Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mt. Vernon It Ain't, But...

For readers who don't live in Prescott, that heading doesn't make much sense. Explanation: Mt. Vernon Street is a lovely avenue of old Victorians houses, whose residents go all-out -- I mean all-out all-out -- for Halloween. People drive up from Phoenix with their kids for trick-or-treating on Mt. Vernon. Especially the treating part. My gossip says that the official promoters of Prescott tourism chip in on the high price of treats, the very unofficial occasion is so popular.

No, I'm just taking you on a quick tour in my end of town to help get you revved up for All Hallow's Eve. A good starting point: the costume shop over on Miller Valley. This is one time that catching the reflections in the show window added to rather than subtracted from the effect!

This elegant Victorian manages to look elegant decorated in matching spider webs and ghosts.

Most of the decorations I saw yesterday were rather modest, such as a pumpkin and a witch. According to a report from the Natl. Retailers Association, Americans spend several $ billion on Halloween decor and it's the biggest single event of the year for the candy makers. No surprise, that.

More other-worldly creatures...

And a big boost for the makers of white plastic garbage bags, which I saw transformed into ghosts in a number of neighborhood trees.

What kind of a dispenser is used for all those spider webs?
My favorite holiday house, which is decorated -- and lit up -- for almost every holiday imaginable. Even St. Pat's and St. Valentine's.

End of brief tour -- I have to get back to finishing Mom's costume for the party this evening!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

DYCs: Sunflowers & Their Many cousins

My Flagstaff daughter has established a charming fall tradition -- each year, she and the granddaughter pile into the little green car and head out to a high country meadow for a picture in the middle of golden flowers.

Autumn is indeed the time of year when nature seems dedicated to DYCs -- those Damned Yellow Composites, as botanists call them because 1) there are so many different kinds and 2) telling them apart is a major chore. My collection in this post is a mere sampling of the DYCs to be found around Prescott; I think I've IDed them, except for one or two.

For example, I'm pretty sure that this single flower (and the field of daisies above) is goldeneye, one of several viguieras that color our hills in late September and early October.

On the other hand, this small ground-hugging yellow daisy will opportunistically cover the ground anywhere, everywhere come the Monsoon rains. It's very common -- I couldn't find it in any of my guides, even though the common camphorweed (below) is in all.

Which brings up the subject of that famous plant ID course taken by everybody local that we met when we first moved to town in the mid 80s. According to friend Linda, Archie Dickey taught the course only in the winter-spring session at Yavapai College because of DYCs. He was famous for the course requirement: to positively and correctly identify 100 (later a mere 50) different local plants. Linda, who aced the course, explained that he didn't want to have the hassle of separating one DYC from another.

This is plains coreopsis -- a pretty thing that is often packaged in wild flower mixes. I don't believe that it is a local flower though it's quite happy here.

On the other hand, crownbeard loves my hill where it grows wildly and up to five or so feet tall. Note the leaves which are a dead giveaway to its sunflower heritage.

In contrast, goldenrod doesn't look like it's a member of the same family -- but it is.

Gumweed is usually found where weeds abound, so I guess that's how most people classify it. The center of the unopened flower (left) harbors a gummy substance, hence the name.

Couldn't find hide nor hair of this little fellow in any of the books. The flower is just 3/4" across and the foliage is of a weedy character, i.e., it isn't anywhere near garden quality -- instead, sort of scruffy. Like many composites, it makes a beautiful, airy little ball of parachute seeds.

Believe it or not, this is a zinnia -- I bought the plant years ago up at Flagstaff Native Plants and it has spread, rewarding me with my first (and only) blossom this summer. I have seen pairie zinnia only on a small butte at the right-hand turn-off on SR89A just before it enters the canyon between Woodchute and Mingus mountains.

Mexican hat is another asteraceae happy in these parts. This plant is one of many seeded by ADOT along the White Spar near the Ponderosa Park turn-off. I prefer the version that has mahogany colored petals (seeds for which are sitting in my kitchen awaiting rain.)

Desert marigold will bloom in spring, summer -- whenever -- with sufficient moisture. And before you tell me that Prescott is at too high an elevation to grow these neat little plants, let me refer you to the West Spruce Trail, where I've found a handful of plants thriving at 5200' elevation. On the other hand, I've had absolutely no luck growing them from seed. ADOT did seed marigolds along SR 69 between the I17 junction and Humbolt. Look for them next spring.

I couldn't figure out this small green-centered composite. My Plants of Arizona showed a similar blossom called greeneyes, but the leaves were quite different. Info, anyone?

And here's one of my favorites -- ragleaf or bahia. Seems to like shadier spots, unlike so many of the sun-loving DYCs.

