Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 13, 2006

Dishonest photography

If you are planning a trip to Tucson based upon my pictures, beware. I have done nothing to depict the city accurately. In fact, the entire goal of my picture-taking, it seems, is to idealize, to eliminate the ugly, and to pull out what I see as beautiful or at least intriguing.

I had thought that before I leave on Sunday morning that I might try to record a more accurate picture of this city of one million people. The garbage. The scruff of some of the neighborhoods. The overhead wires everywhere. The endless strip malls. The busy traffic. Believe me, as in most places in the world, the ugly outweighs the beautiful.

But my heart wouldn't be in such an endeavor.

Now, when Lance was here, he saw the city in an entirely different light. He pulls out the human-created squalor and puts it at the center, specializing in capturing haunted, lonely urban scenes.

When we were near Sedona, we were at a vista overlooking a canyon. I was trying, without success it turns out, to take a picture of the canyon. After a while, I turn around and there is Lance struggling to record the pay-per-view telescope at just the right angle so the sun flares would illuminate it properly.

While in Tucson, at the very moment I was sizing up this shot, a conventional tourist snapshot, Lance was back a few steps getting this view, which captures the loneliness and long shadows of a hot afternoon in the city.

More U of A

All around campus, there are blooming flowers. One also sees some blooming plants at other institutions, but rarely around homes. Probably takes too much water.

These pansy blooms are huge. What makes pansy blooms large are cool nights combined with ample sunshine. They get that here in Arizona. Although the daytimes are sunshiney and toasty warm to the bone, the night-time temperatures can sink into the thirties.

For about half-a-mile, the main mall of the campus is lined with big old palms. I am surprised that they haven't trimmed off the dead and drooping fronts--I have heard that rats can spend an entire lifetime up there.

There is a great variety of plant life on campus. Some of the trees obviously were planted when the campus was founded over a century ago. Many of them are labeled. Here a student reads in the shade of some pine.

When it came time to expand by building an enormous computer center for the students, the powers that be decided to dig up the mall and build underground. You only see this sunken courtyard when you approach the fence which protects the opening on ground level.

This little guy was running around the mall with no parents in sight. Off to the right is the pit of the computer center. In the distance are the Rincon Mountains which border Tucson on the east. It doesn't look like it, but there are five different climate zones on that mountainside, and the vegetation changes from cacti and desert trees on the bottom, to manzanita, to juniper, and finally to Douglas Fir on the top.

I have a terrible time taking pictures of strangers. Lance just walks up to them and asks--and the results are always good. I can't do that. People don't respond well to me being that forward. They feel I must have some agenda or something. Anyway, this guy yelled at me on the sidewalk, "Hey you with the camera! You can take my picture!" By the time I got ready, he had gotten shy. Actually, he said he was trying to look like The Thinker.

Here's a scene you won't find in northern Minnesota in January.

This house on University Avenue west of the campus has always intrigued me. I assume it was built in the 1930s when Art Deco was popular. Notice the austere yard.

University of Arizona student union

Spent the afternoon walking around the beautiful campus of the U of A. With the perfect weather, it was an ideal afternoon to take pictures and just amble around. After about an hour, I came across this building.

What a place! It was the new student union. I was struck by its catwalks, decks, overlooks, railings, and its openness. The building takes advantage of the Arizona climate to blur the distinction between indoors and out.

The sunlight plays around the upper layers of the building. When it finally reaches the courtyard below, it is muted and indirect, yet still strong enough to read by.

As I was snapping, one girl snapped at me, "did you just take a picture of me?" I said no, of course, just enjoying the scenery. Well, she said, you do know the story of this building, don't you?

No, I didn't. She was a campus tour guide, so she told me a little in her California accent.

"This place is, like, modeled after the USS Arizona. That glass round thing is the shooting place."

"The turret?" I asked.

"Yeah, that's it! I, like, forget when all these words when I am not giving a tour!"

Well, that explains the decks catwalks and enormous beams, as well as the round thingy, pictured below.

The building is kind to people. There are plenty of places to look out and down. There are places to visit and places to stretch. The are railings to lean on to get great views of the beautiful older campus buildings. And the building goes on and on. I thought I had seen it all, but I came around a corner to see this great hall, which again mixes the indoors with the outdoors.

