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Grocery Store Mysteries

I regularly shop most grocery stores — Fry’s (Kroger’s), Basha’s, Albertson’s, Safeway, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s. I do not spend a lot of time looking. But I go often, three or four times a week, sometimes just to fetch one or two items. I rarely venture to Whole Foods because it requires that you show a gold brick at the entrance to prove you can pay. And I am fresh out.

Today was one of the peculiar and mysterious pricing adventures. Albertson’s is selling a half-gallon of whole milk for $1.89. A gallon of moo juice is priced at $1.99. Which do you suppose I chose? I have no idea if I can drink that much before the consume-by date, especially since I gave up chocolate-chip cookies.

A couple weeks ago, I was in Sprouts because it advertised in the Wednesday newspaper insert strawberries for $.88 a lb. As is its wont, Sprouts had a big display at the entrance. Right next to the pound boxes was a three-pound box priced at $4.99. Now I might understand this if the three-pound boxes were far away from the 88-cent display. But they were right next to each other. I find this rather mysterious. The three-pound box might have been organic, but I don’t remember a sign saying so. I can only wonder about those shoppers who bought the three-pound box, thinking it was a ganga.

Occasionally, I also shop Costco’s grocery, but buy only a few things. Bulk doesn’t work well when shopping for two. Once in a while I also prowl Walmart grocery, which surprisingly has a lot of items you can’t get anywhere else. Conversely, it also doesn’t have a lot of stuff you can find at the other stores.

At the moment, I am in search one of my favorite breads, admittedly a self-indulgent. Let me know if you run across it — the Orowheat Winter wheat oaf. It is very expensive. For years, Basha’s used to carry it, but no longer. A loaf cost about four and a half Drachma, which is about a buck more than the others. It is also a small slice. Nonetheless, it is full of good stuff, as you can see here. Meanwhile, if you fancy a relatively low-carb, high fiber and reasonably priced bread, Trader Joes has a high fiber loaf with 6 grams of fiber and 17 grams of carbs, a net of 11 carbs. The fiber content is twice most breads and often three times.

A good while back I became enamored of Safeway’s mini bear claws. I would pick up package of (I think) a half dozen at the Sunrise and Swan store.  I was surprised when I went to the Safeway at Grant and Craycroft and found nary a mini bear claw. When I asked why no sainted (Santa) claws, I was told that Safeway has two tiers of stores. There are those in the affluent neighborhoods and those in the not-so-affluent. The tip-off, I suppose, is that the Sunrise store has a Starbucks. So does the Basha’s at Camp Lowell and Swan. It also has a couple comfy over-stuffed leather chairs and sofa and a lunch counter, which you won’t find many in most stories that I know about. There’s also a Starbucks at the Albertson’s on Silverbell on the west side.


Travel broadens one so

FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey — I traveled all day yesterday to get here. A long way to be so cold. They say it is 82 degrees, but I don’t believe them.

This part of New Jersey is lovely. I detected evidence of two skunks on the way here. I did not have to ask whether they were Republicans or Democrats. They are evenly divided among executive and legislative branches in this state.

It has been a great while — exactly how long I do not remember — but air travel has changed in but one respect. A conversation with a fellow traveler is extremely rare. It is odd how social media breeds such asocial (not anti-social) behavior. The phones and pads and tablets — all on airplane mode — are in constant use. I was in a rare row yesterday in which three passengers each had actual paperbacks.

An alleged state park in Oracle

A couple weeks ago Zoe and I decided we should take a hike. We settled on a trail we had read about that begins in Oracle State Park. We went. The park was closed.

It is closed every weekday. It’s an ARIZONA state park so it’s closed 5 days a week.

We called the number on the sign because we had a question. The recording said to leave a message, and a ranger would call us back. We left a message. It has been a couple weeks, and no one has called. I suspect there are no rangers to return calls.

We left the alleged state park and found a short hike down the road off the Mount Lemmon road. We got pictures of prickly pear blossoms and other desert flora. So we made something of a botched plan.

The wise and august members of the Legislature, who have cast the image of Arizona as an amalgamation of xenophobic racist morons, do not, on the whole, believe in parks. Hence, they unpay to keep them closed for all to unenjoy. These sagacious solons do not believe in public or state-financed higher education. Hence they also unpay to destroy our unfuture as well.

