Category Archives: 2023 Grand Finale Tour

Pursuing Truth and Beauty


When I saw this cactus in Green Valley Arizona, south of Tucson and near the Mexican border I thought it might be the most beautiful cactus I had ever seen. I was on a church yard, so I thought I could walk and photograph it without fear of being shot.


When I first retired I said I wanted to stop spending my time in order to make a living and feed my family, I wanted now to pursue “truth and beauty” as John Keats said. I have done that. And it has been great fun.

When I went to university, in my first English literature course, taught by Jack Woodbury, one of the best professors I ever had, the first poet we studied was John Keats. English poet. He published only 54 poems before he died at the age of 25.  That is 54 more than I have published. And many of them were great poems.

John Keats was an English Romantic poet, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and others. His poems had been in publication for less than four years when in 1821 he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Talk about brief beauty!


One of the poems we read was “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”  This might have been the 3rd or 4th poem I studied in university. The poem describes an urn with an image of  a young shepherd pursuing a beautiful young woman who he wants to kiss. But of course, in the image he never catches her. She is forever, a “still unravished bride of quietness.” She never speaks. Their love is never consummated, but their love never turns stale either. It is a love that never withers. The shepherd is also a piper whose song is never heard.  But this too is fine. As Keats says in the poem, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”

The last two lines of that poem go as follows:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


There has been much critical debate about what those words mean. Many, including me, have puzzled over the meaning of those words. I think they make sense in the context of the whole poem. In a way it is a summation of the poet’s thinking expressed by the previous 48 lines.

By beauty I think he means beauty in a wide sense. Beauty basically is art. And art is true or it is not art. So beauty is truth and truth is beauty. Some cactuses bloom only for a day. What a dreadful pity.

So a beautiful cactus flower, caught in a silent moment by a camera, is a work of art (beauty)  that never withers. It  is an eternal thing of beauty. If is it good, it is good forever.  It never changes. That is truth which also is truth forever.



Ephemeral Beauty


The first time I saw one of these gems, called the Argentine Giant Cactus I was told they bloomed for only 1 day.  I was stunned. How could such beauty be so brief? We heard this on the way out of the Phoenix Botancial Garden a few years ago. And they were blooming right now!  Of course, we had no option but to return back to see them. And they were indeed stunning. And the next day the flowers were gone!


In one respect we were very lucky in the weird year.  The cactuses were blooming about 2 weeks later than they normally do.  As a result, in a normal year where we leave for home on the last day of March, we would have seen very few cactuses blooming. That would have been disastrous. As it was, since we left April 15th this year, we got to see a lot cactuses in bloom. Not as many as we would have liked, but disaster was avoided. I did not have to pitch myself off a building.


One disadvantage of looking at cultivated cacti was I often did not know what kind of cacti they were.  I have some knowledge about wild cactuses but even less of the exotic ones


I always say I am an orchid guy.and it is true, I am an orchid guy. But I must admit cacti are pretty good too. Sometimes it is cruel how short of time we get to enjoy such beauty. And if you miss it, you must wait a year to redeem yourself.

The Dangerous World of photographing Cactuses

Argentine Giant Cactus

This was a crazy year in Arizona.  Our 3&1/2 months in Arizona were the coldest and wettest we  have experienced there.  We hung around the pool a lot less than we usually do and worst of all the cacti bloomed later than usual.  More than 2 weeks later in my opinion. Fortunately, we were staying 2 weeks longer than we often did or we might have seen almost none. That would have been catastrophic of course.


Thankfully there was the Boyce Thompson Arboretum where the cacti are so well tended they can’t wait to emerge.  Secondly, there was the Phoenix Botanical garden as well as the Tucson Botanical Garden again where tender loving care convinces the cacti it is save to come out of hiding.  Finally, there were private homes where some magnificent cacti bloomed early. But here there were dangers!


In the early morning I visited the pre-scouted cactus sites  on yards I have seen in the Johnson Ranch area where we had been living. I had picked out places I wanted to photograph.  Of course, I will not venture onto properties without permission. That is dangerous thing to do here.  Of course, walking up to doors as a stranger and asking to talk to the owners is also dangerous. A  number of people in the US this year have been shot dead for doing exactly that.

Although it was risk waking up to a strangers house unannounced I had some protection. I was not packing heat, but I had one good protective help—i.e. white skin. Most of the people shot were black skinned. That is almost suicidal. This is what happens in such a fearful country where so many of the people have guns. They shoot first and ask questions later. Who would want to take a chance on a stranger at the door?


