Taking care of mom, hardly leaving the house for shielding as much as a terrible unrelenting heat. Starting work at 6 am latest to speak to people in the UK, so can’t even go walking when the temperature might make that possible. Until today. A drive out to near where we used to live. A walk with Cat Mountain almost always in view. Not living there still feels like a hole in the heart. An impossibility. For all the talk about modern mobility and all my own mobility, this is still where I am anchored. A piece of my heart still in that adobe house. The wind still carrying me amidst the deer, coyotes, rabbits enjoying the sun, the cactus wrens and towees and gila woodpeckers and roadrunners and threshers and this host of wild things making the desert such a vibrant place of life.
Such a lovely lovely first day of the year with Dan, Jessica, Mark, wearing my new to me Earth First T-shirt which once belonged to Z and came to me via Julie as a Christmas gift — a most precious thing. We started at the King’s Canyon trail head, and did a glorious loop up past the petroglyphs my dad first showed me. Deer, even though the trail was busy.
Mark, Julie and I on New Year’s Day, snow on the Tucson Mountains, seeing quail, coyote, deer. Taking these as tokens of the year ahead, even the dead tarantula curled up in the middle of the small wash. Working to ignore the unsustainable arrogance of wealth mushrooming across the desert in the form of giant block houses. I hope my year is full of wilds and family and love, some writing, some working to change the world.
Anyone who came to visit us was taken to Kitt Peak, once the largest, most advanced astronomical observatory in the world. It is still wondrous, though larger, more modern telescopes have since been placed further from lights and cities.
I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying.
But the skies, oh the skies were wondrous.
Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.
I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying. Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.
We must go back and see it again properly.
We drove back down along Ajo, down the roller coaster of Kinny and along through the Tucson Mountains to hike Brown Mountain Trail. I ran up here once to sit on this hill and watch a wall of rain across the valley. The trail is beuatiful, though perhaps a little too close to the road, which is far too busy for my liking. But we came up the hill and stared back across to Baboquivari and Kitt Peak, sun beams streaming down to light them up. Sacred mountains.
Mark, Julie and I had our first great walk of Christmas holiday ought eighteen up in the Catalina foothills (directions here), with flowers blooming everywhere in such a wet winter. It was beautiful. We went off trail a bit and I had forgotten how much I loved that, but we did pay for it in blood and Mark’s new typology of stabby things, hooked stabby things and barbed stabby things. Also, sore muscles.
New Year’s was golden this year, spent at home in Tucson with Mark and Dan, Mum and Julie. We had my favourite soup and biscuits and pumpkin pie and wines still and sparkling. We talked through the new year and then Mum and Julie left the three of us still talking until late late.
Our last night was golden too. We bought mum a record player for Christmas, and so sat around playing old records. Some of them are mine, bought in LA years and years ago, the others we aren’t quite sure where they came from. I remember buying the songs of the Grand Ole Opry (the amazing Dolly Parton singing Mule Skinner Blues), but did I buy Don Williams (Amanda is one of my mum’s all time favourite songs, whether Waylon’s or Don’s — possibly because she too decided not to become a gentleman’s wife) and Jimmie Rodgers (In the Jailhouse Now) and Eddie Arnold (oh man, Cattle call, amazing)? There were three polka records, they must have been Ricki’s, she lived with us for a while but long before we knew her she owned a Polka bar in Chicago. She told me once she left because the mob requested the use of her basement. Those were pretty terrible, well, the one we listened to. Yet at the same time they sounded so much like the Mexican music I am more familiar with and do like, I couldn’t quite say why I prefer it, I kind of want to puzzle how they connect. I’d have to listen to the old Polish records more I guess. Then a couple of old falling apart albums that must, must have belonged to my grandfather I think, and come when my grandmother came to live with us. Ancient foxtrots. La Marseillaise. Tchaikovsky.
I can’t remember what else, but it’s been a long time since I just sat around and listened to things, almost all of them a surprise.
