#FOTD: Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulata)

Like a lot of us still in quarantine, I’ve been trying to get out for walks throughout the day. I walk early in the morning, which is a great time to snap pictures of some of our local wildflowers. Today’s post is the second in what I’m going to optimistically call a series for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge, featuring some of the native flora in my rural Flagstaff neighborhood. Today’s entry is our native cleome, Cleome serrulata, also called Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Like the sacred datura (Datura wrightii) I featured in my last #FOTD post, this plant is both beautiful and kinda ugly. The plant itself is scraggly, but up close or massed in a field, it’s stunning. They sprout in random places in my garden, and I usually let them stay, because they’re low maintenance, the flowers are lovely, and the bees love ’em (Hey, it says so right in the name. Do you think they’d call it Rocky Mountain BEE Plant if the bees hated it? Would plant people lie to you?).

This year I have a few growing in my pumpkin patch. They look wonderfully rustic alongside the pumpkin vines and sunflowers. Some years they form huge masses in open fields around here. I’ve been thinking about gathering seed and sowing it in my pasture, so I can have my own pink and purple field.

#FOTD: Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

I’ve been snapping photos for  Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge for the last two weeks or so, but I keep forgetting about a key step in the process: posting them. D’oh! On the upside: that means I have a backlog that should net me at least a few days of quick and easy posts, which is a good thing, because life is a little, um, *full* right now.

Today’s flower is a wildflower/weed (depends on your perspective) here in Flagstaff. Datura wrightii or sacred datura is a member of the nightshade family, quite poisonous, drought tolerant, a hallucinogenic, almost impossible to kill–and both beautiful and ugly. As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve struggled every year to keep a garden alive in the middle of a volcano field at 7000′ elevation, I’ve learned to appreciate plants that grow and bring a little beauty without much fuss and without becoming Purina Grasshopper Chow (don’t get me started on the grasshoppers up here in my little mountain paradise. Seriously, don’t. I’m trying to cut down on my use of profanity.).

Grasshoppers don’t bother datura. Nothing bothers datura–except maybe the occasional genius who decides they want a free hallucinogen and instead gets a taxpayer-funded slab at the county morgue. That hasn’t been an issue around here–at least not as far as I know, and I’d probably notice a corpse in my flower garden. Knowing me, I’d probably trip over it and land face-first in the datura.

Pro tip of the day: don’t eat the datura.

Anyway, I’ve developed quite a fondness for this plant. The leaves are ugly as heck, but the flowers… oh, the flowers. They bloom at night and are still open in the early morning, which is when I snapped this picture. Pollinators love them too, typically sphinx/hummingbird moths but also bees during the few hours when the bees are out and the flowers are open. Look in the top blossom, and you’ll see a happy little honeybee. Here’s another picture of him. Isn’t he cute?

Those of you who are gardeners will know that sphinx moth larvae have another name: tomato hornworm. Plant some datura, and you’ll have a great solution to your hornworm problem. First, the hornworms seem to prefer datura to tomatoes, so it’s a good trap crop. Second, if you find a hornworm pillaging your future marinara, you can relocate him to your datura. He survives to become a super cool sphinx moth, and your tomatoes survive to decorate your pasta. Everybody wins!

Photo safari through a historic Flagstaff neighborhood

2020-04-24 12.10.15.jpgMy first novel, Vanishing, Inc., is set in a fictional mountain town in Arizona called Ponderosa. I live in Flagstaff, a not-so-fictional mountain town in Arizona that makes an appearance in my story, but since I’m writing a paranormal romance (a time travel romance, to be specific), I wanted the freedom of a fictional setting. I don’t want some overly-literal reader leaving me a one-star review because there are, in fact, no time portals in Flagstaff.

Hey, you know it could happen. I’m sure plenty of tourists have walked through standing stones in Scotland and become very grumpy because they did not immediately find themselves in the arms of a lusty Scottish outlaw. BTW, how cheap are airline tickets to Scotland these days? Asking for a friend…

But I digress.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah–Ponderosa, Arizona, which exists only in my manuscript. But you’ll love it, I promise. Especially since it involves a lusty Arizona outlaw.

It also involves the unique landscape of the Northern Arizona mountains, which I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the last 6 years. Now that my world has shrunk to the size of my yard (thanks, Microbe that Must not be Named), my explorations have been a bit limited. But last week I got to take a trip! Go on a journey! Where did I go, you ask?

