Published April 2012 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.
In the desert, vibrant color is sometimes hard to come by. Except in the spring.
Here in Tubac, we’re on the remote northeastern edge of the Sonoran desert. In this desert, we’re blessed with two glorious springtimes - not just one, but two.
The monsoon season, with its heavy rains in August through October, offers a second growing season for many plants and animals. The added benefit of monsoon is the drama of the sky, bringing Tubac the best thunderstorm skyscapes anywhere in the world (that’s in another article!).
Pollinators give life during these periods, generously but unknowingly, and they seem to differ between the two seasons. For example, I’ve observed that there are more and greater varieties of butterflies during monsoon. (Then, in the winter, caterpillars morph into golfers.) Bees and hummingbirds seem to dominate the earlier springtime. Biologists who differ with this assessment may send me a memo.
Seeds of desert wildflowers sprout forth in February, when friendly weather conditions tickle their fancy. These are plants which benefit from cooler temperatures and the storage of the moisture from mild rains over the winter months. This process continues into April, and in May we discover the flowers of the Saguaro cactus and the Ironwood tree.
June and December are, frankly, my least favorite months here from the point of view of nature’s color and drama. And, not to break this article’s tone, I think many of these observations will change in my lifetime due to rapidly-evolving climate disruption.
In any case, color will flourish so long as there is water in the desert. Slivers of color become polychromatic carpets when the balance of temperature and moisture favor the Mexican gold poppy and desert lupine. This doesn’t happen every year, in either of the springtimes, so stick around or come back often.
The three pictures featured this month are examples of the brilliance and the diversity of southern Arizona’s spring life. In the borderlands, one can drive a few miles, change a bit of elevation, and a new biome appears, offering a fresh set of natural thrills for you, the intrepid borderlands photographer.
The experienced nature photographer will favor dynamic images. A static scene of wildflowers is pretty and decorative, but it is not fine art nature photography. Add movement from wildlife, no matter how small, and the image’s status is transformed from good to great. A fine art photograph should have multiple visual elements.
Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are additional elements of a superior flower photo. But those critters don’t care to stand still very long, presenting a challenge. In photography, as in life, adversity often produces a finer result. Further, capturing these critters in motion is much better than in a still pose, and you don’t have to pay a sitting fee. The three pictures-
Flowering shindagger stalks: Mountain country near Tubac will yield the hardy shindagger with its rapier spines at leaf-tip. Peaking in May and lasting a couple of months, the blossoms will sprout from a stalk up to 8 feet long. In the famous Muleshoe Ranch area near Benson, Arizona, where this swallowtail butterfly was framed, shindaggers grow thick as thieves.
Spring green: This Yellow Warbler bird is frolicking and frittering amongst the spring cottonwood twigs in Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property.
Hovering hummer: This adorable hummingbird (aren’t they all?) is surrounded by spring blossoms and may not know where to begin. Should we tell her?
You, the borderlands photographer, will know where to begin after donning those walking shoes and spying that sliver of color in the desert. It’ll put a spring in your step.