The Constant Apprentice is a place for curious humans to explore craft, visual arts, writing, nature, food, and all things classic, then and now.
{ Curators: Roseann & Jonathan Hanson —> }|{ Craft }|{ Classics }|{ Travel }|{ Food }|{ Nature }|{ Science }|{ Writing }|{Visual Arts}

Traveling in southern California

J. and I are traveling in southern California this week, a mix of business and fun.

We're going to steal some time in LA to visit the Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Journal page ~ Fire on Elkhorn Ridge

There has been a fire on a ridge in the Baboquivari Mountains west and south of us . . . we watched it grow in the night, an eerie string of fire-pearls creeping up the mountain ridge. Now it is threatening Brown Canyon and the house where we used to live . . . and Elkhorn Ranch, owned by Mary and Charlie Miller . . . the fire was started by an illegal immigrant, trying to signal for help. We are in California right now and are watching and hearing the news from afar . . . 

Journal page ~ Desert castanets

The seed pods on the foothills palo verde (Cercidium microphyllum) are drying out, and the wind today is turning each tree into a little band of castanets . . . click-click-rattle-rattle-clack. The colors are washed, pale yellow, soft green . . . 

Food as art . . . summertime lunch

Cold snap peas with chipotle mayonnaise; quesadilla (flour tortilla with melted jack cheese and chipotle salsa; queso is Spanish for cheese); and watermelon juice with lime. I had some lovely seedless watermelon go a bit mushy in the fridge, so I pureed it with a little lime juice . . . the perfect summer drink. The colors were so beautiful, I had to share.

Journal pages ~ June 6, 2009

Pages from my journal from the mountain lion track count
(see post below)

Tracking cougars in southeastern Arizona

Cougars, or mountain lions, are elusive and so they are rarely seen in the wild. When biologists need to find out information about their lives - even how many there are in an area, and how they move around their territories, which are very large (as big as a hundred square miles) - in the past the only options were expensive and invasive (for the animal) radio tracking collars. But 20 years ago a group in southeast Arizona started testing out tracking on Fort Huachuca, by Sierra Vista, as a way to learn more about lions, as well as black bears. It has been a successful way for biologists and land managers to compile information about the animals, and an even better way for "citizen scientists" to become trackers and help out conservation efforts.

On Friday and Saturday Jonathan and I were volunteer team leaders for the 20th Fort Huachuca Mountain Lion Track Count. We have been involved with this project for 14 years off and on. It is one of the longest-running wildlife tracking programs in the country, and this was the final count, according to founder Sheridan Stone, the fort biologist. Sky Island Alliance, a non-profit conservation organization in Tucson that works on wildlife linkages throughout the American Southwest and northern Mexico, coordinated the event. We have taught wildlife tracking skills for the organization since 2000 (and I was the executive director for several years).

Our assigned transect for the weekend was only accessible by a difficult 4WD trail, so our team of five piled into my Land Cruiser diesel and headed up the mountain at 6 am. Six teams in all spent the weekend surveying sections of trail for mountain lion and black bear tracks and sign. The data has helped the Fort get an understanding of wildlife numbers and movements over time. Here are some pictures:

That's me showing off some mountain lion scat (poop!).

Jonathan on the trail.

The rough road required the team to pile into my Land Cruiser diesel (note the cheetah spots).

Lunch break - me, Hanna, Rachelle, and Ron

The view from under the pinyon tree.

On our 1.5 mile-long transect, we found sign of one lion - a set of tracks heading downhill from about 200 meters. The tracks were hard to see because the wind had been high all night, scrubbing the dirt and disturbing the tracks. In the photo, the track is hard to see; it is between the two and four on the bottom ruler - it is about 2.5 x 2.5 inches, a smallish lion, probably a female. Below is a track from another field session; the large main pad and three lobes at the bottom identify it as cat, and the size as cougar.

Greening of the desert

The desert here is greening up, after an unusual late May rain . . . usually in June it is dry, bone dry, and plants are withered and brown. But now, even the ocotillos have leaves.

Prickly pear cactus fruit ripening

Palo verde seed pods ripening

Prickly pear cactus pad growth

Ocotillo leaves

An early appreciation for nature & beauty

Are creativity and curiosity innate, or learned? Perhaps a combination. My parents are both very creative and appreciative of nature, beauty, and art. They passed that on to their children - all of us are creative in different ways, and interested in the world around us; I see it in the my nieces and nephew, too. My dad loved rockhounding in the Southwest, and took us kids with him on trips to search for geodes, desert roses, chalcedony nodules, agates, and pyrite. That's me circa 1972 or so, with my little collecting bag, probably filled with a hammer and some unknown rocks. Dad cut rocks into slabs and made them into cabochons, and then made jewelry. I loved hanging out in his workshop - it smelled of dusty rocks and machine oil. Little did I know I would pick up the thread decades later and become a lapidary and jewelrymaker, too. All those weekends exploring the deserts around our home also rubbed off on me - nature is an enormous inspiration to me, a real passion. I'm so grateful to have a spouse who shares that, and a wonderful retreat in the desert where I am surrounded by the things I love the most.