Arizona Calling

Where to start?

I was in paradise, otherwise known as Scottsdale, Arizona, from February 8-15. It was a much-needed reprieve from a month that has seen life-sucking, record-breaking temperatures in Edmonton. According to local weather prognosticators, our city has only been this cold for this long two other times in the last 50 years (2nd longest in the last 30 years), with extreme cold warnings issued almost every day since the beginning of February. (ADDENDUM March 1: We did it! We suffered through the coldest February in the last 40 years! The average temperature for the month has been -19.7 C)

But enough whining.

Did I mention I was in paradise for a week?

Sharon was in Scottsdale with Stella for her usual month of holiday. Joanne and Steve traveled at the same time, and I showed up a week later (sans Tom, who won’t travel to the US). On the same day I arrived, my cousin Cathy and her husband Larry also arrived from Winnipeg (via Palm Springs) for a couple of days. For 24 hours there were six people in Sharon and Vic’s condo, plus one large dog. It was a blast!

By mid-week, it was just the sisters, and Stella – an honourary if rather hirsute sibling.

This was the first time that I’ve been down to Scottsdale for more than just a few days. I don’t have a ton of holidays built up since switching jobs, but this seemed like exactly the right thing to do with one of my weeks. How often do I get to spend time with family like this, on holiday? Never.

The weather was on the cool side for most of my stay (around 15C), but we had a few days at plus 20C. It didn’t really matter. It always feels like some kind of miracle to sit on a plane for a few hours, only to disembark in an entirely different climate. One with palm trees, cacti and air that doesn’t want to kill me.

It took a long time for my suitcase to show up, so we were late back to condo. Larry had bought pizza for everyone, which was very kind, and oddly, very apropos. Earlier, while I was still on the plane, the seat belt warning suddenly came on. There was no turbulence, but at that moment the cabin filled with the smell of mushroom pizza. Maybe it was a way of keeping the passengers strapped down while the crew enjoyed a slice or two? No judgement, although my free packet of tiny pretzels suddenly seemed very inadequate.

The next day, after a walk with Stella around the golf course, we all headed to Old Town for a parade, or as it locally known, the Parada del Sol. The day wasn’t exactly sunny, but what it lacked in sol, it more than made up for in Americana, including marching bands, horses and flags. Lots of flags. No MAGA hats, thank god. It was interesting and a nice introduction to Scottsdale life.

Cousins Cathy and Larry at the parade

Sharon and Stella taking a break at the parade

Steve flew back to Edmonton around dinnertime, and we just hung around for the rest of the evening, drinking margaritas, before taking Stella for her final walk, which usually involves a trip down to the pond to see if the night heron was stationed at its usual spot. It was.

The nice thing about walking Stella in Scottsdale, other than walking Stella, is that the birds are very different, and therefore, the ambient sounds very different. No magpies. No chickadees. None of our usual over-winterers. They have grackles, lots of them, hummingbirds, mockingbirds, Gila woodpeckers, starlings, quail, cormorants, egrets, herons, cardinals, some Canada geese (which I warned not to return to Edmonton just yet) and many other birds that we just don’t see, or hear, in Edmonton – at least not at this time of the year, if ever. It was wonderful. A feast for the ears, and one of the biggest pleasures of traveling to this part of the world.

Desert Botanical Garden

Cormorant!

Angry Hummingbird is angry

Quail!

Starling Peekaboo

Day Heron

The landscape also speaks to me. I love the desert. I love the flatness spiked by saguaro cacti and terra cotta mountains. I love the smell of the air, the flat roofs, the shiny cars, and the ice-free sidewalks. In fact, the only thing I stepped gingerly around was a lovely little snail.

In the middle of a harsh winter, it is phenomenally cheering to be in the presence of living things like flowers and grass, and the huge variety of bird life. This place is surely a cure for seasonal effective disorder, or at least, a temporary break. I’m not sure that I suffer from SAD exactly, but the daily anxiety of walking on slippery surfaces and driving in snow storms is mentally and physically exhausting. And, it was so nice to say goodbye to the layers of heavy clothing and micro-spiked boots for a week.