(The slideshow music is Paul Desmond playing Embarcadero.)


Ten hits from Irkutsk

humpty-dumptyrussia-putin.jpeg5-1057x960It appears Putin is nostalgic for the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and wants to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In this case it appears all the Putin’s horses and all the Putin’s men might at least put some of Mssr Dumpty back together again.

I get a little nostalgic over the USSR myownself. The stats for this blog brought to mind a trip I took. The stats show 10 hits from Irkutsk, a city in Siberia about 16 time zones to the east of here. It lies on the shore of Lake Baikal, the biggest, deepest and probably coldest fresh water lake in the world. More than 30 years ago, I boarded the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Irkutsk and began a 36-hour trip to Novosibirsk.

We had a compartment. It smelled of dirty rags, strong tea and piss.  The dirty-rag aroma came from the linen — if you want to call it that. Babushkas were stationed at the doors at either end of car, and I think one had a samovar. The alleged toilets accounted for the pissoir-heavy air.

images-1In the bar car, we read “Zima Junction” by the fine poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko. We were on the way to Zima, northwest of Irkutsk. Yevtushenko was born there.

It is a not a political poem, but Yevtushenko became popular in the West as he danced around the Soviet iron fist. He did not even approach the Western celebrity status of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the unmercifully boring  novelist whose “The Gulag Archipeligo” attracted great notice in the West.
The luster of his heroism dulled for me when the boys in the politburo allowed him to leave mother Russia and eventually settle in New England. After spending much of his life  bitching and moaning about oppression in the Soviet Union, he bitched and moaned about rampant materialism and decadent values in a free society.

From Zima:

I’d like to see the old familiar pines,

the witnesses of the old-old  bygone times,

when great-granddad, along with other peasants,images

were banished to Siberia as rebels.

From far away

   to God forsaken place,

through mud and rain, deep in disgrace,

along with their wives and kids they were driven,

Ukrainian peasants, from Zhitomir region.

They  plodded,  trying to forget about

the things they treasured most of all, perchance…

The watchful convoy guards on the look out

would look askance at their heavy veiny hands.

The corporal would be playing cards as night would fall

while great-granddad, absorbed in thought all night,

would skilfully  pick up a piece of coal

straight from the fire, to have a light.

It is about going home again, a nostalgia piece from 1955. If Yevtushenko’s nostalgia yet lives, he’s not saying, at least publicly. He seems to be content out of the limelight with the Cold War a distant memory. He’s in his 80s and lives mostly in Tulsa. It was reported that he refuses to criticize Putin. And there is nothing about his views on Putin’s undisturbed waltz into the Ukraine, land of his grandfather.

I don’t suppose I want to see Irkutsk again. And I certainly don’t suppose the Stink Train still runs. Moreover, I’d guess Yevtushenko doesn’t want to return to Zima Station. When you get to a certain age, nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Nonetheless, thank you dear Siberian readers for sparking a memory “from far away.”

The lonesome gazebo

IMG_0860 - Version 3

Zoe and I have passed this gazebo many times. It seems such an orphan, sitting there along the north bank of the Rillito. Gazebos are social, for tea and crumpets or beers and conversation. The setting ought to be  lush. This one is none of that; it seems strange, just stuck there all by its lonesome. You have to figure that someone at sometime had something in mind. Seems like it didn’t work out.


Bighorn sheep and thick-headed bureaucrats

The Arizona Daily Star today said (Jan. 18) that Arizona Game and Fish officials refused to comment on the report that yet another bighorn sheep is dead. A spokesperson said G&F will wait until its press conference on Jan. 24 to confirm or deny whether a sixth bighorn sheep has died and how. One suspects a mountain lion as the culprit.

The G&F procrastination is like the cops telling you to wait a week or so and we’ll tell you about the burglary in the neighborhood, or the shooting down the street or the rape around the block. News apparently is a matter of convenience insofar as the G&F is concerned. This is an agency that should expect the wrath of the gods for this hubris. Alas, there are too few gods in state government to unleash their wrath.

