Coronavirus calendar: (Month 3: May 2020)

Saturday, May 2, 2020

According to the calendar, I was to have my hair done and we would have attended a biannual benefit art auction we never miss at the MCASD.  The auction, of course, didn’t happen, but I did have my roots touched up by the famous Mr. Steve of Flowbee fame. Salons are still closed.  I’m 6 weeks out from a professional cut so the situation isn’t desperate yet.

The rest of my day was rounded out by working a morning shift from home.  Meanwhile, Steve made a Chino’s run, managing to score 2 loaves of that incredible bread from Wayfarer Bread in Bird Rock.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

In the morning, we rode our bikes north on the Coast Highway as far as the Buena Vista lagoon in south Oceanside.

In early afternoon, we had our first distanced social event, with Miles and Tatiana, at their house.  They worked out a system the prior weekend with Tati’s son Phillip and his wife Liz.  We decided on brunch at 1 pm.  I made my NYTimes strawberry torte.  My offer to bake a dessert inadvertently changed the plan from take out Shake Shack burgers to home cooking, but the results were scrumptious.  We didn’t enter the house, but were guided around the side to the back patio, where we chatted at opposite ends of a table under a sunshade.  Tatiana made delicious crepes and caponata.  We helped ourselves to the food, using separate sets of utensils.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and it was delightful to sit outside in the breeze and chat for the first time in months.  We had seen them very briefly in their driveway when we picked up wine from Miles back on April 5, but it had been since January 10 that we shared a real meal with them.  Of course, we had seen them at Zoom dinner parties and happy hours but it really wasn’t the same.  We both returned home feeling refreshed and renewed.  We watched the first of a 3-part movie Tatiana had screened for her movie group, a 1963 Italian film and Best Foreign Film Academy Award winner, with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, called Yesterday Today and Tomorrow.

Monday, May 4, 2020

I was scheduled to work in nuclear medicine, but at Scripps Memorial, our sister hospital, 2 miles down the road from Green, also in La Jolla.  I offered to switch with Rosa to work at Green, but she declined (I wanted to ride my bike to work).  I suspect she may have had remorse later, as she had a ton of PET scans, but I wasn’t able to help her.  The state of this reading room has been an ongoing issue since we first began staffing this service on Mondays 1.5 years ago.  Rosa came for the first time only very recently and like the rest of us, was appalled at the caked-on dust on the keyboards and non-hydraulic junk-shop quality wooden desks which can’t be adjusted to our different heights.

Jason, the lead tech, came in and showed me an alternate reading room which Rosa’s fresh round of agitation and appeal to a new administrator produced in the past week.  It is clean and while not fully kitted out, is a vast improvement and workable. As it turns out, I need not have driven in, despite the charms of this new, improved reading site.  I left after lunch and finished out the day at home.

Steve had a short evening shift, 5-10 pm, which he worked from home.  He prepped dinner before starting his shift and I put it together after working out while resuming Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 2).  It was delicious, an Asian soba salad with shitake mushrooms and fresh fava beans from Chino’s.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

I was the lone radiologist and breast imager at Carmel Valley today.  I haven’t been here since mid-March (March 11, the day I last shook a patient’s or anyone’s hand).  Screening mammograms resumed this week.  They were scheduled at 1/2 hour intervals instead of every 15 minutes to allow patient distancing while waiting and thorough room cleaning between exams (actually, I later learned that room cleaning was not substantially changed from pre-pandemic times, as the equipment was always wiped down between patient contacts).  I never would have imagined I could be so happy to read screeners again!

When I last saw these technologists, worry was etched on their faces.  They were furloughed even more severely than the hospital technologists.  Caroline, a full-time tech, was only able to work a 6-hour shift once a week.  Last week’s unemployment figures are again through the roof.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

I rolled over in bed last night, and sent my back into spasm.  I could barely move to the bathroom.  Steve procured two Advil for me.  Adjusting my position in bed to take them was agony.

I had a little victory over bureaucracy today.  A notice came from BBVA bank advising that Mama had a maturing CD which would roll over automatically unless other instructions were given.  Since I didn’t know about this CD, this was good news indeed.  It was not an unexpected fortune, but enough to pay 2 months of Mama’s living expenses, so certainly welcome.  In ordinary times, since Mama can still sign for herself, I would have taken her with me into a branch to arrange to cash it out.  During the pandemic and lock-down at Ohana, it was time to test the power of attorney (POA) we had in place but had never used.

