About Walt Anderson

Walt Anderson: author, artist, photographer, expedition guide, naturalist, and college professor of environmental studies.

March Madness

Anna's Hummingbird in flight

No, I am not going to pontificate on the NCAA basketball tournament in progress, though the testosterone-driven excitement around the games certainly parallels the changes that I see in the hummingbirds in my yard.  Anna’s Hummingbirds have been chasing each other around like ballistic missiles with hyperdrive all month.  When a surprising snowstorm raged through Arizona in the final two days before the vernal equinox, it was shocking to see zipping flashes of hot pink though the snowflakes.  When I would replace a feeder of frozen nectar with fresh liquid, the feisty little birds buzzed my head as if annoyed that I was not out there at the crack of dawn with sugary elixir.   Patience is not a hummingbird virtue. Continue reading

I’m a Beaver Believer

Verde River Beaver Dam

Beaver dam on Upper Verde River

So often we hear horror stories of environmental degradation.  Once in awhile we need to hear the good news, the reversal of misfortune, and I’m here to tell you one such story.  The Upper Verde River in Arizona has risen from its deathbed, and the main reason is the return of the beaver after the removal of the cows.  Join me along the banks of Granite Creek as I tell my friend Joe about my impressions of the value of beavers in restoring an ecosystem.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTlSKffiSPw&feature=youtu.be. 

Taking Stock and Investing in Shares

Am I allowed to postdate a New Year’s Resolution?

Taking stock.  No, I am not talking about financial matters—something much more important actually.  The arrival of 2012 reminds me to reflect upon my life, not on transient accomplishments or on political or social disappointments.  Few of those things are lasting, scarcely more significant in my life than the taste of yesterday’s breakfast.  What was it that I ate, anyway?

What should be important is what I chose to share with others.  My vow this year—one that is much more realistic than how many pounds I will lose, how often I intend to work out, or what yard work I may or may not get to—is to open myself to greater sharing.  Sharing can take many forms, and my intentions are not limited to one form.  However, in this essay, I am indeed focusing on one thing—the written word.  For “in the Beginning was the Word.”  Continue reading

Aerial Assassin

Cooper's Hawk taking flight, snowy day

Dining has its dangers.  And I don’t mean indigestion or choking on a bone.  I’m talking hazards for the local seed-eating birds—the doves, quail, sparrows, juncos, and finches that check out the seeds that I scatter on the ground each morning.

Winter’s icy chill has descended on this part of Arizona, and recent snow has frozen into a crunchy crust.  Little soil is exposed, and even the shrubs continue to bear heavy blobs of snow.  These are lean times for seed-eating birds; there is no dietary margin for error.   Find enough to eat or die. Continue reading

When Resignation Means Renewal

Autumn light, Granite Creek

A blustery stranger arrived unannounced on Friday.  The day dawned clear like so many others.  By 11 as I drove home from the college for a quick lunch, the unexpected guest had arrived, leaving the door open so that its forceful breath whipped up whitecaps on Watson Lake.  Dust and leaves swirled in its powerful exhalations.  Low clouds streamed over the rounded crests of the Bradshaw Mountains.  Winter had suddenly returned to Arizona.    Continue reading

The Call of the Wild: Are We Listening?

Deep within us we carry the genetic legacy of our distant ancestors.  When we hear the mournful howl of a wolf, there is a shiver down our spine, a surge of adrenalin that we cannot control.  We respond automatically and positively when we view a cute and cuddly creature or one of the “charismatic megafauna.”  For some people, the call of the wild has become more of a whisper, but it’s there.

Recently I gave the keynote address for the 2011 Regional Urban Wildlife Symposium sponsored by the Open Space Alliance of Yavapai County, Arizona.  Joe Phillips videotaped it and posted it on You Tube, so here it is if you want to hear and see my take on THE CALL OF THE WILD: ARE WE LISTENING?

Harris's Hawk is responding to climate warming in Arizona

Megadiversity of Moths

Oculea Moth up close. Photo by Quill Anderson

The scene:  The Madrean Sky Islands, an archipelago of dozens of mountain ranges that unify the spirits of the Rockies and the Sierra Madre, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.  This is a land of astonishing diversity by almost any measure.  The following story is based on a visit more than a decade ago to the Ash Canyon property of Noel McFarland in the SE part of the Huachucas, a range noted for abundant and varied birds, mammals, and reptiles.

But birds, mammals, and herps are not why I came to see Noel McFarland.  He is a collector of diversity with a twist all his own.  McFarland knows moths.  I follow him through several rooms where he works.  Noel collects more than moths, it seems, and twenty years’ accumulation of boxes, books, papers, and other memorabilia fills his spaces the way floral diversity fills a rainforest.  Continue reading

Autumnal Equinox

Migrating Black-necked Stilts

Another summer has slipped over its equinoctial belt—its pride hath gone before the fall.   And so it is for me, veteran of many celestial cycles.  Basted over the coals of another Arizona summer, I am, at the very least, well-seasoned by now.  Continue reading

Deepening the Time Scale: A Puzzle in Sycamore Canyon

Though each organism is inherently a time traveler, its genes a partial chronicle of its evolutionary history, we may be the sole species to be able to reflect on that deeper history.  People with deep imaginations can visualize the ape in our behaviors, the prototypical vertebrate in our embryos, the symbiotic merger reflected in our mitochondria.  Some can look at a hillside and envision it as a product of tectonic upheavals, erosional incisions and depositions, the lithification that turned sediment into rock that has weathered into a substrate supporting juniper, cactus, and spiny lizard.  With some training, there is hope for those of us who don’t normally see so well.  Our temporal blinders may be lifted, our spirits uplifted by the joys of discovery and insight.  Informed imagination – that greatest of time machines – can take us further toward understanding the Sky Islands than mere physical descriptions ever will.  Join me, then, for a little time travel, not to see it all (who has time?), but for a sample of how informed imagination works.            Continue reading

I Break for Clouds

Granite Dells, storm developing

Monsoon season in Arizona is a time of waiting and watching.  Waiting for rain is like playing the lottery.  Your odds improve after the 4th of July, but it’s still a roller coaster of optimism and disappointment.

This morning dawns with haze and humidity, and by 8 am, the sun’s direct rays drill into my shoulders like a laser beam.  Decisions—do I water the outside plants or not?  For days, the thunderheads have played with us, marching toward Granite Dells like an invading army, rumbling ominously and trailing sheets of rain, only to dissipate upon arrival.  They act as if it was all bluster, threat, intimidation, then shrug a rounded shoulder, “Just kidding!”  . . .  It’s hard not to take it personally.   Continue reading