Family and walks in the desert and good food and sitting around talking and lots of reading, music, Rogue 1, El Corral, roadtripping and dreams of gardening in space…the days I will remember. The haven that still remains for us, which I am so thankful for in this world where that remains for so few.
I took pictures of the best covers, but lost my phone on the flight home. Gone too are the pictures of the Tucson Botanical gardens, cacti, the hommage to Frida and Diego’s Casa Azul, me and mum being a two headed butterfly.
I took no pictures in Nogales, where everything has changed. It was almost empty, making people less anonymous in the streets. Tourists now too afraid to come here. The wall is not as big as Tijuana’s I don’t think, but still too big, rust red, dividing people from their people, animals from their habitat, water from its dispersion, migratory birds from their pathways and often their lives. Most of the little shops I remember have closed down, and it is weird to miss the tourists but you can see how much harder life is in people’s faces. It is weird to miss the hordes of kids selling chiclets, but I know their absence isn’t because kids and their families are no longer driven by poverty to make some extra money, but because there is no one to be generous. I wonder how they survive now. There are four casinos that give free meals to get people in the door, the shop owner I was talking too said it with anger, because people eat and then gamble away their money because there is no hope of anything else. There are more pharmacies than I could believe possible, though that’s the reason we were down there I confess, I had forgotten my prescription. I suppose business will pick up more once the Republicans have succeeded dismantling Obamacare, we have a tradition of buying medicine in Mexico. Dental care. Glasses. Another shop owner (from him we bought tiles) pulled out his wallet to show us ticket stubs from the Tucson Convention Centre going back to the 70s. For some reason the only one I can remember now is Deep Purple.
I finally bought a ceramic parrot, the kind I have wanted since the first time we ever went to Nogales, decades I have wanted one. Now I want two more, so they hang from my ceiling like they still do in one or two remaining stores, a glad cascade of wild colour uncaged.
I have settled for colour and reminders of warmth and home instead of gambling I suppose.
Last year was so bleak, I had to sit and reflect on it in a blog for Verso, and it hurt to do it. 2017 doesn’t look much better. Still the struggle goes on, I’ll be part of it from Manchester now, have to find the best way to plug in and do what I can though all I feel is tired. Have to finish my book rewrites. Have to write more articles. Have to finish book one of the trilogy I have in mind and a little on paper. Want to read so much more. Have to find a little more hope that words can have any impact at all, or marches, or letters, or protests. Have to exercise, eat better. Have to get to know Manchester. Have to fill into my new job, find my new directions. Have to stay in touch better, respond more quickly to emails.
Have to spend more time with the people I love.
Those are the times that are golden.
I love my mom’s neighbourhood, despite the lack of sidewalks and streetlights. It’s not until you wander around (despite the fact that everything works to discourage you from wandering around on foot) that you realise that what looks fairly nondescript is actually full of interest. That each house is unique, probably hand-built by the one-time owner though probably with one of those early kits. They sit in various places on large plots of land, some left as desert, some filled with dead grass, gravel, attempts at landscaping that range from the most basic to the most elaborate.
Christmas just makes it all the more exciting.
The bull in front of Molina’s has always been well-endowed, but the painting of a snowman was a bit unexpected.
A pissing fountain dressed in Christmas regalia, though I’m loving the black Santa
The new fashion for inflatable christmas cheer in unexpectd forms, like a reindeer in a tub with a naked santa mechanically scrubbing his own back
Or Santa on a tractor:
An Armageddon of Christmas cheer now wilted, a collapsed Santa:
Santa slamming into a door:
Oddments collected on a rooftop, but no Santa at all.
A few other curiosities of the non-Christmasy kind, like this celebratory remnant
One of my favourite churches
The unconscious ironies of developers
The ubiquitous belief in the coolness of big things, and flames.
Tucson was good to us last night. Club Congress, beautiful old hotel and bar, old for Tucson anyways, where gangster Dillinger was once chased down and arrested in prohibition days and there once were bullet holes in the wooden paneling of the bar but not any longer and this is not a place that just trades on history, but is full of good music. And still has liquor. Of course.