I took my husband to the dentist.

It’s a thrill a minute around here, I tell ya.

His dentist’s office is in one of Flagstaff’s historic neighborhoods, so I took myself on a mini photo safari while he got his tooth fixed. The primary setting in Vanishing, Inc. is a stone cottage built in 1890, so I paid particular attention to old stone houses. Like this one:

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I’ve been fascinated by stone houses since I was a kid. I suppose they remind me of the fairy tales I read over and over in elementary school. We have a lot of rocks around here, so old stone houses are fairly common,  but I still find them magical. Look at that texture! At the contrast of textures! And can’t you just picture that house with a time portal in the basement? C’mon, use your imagination…

Take away the modern windows and modern roof, and this one would make a great location for a time portal:

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I love how the stone makes the house fit into the landscape like it’s always been there.

Besides writing, I’m obsessed with gardening, so I took lots of pictures of plants and yards, especially where there were contrasting textures. Like this:

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And this:

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And my favorite picture of the day. Look at that wonderful old stone wall! and those red buds popping out of the shade! I can picture my main character stumbling over that wall in 1910, on her way to even more trouble.

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And it’s spring, so I couldn’t resist the flowers. Here’s forsythia:

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And sand cherry blossoms:

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trek into my world, both real and fictional. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful, magical place, but beauty and magic can be found anywhere. I hope you’ll take the time to find some of your own.

Noticing

2020-03-22 12.01.54.jpgAs it has for many of us, my world has grown smaller in the last few weeks. We aren’t under a shelter in place order here in Arizona (yet), but the number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly, and most public facilities are either closed or restricted.

Like most Gen-Xers, I’m good at entertaining myself. I also know how to cook, and I enjoy time at home, away from people. But still, having to be home for an extended period of time can get monotonous, even for an introverted librarian/writer like me. And so I’m consciously looking for ways to improve the experience.

Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took a walk in the Coconino National Forest near our home. We lingered in the woods, taking pictures of interesting tree trunks, 2020-03-22 12.04.25.jpg

smelling the sharp scent of Ponderosa pine, and admiring the patterns of lichen on boulders.

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We admired a baby pine sprouting beside a stump, life from death, the promise of hope and rebirth in this strange, dark time.

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We spent way too much time studying a mysterious glob of melted plastic, likely a remnant of the 2010 forest fire, the scars of which still mar these mountains nearly a decade after the fact.

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We discovered a tiny cactus peeking through the pine needles on the forest floor.

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In other words, we noticed things.

Little things. Unglamorous things. Things we’d normally cruise right past with little more than a passing glance–if we looked at them at all. But our world is smaller now, and the pace of our lives has slowed to a crawl. There’s time now to see, to take in, to notice.

Many years ago, I signed up for a drawing class at a community college. I’d never been able to draw even a decent-looking stick figure, but I let myself be talked into taking a drawing class.

I plead temporary insanity.

On the first night, the professor heard me whine, “I can’t draw!” He came up to me, studied me with crinkled, professorial eyes, and informed me of the following:

“Your problem isn’t that you don’t know how to draw. It’s that you don’t know how to see.”

He had us draw our own closed fist. And I found myself studying the details of my own hand, the lines, the curves, the creases and whorls, and reproducing them on a page in a sketch pad. The result would win no prizes in an art show, but it was recognizably a hand.

I had drawn a hand. A real hand.

My hand.

With my own hand.

That old professor had been right. Sort of. I knew how to see, but I’d never taken the time to notice. To really look at something in its minute detail. To shut out all the distractions and busy-ness of the world and focus on a single, simple thing and see the magic in it.

I’ve carried that lesson with me these last thirty-some years. Oh, I forget it often enough. I let busy-ness crowd out magic, I run on the hamster wheel of life and berate myself for not doing more, better, faster. Work more, write more, make more money, do more laundry, why is the house such a mess and the garden full of weeds and my body out of shape and…

Yeah.

Hard to make room for magic in all that doing.

But on Sunday I made room for that magic. Amid the fear and the disruption and the absurd shortage of toilet paper, I made room for magic. For wonder. For joy.

I took the time to notice–and found healing and peace in that noticing.