Hill of the Horned Lizard

First entry. It’s June 21, the Summer solstice.

Hill of the Horned Lizard
Hill of the Horned Lizard

The Fool on the Hill.

It’s early afternoon on June 21, the summer solstice. It’s already 107?F this afternoon, 5% humidity. It’s expected to get up to 110. It’s been 73 days since the last measurable rain.

Only the saguaros seem unaffected. They are fat and send out lush flowers and are covered with fruit in different stages. Yet, some of them may still be dying from last winter’s prolonged freeze and not know it yet. These gentle giants can take months or years to show damage, living on their own stored resources.

Encelia, the brittle bush seem to all be dead or barely hanging onto life. The prickly pear cacti are shriveled and sagging onto the ground. The mesquite flowers , now become beans, are tiny compared to the plants in town that get irrigation. The prickly pears in town too are fat and covered with fruit. It seems a wonder that all these plants have survived for so many centuries out here in the wild without landscapers or gardeners to care for them.


When I walk out of the air-conditioned building, it’s like sticking one’s face into an oven. It’s silent, except for an occaisional cactus wren, sounding like someone is trying to unsuccessfully start an old motorcycle and the constant hum of I-10 a couple of miles away. The stones are too hot to pick up. Everything seems to be holding its breath, afraid of losing moisture by exhaling; all slow cooking in their own juices, if there still is any. Maybe it will all be well done by October.

Often I am the only one up here on Tumamoc at the old Desert Lab, a fact that I only partially understand, but which gives me a feeling of being inside a true sanctuary, both for nature and for the human mind.

One has to be here every day and at different times of day to notice all the pertinent details. Then there are the insignificant and mundane details. I pay as much attention to them. I explore this perfect microcosm of the Sonoran Desert like the body of a well-known lover. Each time I see something I never noticed before.

The office building I’m in is like a sealed colony on Mars. I can go out foraging for a few minutes or half an hour, then return to the comfort of a climate-controlled interior. If one were to walk up here from the bottom of the hill, there would not be time, water, or shade enough to get much sight-seeing done. You’d be worried about survival, not aesthetic philosophies.

In short, it’s practically a paradise for an Earth explorer.

Being here, I can be surrounded and embraced by the summer desert in all its authenticity every day, something I’ve never dona in over 30 years living here. But one needs to be here every day to observe the details. Getting some seeing done is the task at hand.

I go outside for short expeditions. To see how the light falls in specific places at different times of day, to check on a low-lying saguaro bud that will burst into bloom any morning now.

I bought a sketchbook dedicated only to drawing up here on the Hill. Right now, it’s too hot to sit out there and sketch much, so I take photos, sometimes with my phone, for reference. I have started a drawing of the plants outside my window.

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