So far the G&F bighorn experiment isn’t going well. After releasing 31 sheep into the Catalinas a couple months back, the score is discouraging: five are dead, one of which may not have been supper for mountain lions. If there is a sixth dead sheep as an online group has reported, the future looks dim. The sheep will all be eaten by November, and G&F will have no licenses to issue for hunters to kill bighorn. What’s more, the agency won’t get much in license money for chubby mountain lions either. The time is fast approaching for G&F to gather up the remaining bighorn and take them back home.

You have to hope G&F doesn’t start shooting more mountain lions. It’s already killed a couple. But who knows how many more this thick-headed bureaucracy could kill before it has to speak up at two press conferences a month.

Hiding from the press and the taxpayers of Arizona won’t do much for G&F. You can run, but you can’t hide. Sooner or later G&F will have to account. Sooner is always better. The longer the wait, the shorter the tempers.

I used to think this relocation experiment was a good idea. I was thinking it would answer the question of what happened to the previous herd. Now I have the answer — mountain lions are a greater threat to the bighorn sheep than two-legged developers.

PS A note to Bunny Fontana: Feel free to say you told me so.





Fate of the Big Horn Sheep; and a reply from Bunny Fontana

desertbighornMore than 25 years ago I attended a celebration, the promotional grand opening of a spectacular land development, La Reserve. It was developed by Bill Estes Jr. and his company. It was an end-of-day affair, and I drove from Park and Irvington on the far southside to a new building, a headquarters, on the backside of Pusch Ridge. It felt like driving to Phoenix.

It was about this time year, just before Christmas. It was bone-chilling cold. The road wound around the new Sheraton Hotel and then up the ridge. I was surprised. The road ran a long way up the mountain, and I wondered how Hillside Ordinance would permit development this far up. This was a little bit of county legislation passed in reaction to the purchase of a hilltop in the Tucson Mountains by Garry Brav, a contractor. Brav didn’t just buy a hillside. He bought a mountain at the end of Trail’s End Road, which is a tributary of Camino Del Oeste on the westside. Brav proposed to build a home on the top of the mountain. A great protest ensued. The ordinance passed. But Brav was there first. You can see that Brav has built a compound at the top of one of the peaks. The road switches back up the mountain. It is a very steep rise.

Trail’s End is one of those gated communities. But you can see through binoculars that there are two big houses at the top of the mountain. And of course you can see the road and the great and needless scar up the mountain. Environmentalists in those days were somehow more vocal, prone to raising hell over the slightest blip in the desert. They had sway if for no other reason than they hollered.

In any event, this place reminded me of the Hillside Ordinance. For good reason. The road rose sharply, and it was then I understood why some environmentalists had hollered about the threat to the already dwindling herd of Big Horn Sheep in the Catalinas. They contended that Estes’ La Reserve development would spell the end of the Big Horn in the Catalinas.

If you are not from around these parts, the Santa Catalina Mountains lie north of Tucson, as pretty a bunch of sky islands as you’ll ever see. They rise majestic from the desert floor at about 2500 feet above sea level to somewhere around 9,000 feet. As my grandmother said about giving birth to eight-pound twins, that’s quite a chore. It still amazes me that it takes but about three quarters of an hour to get from saguaro cactus to tall pines and purple lupine. It’s something desert rats like me take for granted, but still makes my jaw drop just the way it did when as a kid I saw my first redwood.

The Catalinas accommodated, deer, Big Horn, bears, mountain lions and the like. In good years, there was ample water.
As the temperature dropped, the guests at this grand gathering were treated to cheese and wine. And then Bill Estes Jr. stood to speak.
Estes was in his time an enormous influence in this town. At one point, I am very sorry to say, I thought he was a villain developer, out to wreck the desert. This in the 1980s was a popular view. And quite wrong as a short story will illustrate.

Estes & Co in this time owned another development the northwest side. A Star reporter got a tip that this development threatened to ruin the habitat of hawks that had taken residence and even foster families. There was a nest or a bunch of nests, my memory is a little imprecise. The reporter wrote a story that foretold the likely destruction of the birds. It was a one-sided account, told only from the point of view of outraged environmentalists. The reporter said he tried to obtain a response from the developer, but was told no one was available. The reporter and his editor concluded the developer was simply avoiding commenting on an embarrassing environmental problem. Thus a one-sided tale appeared in the Star in a Page One Sunday article. On the following Monday, I received call from a manager at the Estes organization requesting a meeting. A couple days later at that meeting, Bill Estes’ managers noted that they not only knew of the hawks’ nests, but checked on them daily. In fact, they knew the birds well and liked them, were concerned about them, had consulted experts. Moreover, they had a plan to take care of them. I ordered another reporter to redo the story.