As far as I am concerned, this building is an architectural masterpiece. Those were my thoughts before I knew that the inspiration was a battleship. Before I talked to the tour guide girl, I wondered who in the world came up with all of these curves and soaring beams and catwalks and overlooks. Transferring the battleship design to a building on a campus couldn't have been easy, but whoever was the architect pulled it off with aplomb.

January 12, 2006

Finger Rock Trail

Here is an ocotillo with its nasty thorns. The ocotillo puts on leaves when it rains and drops them again when it gets dry.

Took a hike on Finger Rock Trail today. I was so distracted by taking pictures that I didn't make it far up the trail. I don't like going far up the trail anyway--you have to come back the same way you came. Makes me claustrophobic.

Here is the prototypical saguaro, the ones you see on the postcards. Perfectly formed. Nice symmetrical arms. Probably well over 200 years old. (Saguaro don't get their first arms until they are 75 years old.) And, as far as I could tell, about 35 feet tall.

Below is a more interesting saguaro, an immense, twisted monster with arms going in all directions, crossing each other.

On the trail, there was a gentle canyon breeze. Again, I was impressed with the silence--except for the hissing of the wind through the needles of the saguaro, which added to their serpentine creepiness.

Here is the arm of a dead saguaro which is still standing. Underneath the green meat is a wooden infrastructure.

I love these purple prickly pear cactus. And this one loved me back. While I was taking this picture, I felt the cactus brush against my knee. I thought nothing of it, until I looked down 10 minutes later and saw my knee.

These buggers take a while to come out. I pulled out what I could, but I can feel that there are still a lot of them in the skin. This has happened before, and I was pulling out these things for a week or two after I got back to Minnesota.

At the base of the trail are these homes. You pay a premium to live in the foothills of the mountain ranges around Tucson. These homes were in construction two years ago when I frequented this hiking trail. The mountain in the distance is much larger than it looks. It is almost impossible to get a feel for the size of the Catalina mountains north of Tucson. They just look like piles of red clay, but in fact, they tower 5000 feet above the city, the same number of feet the Rockies rise above the city of Denver.

January 11, 2006

Local scenery

Just took a walk around the neighborhood behind the hotel. Tucson is laid out just like the farmland in northwestern Minnesota--the whole thing is in one mile squares. There is a main road every mile without fail. Those roads are busy and noisy.

Surprisingly, once you get about a block off those main roads, it gets very quiet. I think it is the stone, brick and adobe homes. They block the sounds and all you can hear are the many birds. Any time there is a big evergreen tree, you hear lots of twittering and chirping--even though you will have a hard time seeing the critters.

Here is a cholla (pronounced "choya") cactus growing over a fence protecting a canal. The cholla have a distinctive yellow fruit which is supposed to be good to eat.

This is a scene just north of Sonoita, a little town about 40 miles southeast of Tucson. The elevation rises about 1,000 feet to 4,000 feet above sea level. That eliminates all cactus. Scrubby junipers prevail on savannah-like hills of dead grass. There hasn't been rain here for quite a while, so last year's riotous March display of wildflowers will not be repeated this March.

Here is another view of the mosaic which I found on the main street of Patagonia, a town 12 miles closer to the Mexican border than Sonoita.

This little house in Patagonia must be classified as a single-person dwelling. It had a house number and everything, although I am sure it is smaller than my hotel room.

The most striking thing about the small towns in the desert is the silence combined with the warmth. You walk the street, and you can hear the birds chirp--and little else. If you walk real slow, if feels like you are floating along, it is so perfectly comfortable.

A Latino farm couple was in town filling a tank with water out of the fire hydrant. The man turned on the hydrant before the woman had the hose all the way into the tank and she got good and doused. They were slapping their knees laughing over that. The Latinos seem to have a lot of fun when they work.

January 10, 2006

A town divided

Patagonia still looks like a scruffy western town, but there are signs that it is being taken over by the foofs: Herbal medicine shops, art galleries, foofy coffee shops, etc. So, the cowboys are firing back. This gas station is next door to a health food store which would probably be on the opposite end of the spectrum.


