Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gardens and more gardens

Last Sunday, September 12, Joe and I took a lovely drive to the south, where a group called Somos la Semilla (We Are the Seed, had organized a free tour of organic farms. Of the seven farms on the tour, we only visited three, but that was just right - we didn't rush, we spent the day in pleasant and often outright beautiful surroundings, and we discovered new things about areas we hadn't been to in a while but always liked.

The first place we went was Forever Yong (yes, that's the correct spelling) Farm east of Arivaca. It's cooler down there than in Tucson, mostly grasslands, at a higher elevation. This farm, like the others we visited, is in a drainage and the soil is so rich it makes a Tucson gardener want to cry. Our soil, as in most subdivision yards here, was bladed and graded with no thought on the part of the developers except to make it flat enough for building, so any gardening first depends on building soil that plants can actually grow in - it can be done, and we've done it in our gardens, but it's hard work.  When we arrived at Forever Yong Farm the husband of the couple who own it was giving an informal tour of the greenhouses, the first of which was filled with tomatoes. Readers in more temperate climates may not realize how tricky it is to grow tomatoes in southern Arizona - we got very excited about these.  The wife was running the farm stand, where we bought the most beautiful cucumbers I've seen in years, some garlic, and a quart of local mesquite honey which has a rich, almost smoky taste you won't get from the commercial factory stuff - heavenly! Unfortunately, I was so taken by everything around me I forgot to take any pictures there! But you can find the owners and their produce every Thursday afternoon at the Santa Cruz River Farmer's Market on West Speedway.

We drive on to the tiny town of Arivaca, after a stop at the Gadsden Coffee Company, a pleasantly relaxed coffeehouse a mile or so before the town proper, where we relaxed for a bit on the shady patio with some very good java and a big cinnamon roll (which we split, trying not to be toooo indulgent).  The ruin above is right in the middle of town, beside La Gitana, the local bar.  Neither Joe nor I had checked to see how much cash we had, so we didn't stop to get any, and at the coffeehouse they said there was an ATM at the general store.  There was, but it was out of money, and the store doesn't do "cash back." But while I was talking to the very nice and apologetic young woman who worked there, a young man who overheard my dilemma invited me over to La Gitana, where he works, and gave me cash on my debit card without even asking me to buy anything!  So that little episode was an instance of both the occasional inconvenience and the friendliness of very small towns - I could live in a place like that!
A few miles out the other side of town is the Arivaca Community Garden, with greenhouses (where they hold yoga classes) and guinea fowl in addition to vegetables planted in more of that wonderful soil; just look at these huge heirloom tomatoes!
We bought two flavors of goat cheese from one woman and a gourd and some green tomatoes from another, whose card I thought I'd kept but now I can't find it - darn! Anyway, her name is Pat and she grows lavender and makes wonderful things from it that she sells at the Saturday Farmers' Market in St. Philip's Plaza.  Here she is talking with some other farm tourists. You can get some idea of what a lovely 
spot this is, down in a little valley, with grass and plenty of trees for shade as well as the open areas where crops grow in wide rows separated by lawn.

When we left there we thought we'd take the Ruby Road that loops south and over to I-19; we'd never been there and it's supposed to be quite scenic.  Well, we've still never been on most of it, because after a few slow and bone-jarring miles we turned around and went back the way we'd come.  When we got back on I-19 we headed down to Tubac for a bite to eat and then south to Tumacacori and our last stop, Avalon Organic Farms.

By this time clouds had rolled in and we were hoping for rain, but not until we'd finished this last visit.  Avalon is an intentional community of about 100 people, with a religious focus, begun in Sedona by Gabriel of Urantia - I don't really know much about them but the people we spoke with there were friendly and seemed happy, and they certainly live in a beautiful place.

Like King Arthur, we had to cross water to get to Avalon; the Santa Cruz was running just a few inches deep, not a problem to drive through, but that was another reason we hoped the rain held off until we left. The river runs north from Mexico, and by the time it gets to Tucson the water has all been sucked off by development, but in decades past it still ran up here - and it still does, when we get a good rainstorm.