It took a bit of doing.  The bank had reduced hours, 9-1 pm, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and no weekend hours.  My first foray was to call in, explain the situation and await a call back.  A week later, having received no return call, I called again and made a more strongly worded inquiry.  This hooked me up with a banker and the start of a series of requests to email the POA, a doctor’s statement and even my father’s death certificate, since his name was still on the CD.  Eventually, all of the paperwork was approved by their legal team and I made an appointment to come into the branch to pick up the check on a day off.

BBVA turned out to be close to the Bale Vietnamese sandwich shop our partner Ann turned us onto. When I arrived home with the sandwiches, the door to the garage housing Steve’s car was open.  Steve was dressed for work and hustling, looking frantic.  Evidently, he had assumed he could work from home and had only just learned that he had 4 joint injections scheduled in the afternoon.  He had a lot of cases to present at HCC conference (hepatocellular cancer) and look frazzled.

The phone rang a short while later and it was Steve, who had left his notes on the cases for conference on my desk.  I scanned them and sent them to him by email.

In the evening, we caught up with Ralph and Gail by Facetime, dining on sweet potato quesadillas with a side salad.

Deaths in New York topped 25,000 today-25,000!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

I finished The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros today.  It was a quick read, but surprisingly meaty for a slight volume.

Steve rode his bike through Rancho Santa Fe, but my back still was flinchy, so I demurred.  When he returned from his ride,  I headed out in the car to see if I could find the red-tailed hawk nest Jack and Fleur told me about in the Indian Head trails.  I took the binoculars with me, but didn’t find them.  I put the Olympus TG-6 and the Peak Design travel tripod to work shooting macro of wildflowers.  There was water flowing today, but not too much to step over.

I watched a Zoom reading of a David Mamet play called November, in which John Malkovich plays a lame duck president everyone hates as he schemes to stay in office or at least, raise enough money to have a presidential library.  It is savagely funny, with Patty Lupone as his lesbian speech writer who wants to marry her partner.

We screened a new MDF@Home offering, a quirky and darkly comic French film called Deerskin in which handsome Jean Dujardin becomes obsessed with his new deerskin jacket and inhabits a new filmmaker persona. Lovely Adèle Haenel (whose incandescent performance in Portrait of a Woman on Fire kicked off the most recent Sedona Film Festival for us) plays a bartender he encounters in a remote mountain village who becomes swept up as editor to his cinematic efforts.

Friday, May 8, 2020

It’s official: April is the cruelest month, at least in terms of job losses.  20 million for the month, unemployment rate of 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression. In San Diego, it’s being reported that 1 in 4 adults are now unemployed.

Berta was cleaning the house today and Steve worked from home in the morning, so I went to the lagoon armed with a long lens on my camera, in need of exercise and hoping to find ducks, flowers or other subjects down there.

Butterflies are always desirable, although not necessarily cooperative, subjects (San Elijo Lagoon).

  As I hoped, there were ducks in the pond hidden behind dense foliage.

Every time we walk San Elijo lagoon, right below our house, we say “This is nice, we should come more often!” Duck paddles in a pond hidden in dense brush in the lagoon.

I also found a cute lizard which my long lens allowed me to approach.  These creatures are so common, we find them in the yard all the time, and they sometimes make their way into the house as well. I’ve become an expert at capturing them with a piece of cardboard and a Tupperware.  I have yet to have one jetisson a tail, so I take that as a sign they are not traumatized by my technique for relocation into the yard.

Lizard, San Elijo lagoon.

I timed my walk in order to make it back to the house in time to tune into an 11 am Lightroom teaching session by “Go Ask Erin” Quigley.  Today’s subject is black and white conversions, a topic that really interests me.  As usual, Erin is a firehose of information.

I had a work-related video presentation at 1 pm, a preview of the DynaCAD breast MRI program we will be training on in a month or so.

I had arranged a Peruvian food pick-up for 6:30 pm from Q’ero in Encinitas, in advance of our Zoom dinner with Ellen and David.  They have not left their Hillcrest aerie overlooking Balboa Park for 9 weeks!  They are being extraordinarily rigorous in their social distancing, but are in good spirits, improvising an exercise routine in their apartment.  They are fortunate to have a large patio so they have an outdoor retreat with a nice view.