I do not remember what Estes said. Just that he held up one of those ceremonial checks. It was made out to the University of Arizona for $100,000 and meant for research into the preservation of Big Horn Sheep. Then it began to snow. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It fell heavy and soft. A big snow in the desert happens but once or twice in half a lifetime, and I saw this one from very high up. It was spectacular. The Big Horn Sheep disappeared six or so years later. The prevailing assumption has been that the sheep were the victim of development, human encroachment. It was an easy and simple explanation, too simple really, the sort of thing that’s actually supposition but taken as gospel.

That’s the reason I welcome the experiment by the Arizona Fish and Game Department to introduce 31 Big Horn Sheep in the Catalinas. It is a worthy experiment because it should resolve the question of sheep survivability.

Four sheep have been killed so far by mountain lions. This has provoked sharp criticism. Arizona Fish and Game officials have killed two lions. The critics contend this a great tragedy. They may be right. Then again, if the sheep learn to survive, the Catalinas will be richer habitat. We are able to keep track of the sheep because they are equipped with GPS collars and thus we know where they are. And evidently, so do the mountain lions.


A reply by Bunny Fontana:

Dear Steve,
I certainly don’t profess to know anything about desert bighorns other than to enjoy the beauty of seeing them in the wild (which I have, out in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge). But I have a couple of friends who know a lot about them, including one who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the subject but who is now retired and living in the northern reaches of Alberta, Canada.

If I understood them correctly in numerous conversations with them, desert bighorns are semi-migratory, which is to say that seasonally they come down out of the rocks and steep mountainsides to graze on annual grasses and other forage in the intermontane valleys before, as is often the case, moving onto one of the adjacent mountain ranges. In other words, they are basin-and-range creatures, not simply (mountain) range animals. Norman Simmons, the guy with the Ph.D. dissertation, used a paintball gun and different colors of indelible paint to shoot populations of sheep in separate ranges on the Cabeza Prieta. This was in the pre radio-collaring days, so it was a somewhat crude way of being able to tell on sight which sheep had been where. It wasn’t long before Mexicans a long way south of the border began reporting sightings of bighorns wtih different colored splotches on them.

What all this suggests is that in order to maintain a stable population, desert bighorns need more than just mountains. They need the valleys, too. Moreover, unlike javelinas, coyotes, raccoons, and bobcats, which seem not to mind suburban (and even urban) surroundings all that much, desert bighorns are notoriously skittish around Homo sapiens. This would further suggest that it is the overall development next to and up into the Catalinas that is the problem and not that of any single housing or commercial devleopment. Places like Oro Valley and Saddlebrooke figure into the equation as well.

Arizona State Fish & Game relies solely on sales of hunting and fishing licenses, including the very expensive permits to hunt desert bighorns, for its income. There are plenty of desert bighorns thriving in places like the Kofa Mountains; the species is not endangered. But no one lives in the Kofa Mountains nor are the Marines and Air Force folks bombing hell out of it. So why not plant desert bighorns in the Catalinas should there be even the slimmest chance a potentially lucrative source of G&F income might be generated? And God knows there are plenty of mountain lions, animals that sometimes need to be “harvested” at a cost to G&F. Those big kitties are great until they start to eat your livestock or gobble up your pets.

Someone whom I would trust as knowledgeable told me the other day there is a huge number of mountain lions in the Catalinas, some of them now routinely showing up in places like Sabino Canyon and in the yards of people living in the foothills. This person actually cited a figure, but other than being surprised by how high it was, I don’t recall the exact number.
It would be nice to have desert bighorns within view again. Just as it would be nice once more to see Sonoran pronghorns at Oracle Junction as Hazel and I did when we arrived in Tucson in 1955. But except for temporary injections like the one currently being administered, I suspect those days are gone forever.
B. \ /
_( )_

Camino Blanco

Camino Blanco is one of the most interesting streets in Tucson. The residential architecture is unlike anything I have seen in this town. Further down from these houses is the beautiful Unity Church.