Sunflowers growing in Prescott gardens this summer were, of course, much more lush than those found by the roadsides. In fact, it seemed to me that the number of gardeners who have taken up sunflowers is definitely on the upswing. Now it's lesson time! According to Backyard Nature:

The Composite Family is likely to be the best represented plant family in your backyard. Here are some of the best-known composites: Chicory, dandelion, chrysanthemum, yarrow, coreopsis, sunflower, Spanish needle, dahlia, zinnia, goldenrod, fleabane, aster, marigold, sneezeweed, groundsel, eupatorium, ageratum, lettuce, thistle, ironweed, cosmos, and Black-eyed Susan. L.H. Bailey's Manual of Cultivated Plants, revised edition, lists 101 genera, or kinds, of composite found under cultivation.

The amazing thing that composites have done is to miniaturize and simplify each flower, then pack a number of these tiny flowers on their ends next to one another, on a platform called a receptacle, and finally to organize the whole resulting cluster so that the many flowers look like just one flower. In other words the sunflower [above], is actually a collection of hundreds of flowers!

Moreover, in that sunflower you are seeing two kinds of flower. The two composite-flower types are usually known as disk flowers and ray flowers ... the "flower's" broad central area is composed of hundreds of disk flowers, and the yellow "petals" are the ray flowers.

Local Links of the Day

Print media, particularly newspapers, are hurting, thanks to the Internet. The obvious answer: go online. The local Courier is doing just that; in addition to the paper's regular website, a new team has been hired to put the actual paper plus possible new features online (free to present subscribers, but for a price to non-subscribers.) I have found the Arizona Republic website useful at times, with lots of good stuff, including the paper's own batch of bloggers. For the record, Flagstaff's daily offers an extensive web site with interesting links. Getting back to the local scene, the little monthly Monsoon arts and entertainment magazine may be downloaded in its entirety to read on the screen here.

Cat Links of the Day

It may be that Halloween is just around the corner. Whatever is the reason, the subject of cats has come up in conversation. Herewith, a mess of cat links! There's a one subject blog: cats that look like Hitler, which is up to feline #495 or thereabouts. Each and every one has a moustache. For a weekly cat blog roundup, go to kayaksoup. However, my most favorite of all right now is IM IN UR SERVER EATIN UR DATAZ; get prepared for belly laughs. And, if all these sites have softened your heart toward cats, here's a list of who's available for adoption at Miss Kitty's Cat House. Miss Kitty has her own web site and GrannyJ visited Miss Kitty's back awhile to photograph some of the residents.

Addendum: If the subject is cats, how, oh how, could I overlook the cat in comics!!! Don Marquis' Archie & Mehitabel ... George Harriman's Krazy Kat (which happens, of course, in a totally mythological Coconino County) ... and the current Get Fuzzy featuring that completely arrogant, totally wrong-headed Bucky Katt.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Walking Downtown

Yesterday was a beautiful, crisp (but not cold) October day. Perfect for a walk down to the Sal to buy a couple of items for Mom's Halloween costume. The official fall colors post is already on line, but I couldn't resist this tree collection. The reds are actually berries on a prolific pyracantha; in a couple of months, I know where to find hungry robins hanging out!

Along the way, I tried a short little street that I hadn't visited in years. And was rewarded with this mailbox set! The word cute is in order here.

And this curious Halloween display. Didn't have time to read the epitaphs on the painted stones, as I was being razzed by a couple of the denizens out having a smoke.

It also seemed like a good day to photograph this office building that is peopled primarily by medic types. The colors always catch my eye: mildew (upper) and mushroom (lower & woodwork.) My apologies -- these are good subdued earthy colors that meld well into a nicely landscaped background -- nonetheless, my descriptions stand -- mildew and mushroom.

Wonder how long this admonition has been cast in cement. Nice touch: the hand and paw prints. Note to the folks who are all up tight about the Liquor Barn moving across the street a few feet closer to the middle school -- this inscription is yet closer.

What must visitors from other countries think when they try to understand some of our standard civic abbreviations? Whenever I first see this sign, my two years of high school Latin pop into my mind and ped = foot, which is close! Then there's that intrusion of the religious X for cross into a paid-by-taxes sign. Tsk! Tsk!

Nearly to my goal. The corner of Montezuma and Goodwin is Candidate Central. Oh yes, propositions, too. The only problem with this colorful ephemera is that faded signs will remain after their purpose is long forgotten. A suggestion for the petition passers -- how about promoting a law, with teeth, fining every politician for every day that his signs are standing after election day.

Finally, the Sal thrift store. Home of yesterday's meticuously hand-crocheted projects...