Before we went to bed, we explored a virtual photography exhibition in which we both are represented, entitled Living and Photographing in the Time of Covid-19 .   This juried show was organized by Donna Cosentino of the Photographer’s Eye Collective, the gallery at which I had my show earlier in the year.  We were notified earlier in the day which pieces were included.  The juror for the show was Philipp Rittermann, a friend and well regarded photographic artist.

Steve was represented in Living & Photographing in the Time of Covid-19 by this wonderful image, taken at the Salton Sea during his convalescence from his March 9 back surgery.

Life and Death on a Chandelier Pulley: a mother hummingbird (on the rope) brings food to her surviving chick in the nest, which opens its beak eagerly. Its nest mate sibling has keeled over, dead, towards the viewer. The baby was on the verge of fledging.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

I was on call this weekend, words I have not spoken for many years.  I worked from home, 8-5 pm.  Steve enjoyed a bike ride in Rancho Santa Fe.  He made a delicious dinner, using up odds and ends in the refrigerator, coming up with a luscious spring green soup combining fresh Chino’s peas with Trader Joe’s fresh asparagus, topped with chives and home-made croutons from the last of the Darshan baguette I picked up earlier in the week.

I finished work just in time to Zoom into my video book club.  We have record attendance these days, now that no one can travel.  Only Fran (who forgot) and Barbarella (family commitment) were not with us.  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros drew praise for its poetic sketches of a young girl’s Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago as she navigates adolescence, as well as criticism, particularly from Sandy, who thought it was in needed of better editing.

Afterwards, Steve voted for an escapist Hollywood film Hancock, in which Will Smith plays a scruffy and despised Superhero with an image problem. Jason Bateman, a PR man whose life Hancock saves, sets out to soften his very rough edges.  Charlize Theron plays his wife, who has reservations about Hancock.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

I woke up at 7 am, chagrined to realize my phone was on the charger downstairs overnight rather than at the bedside. Luckily, there was no evidence I missed any calls.  I covered from midnight until 7 am.  This is mostly just in case the system goes down, as overnight reads are done by StatRad.

Today is Mother’s Day, as well as Mama’s 84th birthday.  Ohana is still in lock-down mode.  They had a birthday lunch for her and I Facetimed in a birthday greeting.  Clarissa organized presents from us, including a bouquet of pink flowers and treats from Harry & David.

Steve had a morning shift, 8-12:30 and I had a 5-10 pm evening shift.  I’m starting to sense a pick-up in case volume.  I diagnosed 2 cases of appendicitis on CT scans during my shift, another subtle sign that the work pendulum may be swinging back toward a more normal mix of cases which seemed to drop precipitously during the earlier pandemic weeks.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Flocks of white birds darted over the beach on my way to work by bike, bringing me to an illegal halt at a closed restaurant row parking lot.  A jogger paused within speaking distance, admiring the swirling birds, saying “This is what happens when humans step back.  I’ve jogged here for 5 years and never seen these numbers of birds”.

I worked in nuclear medicine.  I was able to prepare for the noontime thoracic oncology conference (reviewing 3 cases to present the imaging findings) during a lull in the prior night’s shift. After presenting the conference from my desk, I walked behind the hospital and was surprised to see golfers at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

The lobby of the outpatient pavilion has been transformed since I was last here by yards of red tape, stretched across banks of seats to keep people from sitting too close to each other, as well as Xs on the floor, marking out 6-foot spaces in the line for the lab and other check-in counters.  The magazines which used to be available were stripped from the tabletops weeks ago, presumably to make the ongoing cleaning easier.

In today’s stack of mail are 2 unusual items.  One is a personalized calendar with scenes from northern England, from Michelle, the family physician photographer friend of our friend Susan, to whom we sent the care package of masks last month.  The other item is infuriating to me: a check for $1200, an Economic Impact Payment with Stump’s name on it, for my 84 year old mother, who has been retired for 20 years.  Meanwhile, workers in the gig economy and many others who might actually benefit from such funds are not eligible.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

I worked alone at Carmel Valley.  Although I’m there because of breast, my work is a mix of breast and everything else.  Even with screening mammography going again, being scheduled only every half hour doesn’t generate enough studies to fill my day, so I supplement with cases from the “big list”: prostate MRIs, pelvic ultrasounds and body CT scans.