The street is just off of River Road. It runs from a lofty foothill down to the Rillito. A very wide wash, a canyon with steep cliffs on either side, is on the eastside of the road. The most interesting houses perch on the cliff, overlooking the wash. The earth-tone house sort of straddles it.

The photos are of four homes. There is a red-tile Spanish classic, a massive earth tone house, an English Tudor (?) near-mansion (Stratford on Blanco) and an unusual Miami-style home.

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A Great Grande Tragedy

DSCF0614When I first started as a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star, I had not quite acquired a taste for the red. I had been a green chile fan. I still am. But nothing rivals a good bowl of red chile, and the place I first encountered Nirvana in the form of chile colorado was in 1971at the Grande Tortilla Factory, 914 N. Grande. My city editor, Bill Waters, showed me the way.

The GTF was but a five minute drive from the paper, which was on Stone Avenue, downtown where it belonged then and belongs today. The red chile burro was absolute perfection, wrapped in  the perfectly formed flour tortilla. The beef was as tender as a Hoagy Carmichael ballad. The gravy of meat juices and chile was a combination beyond what I thought humanly possible.

Of course, the GTF was not just about red chile. It was about all things comida Mexicana. There was a long line at lunch time. In late summer, the factory was busy grinding masa for tamales.  On the weekends, customers cued up with big pots in hand, waiting to be filled with menudo.

I have heard the carne seca was a legend unto itself. It was, alas, my misfortune to never discover it. I could never order beyond red.

The GTF is closed now, the windows shuttered. Every time I pass by, I wish the same wish — that it be 1947 and Frank Pesqueira is about to open for the first time.

But he does not. It’s still closed, a tragedy far greater than even Shakespeare could imagine.


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When Howard Hughes ran Republic Pictures, he made a lot of two-bit B Westerns. After screening what my grandmother used to call a “shoot ‘em up,” he told the director who had spent a week or two shooting the movie in Arizona to go back. This time, he told the director, get some clouds in the movie. You cannot shoot a western in Arizona, he said, and come back without cloud shots.

I am tempted to say clouds in this part of the world decorate blue skies like no other. For all I know, they might look the same elsewhere. I’d like to know where. A week ago they were magnificent as they marched in with the last gasp of the monsoon. They were puffed up pretty, spectacular billowy ornaments against mountain backdrops, like a traveling roadshow. I often think that our clouds are not appreciated, but then on second thought I doubt that is true. I think they are taken for granted. They don’t provoke a lot of conversation. That might be because the language of clouds resides with poets.

Like these four lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ 1918 poem, “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection”:

CLOUD-PUFFBALL, torn tufts, tossed pillows ’ flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-

built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ‘ they throng; they glitter in marches.

Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ‘ wherever an elm arches,

Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘ lashes lace, lance, and pair.

You can find the rest of the poem here.

Hopkins found a lot of God in nature. He was a priest, after all. He studied clouds more than most. Besides poetry, he also wrote a journal, and in 1871 he wrote this:

“— Clouds however solid they may look far off are I think wholly made of film in the sheet or in the tuft. The bright woolpacks that pelt before a gale in a clear sky are in the tuft and you can see the wind unraveling and rending them finer than any sponge till within one easy reach overhead they are morselled to nothing and consumed — it depends of course on their size. Possibly each tuft in forepitch or in origin is quained and a crystal. Rarer and wilder packs have sometimes film in the sheet, which may be caught as it turns on the edge of the cloud like an outlying eyebrow. The one in which I saw this was a north-east wind, solid but not crisp, white like the white of egg, and bloated-looking

“What you look hard at seem to look hard at you … . One day early in March when long streamers were rising from over Kemble End one large flake loop-shaped, not a streamer but belonging to the string, moving too slowly to be seen, seem to cap and fill the zenith with a white shire of cloud. I looked long up at it till the tall height and the beauty of the scaping — regularly curled knots springing if I remember from fine stems, like foliation in wood or stone— had strongly grown on me. It changed beautiful changes, growing more into ribs and one stretch of running into branching like coral.”

It is difficult to express what clouds evoke. It is frustrating, and so it is heartening that poet like Hopkins would write “It changed beautiful changes,” throwing the majesty and beauty of those clouds all back upon clouds because they defy description, define themselves.