I love taking walks on nature trails in the woods, parks, or desert scrublands. I recently was in Tucson, Arizona and had the good fortune to explore some of Sabino Canyon, an arid natural area on the northeast side of the city replete with trails for walking, biking, and hiking. I was visiting with friends who likewise enjoy getting out in nature, though they aren’t looking for artistic inspiration. I love the fresh air, the trees, the play of clouds across the sky. I love being out in all of it strolling along looking for whatever new or exciting thing awaits me. I’m not looking for big vistas. I’m looking for the details, the color changes, the unusual. I’m trying to find what others might have missed, or if not, at least provide a different perspective on the ordinary.
It was a beautiful sunny day as we meandered along the dry walkway through the canyon. Cactuses were just beginning to bloom and the snow melt from the Santa Catalinas were providing a torrent of water through the arroyo, cascading over a spillway that usually formed a trickle. The air was fresh and warm. My mind was half tuned to the conversation while trying to explore the images in front of me. The Palo Verde trees cast shadows on themselves from a rising sun, thin elegant branches shaded onto their smooth olive green bark. Saguaro pointed skyward and outward, people in disguise. I wasn’t used to their playfulness so I kept smiling at their poses. My friends caught the mood and we posed in front of several to become saguaros ourselves.
Being creative doesn’t have to be serious.
The cactuses seemed like natural subjects. Beyond the saguaros there was so much variety – a host of chollas, prickly pear, bunny ears, teddy bears, Arizona fishhook. Their colors and shapes dotted the otherwise barren earth, providing food and shelter to a whole cast of characters, mostly unseen, there in the desert. We saw unidentified birds flitting about in the Mesquite and Palo Verde, and others like the common Road Runner scuttling about the underbrush. But there was a lot in hiding, like the mountain lions and bobcats we’d been warned about. And rattlesnakes. Low lying signs at the edges of the paths cautioned us to beware. I kept watching but I never saw one. I’m sure they knew better than to show themselves with all the daytime hikers and bicyclists about. But a girl can dream.
Before we left I heard an insistent cascading call from a clump of trees. Sitting on a high branch at the top of the mesquite was a thin shiny black bird with a pronounced crest and skinny long ebony tail. He kept up his calls and seemed unfazed by my slow movement in his direction. He looked nonchalantly upward and side to side in apparent disinterest at my close proximity. A quick search on my phone told me he was a Phainopepla, a northern representative of the mostly tropical silky flycatcher family. They feed mainly on mistletoe berries, which we had seen in abundance. I lacked the right kind of camera and lens to get a good close up of this fascinating little bird, but I noted his name, delighted to have added him to my list.
These are the kinds of experiences I long for to feed my creativity. Even if I don’t get a lot of pictures, as happened this day, I feel renewed by the presence of so much wonder and beauty around me. Especially in those places we least expect it.