It’s official-Broadway will be closed all summer. The expected further postponement of Broadway’s reopening was announced today, with refunds for tickets now being issued for sales through September 6 of Labor Day weekend.

Coronavirus deaths topped 80,000 in the US today.

I had a most enjoyable evening.  Over the weekend, Janet had posted pictures and video of hawk chicklets nesting in a eucalyptus tree she can see from her back balcony.  We arranged an outdoor rendezvous after work, so I went to work with my camera with telephoto lens and a 2X teleconverter loaded up, as well as our beefiest tripod. This is the first time in a while I have worn “normal” clothes to work (old lady jeans and a navy and white striped sweater set) instead of scrubs.

John has been working from home, while Janet has been going into their office in Solana Beach, either navigating the hills on her e-bike or walking. It was great fun catching up with them on the patio, while watching the 3 bobbing fuzzy heads of the chicks in the distant nest, waiting for their mother to fly in with food.  Consulting my Audobon Handbook of Western Birds later, my best guess is that they are red-shouldered hawks.  Their friend Lany, who we’ve met before at their house,  came over later to check out the activity .  Steve had to work starting at 7 pm so missed the fun.

A clutch of 3 bobbing chicks and a mother red shoulder hawk, still very far away, despite this being cropped, using a 400 mm lens with a 2X teleconverter on a camera with a 1.5 crop factor (equivalent to 1200 mm lens!), still a wonderful affirmation that life goes on, pandemic or no.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Amy asked me the day before if I would be willing to switch, going to the Fenton Breast Center at the hospital instead of Rancho Bernardo.  I was only too happy to swap, another opportunity to ride to work, or as I told her “I need the exercise!”.  I was there alone (usually we staff this site with two breast imagers), with only one mammo tech, one ultrasound tech and Mary Lou, our receptionist and scheduler.  Starting next week, we will again be staffing with 2 rads a day every weekday except Friday with one.  The pendulum is gradually swinging back.  The volume of work is slowing picking up.  Elective surgeries have been restarted, although only at 50% of usual numbers.  Plans to accelerate that to 75% next week have been deferred due to a lack of sufficient testing materials, as all patients scheduled to undergo surgery now must have Covid testing the day before.

Steve was off and had dinner ready when I arrived home, a delicious Blue Apron offering.

We were late for the red tide but it was still fun being out on the beach shooting. (Nicholson Point, La Jolla, CA)

He had seemed disinclined in the preceding weeks to go out at night to try to shoot the red tide.  This is an annual spring phenomenon which was unusually prominent this year, with the glacier blue bioluminescence of the surf an amazing sight.  We drove down to la Jolla.  We were skunked on the red tide (during the day the normally blue water has a ruddy reddish cast to it), but enjoyed being on the beach at night.

In search of the red tide, on the beach after dark (Nicholson Point, La Jolla, CA).


There were a few couples, including one that planted themselves right in my set-up.  At least they held still enough we could light paint the rocks.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

I had another XTO (forced time off) day today and Steve wasn’t scheduled to work until 5 pm, leaving the whole day open.  We decided on a Rancho Santa Fe bike ride.  We set out the usual way, east on Manchester, and up Rancho Santa Fe (RSF) Road to the Ranch.  Approaching RSF, I propose an alternate route, which I used when I was shuttling back and forth to the gallery in Escondido back in January preparing the show. Instead of turning south after entering RSF, we headed on a more northerly circuit, which emptied out onto Montevideo, which I knew would lead us to Paseo Delicias, the main artery through the Ranch.  Steve was surprised by the lake (actually San Dieguito Reservoir) so we added an extra circuit around it, trying to see if there was an access for photography (answer: no).  Instead of heading further south along Via de la Valle, as we have on our recent rides, we braved narrow Linea del Cielo towards Solana Beach, taking us past Janet and John’s house.  I texted Janet to see if it was all right to take Steve by to see their garage doors, which we are sourcing now for replacement.

