Citrus Sun

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In the cultivated and well-watered sections of my desert resort, citrus trees were in fully-ripened glory, their branches heavy with grapefruit and oranges and lemons. There were even a couple of limequat shrubs, which I’d never tried (or even heard of) before, but I overheard a server at the hotel restaurant tell a couple that they could pick any of the fruit on premises (outside of the official kitchen garden) to try, so I did just that. I managed to smuggle a couple home and try them with a bit of tequila on ice, and the end result was lovely.

Folks in Florida may find it commonplace, but I still get a thrill when I see something like a grapefruit dangling from a tree and within arm’s reach (well, an arm and a jump). On this day, the sun came out to play too, echoing the sunny orbs in the branches and providing a gorgeous blue backdrop for the citrus to shine.

Hummingbirds darted among the bright fruit, and I felt a pang of sadness for how dark and dreary the winter days of upstate New York could be. Still, I knew that would make the spring and summer that much sweeter. I could not survive in a sunny summer that droned on for an entire year.

Visiting, however, is another story. I paused to stand in the sun, to see it reflected in the citrus dangling above me. The memory would need to sustain me through whatever cold and snow remained at home.

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Hummingbirds Everywhere

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One of the most charming aspects of my visit to the Arizona desert was the proliferation of hummingbirds. I didn’t realize that this area was home to the largest population of hummingbirds in our country. Based on the numbers floating about the resort grounds, it seemed to hold true. Though the designated “hummingbird garden” was nowhere near the height of its blooming season, these little birds flitted and flew from branch to branch, hovering delicately out of reach but always deigning to pause for a photo.

A captivating creature by all accounts, the hummingbird comes in a vast array of varieties, and each one I saw looked different from all the others that came before. I never realized how colorful they were, so quickly did they move in the brief and fleeting glimpses I’ve had prior to this. Vibrant greens, accents of scarlet, throats of iridescent gold – even the beaks were a panoply of color, as if each bird had taken time to apply a permanent shade of lipstick and now was perfectly painted for the day.

These were also far less skittish than their New England counterparts. For a couple of years I’ve been growing plants that hummingbirds reportedly favor, and we have only started to receive fleeting visits from a green individual, but he or she never stays very long, and if Andy or I make any movements the visit comes to a quick end.

There was more fauna to come, including birds of prey that were ten times the size and speed of the hummingbird, whose power would astound even the most jaded of watchers. Everything was on the lookout for food, even when it hung in plain sight.

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Wet Spikes, Damp Beards

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We resume our desert journey with a last look at the rain that fell during my time there. I could never be really mad at such a thing, not when it brought so much into relief and bloom. I loved the thought of the cacti and succulents storing up their water reserves in preparation for the sun and heat. The thought of a heatwave made me giddy, so the rain could only make me smile.

Besides, it was fun to pretend that an old guy got his beard wet. See below.

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Desert Revival Recap

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While the desert works its wonders in recent posts, we pause for the usual Monday morning recap, in which we look back briefly on the week the clock moved into spring. A very happy week indeed…

It began with the start of spring, a glorious beginning indeed, even if it still resembled winter in sight and sound.

Winner winner, Italian dinner.

Smells like red rhubarb.

Not just the August place to be.

A breathless moon fit for a dance.

A naked Ashley Parker-Angel.

The Delusional Grandeur Tour, in full-effect.

That Zac Efron Freedom Speedo.

A desert journey that began decades ago came to fruition at last. I waited for the sun, but the rain is something special in the desert. It carried its own special perfume. Spikes and spines made for excellent architecture. There was beauty in the botany too. Angels and art soared through the air.

Hunks of the Day included Preston Truman Boyd, Will Taylor, Fred Johanson and Connor Franta.

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Arizona Avenging Angel

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Oh Angel of Love, avenge my complacency, restore my inspirational font, and reclaim the lost passion of our youth.

Someone must have heard my pleas and bidden my longing heed, for the desert was fixing my somewhat misshapen alignment. Every scene was new and exciting and different – worlds away from the snow and ice and dismal landscape from which I came, and it fed the inspirational fire.

Art and artisans converged in the desert. Such fertile ground for beauty and color and a natural gorgeousness owed its existence solely to light and water and wind. The earth inspires on her own when we get out of her way.

My heart wants to burst at the beauty at hand, but not in a restless or worrisome way – rather in the contented sigh of a brush with the sublime.

The heart bleeds its boldest colors in the desert. Unbound by the fetters of boundaries or restrictions, the desert renders everyone and everything absolutely equal. Its beauty is matched by its danger. It is an exquisite avenger.

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Of Botany and Beauty

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The day begins with rain, some of it falling quite heavily. It is cool, but at 64 degrees it’s still heavenly compared to what is going on in the Northeast. I escape the wet cold through a double door of plastic, into the butterfly room of the Tucson Botanical Gardens. A wonderful blue specimen flutters near the entrance, welcoming me into its whimsical world. Colorful wings beat the air, while the tubular blooms that butterflies favor open wide their long throats in the midst of winter.

