Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bisbee, Part Deux

As I said in my last post, the Shady Dell where we stayed during our mini-vacation in Bisbee is right next to the cemetery, and I'm one of those people who's always been fascinated by graveyards. Maybe that started with my grandparents, who always went to the Memorial Day observances at the cemetery outside Emmett, Idaho, a beautiful, green, well cared for place above the river, where several family members are buried, including, now, those grandparents.  The cemetery at Bisbee bears little resemblance to the Emmett one.  First, the harshness of the southern Arizona climate makes velvet green lawns impossible.  And as a sign on the informational kiosk makes clear, it is not a perpetual care cemetery.  Families are responsible for the upkeep of their relatives' graves, and many of the deceased have no families left in the area. Still, some parts of it, and some views, have their own austere beauty.
And many markers, like this one, offer fragmentary glimpses into their occupants' stories.  I wonder who, exactly, left the flowers on this otherwise untended grave? Probably not the sister or brother who had it erected.
     Back in town, the art scene is much more lively and spills out of the galleries and into the residential neighborhoods.  Bisbee has its own special funk and flash, and I like it a lot.  Joe and I walked the hillls of this largely vertical town, climbing up and down steep inclines and narrow streets.  In many places, instead of a sidewalk, one finds flights of stairs a block or more long.  In fact, October is the month for the Bisbee 1000, a fund-raiser in which participants commit to climbing 1000 of Bisbee's stairs.  I've decided I'd like to participate this year and now, having made this public declaration of my intent, I guess I'm committed!
      Most of the galleries and antique and other shops are on Main Street, which has a fairly gentle slope. One block over is Subway Street (I saw no signs of a subway, or even a Subway sandwich shop), which is quite short, but a walker who continues past the "Dead End" sign finds a network of interesting streets.  These angels, who look to me more like Lucifer's fallen companions than the ones who stayed in heaven, guard someone's gate at the end of Subway.
Even though, for pedestrians, this is not a dead end, the sign seems to go with those slightly menacing angels.  The path continued uphill to the left, and we followed it.  The steps in this next picture just lead to the house above them, but others like them are blocks long, linking streets that are (barely) accessible to cars.
     Higher up we found this collection of interesting things alongside a parking place outside a small yard.  A neighbor told us that the place belongs to a couple of antique dealers. The picture doesn't  show half of what's there.

Most of the yards in Bisbee are small, but many residents have made creative use of the space they have.  I especially liked this garden, with its terraces and fountains that make such creative use of vertical space.
     Eventually, of course, it was time to leave this town that seems caught in a time warp that somehow combines the rough and tumble wild west mining town of the late 19th century with an artistic sensibility firmly grounded in the 1960s.  Pick your decade, and you're likely to find vestiges of it surviving in Bisbee, as shown in these last two photographs, taken on the only street that survives of the once busy neighborhood called Lowell, that was eaten up by further expansion of the huge pit mine.

 University of Arizona creative writing professor Richard Shelton, who taught at the high school there (I think) earlier in his career, wrote a book called Going Back to Bisbee, which I haven't read yet, but plan to.  And I highly recommend J. A. Jance's mystery novels set in Bisbee, with Cochise County sheriff Joanna Brady as her detective.  I know I'll be going back, and not just for the Bisbee 1000!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

oasis in the desert

We just got back from 3 days and 2 nights in Bisbee, Arizona, a historic former mining town turned arts and antiques mecca, a place we've visited many times on day trips, which we always enjoyed in spite of the frenzied-tourist pace they seemed to require. Bisbee sits in a narrow canyon with streets and houses built on steep slopes.  Here's a view from near the top of the town; beyond the buildings you can see the top of the huge, no longer operational, copper pit mine that was once Bisbee's economic base.
     We stayed on the other side of the hill and east (left) of the mine, in the Shady Dell (, a real step-back-in-time motor court that's been written up in Country Living, Sunset, Arizona Highways, and probably some other magazines.  All the lodgings are restored travel trailers from the 1940s and '50s; there's even an authentic period restaurant on-site, Dot's Diner, also brought in from its earlier location (and possibly saved from the scrap heap) and lovingly restored.  The food's good, too.
     The little trailer to the left of Dot's is the smallest one at the Shady Dell.  We were in the one just to the left of it, the El Rey, built in 1957, and a little larger, with an adequately furnished small kitchen area and a bathroom containing a sink and a toilet. Originally it had a shower; the whole tiny bathroom then became the shower stall, with a drain in the floor in front of the toilet.  The shower's been decommissioned but the Shady Dell offers very nice showers and bathrooms just a few yards away.  Here's the sketch I did of our little temporary home the evening we arrived.
And here's the dinette table.  Note the melmac plate and  vintage curtain fabric.  The book below my wine glass is an authentic "Guest Log" containing comments from people who stayed in the El Rey before us, some from various places across the U.S., some (like us) from elsewhere in Arizona, and some from Paris, Sweden, and the U.K. It was so much fun to read. One entry, by a couple named Hope and Matt, particularly caught my interest. Hope wrote about where they'd eaten in town, how much they liked the El Rey, and what wonderful conversations they'd had. After her entry, Matt wrote "I'm the boyfriend, and she doesn't know it yet, but I'm going to propose to her very soon!"  It is indeed a romantic spot, and completely unpretentious. Relaxed, low-key, totally comfortable. The folks who work there are (like most of the people we've met in Bisbee) just regular, down-to-earth people who love being where they are.
     The Shady Dell is right next door to the Evergreen Cemetery, and some former guests wrote about taking late night walks there.  We did go for a walk after dark our first night, and were dazzled by the velvet blackness of the sky and the brightness of the stars. It was like the night skies of my childhood in Idaho, when the Milky Way was something we took for granted and there was no city glow (or light pollution - whichever term you like) to diminish the view. It's easy to forget, when you live in or near a city of any size, how many stars there are out there.

