The zenith of fall’s colors lasts only a few days, and for some reason or another, I think I’ve missed it every year I’ve been here in Arkansas. But this year’s peak fell on a weekend with beautiful weather and plenty of time for a hike — this weekend. I took advantage at the old standby, the Ozark National Forest around Devil’s Den State Park.
What continually amazes me about the annual color explosion is that plants have a lot of the pigments that make it happen year-round, part of a chromatic net to catch as much sunlight as possible. They’re just overwhelmed by the familiar green of chlorophyll. Plants usually have to keep remaking the stuff and stop doing so around this time of year. So the oranges and yellows of carotenoids burst forth, sometimes in a way that looks almost pointillist, as with the oak leaf above. The same class of compounds gives carrots their color. The red is my favorite, though, and comes from a combo of sunlight and sugar.
If you want to see it all, hurry. And thanks for looking.
More and more I wonder whether humans will survive themselves. Neo-Nazis, Puerto Rico, incomprehensible suffering in Myanmar and Syria, climate change and hunger, and then that nagging chance of nuclear war — it’s a damn matryoshka doll of global misery right now that is impossible to grasp. I’m fortunate to have a job where I can bring a little time and attention to some of these issues. It isn’t enough. Talking about the beauty and meaning in the world feels pretty trite and inadequate, and appreciating those things feels harder. I’m working at that appreciation and at my job. That’s what I got.
In that vein, last weekend brought a good dose of unabashed weirdness and occasional beauty from the annual Puppets in the Park at Fayetteville’s Wilson Park. The performance appeared on here once before. The show’s plot is always simple and wordless and political in some way. I was mostly there for the 20-foot white-cloth eagle and 10-foot sun getup, and the makeshift musical accompaniment.
Thanks for looking. Keep working.
Life in the hot and dehydrated Sonoran Desert needs to be strange to survive. The bark of palo verde trees is pistachio-green with chlorophyll, which means the trees can photosynthesize even after dropping their leaves to conserve water. The ocotillo plant grows in clusters of slender, vicious-looking stems several yards long, like a car-sized sea urchin, that are decked with even more spines to protect the tender leaves that occasionally appear. Cholla cactuses are so densely covered with spines that they look fuzzy and can grab onto passersby at the slightest contact.
Looming over them all are the saguaros, unmistakable sentinels found only in this desert and the namesake of Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.
I’ve come to this place for years, way longer than I’ve had the notion to visit and photograph all of the national parks. The photos here come from as far back as 2008. The park’s right outside of Tucson, where my mom has lived for years, and each visit brings at least a glimpse of this odd desert forest.
(That’s Tucson in the distance.)
Saguaros grow slowly and can live for a century or two, reaching 60 feet with their upturned arms. The ridges up their sides allow them to expand like accordions to take maximum advantage of any rain, and inside they’re supported by a circular cluster of wooden slats, like the support beams of a building. The leftover skeletons of dead saguaros can sometimes be beautiful on their own.
The Arizona clouds overhead often bring another kind of beauty. Usually I’ve visited in winter, so that might be behind it, but almost every time I go I see these huge brushstrokes of wispy vapor stretching and twisting across the dry air.
Take plenty of water if you go. Many of the trails here will probably leave you looking like this:
Thanks for looking,