Give me a botanical garden and I’m a happy camper. Throw in a butterfly greenhouse and I’m ecstatic. There is a Frida Kahlo exhibit here too, filled with riotous color, her passion bleeding through everything she touched – gardens, paintings, homes, lovers. I look at a collection of her portraits – she favored exquisite and elaborate flower displays in her hair. She had a lifelong love affair with color. In such style, I recognized a plea for vivid purpose, a chance to squeeze so much feeling and emotion into a painting that it exploded with color and surreal grandiosity. So many think a garden is the stuff of quiet contemplation and peace, missing the turbulent drama that goes on just to get a flower to bloom, and then the devastating aftermath that follows. In beauty there is bloodshed.

“I love you more than my own skin and even though you don’t love me the same way, you love me anyways, don’t you? And if you don’t, I’ll always have the hope that you do, and i’m satisfied with that. Love me a little. I adore you.” ― Frida Kahlo

The butterflies float gracefully in the warm air inside their greenhouse. They seem to enjoy the colorful flowers too, blissfully unaware and unconcerned with how they came to be there.

Outside, the rain continues to fall. It catches on the flower petals, then drips to the ground. The flower heads look down until they release their heaviness, then bob back up, trying to face the missing sun.

 “I paint flowers so they will not die.” ― Frida Kahlo

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Arizona Desert Architecture

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When the main flora of a region is comprised mostly of cacti and succulents, and such life is devoid of abundant water for much of the year, the focus goes from leafy and dense foliage to the structure and architecture of a plant. Desert life has adapted to allow for storage of precious water in the bulbous and gnarled forms of cacti. The grand saguaro have developed ribs that expand and contract based on how much moisture they have at any given time. The Palo Verde tree, with its green bark, photosynthesizes without need of leaves.

That’s not to say that water isn’t necessary. I was lucky enough to visit when the thorny Ocotillo, usually bereft of greenery, had sprouted leaves – a product of a wet spell, and one of the many benefits that kept my chagrin at the rain to a minimum. This ubiquitous shrub most often looks dead and spindly, but give it some water and the leaves magically appear, often followed by flowers. Desert spells, whether hot or wet, often result in such drama.

As lovely and as welcome as the little leaves are, they are not enough to detract from the main focus of desert life: its form. Prickly spines cross at intersecting angles, weaving blankets of protection and armor. Leaves like swords, and edged in serrated spikes, stand starkly against the sand, confident in their intrinsic ability to ward off those who stray too close to such weaponry.

Even the Ocotillo, which at first glance seemed too spindly and bare to be of much aesthetic interest, opened up to unveil its architectural elegance, as its branches reached toward the sky and rows of perfectly-placed leaves bloomed like little fresh green flowers. The Ocotillo also reveals a design secret: when massed in repetition, even the most mundane object can gain interest and character – witness the ceiling made by rows of branches. I saw them being used as fences as well, a thorny deterrent that makes practical use of the local landscape.

Such enchantments sprawled out everywhere I looked, and most took some time to let their guard down. Even in the most barren scene, variations can be found if one examines things closely enough, but this wondrous place wasn’t even close to being barren.

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Desert Perfume

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When I arrived at the start of this stretch of desert, there had been a morning rain. It soaked the surroundings, then instantly evaporated, leaving only a memory of the water, and the pungent scent of something that I couldn’t initially place. I didn’t expect the desert to have a scent. Dryness is so often devoid of fragrance – if there’s no moisture in the air for scent molecules to cling to, it’s difficult to carry a perfume on the wind. After the rain, however, there was a distinct odor in the air. It was feral and untamed, raw and slightly resinous. Part of me searched for a body – an animal or fading flower – that might be the source of what was by turns strong and overpowering or subtle and faint. There was something musky and spicy about it, something cologne-like too. A certain chemical aspect was part of it, something slightly charred or burnt. It was intriguing, and it would come to signify my desert retreat as much as the saguaro.

I spent the morning seeking out the source, bending low to sniff the tiniest flower in the hopes of discovering the origin of the scent. It wasn’t in the spikes of any cactus, it wasn’t in the budding leaves of green bark of the Palo Verde trees, or the thorn-addled branches of the Ocotillo. Both were greening up in the aftermath of a wet stretch, but upon closer inspection and sniffing, it was neither. It didn’t seem to emanate from the ground, or some magical alchemy that elicits a pungency from damp sand. It was vegetal, it was alive. It would come from the most unassuming source, as such things often did. (The Linden tree is a wonderful example of how the most exquisite perfume can be hidden in the most common-appearing tree.)

I did not discover it that day. It was all around me, yet somehow I was still missing it.

Instead, I happened upon a pair of jackrabbits. These are a far cry from the bunnies of upstate New York. They are immense creatures, with ears that point straight up at all times. If I thought I’d gotten completely over the Easter Bunny trauma, these might send me back to therapy. I was transfixed by them, and they stood still long enough for a quick photo.

The sun deigned to peek out at that moment, and the change was immediate and palpable. Not only in the simple brightness, but in its intensity and immediate warming effect. The day was only in the upper 60’s, and I couldn’t imagine how harsh it would be at summer’s height. I thought of the jackrabbits and wondered how they kept cool.