     After that little adventure we slept very well in a bed that was definitely not queen-sized but very comfy nonetheless, in spite of the possibility of ghosts just over the fence and a strong wind in the cottonwood tree beside us. In fact, the wind lulled us to sleep, and the next day was even better, but I'll have to post more about that later, in Bisbee, Part Deux.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mother's Day and Other Mothers

      Sunday was Mother's Day, but my daughter lives 125 miles away and it was her ex-husband's weekend with the kids, so even though she had them for the day (they're fair with each other about such things, and if Father's Day falls on her weekend, he'll have them for that day), it was too far for anyone to go for us all to spend the day together.  So Joe and I took my mother and our friend Caren, whose children live even farther away than ours, out for a festive brunch at a landmark Tucson restaurant, El Parador.  I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed going there - special occasion Sunday brunches sort of fell by the wayside during the frugal grad student years.  It was so nice to be back.  The food was great (and we all ate way too much of it), so was the service, and as my mom said, "It's like eating in a garden."  There were many families there, many with three or four generations around the table, and everyone seemed to be happy.

     At home, in one of the raised beds in the backyard, there's another mother.  For a couple of weeks, every time Joe or I would water that bed we'd flush a female quail. A cursory look revealed no nest, but a couple of days ago I went back there to cut back the chamomile, which I'd planted much too close to a rosebush, and as I swept back the stalks I saw this depression in the soil and twelve perfect eggs.  We just hadn't looked closely enough.  Between the chamomile and nasturtiums that grew three times as big as the seed packet said they would, and with a thorny rosebush to protect them on the north side, these eggs are in a good spot, well-hidden in a well-fenced yard.  Now that we know they're there, we're more careful when watering.  Don't know if it would bother the eggs but we certainly don't want to drown the chicks when they hatch, which I'm afraid may be when we're on vacation.  But we'll alert the housesitter, and I know she'll be careful too.

     It's dangerous bringing young into this world, even in a sheltered space like our mother quail's nest site.  A couple of years ago a house finch nested in a big Boston fern that hangs in our front entryway.  We watched the four eggs, and then the babies when they hatched, until one morning they were all gone, mother and babies, well before they were ready to fly away on their own.  All we could think was that an owl or a hawk or a raven had flown in and gotten them.  But that same spring a dove laid her eggs in a nest in the pine tree in the front yard, at about my shoulder level, at the edge of the labyrinth, so on every circuit I got a good look at the whole family as I passed less than arm's length away from them.  It seemed like a more hazardous spot than the finch's nest because it was so exposed, but these babies grew up  safely and flew away on their own.  And now the wheel of the year has turned round again, to bring us flowers and nests and new life, and it is beautiful beyond words.

Friday, May 7, 2010

up close and personal

I started to pull into my driveway about an hour ago but stopped when I saw this handsome fellow stretched across it (I figure he's about 4 feet long).  After ascertaining that he's not a rattler, I ran in the house to get the camera and the snake obliging waited and posed for several shots.  I'll wait till he moves to put the car in the garage - I'd have felt terrible if I'd run over him.
I still didn't get all of him in one picture - missed the tip of his tail.  Just checked the driveway - he's moved on.
      After several days in the 90s, we must admit spring's coming to an end (and to think we were in snow 8 days ago in Prescott!)  The cactus flowers are splendid.  Here's a blossom on a Santa Rita prickly pear in the front yard.  The cactus pads themselves are distinctly lavender, though with the shadows that doesn't show up too well in the photo.  This plant was struggling to survive in a corner by the back fence when we bought the house; in the ten years since we relocated it, it has really thrived.
So many of the desert flowers are yellow that it's nice to find some variety.  These Mexican primroses are the palest pink (the little lavender tufts belong to verbena, which can be invasive so that some people think of it as a weed, but I like its plucky opportunism).  The rocks are part of a low retaining wall Joe built to keep the sloping back yard somewhat contained and off the patio.

The hummingbirds love these sage plants; there are several on the back slope.  This is the biggest and was here when we moved in.  We can watch the hummingbirds at it from the table - a nice way to start the day.

     Now that the semester's over there will be more time for gardening and just enjoying being outdoors (espeially in the morning while it's relatively cool), reading, sketching, daydreaming.  I did spend a while doing that the other day, relaxing, sketching, and definitely daydreaming!

These rose-scented geraniums live in a pot just outside the back door, on a stand just above waist-height, so it's easy to run your fingers over them to release their fragrance.  I've read that if you put a few leaves in a jar of sugar, within a few days you'll have rose-scented sugar.  Sounds lovely so long as it's not too strong.  I'd always wondered about rose-flavored foods and have recently tried a couple that I didn't like much because the flavor was too intense, like when people wear too much or too heavy a rose perfume (though just enough is delightful).  I do like rosehips, though, rosehip tea, rosehip jelly, but those are from the fruits, not the flower petals.

And this quick watercolor pencil sketch is of the white petunias I recently planted around some taller plants in half wine barrels, a sort of living mulch that also adds color.  I did that last year too, and so although this year I only bought white petunias, I also have a healthy crop of lavender and purple ones that reseeded themselves.  That's always a welcome surprise!