Haunting echoes of Moonlight Canyon

Delayed by unexpected surgeries, writer/outdoor photographer/Airstreamer/snowbird Bert Gildart and Janie finally arrived in the warmer climes of California’s Anza-Borrego Desert to enjoy hiking, biking and overall renewal.  Last week they visited us at Agua Caliente County Park and Bert couldn’t wait to put on a camera backpack and carry a tripod onto the Moonlight Canyon Trail where he has photographed bighorn sheep.

DSC_0124 Bert Gildart in Moonlight Canyon

We entered the canyon from the east where its shady, steep granite walls hold onto the night cold, so a ways in, Bert enjoyed sitting on a boulder and soaking in the warm rays of the rising sun (to drive the cold winter away).*

DSC_0134 Chasing the chill away

A few moments later, Bert forged ahead and set the pace, while looking for suitable subjects to photograph, saying, “When I choose to photograph something, I like it to be better than the ones I have previously photographed.”

DSC_0197 Bert on the hunt

As we rose out of the canyon, the trail became steeper and the sides were lined with granite detritus as we stumbled upon elusive Ghost Flowers that thrive on gravely slopes and sandy washes.  The pale cream flower is translucent, sometimes hard to see, and is the basis of its name.

DSC_0198 Ghost Flowers on Moonlight Canyon Trail

Bert and I quickly went to work photographing this treasure trove of Ghost Flowers.  The last time I saw these flowers here was 6 years ago!

DSC_0203 Bert shoots Ghost flowers

Bert scrambled up loose granite to get another shot.

DSC_0219 Shooting ghost on sliding granite

Upon finding a suitable subject, Bert got serious and set up his tripod.

DSC_0186 Bert's Nikon on tripod, Ghost shot

He asked me to pull out two hand-held strobes from his backpack and showed me where to hold one of them as he held the other and took the picture.  Bert explained he sets the camera’s shutter speed to 250th of a second (which makes the flowers look motionless, even in a breeze) and sets the aperture at f/32 for maximum depth of field.  The two hand-held strobes, overwhelm ambient light and produce a dark or black background (Photographic artistry of Bert Gildart).  See Bert’s article and photos in his March 8 posting, “Ghost Flower.”

DSC_0179 Bert uses hand-held strobe

The Ghost Flower, Mohavea confertiflora, has 5 ragged-edged lobes with maroon speckles and a maroon blotch at the base (Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers).  These marks resemble the female bee Xeralictus and operate as floral mimicry (sign stimulus) to the male bee, which enters the flower and pollinates the Mohavea (Wikipedia).  (Below are my Nikon D40 images.)

DSC_0154 Ghost Flower, Mohavea confertiflora

DSC_0191 Ghost Flowers, Moonlight Canyon

Visiting these Ghost Flowers renewed our spirits and strengthened our bodies.  Thich Nhat Hanh reflects this in his meditation “Flower Fresh.”*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Year of the cock

“Year of the Fire Rooster comes a crowing saying, Wake up!  His crow alerts us that a new day is dawning, but we must rise and mobilize into action as we come together for the wellbeing of our roost/planet,” says Mysticmamma.com in the Astral Insights article, “Chinese Astrology for 2017 Year of the Fire Rooster~.”

DSC_0089 Year of the cock 2017

Our rooster couldn’t wait to arrive at Agua Caliente County Park in the Anza-Borrego Desert to celebrate and crow about the new lunar year, the Year of the Fire Rooster, which promises to “be yet another super-charged year, infused with intensity,” as noted in Sara Coughlin’s “What You Should Expect During The Year Of The Rooster.”  In CNN’s Year of the Rooster article, Hong Kong fortune teller Priscilla Lam predicts “What’s in store for world’s top leaders.”  Not surprisingly, she predicts, “There will be protests” (which have already begun, as seen in the Indivisible movement*).

DSC_0024 Year of the Rooster table

Unless I was determined to photograph the desert sunrise, I awoke on most mornings, not to the crowing of the rooster,* but to the sight of beautiful golden rays of sunlight bathing the interior of our 2007 Airstream Safari trailer.

DSC_0092 Surnrise in Airstream trailerMeanwhile, Larry has already been up and setting up our festival tree with Chinese New year decorations.

According to Wikipedia, red is the predominant color used in Chinese New Year celebrations.  Red is an auspicious color, an emblem of joy and symbolizes virtue, truth and sincerity.

Seen below are two red and gold firecracker decorations used to scare away evil spirits and associated with the Chinese New Year Legend of Nian.*  Below the firecrackers are three fish symbolizing wealth and abundance.


DSC_0087 Chinese New Year decorations




















During the day, Larry worked on a new Happi coat

DSC_0047 Larry worked on Happy Coat

while I hiked and photographed ocotillo showing new green growth due to recent rains.