We did lots of things, especially walking. One warm day we took Stella out for a hike to the Gilbert Water Ranch, which was extremely nice. A flat trek, with lots of dust, gravel trails (hence the dust), egrets, bunches of tiny scurrying bunnies, and wading birds like the Black-Necked Stilt or as I called it, the Black-Stilted Neck. Stella had a blast running after the bunnies (on leash), and to her credit, my shoulder eventually popped back into its socket.

Bunny!

Upon reflection, I have no egrets

 

Other highlights:

I really enjoyed the Queen Creek Olive Mill, which Joanne, Sharon and I visited on the Wednesday. I had bruschetta sampler plate, and it was outstanding. And then we all loved the boutique store, with olive oils and balsamic vinegars made on site. I bought a few things. Maybe a lot of things.

I also loved the Heard Museum in Phoenix, which is dedicated to the American Indian. We went there on my last full day, which was raining, and I fell in love with the Hopi Katsina dolls, of which they have hundreds. All very weird. When we got home, Sharon and I sat in the hot tub for half an hour in the rain. It was surprisingly pleasant.

Now that’s a dolly!

And of course, the Desert Botanical Garden – which we visited twice. On Sunday night, we all went to see their Electric Desert exhibit, which is exactly as it sounds. The whole place was lit up like a disco, only pricklier. It was beautiful, kind of like being underwater at a coral reef. Even the mountain had light images undulating across its surface. Whoever runs this place is endlessly creative with their annual feature exhibits. One note, I was absolutely frozen, which I know sounds weird considering it was about 11C, but I was not dressed for a desert night in February. Long pants would have helped, and the sandals were also a mistake. I wasn’t going to die from the cold, however, and that’s the difference.

Electric Desert

Electric Cathy and Larry

Electric Joanne

The next morning, Sharon, Larry and I were back at the garden with the birders. Saw some cool birds, some of which I was able to capture on my camera, others not so much.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum was also a treat. I thought I had been there with Dad and Shirley way back in the 90s, but it must have been some other arboretum (or Are-borea-torium, as my dad pronounced it) because it wasn’t familiar at all. Lots of little winding trails and far more lush than the botanical garden. It was hot outside too, which was awesome. Stella enjoyed it as well, although whoever was holding her leash had to make sure she didn’t walk into cacti. As Joanne pointed out, some of the locations looked like the battle scene between Kirk and the Gorn on Star Trek. No gorns, but we did see turtles laying on a rock in the sun. That’s a first. We had a picnic lunch in the tree grove. Can’t remember what they were, but they were huge. And apparently, full of cardinals.

Me at Boyce Arboretum

Happy Valentine’s to you too, succulent!

Sharon, Boyce Arboretum

My first turtle sighting!

Throughout the trip, I felt enormous gratitude toward for my sister and brother-in-law for kindly purchasing this condo in Scottsdale in 2016, and for opening its doors to family and friends. And especially, for the opportunity to spend some time with my sisters in total relaxation. Sharon had to do all the driving since their car is a standard, but I think…I hope…she was relaxed. Stella certainly was relaxed, when she wasn’t on high alert in the car, or hyper-focused on her favourite blue ball, which, by the way, I accidentally threw over a wall and lost. My sporting abilities continue to amaze.

I was sad to go, and if I had been a better planner, I would have stayed for another couple of days. Once the plane was in the air for about 20 minutes, the landscape became white, and we landed in Edmonton in a white-out snow storm.

Sigh.

As the Westjet spokesman said, “As you step out the door of this plane, please remember, you asked us to fly you here.”

Indeed.

Nevertheless, it was a great time. Thanks Sharon and Vic and Joanne and Steve and Cathy and Larry and Stella!!

Don’t make me get off!!