Despair and Decline in the West


Although I acknowledge that there is much that is worthwhile in western civilization including without limiting the generality of that statement, art, literature, music, a plethora of newly recognized human rights for members of the various LGBTQ* communities, and many others. So I am not arguing that we are going to hell in a handbasket. Everything is not getting worse.  However, we should not be complacent. There are also many areas where western civilization seems to be in serious decline. On our recent trip to Arizona, I resolved to pay attention to the decline. I have blogged on some of them, but there are many others that merit consideration. I want to continue that discussion.

There has been significant decline in the west, which many have not noticed, and perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the self-declared leader of the west, namely, the United States of America. There are many indications of that decline and some are surprising.  Frankly, after spending nearly 4 months there earlier this year the situation is grim. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death of among young Americans. How is that possible? Why is it happening? Is has even surpassed death by overdoses.

Richard A. Friedman a psychiatrist writing in the New York Times put it this way in 2018,

“Teenagers and young adults in the United States are being ravaged by a mental health crisis — and we are doing nothing about it. As of 2017, statistics show that an alarming number of them are suffering from depression and dying by suicide. In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people, surpassed only by accidents. 

After declining for nearly two decades, the suicide rate among Americans ages 10 to 24 jumped 56 percent between 2007 and 2017.”


Of course,  gun violence is now the leading cause of death of people under the age of 18 surpassing death by accidents and suicide is the second leading cause of deaths.  Is that much better? Gun violence and suicides are the leading cause of the death of young Americans!

And most people in the US are not aware of this. They seem blinded by their religious belief that America is the best country in the world. Is that possible with such stats?

What is going on in the United States?  Is this not a sign of civilizational decline?

Harris Hawks: Hawks of the South



In the US Harris Hawks can be found from Arizona to Texas, but not farther north. They can be found as far south as South America.

It has a long tail and a relatively small head.  Harris’s hawks can live up to 15 or 20 years old. The Harris’s hawk is usually between 18-24 inches in body length and has a wingspan of 3-4 feet yet only weighs from 1&1/2 pounds to 2 & ½ pounds.

Some of the Harris Hawks nest in spring but some females lay a second or even a third clutch whether or not their first breeding attempt fails. As a result, in Arizona eggs have been recorded in each month of the year.  This is possible because they nest in the southwest USA and farther south. This would not be so easy in Manitoba.

Young Harris Hawks sometimes play with each other by chasing insects or jumping on stick in imitation of the prey they capture.

Like most hawks, the female Harris hawks are larger than their male counterparts.  males. Sometimes these hawks practice a behavior known as “back-standing” where several birds stand on top of each other.


Harris Hawk: The Cooperators


Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

At the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum the last raptors we saw in flight were Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)  which I have seen a number of times before.  I was very lucky to have captured an image of this wonderful bird in flight,


This bird is unusual because it is one of the few birds of prey that hunts in packs. As a result, Harris Hawks  are more successful at capturing prey than individuals that hunt alone, but, of course, that means they have to share.

Harris’s are one of only two truly cooperative hunters in the raptor world. They will live in pairs in the tropical areas, or places where prey is abundant. In areas such as the Sonoran desert where prey has a lot of good cover because this desert contains a lot of vegetation,  they have been documented in groups as large as 9 birds.

That is why they are sometimes called ‘wolves of the air‘ taking their turns harrying a rabbit or squirrel and then chasing it out of cover towards other members that catch it. Here at the Museum they did not have to harry prey because the food was laid out for them. Briefly, the commentator giving us information through a loudspeaker tried to trick us into thinking they had found some prey were trying to pursue it into a corner. She soon acknowledged that this was not the case.

Sometimes Harris Hawks have been electrocuted by hydro lines, but sometimes other members of the group will return to help the injured hawk.  Thus, they carry their cooperating to extremes.  This cooperative view of species is sometimes controversial, as some evolutionists believe there is no cooperation in nature, just competition, but I think the better view is that cooperation is real, and Harris Hawks are an example of that.

They also nest in social groups that allows them to bond before they venture out together on hunting raids.


Crested Caracara



I have been to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum many times, but this year we saw a new species the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). This  bird is a fairly recent immigrant to Arizona that flew in over Trump’s vaunted wall. Actually, it arrived before the wall, but the wall would not have bothered it.

This bird is very rare in the United States, but it has been expanding its range into the southern United. So far it has only reached a few of the most southerly states.

It was a treat to see this magnificent bird up close.

It is a falcon but looks a little like a vulture. It acts a bit like a vulture too usually dining on carcases or otherwise immobile prey that it locates by soaring or cruising over pastureland or grassland. Sometimes it can be found in a group of vultures participating in a feast.

It is easy to recognize this bird as it stands tall on yellow-orange legs with a sharp black cap set off against a white neck and yellow-orange face


The Crested Caracara is a bird of open country and reaches only a few states in the southern U.S. It flies low on flat wings, and routinely walks on the ground.