As we neared the coast, we turned off to see if the Solana Beach Fish House was open.  Steve had the impression it might have closed, but it was open and it was nearly lunch time.  We started going there back around 1995 when we were remodeling our Solana Beach house and went some months without a real kitchen.  They didn’t have my favorite (lobster tacos) but the shrimp tacos were nearly as good.

When Steve started working, I tuned into another benefit broadcast for the Actor’s Fund, a reading of Significant Others, a play about 4 young adult friends, three women and a gay man, as they pair off and navigate adulthood.  Our Blue Apron dinner was scrummy, chicken served with an arugula and pear salad with barley with roasted red onion and fennel.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Our day started unusually early for a forced day off (XTO) for both of us, with a 7 am Zoom group meeting arranged by Doug, who has taken over from Tim doing vacation scheduling and related accounting.  This is the first group meeting since the pandemic.  I haven’t missed our normal group meetings, which make for long evenings, coming as they do after a work day.  This virtual meeting was mercifully short, thanks to the Zoom basic platform limitation of 40 minutes.  Doug explained the rationale for the complex accounting for days/shifts worked and days off.

Afterwards, we embarked on a neighborhood walk.  Janet had mentioned a nice path alongside a canyon through an adjacent enclave, near where our partner Rob lives.  Steve texted him to see if he wanted to join us for a socially distanced walk.  He didn’t start work until noon, so was game.  We walked to his house to join him and from there it was just a street over to pick up the new-to-us path past architecturally interesting houses and a canyon in full bloom.  We kept walking, up the rail trail to Swami’s crossing and from there, it was but a few short blocks to Darshan, where 2 slices of our favorite sweet pandemic comfort treat (chocolate orange cake) and a chocolate croissant were waiting for us, while Rob picked up sandwiches for lunch with his family.  We had to wait a few minutes outside for the sandwiches to be ready.  There were a few chairs still outside although the tables had been cleared away.  Sitting outside chatting seemed almost like pre-pandemic times having breakfast or lunch there.

April showers produced abundant May flowers this spring in southern California, with carpets of nasturtium in coastal lagoons and canyons.

Nasturtium in southern California.

In the afternoon, a text came from Janet-she was biking through our neighborhood with a designer friend and asked if it would be OK for them to stop by to see the house. I told them to come by.  It was nice, chatting, meeting Ane and talking about design like pre-Covid times.

Janet had mentioned a Chinese-Korean food place (Chiko) on the coast up the road in Encinitas and Rob that morning had seconded the recommendation, so we ordered take-out from there.  I ordered enough food for 2 meals to both minimize the number of food-foraging trips and to thoroughly sample their menu.  The first night’s introduction was delicious: spicy lamb dumplings, a salad I loved called Half-a-Cado, with zucchini and asparagus spears smeared with avocado and topped with radishes and almond crunch and an entree called smashed salmon with black bean butter, wild mushrooms and peas.

Doug had mentioned on the Zoom meeting that the red tide was still happening at La Jolla Shores, so we bundled up and armed with tripods and gear bags, set off to find a coastal spot from which to see and shoot it.  We started up north at Swami’s, but the tide was high enough that it didn’t look promising.  We had a Del Mar site in mind but all of the parking was still blocked off.  We paused at Torrey Pines, where I had first gone, but it didn’t seem very intense and there was a lot of light pollution from passing cars.

We initially passed on Coast Walk, although I thought it showed promise.  There was so much light pollution at Wipeout Beach, where we’d been a few nights before, that we circled back to Coast Walk.  Steve stayed in the car while I crept along the dark cliff-top path, passing couples whispering on the benches along the way.  I found a spot and suggested by text that Steve park and join me.  It was a beautiful sight.

Bioluminescence is produced by concentrations of Lingulodinium polyedra, a single-celled dinoflagellate which emits light with mechanical stress, such as wave action. During the day, it’s not so pretty, imparting a muddy reddish color to water with high concentrations; hence, the name red tide.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

We slept in, tired from prior late night shoot. We had a yard walk conference with our landscaper, Micheal, who came over at noon.  Afterwards, I created an Aperture Photo Arts Mail Chimp update.

In the evening, we started a French film, Les Miserables, but were too tired to finish it.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

I jumped rope and did my weight workout, still watching Season 2 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Steve proposed a bike ride just as I was finishing my work out.