DSC_0096 Ocotillo new growth

Abundant rainfall this season should produce a wonderful spring wildflower season.  But winter is not over.

DSC_0123 Desert dusk silhouette

A chillness set in as the sun descended and the Full Snow Moon* rose following seasonal planetary and natural cycles.

DSC_0120 Snow moon rising

History is also seasonal with recurring generational cycles, called turnings, according to the Strauss-Howe generational theory created by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe and explained in their book The Fourth Turning.*  Apparently, in this theory, we are currently in the “Crisis era“, analogous to the seasonal cycle of winter, which is followed by the “High era“!

With the turning of winter into spring, we look forward to returning to the desert this month to chase the lion and welcome the lamb and feel the sunshine, which almost always makes me high!*

In Like a Lion Out Like a Lamb,”* a beautiful poem by Marion Dane Bauer (read aloud).

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Haunting echoes of Canada geese

Like clockwork every fall, Canada geese and Bert and Janie Gildart wing their way south to milder climes.

DSC_0079 Bert Gildart- A Movable Feast

The significance  of this event is conveyed in Bert’s article, “A Movable Feast,” Airstream Life, Winter 2016, page 44:

High overhead, a flock of Canada geese were winging their way south through the chill night air. Wave after wave passed above us, honking among themselves. As we watched, they vanished much too soon, leaving only faint, haunting echoes.

To some, the sound of the geese is synonymous with the changing of the seasons. To me, hearing them on the eve of the equinox was an omen that fall throughout the Northwest would be a season of splendor, unveiling many wonders as it had done so many times before while I made my autumn journey south following the sun, the birds, the peak transformation of fall foliage, and the pageantry of wildlife preparing for winter.”

This season, unexpected surgeries have delayed Bert and Janie’s trip south, as detailed in Bert’s blog post last week, “Open those Stored Boxes. They Could Surprise!

Former back-country ranger in Glacier National Park, writer/outdoor photographer/Airstreamer Bert Gildart has been providing spectacular photos and enriching stories for Airstream Life ever since it’s first issue, Summer 2004.

DSC_0027 Bert Gildart focuses Nikon

Snowbirds, Bert and Janie, have often spent winter months in Borrego Springs with friends while hiking and photographing interesting sites such as the Sculptures of Ricardo Breceda, Galleta Meadows, Borrego Springs, as documented in Bert’s post, “Year of the Dragon” and my post, “In pursuit of dragons and pearls.

DSC_0081 Bert & Janie, Larry holding pearl

For the past 6 years, we have preferred the quieter Agua Caliente County Park 45 minutes south of Borrego Springs, where we have enjoyed Bert and Janie’s visits while spending time hiking and feasting!

DSC_0092 Bert & Janie gaze at sheep

Bert points to bighorn sheep on nearby ridge (note the size of his telephoto lens)!

DSC_0078 Bert focussing on bighorn sheep

His happiness is contagious!

DSC_0079 Bert's happy to see bighorn sheep

And he knows how to light up a scene… and brighten our spirits.

DSC_0125 Bert's lighting technique

See his photos of the above scenes in his post, “Surviving In a Land Where Everything Either Sticks, Stings, or Bites.”  Bert’s got it down to a science and it comes out as iconic art, as mentioned in “Bert Gildart’s art.”

DSC_0044 Bert Gildart at work & play

It is cold and snowy in Montana where Bert is convalescing while his spirit of adventure continues as he discovers historic treasures left in boxes for him by his parents 15 years ago, such as a newspaper clipping from the famous Honolulu-Star Bulletin‘s Extra Edition December 7, 1941.* On the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Star-Bulletin published its most famous extra edition, as Editor Riley Allen and staff scrambled to print the first paper in the world with news of the assault. Extras were being sold on the street within three hours (Wikipedia).  This clipping is a haunting echo from the past for both of us because both my dad and Bert’s dad were in the Army there at the same time. (My dad Joe stands on left next to his buddy Wes.)

My Dad, JWD, Pearl Harbor Survivor

We wish you a speedy recovery, Bert, and look forward to your and Janie’s return to Borrego Springs!

To Be By Your Side*      Old Black Crow (Tony Feathers)*      Here’s to the crazy ones (Think Different)*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Happiness in the blooming desert

Happiness is spreading in the Anza-Borrego Desert along with the wildflowers*, so we returned to our desert home away from home and were greeted by abundant sunshine, flowers and friends, such as Ann from historic Julian, California,* who gave us a beautiful display of poet’s daffodils,* Narcissus poeticus in a mason jar before returning home.  Julian’s daffodil lady, Sally Snipes, began planting bulbs to honor her father in 1990, and now millions bloom every March.  We’ll return here with our Airstream Safari in May.