The Coldest Day in a Decade

Sunny and deadly! The view outside my office in Humanities

It was -33C this morning when I went to work, the coldest day in Edmonton in a decade. Just three blocks to the bus, but that was enough. I had double socks, double mitts, two sweaters, plus leggings under pants. And then a snood for my neck, a hood (pulled tight) over my head, and a scarf wrapped around the whole mess. I could still feel the frigid air slice through every layer like a hot knife through butter, but it was OK for the short walk.

I hate this. The weather has been below -25C since Thursday last week (it’s now Tuesday). The previous weekend, it was 7C above! And we’ve had about 20 cm of snow.

Snow. Every. Dammed. Day.

It used to be that if the temperature was this cold, it would be under blue, snowless skies, but today is the first day we’ve seen the sun. It’s been truly miserable. I haven’t seen Tom for days. Usually we get together on Friday and the weekend, but neither one of us budged from our respective homes.

Outside my office in Humanities around 8:30 am

And, my furnace broke on Saturday. I decided to take public transit to my hair appointment that morning because I didn’t want to drive on the snow-covered streets, and when I got home there was a power failure just as I was walking through the door. The power was out for two hours in Oliver and surrounding area, and it got really cold in my place. When the power was restored, the furnace fan came back on but not the furnace. It took until Monday morning to identify and resolve it, and I’m not even sure if it is resolved. They did replace a broken part (the heat pump with the little propeller thingy which in the old pump had totally disappeared), but it’s so cold outside, and my windows are so big and plentiful and single-paned, it’s just not possible to keep the temperature up. That’s my theory anyway. This is the first February in my Oliver home, and the first real cold snap, so it’s all new.

So other than work, I’ve done nothing, and seen no one. It’s very isolating. I miss Tom. I miss not being afraid of my furnace. I miss driving. I miss being truly warm in my apartment. At least I have a roof over my head and multiple duvets.

The good news is that I am going to Scottsdale on Friday. I can’t believe how lucky I am. Sharon will be down there with Stella for the month, Joanne is there right now with Steve, my cousins Cathy and Larry will be there for a few days, and when Joanne and I leave, Vic will join his wife and dog for another week. That condo of theirs has been a real gift. This is the first time I’ve gone for a whole week. Last time I went, in February 2017, we packed a lot in in four days. One thing is for sure, it won’t be -33C! And I will be walking. A LOT.

Outside the corner office in Humanities, around 8 am.

Sunday in the Park with Stella (again)

It seems my only substantial walks these days are with Stella. I didn’t used to need a dog to go for a walk – but a walk is a walk and Stella is always good company.

Stella’s mom (my sister Sharon) and I wandered around Terwillegar with about a thousand other dogs. I’ve never seen so many dogs – tall dogs, short dogs, brown, black and blond dogs, racing dogs, ambling dogs, ball-dogs like Stella. Everybody getting along, everybody happy to be outdoors on a beautiful day.

In my estimation, we are having another crap winter, by which I mean a roller coaster of freeze and melt, and a lot of grey, overcast days which always leave me feeling blue and lazy. My memory could be faulty, but we’ve had more “warm” winter days in the last two or three years – where the melting snow leaves giant swaths of ice once the temperature falls (which is always does) – than we ever used to have. Maybe a bit of a melt in late January or February, but really only one or two episodes. Now, rain is a regular feature of our winters. On the surface, this would appear to be a good thing, but also on the surface is ice. Lots and lots of ice.

Sharon retrieving the ball that Stella lost down the hill.

My dream winter would be short and mild, and by mild I mean around -5C to -10C. Not too warm, not too cold, with just enough snow and lots of blue skies. Not what we get these days, which is black ice, grey skies, and annoyingly timed snow (like when I’m driving).

I also think that because I walk a lot less than what I used to, I’m not out finding ways to enjoy it. In 25 years of walking in the ravines and river valley of this city, I’m not sure I ever had one walk I regretted. I always found something beautiful, even on days when all colour seems sapped from the landscape. That’s what’s missing. I’m not out actively hunting for beauty.

Well, today was beautiful. Yes it was.

About 0C. 