This Avalon is certainly an idyllic spot.  It must have been an old ranch; there's a big house, what looks like a caretaker's cottage, and a horse barn from those days, plus a lot of new buildings.  These people are committed to sustainability, and their architecture reflects that.  There are beautiful yurts and some other little houses that utilize a technology developed in the war-torn Middle East by people whose homes were destroyed by the fighting.  They took sandbags and piled them up in coils and then plastered them with a mud mixture; the result is similar to the straw-bale and rammed-earth technologies that have become popular here, but the final result has a charming, almost fairytale quality (at least I think so).

This is a shot of one of the interiors.  While I like these little houses very much, I couldn't live at Avalon. It's not anything to do with their theology, since I don't even know what that is, though it seems vaguely Christian, with emphasis on the "Cosmic Christ."  No, it's that I need my own kitchen and bathroom.  A communal meal once or twice a week might be nice, but I really like my own cooking, and Joe's.  Sharing a bathhouse if we're camping or a bathroom when we're on vacation is enough.

That said, the communal bathhouses are quite beautiful, and they make wonderful use of reclaimed and recycled building materials.

Heading back down the long drive out of Avalon was like passing through a bit of pastoral heaven.  And the rain began just as we crossed through the river and headed back to the real world.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day Weekend Part II

After our adventure on Friday we set early Saturday morning to try again for a cool hike at the top of Mt. Lemmon.  Joe was driving - he likes winding mountain roads and I like to read or knit while he's driving them, often a little faster than I'm comfortable with, but after nearly 20 years I'm pretty used to it.  There are lots of bicyclists struggling up the mountain and they don't always ride single file on that relatively narrow road. I admire their fitness and fortitude, but it can be frustrating to get stuck behind them.  It frustrates Joe, too.  He was enjoying driving the new car and several times he crossed the solid yellow line to pass cyclists on or near turns with limited visibility, though it's true there was almost no downhill traffic at that time of day.  A sheriff's deputy stopped us just past the Palisades ranger station. Fortunately, he let Joe off with a warning, and as I told him (without elaborating or gloating), I'm glad he got stopped. But it took away some of the fun of the Outback for him.

We parked across from the new community center that was built a few years ago as part of the recovery effort after the Aspen Fire.  Then we walked up Turkey Run Road, the first street on the right after you get into Summerhaven; this charming cabin is the first one on that road and it may be my favorite cabin on the mountain.  It dates from before the fire and has some interesting architectural details not visible in this photo, and more importantly, it nestles comfortably into its site rather than aggressively dominating it, like so many of the newer, bigger, more pretentious and vastly more expensive places built in the last few years. Many of those places remind me of what my grandmother (and I'm sure many other grandmothers) said: Money can't buy class or taste - though clearly not everyone would agree.

Turkey Run Road turns into a dirt road and then a trail along upper Sabino Creek, a beautiful riparian area.  The abundant rains have led to an abundance of mushrooms and other fungi in various shapes, sizes, and colors.

This fallen log was covered with thousands of these tiny mushrooms; the biggest were the size of a pea.  

There are signs of past human activity in the area along the creek - the concrete foundation of a building, another concrete structure that may have been connected to a bridge or meant to deter the creek from altering its channel,  rusty water pipes sticking up from the ground like the remnants of ancient plants, and this odd sight that made me think of the Teletubbies' world on PBS - while Isaiah was little, I grew quite fond of the Teletubbies:

After about a mile we came to the Aspen Draw Trail proper, which leads up to the summit, also the top of the ski lift, which stays busy in the summer giving tourists what must be a spectacular view.  There were lots of birds in the trees, including several of what had to be goldfinches, but much smaller than the ones we feed in our yard down in the "lowlands," as well as juncos and bluejays and titmice and others.  We've noticed on past hikes that we'll often see a junco who seems to be hopping ahead of us on the trail, like a guide, or maybe a sentry watching to see we don't go wandering off where we shouldn't.  Joe picked up a blue jay feather to add to those we keep in a Navajo pot at home.

We saw a number of downed trees, some cut, some fallen naturally, showing signs of rot and, in a couple of cases, that bears had been at them digging out insects and grubs. All that organic matter provides homes for opportunistic plants, like this solitary mushroom in the middle of an upright, rotted out tree trunk.