Took a trip to Patagonia, AZ, a small town near the Mexican border. I had been there before, but today I had a chance to look around. The highlight was this mosaic, which contained tile mixed with mirrors.

Here, the mirrors in the mosaic make it look like there are holes in the fence. Actually, it is a reflection.

January 09, 2006

Spirit of 4th Avenue

On the advice of weblog reader Mara, I went down to the health foods store today and sure enough, high up on the shelf was a Neti Pot. I snapped it up, as well as some sea salt--New Zealand extra fine, for you salt conniosseurs. The salt, which I got out of the bulk bins, cost me fourteen cents. It will last forever.

The health foods store and all things funky can be found on 4th Avenue, or 4th Ave as it is called locally. I ate at a Mexican place there, and it was delicious. Coffee shops and

several vintage clothing shops. Oh, and a hydroponics store--an entire store devoted to all things hydroponic. In the window was an enormous tomato plant which was planted from seed October 10. I thought, good grief, how can a hydroponics store make any money when all you have on 4th Ave are rootless twenty-somethings trying to be cool?

About half-an-hour later, I was sitting on a stone fence on 4th Ave, sipping a cup of coffee. A girl with dreadlocks rode by on an old bike. I said hi. She perked up, and said, "Need some bud?"

Nah, I didn't need any bud. I don't know where she got the idea I needed some bud. Perhaps it was because I said hi to her--no other reason than if you want bud, I suppose.

Suddenly the hydroponics store, with its grow lights and soil and growing medium and pots--makes a little more sense. I am slow to catch on.

No, I am too old for bud. It's time for me to get into a different sort of pot, the Neti Pot. I came back to my room, mixed up some saline, and tried it out--it felt pretty good.

And it isn't just about cleaning out the nose, or "practicing regular nasal hygiene," as it says in the pamphlet. According to the directions, "some yogic teachers consider it (Neti) valuable in cleansing the energy channels and balancing the right and left hemispheres to create radiant, energetic health and wellness."

To think that for years I have clambered through life with my hemispheres unbalanced due to my ignorance of basic nasal hygiene.

January 08, 2006

Feeling Puny on Sunday

Called Aunt Olla back at the Fertile Hilton this afternoon. She's feeling "puny." That means not particularly well. Her blood pressure had gone up to the point where the doctor decided they had better do something about it, so she's on blood pressure medication and that can knock a person out for a while.

But she perked up as the phone conversation went along. I think she was in the middle of a nap when I called, but she wouldn't admit it.

I don't recall discussing the Sunday afternoon blues with Olla before, but she brought it up today: "There's something heavy about Sunday afternoons, and there always has been."

I agree. Although I don't notice a thing today--it is sunny and 80 degrees here in Tucson--Sunday afternoon at about five p.m. is usually the worst time of the week. If I ever catch myself thinking despairing thoughts, I stop and realize--it is five at Sunday afternoon, don't listen to yourself.

Others have noticed the same pattern. And as Olla noted, "it all disappears Monday morning." Which it does. Monday may be difficult, but for different reasons. Problems and phone calls accumulate, but those are busy problems. The problems of Sunday afternoon come from not enough to do, from disruption of schedule, from eating too much and doing too little, from seeing the challenges of the week ahead as insurmountable merely because you can't start in on them until morning.

Olla mentioned that almost all of her friends are dead. She's outlived them. She's older than most of the people in the Fertile Hilton, and most of them are in worse shape than her. So, one downside to living to age 94 is that most of the people you know aren't going to be there with you.

Although her recent puny streak has Olla feeling less peppy than usual, she seems to still be positive. She's bugging the Hilton staff to take down the Santa Claus standing in the dining hall. No response yet. Seems the staff is having a bit of January blues, too. Olla says his hair has gone straight, which makes him look pitiful.

Heard from Olla and others back home that it has been relentlessly dreary back in Minnesota. No sun in weeks. That's enough to make me glad I left for sunshine. It is medicine for me. I feel anything but puny. If I had a Neti Pot, I would be invincible.

Thermostat wars

Can you imagine how many times this sad story is repeated each year across the Midwest? The picture says it all.