Images on October 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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I invested considerable effort while I lived in Papua New Guinea to learn as much as I could about my environment and its flora and fauna. There are thousands of images here in my journal, which shall soon need a name change, of many hundreds of mostly accurately identified species. I don’t claim that as any kind of accomplishment, no more than a model railroad geek might brag about the scope of his layout. Hey, it was a hobby. The hobby now continues, except that I’m starting from scratch. I can identify nearly nothing. Oh well, it is  just a hobby.

I intended to write this post a week ago, but a “cooking incident” made typing painful. Last Friday night, with the aid of one of my fancy new ultra-sharp knives that I told Gracie that I must have if I were to be the primary chef, I neatly sliced off the tip of my left pinkie finger. Let me tell you, that knife was exquisitely sharp. I could tell. I felt it glide effortlessly through my tender flesh a full second before there was any pain. Fortunately, I withdrew the dripping appendage before the neatly sliced pile of hard, stinky Italian cheese was contaminated. It’s been an adventure the last few days to learn how to neatly bandage a fingertip. I don’t think it’s possible.

The subject today is a phenomenon which is entirely new to me. Spring has always been my favorite season. The cold weather I hate so much has abated and everything gets a fresh new start. It’s a time for rapid growth and replenishment. All things which appeared dead are resurrected. What I certainly did not expect to see was a spring renewal in the autumn. That appears to be exactly what happens here in the high dessert.

Flowers are everywhere. I have not yet experienced a true spring in Arizona, but I can’t imagine that it would be much more verdant that what I’m observing now. The predominant color is very obviously yellow. In some places entire hillsides take on a sunny hue. A couple of weeks ago plants such as this seemed to have gone dormant after the blazing heat, waiting for the frosts which will probably start tonight, if the forecast holds:

Here is a species which I have seen in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, but I’ve already forgotten the name. The color in PNG is red:

Of course, not everything is yellow:

And, not everything is a flower:

I got this shot from a resort named Enchantment. I can think of only a few places in all my travels where I enjoyed such a scenic lunch. I wondered where the airliner was going. It couldn’t be any place better than where I was:

I was pleasantly surprised the our lunch there cost little more than any decent restaurant in the area. The splendid view was virtually free.

Here are some more yellow flowers:

The roses all around the neighborhood are in a frenzy to produce blossoms which seem impossible for the end of October:

There are a dozen varieties of rose blooming now, as frost nears, along the streets of our neighborhood on the way to the local grocery store:

Milder temperatures probably contribute to the second spring effect, but I suppose the biggest factor is the increase in rainfall. We have had nighttime showers recently and the occasional stormy day. A couple of days ago, on the way back from Cottonwood, we followed this rainbow for about twenty minutes. It was wonderful to watch it move along with us:

In the image above it is hovering over our home. We wondererd if there might be a pot of gold waiting for us.

The roller-coaster of life that I’ve been riding for the last two years has followed some spectacular paths. I feel genuine hope that it might now be settling down for a less thrilling ride. I’ve had to make some pretty difficult decisions on my own. It is very comforting now to once again have a beloved partner with me. Grace and I have set a multitude of wheels turning. All of them now seem to be rolling in a positive direction. Our meager investment accounts are even starting to move upward again after a much too long bankers’ holiday. After the breathtaking ride, I can’t avoid seeing many things as metaphors. The poetry of life is coming back. Arizona, my new home, is experiencing a Second Spring even as I myself am being refreshed and regenerated by the blessings raining down on me.

As corny metaphors go, that’s not too bad.

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Getting Married

Posted in Arizona Images, Sedona on October 19th, 2011 by MadDog
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It was a “do it yourself” marriage ceremony on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Creek near the ranger station at Rimrock, Arizona. It wasn’t covered by TV crews and no circling helicopters were heard. The attire was modest, “Sedona Chic”, as Grace calls it. There were no invited guests, only the participants and local family members. In other words, it was the kind of marriage which maximizes satisfaction while minimizing the fuss.