On the trail the view was always limited  to what was nearby, just behind us, just up ahead.
But once you reach the top you can see for miles and miles. These burned skeletons remind me of a prose poem by James Galvin, "Fathers and Indians," which appeared first in Imaginary Timber and later in Resurrection Update.  He writes  of "the old trees, pitch-hardened, fire-hardened spars . . . . Had they not been destroyed, they would not be remembered. The ones left standing remind us of the fallen, remind us there are forests of empty sleeves, tunneling into the sky."
That image, of the "forests of empty sleeves," has stayed with me for many years. For obvious reasons, it makes me think of the aftermath of war - not only war between peoples but the war so many of us continue to wage against the natural world.  But sometimes in that aftermath, to quote another poet, "a terrible beauty is born."

Going back to Summerhaven, we forsook the trail for the road, which was recently repaved and has wide enough shoulders for safety, for the most part.  We kept to it until we'd passed by the Ski Valley lodge and lift area and then got onto another trail that soon led us back to Turkey Run Road, and the village, and then back down the mountain to home.  It was a glorious day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

life is what happens while you're making other plans

Whoever said that was certainly right. Early Friday morning Joe and I set out for a hike on Mt. Lemmon, hoping to avoid the holiday weekend crowds that would be sure to fill the trails (and trailhead parking spots) on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  We weren't too far up when Joe looked in the rearview mirror and saw smoke pouring from the rear of the car.  He pulled over as soon as he could, across from the entrance to the Gordon Hirabayashi campground/recreation site, a place we like very much during the cooler parts of the year when we can follow the trail that starts there and goes down to the Sycamore Reservoir.  But right now it's still too hot for lower-elevation trails like that one.

It was immediately apparent that we were leaking automatic transmission fluid.  It was red, like blood on the asphalt (well, not exactly, but there was a resemblance, and our beloved Forester was too wounded to go on just then). You don't have to go too far up Mt. Lemmon before losing cell phone reception; Joe set off to see if he could climb a hill and get a signal so he could call AAA for a tow truck, while I stayed with the car and hoped for help.
The entrance to the Gordon Hirabayashi campground/recreation area
A few people did stop, including a couple of very nice Forest Service employees. I gave them our AAA info and they called it in for us.  The other folks who stopped were also wonderful - when I said I was okay they all asked if I had water, which of course is essential in such circumstances!  What I didn't have was a timepiece, since I don't like to wear a watch, Joe had the cellphone, and I wasn't sure I should turn on the car.  I learned that I don't really have much sense of how much time is passing, though the stress of the situation may have exacerbated that failing. If I'd thought about it, I could have estimated by looking at the sun, but I didn't think about it, and so after a while I got worried about whether Joe would return before the tow truck arrived.  I amused myself by pacing back and forth, doing a few yoga stretches, reading a magazine (fortunately I seldom, if ever, go anywhere without something to read), and taking some photos, because even though I was in distress, I was also in a beautiful area.

It seems like most of the time we are in too great a hurry to notice, much less appreciate, the beauty that is literally at our feet - we'll stop and concentrate on a painting in a gallery, and maybe pay a great deal of money to hang it on our wall, when nature's compositions are more perfect.  Rupert Brooke's "Fragment on Painters" begins:
    There is an evil which that Race attaints
    Who represent God's World with oily paints,
    Who mock the Universe, so rare and sweet,
    With spots of colour on a canvas sheet....
As part of that "evil...Race," I have to agree - there's nothing like the real thing.

Look at this lovely grass with its feathery seedheads - if I found it in my yard I'd pull it out as a weed, yet nothing I plant is really any prettier.  When I ran the seedheads between my fingers they felt like silk and the ready seeds came off and floated away on their tiny wings.  If I changed the angle and spot from which I looked uphill, even though the rocks and trees and brush remained in place, my changed perspective provided a new inspiration.  I was wishing for art supplies but I only had my camera and so I shot dozens of pictures.

Joe got back just a few minutes before the tow truck arrived. We rode with our car down to the Subaru dealership, where we learned that they needed to order the hose that had failed, so for a few days we're driving a loaner car, a 2011 Outback, which is very nice, though bigger and heavier than anything we've ever owned. I like the way it feels and looks, though, and it's a beautiful shade of green.

Anyway, all's well that ends well.  The next day, Saturday, we did make it up the mountain, but this post is long enough already, so I'll give the computer and my fingers a rest and post about that later.