Steph brought by her famous olive bread in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, I had left my phone upstairs, so missed her text and didn’t get to chat with her.

Steve’s soba was for supper, after which we finished Les Miserables, a gritty and gripping 2019 tale by Ladj Ly of urban policing in a rough African immigrant suburb of Paris.

Monday, May 18, 2020

I biked to work, while Steve had the day off.

I worked in Fenton Breast Center with Ugne, who nicely took the less desirable reading room.  This secondary reading room is newly created, out of the former nurse’s office, to minimize our exposure to each other now that we’re back to staffing most days with 2 breast radiologists.

We had a virtual reunion via a Zoom dinner with Susan, Margie and Mike.

Tuesday, May 18, 2020

This was an XTO day off for me, while Steve was off during the day but worked 5-10 pm.  I finished Free Food for Millionaires, which had a lot of personal resonance for me.  Casey Han is a recent college graduate, trying to figure out her next moves in Manhattan.  Although the daughter of Korean immigrants who manage a dry cleaner in the city, her tastes have been rarified by her scholarship-funded Princeton education.  I could definitely identify with the straddling, precarious position in which she tries to negotiate the void between the world of her parents and childhood and the monied societal stratum in which she now must compete.

Wednesday, May 19, 2020

I biked to work and read PET scans in nuclear medicine.  I ran over to the department for a quick renal ultrasound to follow up my kidney stone, confirming no hydronephrosis.

Steve came to work in time to give HCC conference at noon and to do a wrist arthrogram in the afternoon.

We still don’t know whether our planned dive trip to British Columbia in August is off or not.  The non-essential travel ban between the US and Canada was just extended another month.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

This sunny day recalled pre-pandemic Saturdays spent running multiple errands .  Susan had texted me earlier in the week that Nelson’s Photo was having a KEH event.  I had been thinking of upgrading my city camera, the Fujifilm X100F, for the X100V and had planned to upgrade my wildlife camera, Fujifilm X-T3, for the X-T4, before our summer trip to Namibia.  With our Africa trip canceled and postponed until 2022, there wasn’t much of an impetus to upgrade, until Nancy and Gerry proposed the Southern Arizona bat and bird shoot we’re planning.  These plans and the KEH event galvanized me into scheduling an appointment for 9:30 am, the first slot.  We had previously sold cameras and lenses to KEH and found the process much less painful than selling equipment ourselves on Ebay.

I gathered up four camera bodies and as many original boxes and accessories as I could locate and drove to Pt. Loma.  The store entrance was blocked off by a table with hand sanitizer and gloves.  Patrons can pick up pre-ordered items, but cannot yet wander the aisles like before.

I received enough credit to more than pay for the new X100V.  My new X-T4 arrived from B & H the day before (I would have bought it from Nelson’s as well but they didn’t have the silver version I wanted).

Pulling into the shopping center, I spied a FedEx center, which was great as I had CDs to return to a friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  Stepping in at 10 am, age counted for something, as they were only serving 60 year olds and older. “I’m 60!”

From there I headed back north to Rancho Santa Fe, stopping at Chino’s for vegetables and oat milk.  I was too late to claim any Wayfarer bread.  Barbara’s house is nearby.  She had texted me the day before that her “summer line” of masks was ready.  The days had warmed up enough that the flannel lining of the masks we bought from her earlier did feel too warm for the season, so this was timely.  We sat outside on her patio, catching up and comparing notes on our very pandemic-altered work schedules. Her work is also slowly picking up.  She had been down to one day a week from a normal three days/week, but is scheduled for two days this week.

My final stop was at the dry cleaner.  Working from home and wearing scrubs when working at the hospital, our cleaning bills and trips have dropped off markedly, but I had sent some winter sweaters for cleaning and it was past time to rescue them.

In the evening, we did our first cautious entertaining, with Miles and Tatiana, who picked up sushi for all of us at Ken’s en route.  They reported that Ken’s has reopened for patio dining.  We sat out on the patio, bundled up, with a fire going.  Steve made a refreshing strawberry and orange sorbet which we served with a Sauterne.  We were happy to hear our mutual friends Ellen and David have made their first forays out for local walks, after a record 10 weeks of strict confinement to their place, not even venturing out for groceries, but having everything delivered.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The US is approaching an ominous milestone, almost 100,000 deaths from Covid-19.  The front page of the Sunday New York Times was appropriately somber, a text-filled page with the names and one-sentence obituaries of 1% of those we’ve lost.  It is the first time in the history of the paper for the front page not to have any photographs.