So, for the second time in my life, I am a married man. I had intended only one, but that was not in accordance with the “Plan.” Paul Simon possibly stated it best in Slip-Slidin’ Away:

God only knows. God makes his plan.
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.

I say this not to revisit or show a morbid regret for the past, but to celebrate and proclaim my happiness and gratitude for my present blessings. My plan was not the plan of my maker. It took me a long time to stop seeing that as a tragedy. My life has been transformed by some wonderful second chances. All of the love and hard work that Eunie put into molding me into a better man now benefit me even more than in my former life. I have opportunities now to care more, do things better and be aware of and sensitive to things which formerly escaped my attention. I am going to make the best of it, for Grace and for myself.

On Friday afternoon we went to the Safeway store in Sedona to get flowers, a cake and some ice cream for Saturday’s event. We spent most of the evening arranging the flowers into the appropriate bouquets for each of the ladies of the marriage party. I was not, of course, competent to make up the arrangements, but my fingers are nimble enough to wrap the stems with ribbon and tie the knots. We sat them outside to keep them cool overnight. It’s beginning to get very chilly at night here in the high desert:

Grace chose this quiet spot at Beaver Creek for our marriage because it has long been a place of solace and comfort for her. When I saw it first I was also captured by its beauty and simplicity. Next to Grace is Dodie, who stood with Grace during the ceremony. I have no pictures of the marriage itself, because I was rather busy being the groom:

To my right is Verle, Dodies’ husband.

Here is Charity, Grace, me and Pastor Scott of the Montezuma Chapel church near Rimrock. Believe it or not, it’s located on Rusty Spurs Road:

The ceremony was very traditional. Grace and I wrote our vows, which were simple and to-the-point. Pastor Scott covered the usual ground eloquently. I appreciated the low-key tone of our marriage from the planning stage through the ceremony on Sunday. It was a marriage suited to a man’s tender nerves. I had only a couple of days of pre-marriage jitters. This will make it much easier on me when we plan and carry out our “wedding” in April of next year.

Little Tana, Grace’s granddaughter, is on the left. She did not care much for the camera. Next to Grace is Diana, her daughter-in-law. Next to me is Jay, Grace’s son, who stood with me:

It was all over in about an hour. We had swimmers in the background for most of the time, but they kindly removed themselves when they noted that we were taking pictures.

We had a very small reception back at home with Grace and I, Jay, Diana and Tana. We could not find any wedding theme decorations for the cake, so we settled for Minnie Mouse lounging on a sugary beach while watching Mickey hanging ten on a frosting wave:

We gave all of the flowers to Diana and Jay to take to their church the next morning. We took that remaining ice cream and cake to church with us on Sunday. We don’t allow such deadly dietary items to remain in our home.

Finally, we have the obligatory “hands with rings” shot:

I can’t escape the notion that I ought to be writing a great deal more about this life-changing event for Grace and I. However, words escape me for the time being. It seems as if nothing more need be said. Our decision to marry came as naturally as a warm summer rain. Our decades-long friendship serves us well. Disagreements are few, usually trivial and easily settled. We share a comfort with life as it happens that comes with maturity, no small amount of wisdom, deep love and some very hard knocks.

Life can be perfect, if you squint your eyes a little. I like the way Grace puts it, we are “Perfecting the perfection.”

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Arizona’s Tigers of Africa

Posted in Arizona Images, Dangerous on October 12th, 2011 by MadDog
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I won’t belabor the obvious. I posted only once in September. This is my first post in October. It would be a gross understatement to say that something is happening. In fact, a great many things are happening. I have been “busy”. That word covers a huge swath of ground. The day-to-day changes are not amusing, so I’ll not waste precious time by accounting for them here. The big changes pretty much take my breath away. In the space of a little over a year I have made countless difficult. perplexing but sometimes happy decisions at a time when I’m not supposed, according to popular wisdom, to be making any substantial decisions at all. I won’t go back over those either. Once is enough.

