OBSERVATIONS AT DAWN
|March 8, 1988
ARIZONA: Pima County
Papago Indian Reservation five miles southwest of Sells. Elevation about 2300 feet.
At daybreak it's 40°, clear, and the medicinal odor of Creosote-bush, Larrea tridentata, hangs heavily in the air.
Even before the sun completely rises, four Cactus Wrens call from widely separated perches in the desert. Their hoarse, rolling songs sound like old-time cars trying to start up.
The Creosote-bush, green year-round with butterfly-shaped leaves half an inch across, are beginning to blossom. Each one-inch flower bears five roundish sepals, five yellow petals, ten stamens, and the ovary is covered with gray, stiff, sharp hairs that later will cover the fruit.
Half an hour after dawn, for about fifteen seconds, a small pack of Coyotes call from half a mile to the west.
To help get a picture of the vegetation in this randomly selected spot in the desert (on a rough, one-lane gravel road with no traffic during the last fifteen hours, and headed toward an unknown destination), now I walk 200 steps in a straight line toward the sun and list each plant along my path close enough to touch. Note that plants here are so widely spaced that about 80% of the ground's surface area is bare soil.
A single Sandwash Groundsel, Senecio douglasii, a yellow-flowered member of the Composite Family, flowers beneath a Mesquite tree. It bears three conspicuous, yellow blossoms, stands fifteen inches high, and its leaves are pinnately compound, suggesting the appearance of a few-toothed, double-sided comb. No other blossoming wildflower is found within fifty feet of Henry.
At 9:00 AM a green and white van of the U. S. Border Patrol comes down the road, the agent leaning from his window watching Henry's tire marks lead here. We're about seventeen miles north of the Mexican border. About a week ago at 2:00 AM in New Mexico I awoke with two green-and-white vans pulled up close, shining their brights onto us. Those agents were nervous and provokingly aggressive but today's fellow is friendly. I explain my project and we exchange pleasantries. The officer leaves saying, "Well, gotta go. There's a group of ten heading north near Oidak."
By 9:00 AM it's 68° in the shade and the sun already stings my skin. Birds are mostly quiet and the wind is rising. Now things will be quiet until just before dusk.
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