Today’s flight was our first time on a plane in almost 3 months, probably the longest stretch we have ever gone without flying.  With a week off, normally we would have flown out on Saturday, but American was now only flying non-stop San Diego-Phoenix once a day and not on Saturday, a mind-boggling change from only a few months ago, when there were multiple non-stop options everyday.  This was our second canceled trip to New York.  We had planned to spend the first half of this week in NYC and the second in the Berkshires, visiting Jon and Mayde and attending the Berkshires Film Festival.  The pandemic postponed the festival to September (which still later went virtual).  We pivoted again, trading our tickets in for San Diego to Phoenix.  Figuring out how to safely travel in our altered reality required thought.  We decided to book Howard, a professional driver and a known entity, to ferry us to and from the house, rather than chance a random Uber driver. Cindy and Gerry came to our rescue at the other end, driving our car and their car to the airport.  We decided to pay to upgrade to first class, rather than hope we would be upgraded (there were empty seats in first, so I suspect we would have been upgraded for free, oh well). We kept our masks on throughout the short flight, declining the beverage service.  I made headway on my book, The Factory by Japanese author Hiroko Oyamada.

We had a warm late lunch outside with our friends Threasa and Chris in Paradise Valley, another dual radiologist couple.  We hadn’t seen them in way too long, so it was nice to catch up over La Grande Orange pizzas and salad, comparing notes on pandemic-induced practice upheaval as well as a bit of “organ recital”.

Monday, May 25, 2020

We had a javalina greeting party at the house in the morning.  They nibbled our prickly pears but eased off as soon as we had our long lenses on the cameras, of course.

We watched the first hour of Erin’s Lightroom tips and tricks, but started being overwhelmed and bugging out in the second hour.

After a spin on Ant Hill from the house, we Facetimed with Dave in the Methow Valley in the evening .

Tuesday, May 26, 2020-Friday, May 29, 2020

I did a one-hour loop hike from the house in the morning, up Picnic Rocks and down Cibola Ridge trail.  I saw 5 people on the trail, 2 pairs and one single, at the beginning of the hike, but had the trails to myself for the rest.

Steve headed out to Whole Foods for provisions and reported that their mask policy is optional-a shock.  He estimated 2/3 of the patrons were wearing masks.  I’m amazed the grocery workers don’t protest that policy.

We headed out by noon, stopping at Wildflower Bakery for a to-go lunch, splitting a reuben (dressing on the side, good call!) and an almond tuna salad sandwich.  We had a 4.5 hour drive ahead of us, south past Phoenix and Tucson and Green Valley to a small boutique inn called Tubac Country Inn.  Nancy and Gerry were driving in from San Diego to meet us and we would have 2 days shooting at the Pond at Elephant Head.  This excursion was their idea, proposed a few weeks ago.  It is owned by Dano Grayson, a 34-year old biologist and wildlife photographer and videographer whose work is  featured on BBC and National Geographic nature shows.

We had 2 days of shooting scheduled at The Pond. They were full and fun days, starting early, waking up in time to meet up at 5:15 am to be at the Pond at 5:45 am.

Male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) at the Pond at eEephant Head, near Amado, Arizona.

The Pond is a man-made oasis in the desert, attracting many birds (cardinals, doves, parent and baby quails), as well as rabbits (Arizona cottontails and antelope jackrabbits) and antelope squirrels, as well as bees, insects and dragonflies.  We worked seated in a PVC pipe and netting blind, dug into the ground, until the light became harsh at 9:30 am or so.

The birdlife is so abundant at The Pond at Elephant Head. We saw multiple quail families with chicks. Adult Gambel’s quail, Callipepla gambelii (female).

The male Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii) is more colorful than the females, with a jaunty head dressing.

Adult male Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii). The Pond is surrounded by a variety of natural props on which the birds alight.

Family portrait: Mama Gambel’s quail with 2 chicks, Amado, AZ.

Someone also closes their eyes or turns away in group shots: Male Gambel’s quail parent with 3 chicks.