However, I might tally up the results. I have disposed of nearly every possession which I previously owned, except for some technical gear (what man can live without it?) a bit of furniture and my meager wardrobe. I have traveled here and yon for months searching for my future. I have wooed and won my life long friend, Grace. She was (and presumably still is) the life long friend of my late wife, Eunie. I have relocated the stage for the last acts of my life half way around the world from wet and wild Madang to dry and wild Sedona. If that’s not enough, well . . . okay, I’m getting married again this Saturday afternoon.

Whew!

And this is me, charging bravely, if still somewhat clueless, into whatever comes next:

Uhhh . . . well, no. Actually, that’s not me. I am not nearly so handsome. Grace and I, on her birthday this Monday, visited Out of Africa at Camp Verde, Arizona. I have never been to a wildlife park before. The glitz factor has, until now, kept me at bay. I like Out of Africa, because my perception is that there is far more focus on the animals themselves than on providing excessive comfort and pizazz to appeal to jaded tourists. Frankly, much of the park is ever so slightly shabby. That appeals to me when viewed beside the care and concern offered to the animals.

Watching the gorgeous white tiger being exercised in the enclosed area containing a large pool was one of the most exciting and interesting animal exhibits I’ve seen. Though one might blink at the idea of tigers out of Africa, nothing else in this show is fake. The big predators here might appear to be tame, but the handlers insist that they do not train them in any way. The say that they take care to give the big cats experiences which are as close to hunting as can be devised in captivity. Here Chalet, the white Bengal takes another dramatic leap into the water:

Why the huge lunges into the pool? The answer is in this shot:

I imagine that the park tigers puncture enough large inflatable plastic toys each year to keep a small Chinese factory going. It is one leap – one shredded blow up. The tiger always gets what it’s after:

In the shot above it’s interesting to examine the focus of the tiger’s attention. It it clearly on the toy and not on the handler. As you watch the show this tactic becomes clear. The toy is the game, not the person controlling it. The cats don’t seem to mind the fakery. The handler in the image above will soon flip the toy over the tiger’s head and run like crazy for the pool, making certain that he is well away from the toy when the tiger lunges powerfully through the air at the sailing object. The puffy plastic will suffer the same fate as a leaping antelope.

Some of these antics are so stunning that I don’t really feel like commenting about them. The images speak much more elegantly than I:

I was worried that shooting through the chain-link fence would be a problem. As it turns out the shallow depth of field of the Canon 300mm telephoto lens saved the day. It focused flawlessly on the main subjects while blurring the fence enough so that it is not too distracting.

The big cats, lions, tigers and a lone black leopard are not the only denizens of the park. Here is Grace having her hand washed by one of the giraffes’ sixteen inch purple tongue. This is a sensory treat which I have, so far, avoided:

And here is something that you don’t see every day:

It is amusing to watch the giraffe as it withdraws from the coach. It carefully lowers its head just enough to avoid konking its knobby antlers on the window frame.

I have a couple of more leaping tiger shots for you. I set the Canon 5D MkII for rapid fire. It usually digests five frames per second at full resolution, though it does occasionally stutter at an imappropriate moment. I think this is because my memory card is not quite fast enough to keep up:

What you see above and below are nice examples of what the handlers are trying to accomplish. One must suppose that everybody is winning here. The paying audience is certainly getting their $36 worth, even better if you’ve gotten in on one of the common half-price deals. The big cats appear to be getting some much needed aerobic exercise and having what passes for fun in captivity. The handlers, hopefully well paid, are getting an adrenalin rush second to none.

Once in a while the tiger gets the jump on the toy and the handler, preparing to flip the thing over the top for a good leap, gets jerked onto his back in mid-air:

Out of Africa is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the trip. For family fun at a very reasonable price you would be hard pressed to beat it.

I got fitted for my getting married outfit today. I won’t be spectacular, but Grace will certainly look classy, as she always does. We are going down by Beaver Creek where the wonderful red rocks are reflected in the water.

Maybe I’ll get some good pictures. I don’t really care as long as I get that ring on my finger.

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