Tucson Festival of Books!

This weekend is the next Tucson Festival of Books! After six years, it’s hard to believe this event hasn’t been part of Tucson forever.

I’ll be there this Sunday, signing with Mostly Books from 12-12:45 p.m. (booth #148), and then moderating Ally Carter and Sarah Mlynowski’s Twitter and Trailers: Using Social Media to Promote Your Book panel from 4:00-5:00 p.m. (Education Bldg., Room 333).

And both Saturday and Sunday I’ll be on the UA Mall of course, enjoying the Festival. Hope to see many of you there!

Desert storms wake desert rivers

I remember, not long after moving to the desert, coming upon a broad, sandy dry gully that was labelled a “river.”

I believe, at the time, that I laughed.

After two decades of living in the desert, I don’t laugh anymore. The desert may save her rivers for special occasions, but when they come out (generally after a good hard rain), they come out in force, and don’t hold anything back.

So a couple nights ago, after a good soaking downpour, we walked down to one of the local washes to visit the river. We weren’t the only ones, because walking to the wash one of the things you do, after it rains.

(Best viewed in HD / high definition.)

The video didn’t catch the thick palm trunk, or the tree branch as tall as I was, that were both tossed downstream as if they were styrofoam-light. Or the tire that came rolling down the wash on its edge, as if it were surfing the river, until it was thrown back onto its side. Lots of flotsam and jetsam came floating by too, soda cups and water bottles and the like.

But always, it’s the water itself that most draws the eye and the ear, all that power roaring downstream.

By the next day, the wash was once again dry.

Hanging with the smaller corvids

This weekend we headed to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum for the start of this year’s free flight program. It’s a twice-daily program where the birds are flown unconstrained outdoors, and in between the morning (chihuahuan raven, great-horned owl, prairie falcon, ferriginous hawk, red-tailed hawk) and afternoon (barn owl, Harris hawk family) flights, we wandered into the small bird aviary, someplace we don’t get to very often.

I’ve been focused on large birds this past year, writing about shapeshifting common ravens and volunteering at the Tucson Wildlife Center (where raptors dominate the morning shift), so I’ve been thinking less about some of the smaller, less carnivorous species I also share the desert with.

The birds in the small bird aviary included one I mostly see when it’s trying to mooch my lunch from at a picnic tables and in campgrounds, the Steller’s jay.

Jays may be small, but they’re as much corvids as ravens and crows are, something this jay proved quite handily when lnhammer pointed to it and said, “The jay just buried a nickel.”

Of course it did. Like ravens, jays are caching corvids who like shiny things. When I told the docent about the buried nickel, she didn’t seem at all surprised. “The jay is fearless,” she said. “It’ll land right on your shoulder.”

A little later, near the entrance, I caught a glint of copper and saw the jay shove a penny edge-first into the dirt with its beak. As I watched, it set a rock over the penny and tap-tap-tapped the rock in place over its cache.

Then it pulled the rock aside, pulled the penny up, and … buried it again.

It repeated this at least a half dozen times as we watched, by which time quite a crowd had gathered. The jay was undaunted at being surrounded by so many humans. It just went about burying and unburying its small treasure.

Later still, I saw the jay pull up a dime. It had quite a bit of pocket change for such a small bird.

I was wondering just how often people really randomly lose small change in an aviary when I heard a woman say to her husband as she watched the jay’s caching and uncaching, “Quick! Do you have a penny?”

Clearly, this was a jay who knew how to work the crowd and earn its tips.

When I left the aviary it was pecking at the tag dangling from a woman’s jacket. Needless to say, no one was trying to stop it.


There weren’t any other jays in the aviary, but there were multiple species of doves and ducks, along with a single bright green parrot blending in with a tree’s leafy foliage as it quietly groomed itself.

Parrots, like corvids, are known for being smart birds. Doves are … not.

So I picture this jay and this parrot (even though I never saw them interact), surrounded by doves who–based on the evidence–can’t even choose wise nesting spots in a controlled environment designed especially for them, and I imagine the two of them realizing at some point that if they want intelligent conversation, pretty much all they have is each other.

A mountain, a book, and a summer day

Sometimes, you need to leave the city behind and spend the day reading beneath the mountain pines.

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The rain waited until right as I finished the book I’d brought with me.* Then it fell, not lightly, but not pelting either, a cool rain with sun lighting the drops that made sitting out there, letting it fall and dapple skin and clothes, seem exactly the thing to do. We didn’t head back down the mountain (specifically, Mount Lemmon) until a rumble suggested heavier rain to come.

Clouds rolled over the mountains around us as we made our descent.

As we neared the city, the desert warmed up, and we left the best of the clouds behind with the cool mountain air.


*Said book being Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, which I thoroughly recommend. It’s mythic in ways not unlike The Underneath, only with more humor and a contemporary edge that doesn’t get in the way of its timelessness at all.

Hanging with the (turkey) vultures

Been watching videos of turkey vultures between drafts (next pass should be the final one) of the raven book. As one does.

“Turkey vultures have a lot of really cool natural behaviors and adaptations or … disgusting habits … depending on how you look at it”:

Socially awkward adaptations or not, naming your turkey vulture Barf does seem just a little unfair, though:

Carcass, phone book, it’s sort of the same:

But like most birds, to really appreciate these guys you need to see them in the air–which we’re lucky enough to do in Southern Arizona on a regular basis:

“Lightning is searching for you / It’s scorching bits of earth all along the route”

As I type this, white lightning forks the night sky to the south. After a deep pink cloud sunset in this land where we can go weeks without clouds, the warm air now rumbles low and deep and electric, and a hint of moisture scents on the building wind. Last night, that wind whistled and howled. It’s quieter tonight. The storm warnings are all for other parts of the city.

20130701-220511.jpgThis is the chanciest time of year, here in the Southwest. The earth has gone dry through our bright-flower spring and dragon’s-breath early summer, and the brief rains we’ve had so far in the monsoon season that follows haven’t been sufficient to change that. Storms are moving in, but the land has yet to feel them. This is the season where lightning can meet dry wood, where dry wood can flare high and hot with little warning.

Change is moving in. We all feel it.

But it isn’t here yet, and the last moments before a change are the most perilous. They’re the moments when growth can catch flame and turn to ash. When one can be tempted to walk away from long-time challenges, struggles, goals. There’s energy here, but little else. Why not use that energy to change course and move on while we can? This building tension can’t last. It never does.

Except, if we wait, maybe it will rain. It doesn’t always, of course, even in this officially rainy season.

But sometimes–sometimes it does.


Header lyrics from Cordero’s “Close Your House Down.”