White-winged doves (Zenaida asiatica) were frequent and abundant visitors to The Pond at Elephant Head.

White-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica), Amado, Arizona, The Pond at Elephant Head

The red head feathers distinguish the male from the more bland female (Pair of male House finches, Carpodacus mexicanus).

Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus), male.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: desert cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus audubonii), Amado, AZ, Pond at Elephant Head

Seeds bring in critters as well as birds, including rock squirrels (Spermophilus variegatus), at The Pond.

Rock squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus), Amado, Arizona, The Pond at Elephant Head.

Harris’ antelope squirrel, Ammospermophilus harrisii, at the Pond at Elephant Head, near Amado in southern Arizona.

We returned to the Inn at mid-day to download, relax, shower, eat and recharge before heading back for the late afternoon shoot at 4:30 pm.  An upscale Mexican restaurant called Elvira’s was walking distance away and had sensational moles.  A large lunch each day kept us going, supplemented with snacks we brought along.  This was our first time dining inside a restaurant since late February and the pandemic.  The servers and hostess were masked and the few patrons inside the delightfully cool and dim restaurant were seated at least 20 feet apart.  We even obtained celebration margaritas to go (in repurposed soup containers) on our final night, seconds before they closed at 9 pm.

Both nights, we left our cameras at The Pond, pre-focused at the level of a sensor which triggered an array of flashes as bats swooped in to score a drink from the pond.  The cameras were set on manual with parameters of  f11, ISO 800, and 20 second long exposures, shooting frame after frame through the night.  Most frames were just black, but out of some hundreds, a few would contain a bat…or on one of mine, two, one coming, the other going, with a bullfrog lurking in the background (below).

Bats come and go to The Pond at Elephant Head by night, swooping in for a drink. A bullfrog lurks in the background.

It was fortunate we had arranged for 2 nights.  Dano had described the unattended shoot review the following morning as opening presents on Christmas morning.  The first night, there had been difficulties.  My camera was new enough that I had no separate external battery charger.  Dano ran an extension cord to keep the camera running through the night.  Other problems were not so easily dispatched, so Nancy described our first morning’s results as “coal in our stockings”.  Our results were definitely better the following morning, with Dano more familiar with our cameras (he lives on the property and changed batteries and memory cards as needed during the night).

Arizona brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) swoops in the night into the pond at Elephant Head in the southern Arizona desert near Amado, Arizona for a drink of water.

Pallid bat ((Antrozous pallidus) is distinguished by its large ears.

The second afternoon, Dano encouraged his resident roadrunner, Roadie, to demonstrate his flying skills.  Worms were employed as incentives, leading Roadie to hop from one post to another in pursuit of worms.

Roadie flies, at least short distances, encouraged by mealworms at the Pond at Elephant Head.

Dano summoned him by bellowing “Roadie, Roadie, Roadie!”  He has two resident roadrunners who respond to this call, father and son.  One or the other would come running and stay, at least until the worms ran out.

Resident “Roadie”, a greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), one of several which range freely at The Pond at Elephant Head, near Amado, Arizona.


Dano also has resident reptiles which he produced, including a Gila monster, a horned lizard (aka horny toad) and a rattlesnake.

Strange bedfellows at The Pond at Elephant Head: a horned toad hitches a ride on a desert tortoise. Dano arranged this but assured us this juxtaposition could be seen in nature.

Horned lizard (Phrynosoma) has impressive armour and can, if threatened, eject blood up to 5 feet away from its eye!

This desert tortoise can move! I only managed a few shots before it determinedly moved out of the frame.

Gila monster is a venomous, Halloween colored lizard.(Heloderma suspectum).  Dano can attest that the bite is painful. The venom contains a peptide which stimulates insulin production.  Its identification led to the synthesis of a synthetic version used in a medication for diabetes.

Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) has a forked tongue.

Western diamondback rattlesnake cools off in the Pond at Elephant Head.

This short southern Arizona stay was so enjoyable and photographically productive that towards the end of our tenure there, we immediately began to make plans to return in the fall.  Dano’s images of bats feeding on agave blossoms at the Pond, as well as his knowledge of where we might see ring-tailed cats (a misnomer, a type of raccoon) near Payson, had us looking for dates on the calendar that would work for all of us.


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