Welcome to Love of Place

I'll be posting here essays and articles about recent adventures in the field of citizen science where I am studying the charismatic Western Red-Bellied Tiger Beetle and participating in projects like Nature Notebook and Celebrate Urban Birds. My Facebook page--Sharman Apt Russell, Author--has regular weekly photos and posts.

Here's a recent short piece in High Country News on coatis...https://www.hcn.org/issues/45.20/on-not-being-jane-goodall and another in Onearth Magazine on Mexican spotted owls...http://issuu.com/onearth/docs/onearth_14wtr/66.

"Icarus" is a flash nonfiction about my father, a test pilot in the 1950s. http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/fall_2013/contributor/sharman-apt-russell

For an essay on Spinoza and stinkbugs, look at "The Body of Being" in High Country News at
http://www.hcn.org/issues/43.8/walking-in-the-body-of-being
and if you like the poetry of Walt Whitman, read "All You Need is Love" in Onearth Magazine at
http://www.onearth.org/article/all-you-need-is-love


As well as citizen science, I have an abiding interest in the issues of hunger. This article is a great overview of hunger strikes in 2013, with some quotes from my book Hunger: An Unnatural History...http://www.thenation.com/article/177464/starving-justice

For students in my writing classes, scroll all the way down to the July, 2010 entry "Radical Renaissance: Writing in the 21rst Century." This speech is something of a “snap shot” of a writer in the middle of the current publishing crisis, as well as a personal statement about writing. Remember that this is a speech with a somewhat different rhythm than a written essay—more colloquialisms, fragments, etc. I also give short readings from my books.

For students in Writing for Children's Literature, please read http://www.onearth.org/article/born-to-be-wild

Feel free to contact me at http://www.sharmanaptrussell.com/.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

 


Yesterday I saw a white-lined sphinx moth in the yard. A flying Escher painting! The Op Art of the Sixties reborn! Whirring, rotor-whirling away, a dervish on a mission. And then that proboscis or “drinking straw” which extends half the length of the moth’s body, a kind of magic trick--like pulling an impossibly long scarf from your sleeve. This is an insect whose life has been one long art scene, the caterpillars also highly designed: often lime-green with a yellow head, side rows of spots bordered by black lines, and a bright yellow-orange horn protruding at the rear. The horn’s function is to scare off attackers like wasps or stink bugs, with the larva rearing up like a miniature sphinx, regal and demanding, daring you to interfere with its happy life of eating. Periodically, these moths hatch from their eggs en masse and can be seen migrating toward food. Years ago, herds of such larvae were described stretched out for hundreds of yards on well-traveled roads in the Southwest. For various reasons, I doubt we will see such abundance again. I’m happy just to see this single hallucinatory blur in my yard, my first sphinx moth of the season.

--photos by Elroy Limmer

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where an arroyo meets the dirt road, I stop and look for tracks. A few feet up the stream bed are a nice set of bobcat prints. There’s no mistaking that roundness, the leading toe, and size of the front and back feet. I also see a fox print, or maybe a small coyote. Foxes are on my mind since I saw one earlier in the day, a blur of movement that ran so quickly into the brush I spent a few minutes questioning what I had seen. Was that a fox or a wish?

That’s one good thing about tracks. They stay there. You can admire them for long minutes, imagining the animal who passed by, feeling the tangible presence of a bobcat, short-tailed, tufted-ear, delicately-spotted, charismatic, playful, predatory.

It’s another gift, the world showering us with gifts, the tail of a fox, tracks in the sand, and there--a massive dark rock with white radiating lines, a geometric pattern of dark and light, veins of quartz, cool to the touch.

Is this rock for me? I feel the need to fall in love with the world, to forge that relationship ever more strongly. But maybe I don’t have to work so hard. I have thought nature indifferent to humans, to one more human, but maybe the reverse is true. Maybe the world is already in love, giving me these gifts all the time, calling out all the time: take this. And this. And this. Don’t turn away.

(Photo by Elroy Limmer)

Monday, September 30, 2013



My Nature’s Notebook walk, those three acres behind my house and irrigation ditch, has been over-taken by an invasion of six-feet-high kochia, a drought-tolerant member of the chenopodium family brought to North America in the early 1900s from the steppes of southern Russia. Also known as poor man’s alfalfa and sometimes grown as a low-cost feed, the red-stemmed plant with slender leaves is brown now and drying, seed-heads bursting, stalks sharp, a prickly mass tangled with wolfberry and hackberry and tumbleweed—another exotic from Russia, another thorn in the side of the West. Game trails snake through this sudden dense field, paths too low and narrow for me to use. Instead I have to shoulder through, snapping, flinching, accumulating debris. My socks grow needles. My clothes harbor enemies. (Clothes are preferable to being naked, of course. What a thought.)  

 At this time of year, I stop going on certain hikes precisely because of this bad plant behavior, the way these species spread their seeds in hardened, sculptured capsules designed to catch on surfaces and be transported elsewhere: the spiny cocklebur and showering pins of Bigelows beggarticks, the common storkbill with its augurs and upward-pointing barbs, the horns of devil’s claw enclosing a shoe while the goathead pierces right through the leather bottom. Today I have no choice but to mince and barrel through these yielding waves of reproductive animosity, needing to check on my desert willow and honey mesquite and fourwing saltbush.
   