I’ve seen Justin Townes Earle play here, one of my all time favourites though he was drunker than he should have been that night. But tonight it was Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and they were amazing live. My brother said they were, and he didn’t lie. Old time blues with some funk and some Jimi Hendrix, some rawness and some rhythm and dude plays the harmonica as well as guitar and so much energy and two saxes and a trumpet up on stage, and that Joe Lewis born in Tucson and his family all over the place and it meant that crowd was most diverse and I loved Tucson.
Fourth avenue too, full of young beautiful things (but oh, such a relief from the more contoured and sculpted, more predictable beautiful things of LA and London), and us older things, and even some much older folks. All of us out tonight, living life well. We headed to Shay’s after, and then to the R Bar to meet an old friend of my brothers’, dude went to elementary with T and plays soccer with Dan and his family owned the liquor store on 22nd and the freeway–I don’t know how many times we have driven past that liquor store. Now he’s getting his PhD on arid land ecologies and I almost waxed lyrical on Masanobu Fukuoka whose final philosophical manifesto of sowing seeds in the desert I just finished reading. But I didn’t wax too much. He’s a bit out there I guess from some of the the hard science points of view, and this PhD is all data. I think we talked too much about economics, racism and police brutality, but a good night because we were all on the side of the righteous. And there was cider.
Walking down under the bridge and along 4th, behind some cholos walking their walk with their tube socks pulled up and long shorts pulled down and then past some large women wearing very little and damn they were pretty impressive and you know, you got it flaunt it, and a whole mix of everyone wearing whatever the hell they felt like from long skirts to short skirts, jeans to short shorts to little black dresses to hippy dresses, stupidly high heels and flip flops and cowboy boots, all ages and races and degrees of sobriety and I was pretty happy here in my home town. I realised I been missing cholos walking their walk. Been missing walking too. If only Tucson had a public transportation system that worked well enough to get us the whole way home (or anywhere else we needed to go). But this little piece of this sprawling unsustainable city feels like a real place, it has everything you need to bring different people together, get people walking, talking, meeting. So many people out and about walking and laughing it feels safe, so many different kinds of people it feels vibrant, it feels good. American cities are so segregated and Tucson isn’t that much different (though it’s got nothing on LA), but here everyone was out enjoying themselves. Together.
The planner geographer side of me could tell a lot of that had to do with this old core of an old walkable downtown, its mixed use and cluster of bars and the old Rialto theatre (with Michael Franti playing) and restaurants and taco trucks and the redevelopment of 4th avenue bridge with its purple lights and wide sidewalks and art making it no longer a scary-ass place to walk into so you can get from the vibrance of 4th Ave proper to that awesome strip along Congress and everyone is on the move between them. I like seeing the streetcars too, though I know they were hell of controversial.
Gives you a bit of hope. All except for the clusters of cops on a few of the corners, but they mainly seemed to be breathalizing people before they were anywhere near a car, and there was some laughter and people were talking to them voluntarily (though that confuses me and cops generally make me feel the opposite of safe), so it seems maybe they were just on a mission of prevention. But the crowds just flowed right around them.
A great night with my brother.
It is so hot here, so hot, humid and hot. People often escape from Tucson to the Catalinas, high mountains, cool mountains. Not us though, not for a long time, not in the old buick. Poor old car. It felt like a victory for the whole Gibbons clan that Dan finally got the job he deserves, and then got a new honda civic. It’s blue. Our biggest victory in some time.
We drove up that steep, long mountain road in a new car! A triumph.
I have a bit of car envy, me, who has only properly owned a car for about 5 months, and that was years and years ago and never wanted another. I know how bad they are for the environment. I love moving slow on my own power, if I must move quickly let it be on a train. But hell, it felt good to drive up that mountain to find cool air, knowing we would get up there and back. Cars do bring so much freedom, and I found myself wanting it. Remembering those dreams of a midnight blue straightback Chevy truck. Funny no matter how much you change, you never totally leave your old self behind.
