Monday, March 30, 2020

Spring in the Time of Coronavirus

Winter rains have been good this year, and wildflowers grow in profusion beside our neighborhood walking path. As local government decrees keep us closer to home (most recently we have been strongly advised by our mayor to stay there as much as possible), a small group of us walk our dogs at the same time each morning, maintaining social distancing.

The colors of these wildflowers are deeper and more vibrant than the colors of wildflowers I remember back East. Their English names, which I learned when I first came to Arizona, often simply add the word “desert” to  the names of common garden flowers.
Desert penstemon
There are many spikes of desert penstemon, their pink flowers like small trumpets calling bees and hummingbirds. Half a dozen or more stems cluster together and grow 2-3 feet tall.

We don’t have Mexican gold poppies here, but yellow-flowered brittlebush seems to be everywhere, and each plant is filled with dozens of blooms. There are also desert marigolds and other, smaller, less showy yellow flowers, too.
Desert marigold
Desert verbena is low to the ground and less plentiful, but its blue-violet blooms are fragrant and long-lasting.
Desert verbena
And then there's desert globemallow, with many orange, cup-shaped flowers on each shrubby plant.

Desert globemallow
After our walk the other day, as Greg and I headed for home, we saw a turkey vulture on top of a phone pole, wings raised to the morning sun. This action, like our frequent handwashing during this time of COVID-19, is a way to vanquish microbes. The raised wings make the big bird look like a supplicant, its red head vulnerable in the early morning light.
Turkey vulture with one wing raised
The vulture is a living symbol, bearing its guilt by association as a carrion eater, and so our morning walk was like a living vanitas. Those paintings were intended to remind us of our own mortality — telling us to remember that life is very short and we will all die. Symbols found in vanitas paintings often include skulls, fruit, and flowers, but a vulture will certainly do as a reminder that all is vanity.

Aloe vera flowers
Even so, as we walked through the back gate, I noticed how much progress spring is making -- the succulents are starting to bloom and get new growth. The aloe vera plants are sending up spiny stalks and unfolding orange flowers. The prickly pear cactus are making lots of undifferentiated buds that are hard to tell apart at first but it soon becomes clear which will be flowers and which will be new pads.

Prickly pear budding
And though I am existentialist enough to think frequently about how short life is, I still wanted to show off my pictures and say what I think about them. Because all may be vanity, but the world is still a sight to behold.

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