It’s the female saltbush that makes me pause and feel oddly tender, that maternal figure almost hidden—transformed, burdened-- under a massive cloak of brown, papery, four-winged seed. 

Back at my house, the native sunflowers grow up wild and well-watered in the orchard and courtyard so that they tower eight, nine, ten feet high, forming tunnels and bowers, topped by bright yellow flower-faces. It’s like living in a picture book.  I expect a giant ladybug. A talking caterpillar.

 

Sunday, August 18, 2013



Where an arroyo meets the dirt road, I stop and look for tracks. A few feet up the stream bed is a nice set of bobcat prints. There’s no mistaking that roundness, the leading toe, and size of the front and back feet. I also see a fox print, or maybe a small coyote. Foxes are on my mind since I saw three earlier in the day, probably a mother and two kits who ran so quickly into the brush I spent a few minutes questioning what I had seen. Foxes are rarer since an outbreak of rabies some years ago. Was that a fox or a wish? 

That’s one good thing about tracks. They stay there. You can admire them for long minutes, imagining the animal who passed by, feeling the tangible presence of a bobcat, a wild cat, short-tailed, ear-tufted, delicately spotted, charismatic.

 It’s another gift, the world showering us with gifts, the tail of a fox, tracks in the sand, and there--growing up the shadowed bank of this arroyo, a mound of jimson weed, also called moon flower, also called thorn apple, also called sacred datura, the large, creamy, lavender-tinted, trumpet-shaped blossoms seeming to glow, exuding power and a rich scent. And next to the flower, here in this streambed, a massive dark rock with white radiating lines, a geometric pattern of dark and light, veins of quartz, cool to the touch.

Is this boulder for me? 

I feel the need to fall in love with the world, to forge that relationship ever more strongly. But maybe I don’t have to work so hard. Maybe the world is already in love, giving me these gifts all the time, calling out all the time. I have thought nature indifferent to one more human, to any human, but maybe the reverse is true. The world calls out: take this. Take this. And this. And this. Don’t turn away.

(Photo by Elroy Limmer)

Saturday, July 27, 2013




A wonderful monsoon week. I think about my father, a test pilot who flew and crashed in the rocket plane X-2 in 1956, going three times the speed of sound, briefly the fastest man on earth. Mel Apt died when I was two years old and although I don’t know much about this man I do know that he loved clouds. On home movies taken over the Grand Canyon, he does not pause long over his wife and two daughters before he is panning that new 1950s movie camera across the clouds massing and billowing in the Arizona sky, clouds he knew well from many hours of flight in all kinds of airplanes, F100s and F105s and B-50s, clouds where he felt very much at home. A home in the clouds. That’s a kind of wonder. Despite everything—his death, his absence—that’s a gift. 

(Photo by Elroy Limmer)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Netwings



The Fourth of July weekend is over with only spotty rain where I live—although we see it over there. Over there, someone is getting wet. I drive over to the Mogollon Box Campground on the Gila River where Western red bellied tiger beetles are skittering on the bank and hunting in the grass and sedge. After I collect ten of them, I pause before a bush of flowering white clover, the bush fairly winged with so many pollinators and so many different species. The monarch: bright-orange edged with black like the panes of a stained-glass window. The common buckeye: softly brown like deerskin, its dark eyespots ringed in yellow. The fluttering cabbage white: whose caterpillar was found to measure daylight using pigments in the blood, able to distinguish between fourteen hours and fourteen and a half. The fluttering checkered white. The fluttering clouded sulfur.  The fluttering Western pygmy blue. The fluttering hairstreak. 

And all the pairs of mating netwings, orange soft-bodied black-banded beetles with long black segmented antenna, scattered on the flowering bush like confetti or, on second look, like couples making-out at a high school party.

(And the sound of water flowing with no end. No stopping point, the river sound, water over rock, water and water and water without pause or interruption, all day, all night, all day, all night. Perhaps it’s the desert in me that finds this so stupefying.)

Photo by Elroy Limmer

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Monsoons




Traditional lore, pre climate change, is that the rains start by the Fourth of July, and this year, that seems to be true. The white clouds gather in the early afternoon, packets of warm air that rise from the heated ground, cool, and condense. The cloud’s flat base is the level where condensation begins while the rest of the air continues upward in stacks of puffy white. Now in the monsoon season, in less stable conditions, these packets of warm air move up through temperatures that are dropping rapidly, warm air meeting cold air, and the cloud developing higher and more vertically, with peaks and towering cliff walls. Inside the cloud, there is further rising and falling, condensation, coalescence, until water droplets become heavy enough to fall. In cloud language, the word nimbus means rain and a cumulus cloud has just become a cumulus-nimbus, perhaps seven miles in height and several miles wide. High altitude winds shear its top, the anvil from which trails of ice crystals or cirrus clouds spin out in thin fibrous wisps, also called mare’s tails. Electrical energy builds up as water and ice particles are repeatedly split and separated. Suddenly there is a flash, brightness, cracks, and rumbles--a late afternoon thunderstorm. The humans rush to turn off their computers. The dark gray clouds release their swollen bellies, water falls from the sky, and the humans dance. Or maybe they just go about their business, in and out of stores, cleaning house, sitting at their desk, watching children, fixing a car, but suddenly happier. Relieved. The rains have come.