Monday in the Woods at Lunch

Below the High Level Bridge

A much-needed walk today at noon on a 55 minute loop through Emily Murphy Park. I blew a couple of opportunities to walk this weekend – stuff to do, I guess – but I knew it would be nice today as well, so I brought my spikes and off I went at lunch. The blue sky and sun were amazing, but down in the woods, it was pretty frosty. About -7C. Later in the afternoon, it was 4C. Although we are gaining light (32 minutes since the solstice) the days are still so short it takes a long time to warm up. Once I was walking up Emily Murphy hill, I had my gloves off.

Approaching the LRT Bridge…whatever it’s called

On the trail that runs parallel to the river, my phone died. The cold sucked its will to live. I know the feeling, but -7? I think I need a new battery. Or a new phone.

I didn’t walk much after Christmas. It was super cold, and as per usual, I was super lazy. On January 2, I was back at work, and we had a record breaking day at 7.9C! It was a drippy, beautiful day. I went for another lunch time walk just around campus. We’ve had so many freeze-thaw events it’s virtually impossible to walk in the river valley and ravines without micro-spikes. Or even the sidewalks some days.

A January 2 walk around campus on a record-breaking day.

Moments before my camera died just before the trail into Emily Murphy Park

12:00-12:55/-7 or thereabouts, 4 above later.

Christmas Eve Day

Stella makes her case for a walk

I write this more than a week past my last ‘good’ walk and on my last day of work for the year. It’s Christmas Eve, and while I am here until noon, there is not much going on, so…

And also, this may prove to be my one and only post from December 2018, but I hope not. Surely there will be some walking opportunities over my week off? You see, that’s the difference between Donna pre and post 2011, when I moved over to the south side. Before, I would create the walking opportunities. It was very rare that I didn’t walk five or six times a week, even if it was just the short 25 minute commute home to Mill Creek. Now, I seem to wait for the perfect weather, or I don’t think about it at all. Sigh…

Stella and I in Whitemud Ravine

Funny how habits, ingrained habits, can vanish if the circumstances change. I moved out of my very walkable neighbourhood in 2011 to move in with Sharon’s family for a year, and I stayed for six. And now, back on my own for eight months, I’m still struggling to regain my old habit of making a daily walk my top priority.

In any case, last Friday, December 14, my office gifted us with a day off, a ‘shopping day’, and so while I did hit a mall at some point, I still managed to drive over to my sister’s place to take her dog, Stella, for a walk in a deserted Whitemud Ravine. It was almost creepy how deserted it was, and gloomy. It was book-ended by two beautiful blue sky days, but Friday was overcast and it felt very dark in the woods. Glad I had Stella with me for this reason, and a million more.

We had a good time. I wore my micro-spikes and they were extremely helpful. The trails are quite icy from the warm weather and occasional rain mixed with snow, which seems to be the norm these days. Stella, as usual, wore her naturally spiky nails.

A walk is a walk, though, and we had a good time.

I don’t remember what the temperature was, but not too cold. Probably around -2C.

Maybe it’s Not Winter?

A cyclist makes their way along a snow lined bike path near 89 Avenue and 109 Street Thursday morning (photo: Edmonton Journal/David Bloom)

This is a weather report with no walking but a soupçon of whining. My last post suggested that maybe winter had finally begun in the sense that the snow would stay. Well, it didn’t. On Thursday, it was raining and most of the snow was gone. The temperature the previous day reached 11C. The ice pancakes on the river dissolved into syrupy darkness.

Today, or should I say, last night, the rain turned to snow and this morning it was a winter wonderland. Hard to say how many centimetres but in the full dollop range. It’s beautiful, but a bit treacherous on the roads and sidewalks because of yesterday’s rain.

But that snow won’t last either. It’s supposed to be above zero and raining on Sunday, and then well above zero all next week. Our wonky ‘winter’ continues.

I wish it would be one or the other, although if I had to choose, I’d take snowless. Until Christmas.

-13C/at work. No walking today. 

Today’s Edmonton Journal headline “Edmonton Weather: Snowfall warning lifted … it’ll all be gone by next week.”