They’ve cleaned most of the old rusting cars out of the canyons, the ones we used to count when we were kids, but there was still at least one van left:
The canyons, though, beautiful. Seven cataracts (as opposed to seven falls)
The pine-covered summits, where I confess I would have liked a long-sleeved shirt while we sat outside and I ate my fancy french dip sandwich and sweet potato tots, delicious, though it felt a bit of a betrayal now it’s no longer the old pie place. The one miraculously saved from the fire last go round. A bit of rain came through.
The Catalinas on a hot Saturday in August? Not too much sense of the lonely wilds up there. Rose lake? A family planted every few feet fishing. White, Mexican and a family whose patriarch was wearing a fez. Diversity was nice, but actual people? Not so much. I remember I went camping there as a kid, fishing there once with the Sweetzers, they caught a shoe. I fell in love with their bait box full of lures of many colours. I shot my first gun at a row of tin cans. They made scrambled eggs with cheese in that old cast iron skillet they never washed and called them snots. It must have been a BB gun, right? I can’t remember. They owned gear, but the army surplus kind, they were an army family. None of the fancy stuff my friends are packing these days. I think about all the places American troops have gone on mostly the wrong side of everything, and can’t match that to the kindness I remember. Sort of the way Rose lake didn’t look familiar at all, didn’t match any one of those memories.
Then back home. Barely escaping Tucson’s largest predator and certain death…
A new car. We could go anywhere.
Isn’t this baby spadefoot unbelievably beautiful? Jumping away from me in the gravel alley behind Molina’s. Maybe spadefeet like salsa, the smell of tortillas.
But wait, I looked it up. It’s spadefoots! Listen to this (from the Desert Museum, they love exclamation points as much as I do!):
During summer monsoons, the spadefoot is well-known for emerging from its subterranean estivation to breed in the temporary ponds created by the heavy runoff. Interestingly, the cue for adult emergence during these summer thunderstorms is not moisture, but rather low frequency sound or vibration, most likely caused by rainfall or thunder.
Using the spade on the hind foot, spadefoots can quickly bury themselves in loose, sandy soil. During this time young spadefoots need to eat enough food to survive the unfavorable living conditions above the surface of the ground. After eating as much as possible, they too burrow beneath the surface. Breeding may not occur in years with insufficient rainfall. Preying primarily upon beetles, grasshoppers, katydids, ants, spiders, and termites, a spadefoot can consume enough food in one meal to last an entire year!
So adults stay underground in the day — for 8 to 10 months waiting for the monsoons, and also through their active period. But these little metamorphs can be caught at all hours. I scooped him up and let him go down in more safety by the little arroyo, flooded now like I’ve never seen it. He’s got more challenges than a little frog needs, growing up in a parking lot.
At last my conscious mind registered that funny little bridge,the reason for its existence.
Today, finally it was cool enough to walk, and mom really needs to be walking. We went down to the store, but had to come this way, the long way, because Belvedere was a little too flooded to cross.
I don’t remember when I saw or heard Tucson getting this much rain. Maybe way back in eighty-four. The great flood. We lost power at home, we were trapped for several days…living in the city isn’t nearly so much fun. We are so removed from everything, the desert flattened and sealed from us beneath asphalt and concrete. But with the flowing of water you can imagine the contours of what used to be here, the arroyos carving through the flats.
It feels so different from the everyday. Even this sprawling landscape of box buildings, unique owner-built homes and empty lots felt beautiful, though I still mourn the desert.
The sunsets have been wonderful
Me, I’ve been trying to face down my anxieties about writing, I now am confident in 6 of the 8 pieces of Qi Gong brocade, and going through more of the stuff we crammed into storage during the foreclosure. Look at these…part of the soundtrack of my old life as part of the Gibbons family. And a vacation guide from the days when driving gloves were still cool.
We were hell of cool singing along the Clancy Brothers and Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins.
Also, I sold a story today! Stars Falling. It’s the Perseid shower this week too. I don’t know if those two things are connected except that I started this long ago in LA during a meteor shower, but it’s nice.
Now, some gratuitous pictures of Meli-pops.