Saturday, November 21, 2009


22. How many people live next door to you? What are their names?

I think suburbs get a bad rap in a lot of enviro-media. Yes, they sprawl, and yes, they are sometimes cookie cutter, but a little decent planning can overcome some of these problems. Our neighborhood was lucky to have a few thoughtful planners so that there is a sense of community, there is connectivity with the natural landscape, and there is a reasonable feeling of diversity in the architecture so that we don't feel like we live in factory housing.

We live on a cul-de-sac with six houses. We actually know everybody, sort of a rarity for some suburban neighborhoods perhaps. I feel like if I needed the proverbial cup of sugar, I could knock on any of their doors and vice versa. Let's see, theres Norm, a bachelor who usually lives at his girlfriends house; Zach, another young man who actually moved to Japan recently, so he has abandoned his house to foreclosure; Clint, another bachelor who travels on business a lot, so we rarely see him either. (What is it with the bachelors? Is this common?) Then there is a rental where Gaea, Louie and their son Aiden recently moved in, which is great since Aiden and Orion have become good friends. Then there is Hilda, Robert and their grandson Brylin, another pal of Orion's.

Of the other five households, I have the phone numbers of four of them. This became more important, I realized one day, when the Clint's house across the street had a blow-out in the plumbing while he was out of town and I didn't know how to contact him. We ended up just turning off his water main when we saw that water was leaking out from under the garage door. Since then, we decided it would be more neighborly to share phone numbers with one another for emergency purposes at least.

But our neighborhood is pretty friendly otherwise as well. The nearby park is a gathering place for all kinds of happenings. We have lots of trails and sidewalks, so there are always people out in the mornings running and walking their dogs. With a high school and elementary school within a mile of the hood, there are tons of kids, which also livens things up. On some mornings I can hear the marching band practicing off in the distance or the little league parents cheering for their teams.

So, on a scale of one to ten, I'd give our neighborhood a solid nine in the community feel department. The extra point is deducted for the Homeowner's Association which is occupied, ironically, by folks who are more into strict codes and regulations that decrease the friendliness of the hood. They don't like my "weeds" in the spring, so every year I get a "nasty-gram asking me to pull the weeds! I think everyone else actually appreciates my adding native wildflowers to the landscape!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Celestial Seasons

21. Do you celebrate the turning of the summer and winter solstice? If so, how do you celebrate?

I like to honor the winter solstice with luminarias and a campfire.
We honor each full moon with a night hike.
But I like to celebrate every day by writing down something I am grateful for, sharing tea in the morning with Tom, and hugs all around. Today, I am grateful for cool mornings and this evening, a new moon!


20. Name some beings (nonhuman) that share your place

We share our house with two cats: Max

and Tiger:

Certain times of the year, earwigs, cockroaches and crickets like to hang around inside the house as well. Fortunately, right now it is cold enough that they have retreated into dormancy! This might sound a little gross, but I don't like using pesticides, and they seem to be just visiting. If they were setting up camp and reproducing, well, I think I'd have to rethink my anti-pesticide stance. As it is, I usually just pick them up and show them to the front yard.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Twinkle, twinkle

19. Were the stars out last night?

What we really want to know is, "Can you see the stars where you live?" and "Do you ever wander outside at night to enjoy the night sky?" Of course, the stars are always "out"...whether we see them or not just depends on if we care to notice. Otherwise, this is a simple "yes" or "no" question about the weather.

Here in Phoenix, we nearly always have clear night skies, I would say probably 364 nights a year on average. But there is huge competition from the city below. In the photo above, taken from a satellite orbiting Earth, you can easily find Phoenix by the largest blob of light just east of southern California. Even so, on our regular night strolls around the neighborhood, we can alway see the major constellations: Orion, Cassiopaea, Ursa Major, Pleides, Virgo and Scorpius are my favorites to look for. But everything in between and the great swirl of the Milky Way is lost to the glare of city lights, most obnoxious of those emanating from nearby ball fields where giant banks of lights beam out to space.

Depending on your outlook, the city lights can be stunning or frightening, or possibly both. This is my view from the top of Thunder bird Mountain, which I hike to the summit of (all 500 feet or so from the valley floor) by headlamp in the winter time two mornings a week.

I kind of like the "art" that happens when you jiggle the camera a little:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


18. What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?

Silver, gold, uranium, turquoise and copper are some of Arizona's major mineral assets. Of those, copper is the most important, being one of the "5C's" of that once defined the backbone of the state economy: Climate, Cattle, Cotton, Copper and Citrus. Here are a few photos from Ray Mine near Kearny, which is southeast of Phoenix, where we visited on our way to backpack in Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area last May. The scale of the place (the mine that is) rivals Grand Canyon. Standing at the edge of this huge open pit, watching dump trucks crawl along on the winding roads, I have to say I was equally impressed just to think of the human industry required to create this technological wonder of the world.

According to Earthworks, a group dedicated to mining reform, "the Ray mine complex includes the nearby Hayden smelter, which is the largest single source of toxic pollution in Arizona, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The occurrence of lung cancer among Hayden residents is roughly 50 percent higher than for residents of the Tucson and Phoenix areas." This is the air that flows through Aravaipa Wilderness.

There are a dozen mines, along with their smelters, like this one in Arizona, the leading copper-producing state in the US. Think about this next time you pick up a shiny penny, listen to a symphony (any brass instrument), flick a light switch (wires) or take a shower (pipes). They all depend on copper mines. According to, "the average car contains 1.5 kilometers (0.9 mile) of copper wire, and the total amount of copper ranges from 20 kilograms (44 pounds) in small cars to 45 kilograms (99 pounds) in luxury and hybrid vehicles." There I also learned that the Statue of Liberty "represents the largest use of copper in a single structure."

Fortunately, copper is also easily recycled, so save those pennies!

For more fascinating info on copper and other minerals, check out this web link: