Background Switcher (Hidden)

What is a Vortex? And: Being Stupid in the Desert

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Friday morning, July 31, I had a whole day to myself. It felt like Christmas morning. I could do anything I wanted to. And everywhere I turned was beauty so searing I just stood and stared.

I went over to the festival hall, the Sedona Performing Arts Center at Red Rock High School, just to check in and make sure I was where I was supposed to be.

The first thing I saw was a family of Gambel's quail.

It would be hard to design a more appealing bird. Pleasingly plump, alert, beautifully marked, with a little bobbing topknot atop the sweetest masked face. They look like someone dressed them up in doll clothes. 

There are six quail chicks in this photo. Believe it. And each one had a mini topknot. I croaked.

I think there are seven chicks with the adult in this shot. They're crummy, I know, but they're what I got. And I only got them by imitating the chicks' soft whistle, which drew the family out for a look at me.

Phainopeplas were everywhere. This striking member of a tropical family, the silky-flycatchers, is our only one in temperate zones. Males are shiny blue-black with mostly white underwings. This is a female. That stuff coming off her head is her crest. Crazy. Phainopeplas eat the fruit of desert mistletoe, mostly, and they travel around in bunches like waxwings do.

I decided to go for a hike. I didn't know where. I drove down to Red Rock Crossing Park, but they wanted $10 just to go in. I didn't have any money with me. I drove up on a ridgetop and saw a trailhead sign off Red Rock Loop that said, "Secret Slickrock Trail." Well, that sounded good to me. So off I went, in mid-morning, big camera rig by my side. No water with me. Duh. Well, it was my first hike, and I didn't think I'd be gone all that long. I started seeing things.

Here's why the quail babies need to be so cryptic. A Cooper's hawk waits for her morning Cornish hen.

She launches like a bullet

and I track her against the hard light

getting one lousy shot after another. I'm out of shape, lenswise. I've been shooting iPhone photos all year.

I'm enchanted by the little verbena that grows amidst prickly pear. It reminds me of the peach-colored one I have at home, except that it's what Thalassa Crusoe calls "paradise purple," the color that all flowers seem to revert to.

Paradise purple goes really well with green, blue, red, everything. If you are wondering what color to paint your garden bench, try Paradise purple. I guarantee it'll go with everything. My personal theory is that that's because shadows have lots of violet in them, and shadows are everywhere. My favorite watercolors are the ones where I remember to make the shadows violet.

Before I know it I'm a pretty good piece from the car. But it's soo beautiful. I keep walking.
A new vista opens up with every few yards I walk. How can I stop?

A rock wren (Salpinctes obsoletus) urges me onward with a call like a short in a wire. I love its Latin name. This is a monotypic genus, which means there's only one species in it. Such a cool little bird. The last rock wren I saw was spookin' around a pile of concrete slabs in the middle of the prairie in North Dakota. How it found those make believe rocks, I will never know. It was good to see this one on honest rocks, even if he was a bit molty.

It wasn't long before I realized I had been stupid to leave on a hike without water. I could only marvel at how hot it was getting, for 10 AM. And how dry I was feeling. I'm used to running for three hours or more at home in Ohio without drinking anything. This was much different. I stopped in every little bit of shade beneath the small junipers, then moved on. I came to what must have been the Secret Slick Rock, and walked out on it. Far below, I could see the park I had hoped to enter. I could see the entrance booth, and it looked like if I could find a way down the steep cliff face, I could circumvent that and get into the park. I figured there had to be water down there. 

I picked my way down the cliff, finally reaching a dead end with a drop of about 20'. D'oh. I backtracked and found a rock cairn. A trail! OK. Let's follow that and see where it goes. To my delight, it started to descend. Now we were talking. I hiked down into the canyon, getting thirstier with every step.  I reached the shade of deciduous trees and found some blackberries. They were big, juicy and fruity as marionberries. Yay. That helped. I do believe I will!

Sure enough, I found my way all the way down into the park, and glory be! there were a couple of hosetaps! I stuck my head under one and drank and drank. I knew I'd have to tank up to make it all the way back up to my car, maybe two miles distant. But first I wanted to explore a bit.

 A beautiful creek flows through the park, and there were views of Cathedral Rock from there. The bottom was extremely slippery, so I decided to leave all my electronics on the bank rather than risk a fall with them into the water. I took one last iPhone shot before I crawled like a hurt frog across the creek to the red rocks on the right side. I literally had to navigate on all fours or wind up on my butt, floating downstream.

After lounging on the rocks for awhile, I crossed back and made my way to the vortex site. There are a number of vortex sites around Sedona, and everybody knows about them, makes pilgrimages to them to do yoga and meditation and hang out. It seems that kinetic or magnetic or beneficial or female energy (take your pick, mix and match) from the earth comes up and out at these sites and does all kinds of wonderful things for you. It also is said to make the old junipers on vortex sites grow in a spiral. Hmm. I'd never heard of anything like that. I was bemused by the residents' stubborn use of the plural, "vortexes." And decided to continue to refer to them as "vortices," because I have more than a passing familiarity with Latin usage, and I couldn't do otherwise. I got corrected once, which made me snort a little. Find out more, but not much more, here.

I strike a pretty good balance, at least in my own mind, between the skeptical scientist and the hopeful mystic believer. Rather than accept them at face value, I want some kind of proof of these claims, and I'm more than happy to be my own guinea pig.

I walked out onto the deeply grooved and groovy rock and faced the Cathedral formation.

And I felt this nutty sensation, this sort of spiraling lift of zoop!! that started at the soles of my feet and shot through my body and out the top of my head. I stood there breathing hard, exhilarated, looking around like a newborn foal. Well, that was different!

When I came back through, having made my way to Buddha Beach, I was talking to some people  I'd fallen in with who had asked me about vortices (heh) and I failed to feel the zoop. That's OK. I felt it the first time, when I was alone, and it was pretty neat. 

I thought about the characterization of the vortex energy as "female." And I found myself in an open, receptive state to whatever might present itself. Not questing, not goal-driven. Just willing to wait and let things happen.
To me, that's a feminine outlook, more passive, Zen-infused, if you will, than questing or acquisitive. It's a state where I live most of the time.

Kind of like sitting back and appreciating whatever birds come by, rather than charging off trying to tick bridled titmouse off your list, because you've done your homework and you know they're supposed to be there, and by gum you're gonna be the one to get 'em.

More on that anon.


So glad you found water and peace.

That's a wonderful place to center oneself. And the landscape, when you are away from the people, is amazing!

A serendipitous approach usually results in a more satisfying birding experience for me. The desert started calling me about 30 years ago, maybe someday I'll answer. Meanwhile back east migration has begun, prairie followed by B&W and yellow warblers are being seen in central FL, and the swallow-tailed kites are starting their long journey. (P.S. Oughtn't you to have a hiking buddy, esp. in unfamiliar territory?)

Posted by Gail Spratley August 12, 2015 at 8:34 PM

I've never been to that part of Arizona, but now I want to go! I know you won't take offense if I question your berry id, so I want to point out that marionberries are a cultivar and those were probably just blackberries. We Oregonians take our berries seriously. :)

Thank you, Sarah! I ficksed it. My friends said they tasted more like marionberries than blackberries and I didn't realize that those were cultivars. They had a really full, fruity taste that was bewitching, even if they could have used a bit of sugar.

I love reading your posts about your time here in Sedona. After hearing you speak at the festival, my husband and I were inspired and took a hike to test our disappearing skills. We found ourselves in the same spot you are describing. Sedona is magical. We still feel it after living here almost 15 years. Thanks for sharing your stories and spending time in our special place. May it be the first of many trips!

Love the Zen vortices zoop consciousness of this journey. Yes!

Feeling deeply chagrined for not mentioning water before when you were asking about things to do on one's own in Sedona. It's second nature in Arizona to start drinking before going out the door, drink before you're thirsty and keep it up after you're home -- and then a glass or so at bedtime. Several sad heat/dehydration hiker deaths have been in the news these past few weeks. Glad you're still with us.

[Back to Top]