...a good computer department (already including one machine running XP)

and yesterday's hot gizmo fads. This is the place to buy your next food processor ... bread baker ... crock pot ... air freshener ... toaster oven ... whatever. I love the place, but sometimes looking at the cast offs makes me kinda sad for the short life of stuff.

Link of the Day

Beth at Firefly Forest has the perfect post for the Halloween season. A superb nature photographer, she has posted a sequence of pictures of bats enjoying the nectar of her hummingbird feeders at night, when the feisty little birds are not around. If the page I have linked is not the right one when you get there, go back one or two more pages. You might also look for her post on planting penstemon; most of her Tucson species are also found in the Prescott area.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Local Links of the Day

So when the nurse at Mom's assisted living abode comes up to me and says you can't miss the Day of the Dead Dinner Show, I figure it's time to pass along the good word. There's a blog all about preparing for the event, which is a fund-raiser for Prescott Coyote Radio. There's also a web site for the dinner, which I think has intel all about it & maybe even a way to sign up, but the site doesn't like my Mac and so I was hoping that maybe one of my readers could tell me what it says! Sounds like a fun evening despite computer inter-species incompatabilities.

A Three-Way Score

Take a good look at that picture. Now, look again. What do you see this time? Why am I claiming a three-way score with this photo?

#1: There's a beautiful snail trail, dry and glittering in today's warm sun.

#2. The wood slice is handsome just by itself.

#3. Catch the label to the left? Clyde Robin Seed Company. That's the box of red California poppy seed that arrived this morning. One pound of it. I'm going to scatter it all over; we're told it's an el nino winter coming on, which means plenty of moisture.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Plants for Planting

It has decided to get chilly, being autumn and all that. A good time for planting plants, in my books. So I have these two problem children. #1, the two small Arizona cypress seedlings in the black pots above. I haven't really decided where they want to grow. The son-in-law said not to worry too much about overhead power lines at one spot I picked out -- any problem is years away, he said; I had to agree secretly -- I surely won't be around for the day of reckoning. On the other hand, I tried digging a hole at another selected spot up the hill yesterday and quickly wore down, hitting decayed granite all too soon. Don't know if a little tree will survive the challenge to its roots. Don't know if I can dig much deeper. One other, easier location is too near a hog wallow that has recently become active -- a pair of javelina appear to have moved in! They just look at me, wiggle their snouts and cuddle a little closer. Besides, it is too dang chilly to work outdoors this week.

Then there's my claret cup cactus that's waiting to go into the ground. And it's a beauty -- at least six stems! The problem is I can't figure out just where it wants to spend its life.

I guess the real problem is that I am dithering -- and it's just too warm and cozy inside.

Local Links of the Day

A readers should know by now, I am a fanatic when it comes to the fate of the Upper Verde River. And so today, here's a site that links to most of the critical data concerning the river and the aquifers from which it draws its water. Yes, there is bias: "Compelling evidence shows that future demands on ground water from the Upper Verde Watershed severely threaten the existence of perennial flow in the Upper Verde River as far downstream as Perkinsville," says the opening page. Nonetheless, the links cite all the most recent studies by the USGS and NAU. Local cities are set to spend $30Gs for "review and critique" of the studies, says today's Prescott Courier. Guess what they will find out!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Autumn but no maples

Fall is definitely here in the Arizona mountains. While we tend to remain mostly green all winter -- our forests are piney -- the settlers, old and new, did plant deciduous trees. Great for autumn color, tho we miss that glorious pool of red that surrounds eastern sugar maples. (When it comes to fall color, I don't count those year-round red-leafed maples that the landscape people plant.)

There are a handful of small maples that turn brilliant red in wetter crevices and canyons up in the hills, but as a rule, our bright reds have to come from plants such as Virginia Creeper -- hardly a substitute for a bountiful, tall tree!

Another source of red is the squaw bush (three-leaf sumac in PC-speak), though like the creeper, it needs back lighting to bring out the color (above and below). The bush does turn color in starts and fits, often leading to individual leaves that shade from green to red!

Purslane is a little ground growing plant that goes red in the fall...

...as is plumbego. For that matter, so do strawberries.

While the choke cherries generally don't do a major display comes October, these leaves were a neat exception!

Surprisingly enough, my little volunteer peach tree (above) and my several apricot trees (below) have provided much of the best autumn color that I've seen. Often very subtle, if you are into that sort of thing.

Of course, there's the aspen; I especially liked these leaves (below) in the process of turning.

While aspen are celebrated for their golden glow, most of the aspen in my neighborhood seem to have preferred a slightly orangish yellow. Still a wonderful finale for an Arizona mountain fall.

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