20 February 2013

Biscuits and Birds

Abandoned cabin in Ramsey Canyon, AZ 

Seeking a respite from one of the midwestʼs especially brutal winters a few years ago, we high-tailed it to Arizona. The Grand Canyon. Petrified Forest. Flagstaff. The ancient Anasazi site called Wupatki. Kingman. Quartzsite. Bisbee. Tombstone. Tucson. 

After settling in Tucson and quickly going broke at the annual fossil, mineral, bead, and gem shows, we met friends for the traditional pilgrimage to Pinnacle Peak for barbecue. Some things are just so corny you have to do it. Wear a tie and theyʼll cut it off and nail it on the beams, adding to their collection of severed ties of especially bad design. Driving to our friendsʼ home after stuffing ourselves, minus our thrift shop neckties, we all settled in the back yard to await the evening visit of the roadrunner. 

The next morning we headed out early, destination Ramsey Canyon, a Nature Conservancy site. It is a secluded gorge about an hour and a half south of Tucson. Forested with pine, fir, and maple intermingled along the steep slopes, sycamore grow on the floor of the valley where their demanding roots are assured of water access. All these trees are not far from arid desert plants. An intimate little canyon, during the bare-branch season the limbs extend as arms and hands into blue sky-soil. 

Home of up to fourteen species of hummingbirds, Ramsey Canyon is known as “The Hummingbird Capital of the United States.” While we didnʼt see any hummers the day we visited, I did spy my dream retreat, a tiny, tired, dilapidated shack melding with the trees and underbrush just a short distance off the main path. I have no explanation for my recurring affinity to little ramshackle buildings like this. The porch sags. The roof sags. The spirit of the abandoned old homestead sags. Itʼs inevitable when I see a secluded orphan like this I feel the urge to nurture it back to life. My immediate instinct is to go inside, sweep it out, fire up the trusty old cookstove I imagine waiting for me, scrub the rickety work table, and bake biscuits. Yes, biscuits. Not biscuits and gravy. I see just plain baking powder biscuits piled high on a white ironstone platter, served with fresh sweet butter and your choice of homemade raspberry jam or honey from the hives out back near the spring-fed creek. 

If you donʼt mind, set the table on the porch while I get a fresh batch of biscuits in the oven. I'll fill the feeders and get the binoculars, too. Then we can sit outside and count hummers until dark. You may sit in that big oak rocker with the cushion, if you like. Itʼs most comfortable for extended porch sitting and hummingbird viewing. Be very still and you may hear their tiny engines before you see them dart into view. Biscuits are ready. Help yourself while they're hot. More coffee? If you get chilly, pull that quilt off the back of the rocker and cover up.