Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Sonoran Desert respite

I am approaching my eighth week of graduate school. It has been an adjustment to get back into school mode after so many years of working, but overall I am enjoying it. Before I started, I heard graduate school was hard, stressful, and busy. I didn’t know how I would feel or handle it and I am still trying to figure that out. Every day, I am encountering new hurdles, both in the classroom and in my mind. I am working hard, but the material is also hard. Learning is not as straightforward as it was as an undergraduate, and I have to accept that some topics may take years to fully understand. As a result, it takes a conscious effort to appreciate the progress I’ve made.

I have received many valuable pieces of advice about graduate school, including that is important to take breaks and trust that you will complete the work the next day. Yesterday I finally left my computer and hiked for the first time since moving to the Sonoran Desert. Hiking helps me keep focus on my passions and goals. It reminds me of the amazing natural places my career has taken me, and gives me hope about the places I will go in the future.

Maybe the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)? I am no herpetologist!
Quickly into my hike, the clouds moved in, casting the saguaros blue and amplifying the incredible desert smells. I laughed at the desert's fall splendor! The yellow ocotillo leaves are the only fall colors I suspect I will see this year, but I am not complaining!

The rain brought out many desert animals. I spotted many types of lizards, a friendly garter snake, and some hungry antelope jackrabbits foraging together.

The desert's version of fall colors in the yellow leaves of ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)

Large antelope jackrabbits searching for a bite to eat (Lepus alleni)
I was lucky enough to even see a western diamondback rattlesnake on my hike. Two nice people warned me of its presence by the trail, so I encountered it under the best possible circumstances. I stayed far away, but managed to get the blurry photo below. If I got within six foot of it, it would give me a short warning rattle. It was pretty awesome and the highlight of a fantastic hike!

Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
Arizona barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii)

Mammillaria sp. with red fruit