DSC_0284:3 Narcissus poeticus

We arrived in Agua Caliente County Park* on the first day of spring, the spring equinox,* and enjoyed the longer daylight to set up camp, while bathed with warm, early evening breezes and a waxing moon.  Three evenings later, the Full Worm Moon* rose, along with a penumbral eclipse.*

DSC_0198 Full Worm Moon 2016

A happy sun looked down upon hamantaschen* that I made and brought from home to celebrate Purim.*

DSC_0016 Hamantaschen for Purim

Like all days of celebration, Purim is a wonderful time to get together with friends, so we visited Bert and Janie (and their Classic Airstream trailer) in Borrego Springs and shared cha siu bao* and hamantaschen.

DSC_0192 Bert, Janie, Larry & Bill

Most of our time in the desert was spent exploring and admiring the Anza-Borrego spring flowers.  Larry found a coyote gourd.*

DSC_0021 Larry & coyote gourd

A nearby palo verde tree, Parkinsonia florida, was exploding with yellow flowers that peaked during our stay!

DSC_0131 Flowering palo verde

Also nearby, was a wash where Larry was thrilled to find a large mound of Krameria bicolor, aka Krameria grayi, in full bloom.  The close-up shows the flowers and its barbed fruit.

DSC_0114 Krameria grayi bush

DSC_0116 Krameria grayi flowers

Nearby this Krameria were two clumps of strawberry hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus engelmannii, with profuse blooms that closed at night and opened during the day. (See Bert Gildart’s “Botanical Adaptions to the Desert“.)

DSC_0100 Hedgehog cactus cluster

DSC_0147 Hedgehog cactus flowers

Also making the point in the area is Gander’s Cholla, Cilindropuntia ganderi.

DSC_0157 Gander cholla

And when the sun set, the moon bloomed and the stars danced with happiness!*

DSC_0216 Night stars and moonlight

*This is a YouTube video.

Agua Caliente stars

Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night* and a wild new year,” I thought as we returned to Agua Caliente at the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, to enjoy clear, cool nights under the desert stars and to discover new stars!  Howdy Doody was already celebrating* while sitting on the picnic table next to publication stars, Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), gold (power), and green (faith), and behind the mask, a Buddha’s hand (fingered citron) symbolizing happiness, longevity and good fortune.

DSC_0021 Mardi Gras stars

Good fortune came to our early morning wildlife stars, first the white-winged doves, followed by Purple finches, as they feasted from wild bird seed held by our vintage, rustic feeder from home.

DSC_0115 House finch & rustic feeder

Our local roadrunner passed by, so we threw out some breadcrumbs, but the roadrunner disappeared, probably because a hungry, young coyote was lurking nearby and soon made its bold appearance.  (Its mother made her appearance last month, resulting in the permanent disappearance of a chihuahua!)

DSC_0028 Agua Caliente coyote

Driven by hunger, this coyote came into our campsite, while keeping an eye on us and our dogs!  (Larry held corgi Tasha while I crouched and photographed by the rear of our truck.)

DSC_0038_2 Coyote eating crumbs

While hiking, I came across a more natural food for coyotes, a 3-inch Coyote melon, Curcurbita palmata, which when ripe, yields seeds that have been found in coyote scat.

DSC_0060 Coyote melon

At the beginning of my hike, I saw a new sign warning of recent mountain lion activity.  The rangers told me that around Christmas, a bighorn sheep carcass was found with marks and covered with sand consistent with a mountain lion attack near the seep area of Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Cameras were set up around the carcass for four nights, which turned this puma into a poster star!

DSC50 Moonlight Canyon mountain lion

More wildlife drama occurred the following day at camp when Larry spotted a white-winged dove dangling by its foot attached to the top of a  20-25-foot Agave deserti dead flower stalk by entangling string.

DSC106 White-winged dove entangled

DSC107 White-winged dove & familyLarry notified Camp Host Dan and Ranger Melinda.  Dan quickly arrived in his utility cart, assessed the situation, and returned with appropriate tools, such as a saw, large lopping shears, chainsaw chaps, and needle nose scissors and tweezers.  Since the stalk had already bloomed and died, it was permissible to cut it down in order to rescue this bird.  Dan donned the chaps to protect from nearby thorns and sawed three quarters into the trunk, while I supported it with the reacher.  He then supported the trunk as I made the final cut with the lopping shears.  We rested the stalk on the utility cart and Dan folded back the dove’s wings and calmed it while I cut the many threads that were wrapped around the foot, toes and branch.  Photos were then taken and the dove was released and flew off to our delight.  Camp Host Dan saved this bird’s life and is a star in my eyes!

DSC111 Camp Host Dan & dove

Larry and I celebrated the season each evening by turning on a string of LED light bulbs that Larry had covered with Mixed Pepper Light Covers, which was wrapped around a wreath of homegrown red trumpet vine encircling enameled laser-cut steel in the shape of the sun – our star given to us by friends!

DSC101 Holiday wreath, Mardis Gras colors

A wild beginning of the new year, yes, but I think everything will be OK because here comes the sun!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.