October 18, 2012
Juvenile Northern Shrike, a true Arizona snowbird
Juvenile Northern Shrike
a true Arizona snowbird

My allergies are going nuts (I thought stuff like that cleared up later . . . um, okay, late in life), I’m finally starting to lose my hair (I’ve always had thin hair, sure I’d be bald before I got out of college), and I have a twenty-seven year old granddaughter and a two year old grandson . . . by the same son (I don’t try to explain this any more, I just chuckle about it), but all I want to be is outdoors.  Only two constants in my life, being outdoors is the second.

We originally moved to the Valley in the month of June.  I still remember one of my first clients saying “Wait until October.  You’ll want to throw the roof off your house.”  Here we are in the third week of October, the first Pacific front has come through, and I’m on the way up to my roof right now with my tools.  We moved here from Seattle where there were two seasons—September and rainy.  Here in the Valley there are three—October, winter, and you-know-what.  I was born in October.  I want to die in October in Arizona.  It would be a great month to die because curiosity seekers could actually leave their homes with their AC to take in my funeral.

The breeding birds have left, but the October’s full moon, the “harvest moon” mind you, coincides with the return of White-crowned Sparrows, Sandhill Cranes, and winter plumaged loons and grebes.  Three Surf Scoters, two Rufous-backed Robins, and one flock of Lawrence’s Goldfinches are being seen in the state now, and sapsuckers are at work girdling their favorite trees.  The real snowbirds are just waiting for one more flip of that calendar, and they’ll be here for us.

Here are my favorite things about being outdoors in Arizona in October:  Aspen leaves in the White Mountains; the smell of creosote when it rains on the desert; peak hawk migration along the ridgelines; hibernating past sunup in my heavy sleeping bag on camping trips; driving to Tucson with the van windows rolled down; Yellow-rumped Warblers’ yellow rumps flitting about against the dark background of ripe, purple dates; the impossibly blue Arizona sky unfiltered by humidity and pollution; red rocks against that unfiltered blue sky; Say’s Phoebes becoming urbanites again; farmers’ markets opening again; commuting to work on my bicycle in the dark; murmurations of starlings; eating lunch on our patio . . . in the sun; sitting out on that patio reading emails from friends in Seattle staring outside at the gray skies and slow rain.

Here are three great ways to celebrate October in Arizona:  sit on one of the high points in Papago Park and watch that full harvest moon rise up over Four Peaks; hike the Edward Abbey trail (trail #151 off Forest Route 487) through the old Peterson apple orchard and up the switchbacks to the fire lookout on Aztec Peak (behind Roosevelt Lake in the Sierra Anchas—five hours round trip); camp in the pines around Upper Lake Mary south of Flagstaff and take in the fall foliage while looking for the Northern Shrike which has overwintered in the area for several years.

Oh, and my birthday this year coincides with the full moon.  Could be an omen.