A silent hunter



The Great Horned owls fly extremely quietly to avoid giving themselves away to their prey. I learned this personally and directly when I was at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum one came up from behind me and flew right over my head and I never heard it. It was so close I could have touched it. I did hear excited people gasping near to me and I did not why until it had flown by . It was so close I could have touched it. I pretended to be brave. It gave me a personal feeling of what it must be like to be a prey of such a magnificent raptor. It was thrilling.

These owls have very good low-light eyesight, and hearing that allows them to spot prey in difficult circumstances. I don’t think they saw an old fat guy like me as prey.

These owls don’t actually have horns. They have tufts near the ears that gives them their names. They also have deep yellow eyes

They will eat a great variety of prey including large insects, reptiles, amphibians, other birds, and small mammals such as skunks and jackrabbits. I don’t know about you but I have no intent to add skunk to my diet.

The Great Horned Owl is a generalist raptor that captures a very wide range of prey, including reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and birds and can be found throughout the U.S. and even Canada in many different all habitats.

Owls do not build their own nests; because they lay eggs earlier in the year than most other species, they use old raven and hawk nests to raise their young. As a result, in Manitoba I have managed to see them early in the year where their young must battle the cold.

 These owls sometimes fall prey to Golden eagles or Northern goshawks.

Today was the first time I managed to capture a photo of these magnificent birds in flight. It was a great experience for which I was very grateful .


Great Horned Owl




At the Arizona- Sonoran Desert Museum I saw a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) can close its feet with 500 psi (pounds per square inch). I have seen these before in Manitoba but never this close. This was a treat.

The average human exerts- squeezing as hard as 80-150 psi. However, the story that owls will eat your dogs/cats is an mainly an urban legend because an owl cannot lift more than its own body weight of (2-3 lbs).

These owls are found around North America, and owls are found throughout urban areas. Many people fear they will attack their pet cats.  While we don’t like to say it ‘never’ happens, it certainly doesn’t happen with frequency. Owls will dive at cats, dogs and even people if they have a nest in the area, sometimes misconstrued as a hunting attempt.


The Great Horned Owl is a generalist raptor that captures a very wide range of prey, including reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and birds and can be found throughout the U.S. and even Canada in many different all habitats. Today was the first time I managed to capture a photo of these magnificent birds in flight

These owls are found around North America, and owls are found throughout urban areas. Many people fear they will attack their pet cats.  While no one should  say it ‘never’ happens, it certainly doesn’t happen with frequency. Owls will dive at cats, dogs and even people if they have a nest in the area, sometimes misconstrued as a hunting attempt.


Sonoran Desert Museum Tucson


This is a Great Horned Owl which I saw in Tucson Arizona this winter.

In Arizona this past winter, we went to one of my favorite places in Arizona, the Arizona- Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson Arizona. The word “museum” however is very misleading. You have to put all of your preconceptions about what a museum is on the shelf. This place is very different.  As they say here, “this is a place to turn your idea of museum inside out.”

It is almost entirely outdoors and consists of a 98-acre zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, publisher, and art gallery that was founded in 1952 and is located west of Tucson adjacent to the Saguaro National Park and closely integrated with it. It  features 2 miles of walking paths through a 21 acres of desert landscape. It is a place of wonder. If you want to learn about the Sonoran Desert this is a great place to start as it contains much of the flora and fauna of that special North American desert.

My favorite part of this museum is the Live Raptor display that is held each winter. Here you get to see a variety of desert flying raptors flying in the wide open spaces. The birds are actually free to fly away and sometimes do exactly that. They don’t usually fly away because they know if they show a bit of patience people will place food for them in the surrounding shrubs, cacti and other plants. Why would you leave this place if food in convenient bite-sized chunks will soon be available? This food is place on shrubs close to where the people stand with cameras at the ready.

I have tried a number of times to get photos of raptors in flight and failed each time until this year. This year I was thrilled with my results. I have will show more of my photos in future posts.

The Museum  contains only birds that can be found in the Sonoran Desert.  The birds are completely untethered and without any jesses (leg straps) and mainly even without bracelets. A narrator tells the story of each specie on display that day including their habits, diets, hunting strategies, behaviors, and fun facts that I usually end up forgetting because I get to wrapped up in the raptor display. But that’s me.

The thing that is most surprising about this place is how close the raptors come to us. It turned out today that as far as the raptors were concerned, I was the centre of attention. A number of times they swooped right over my head. I could have touched them were I not such a smart guy (big chicken) who knew better than to touch them in flight. A few times I missed a great shot of a bird because I was too close to photograph it with my zoom lens.

This was a sensational day!