The vast variety of life spread out in all directions. Accents of saguaro in the aptly named Saguaro National Park enlivened the landscape, with all sorts of prickly pear – some mottled with multi-hued veins of green, some purple, some almost gray – and chola.  It is here, a little way along a dirt path that would lead me to a strange land, where I am first struck by the magic of the desert. Pausing in my stride, I look around and listen. No secrets carry on the wind, at least none that care to be revealed. Waves of that pungent perfume roll around me, but I still cannot determine its origin. The day will close without giving up the source of such an aroma.

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Threat of Desert Storms

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“You should not see the desert simply as some faraway place of little rain. There are many forms of thirst.” ~ William Langwiesche

On my first night, the wind whipped wildly outside the room. I listened to it moaning, how it rattled what scant vegetation remained on the trees. At one point, sheets of rain pounded on the roof, soothing and unsettling all at once. I prayed for sun – I needed that. It was one of the main points of traveling all this way.

Here comes the sun… here comes the sun…

When I rose, the sky was a dramatic tableaux of everything at once. On one side of the mountains, a line of dark clouds threatened to approach, on another a sliver of sunlight peered through the gray. I’ve always appreciated the flair for the dramatic that Mother Nature sometimes chooses to exhibit, and this morning she unleashed all her varying moods. (Coming from the Northeast, where the span of 24 hours can result in a swing of 50 degrees and 2 feet of snow, I’m accustomed to such shifts, but it’s a thrill to see one part of the sky bright blue and the other a foreboding dark gray at once.) The desert was filled with such extremes.

I was aware of the dangers of the desert as much as I was aware of its beauty. This was no easy landscape. Survival depended on toughness; often it depended on attacking before one was attacked. Warnings were rampant – warnings of snakes, of poisonous creatures, of flooding and of heat – everything went to an extreme here. I was properly cautious, but mostly intrigued.

The barbed paddles of a prickly pear stand gave ample visual warning to would-be predators. Careless wanderers were more often their victims. Seeing these plants in their natural habitat was a lifelong dream realized. In one of the most extreme environments, these are the ones that survived. These are the ones that last. Above all else, these are the ones that can cope. There is a lesson I need to learn here. A sandy path leads ahead…

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Desert Delusions, At First Glance

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My favorite part of traveling is witnessing the various plants and trees that grow in zones outside of the Northeast. The palm trees of California, the Spanish moss of Georgia, the tropical orchids of the Philippines, the citrus of Florida – and one of the landscapes I wanted most to see in person was the desert. The menacing prickly pears and soaring saguaro occupied the stuff of nature programs and movies – I knew they existed, but you can never realize the grandeur of such a thing until you see it in person.

As I walked out of the airport, out of a wintry morning in Albany, I immediately saw a saguaro standing about 8 feet tall. The air was warmer than anything I’d experienced since last October, and this strange, foreign land immediately thrilled. Prickly pears spilled dangerously close to the sidewalk and enormous agaves stood like giant pincushions studded with swords. Gnarly totem cacti rose in mounds that looked like they might break off at any moment, but in truth had withstood more natural hardships than I could ever imagine having to endure. It was a landscape hardened by sun and wind, and I was completely enthralled.

My accommodations at the Westward Look Wyndham Spa and Resort were the perfect antidote to the end-of-winter blues. Pools were open on the premises, and a pair of hot tubs too, but that would all come later. For now, I sank into the Southwest as the sun set on my first evening, easing into a few days of what I hoped would be sunny warm delights.

Outside my bungalow, a grapefruit tree was flush with ripe fruit. Birds fluttered nearby, and I’d later discover that this part of the country was home to an abundance of hummingbirds. Life felt full, and I feel asleep to the sound of approaching winds.

“Night comes to the desert all at once, as if someone turned off the light.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

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Desert Dreaming

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The idea sprouted in the pages of a Spiegel catalog. I was but a kid, and already had the rather adult concerns of interior design on my mind, when I opened the bedding section to a Southwestern-themed scene of colorful bedspreads and desert-inspired accents. As hokey as a themed-bedroom might be, it’s sometimes the easiest way to deal with the dilemma of how to create a coherent look. I didn’t realize that then – for me, the idea of the desert called to me from a deeper place. It was as if I knew then that only in such a barren and beautiful and mystical place might I find a sense of peace. I set about to conjuring that.

The bedspread I’d found was predominantly a bright shade of turquoise. Dotted with brushes of black that framed it like an abstract painting, it held vaguely geometric shapes in shades of paprika, terra-cotta, rose, and mustard – all conspiring to pleasantly convey the earthy but vibrant palette of the Southwest. Around this, I played with various accents, including a potted cactus in the window and a wall-hanging in the bathroom of a saguaro and barrel cactus. A wooden mass-produced sculpture of another saguaro, the moon, and a howling wolf stood sentry by the door. It was the closest way I could find of approximating desert peace. Looking back, it likely didn’t work in the upstate New York bedroom of a Georgian-style home, but in my mind it was perfect, and that’s all that mattered. I couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve years old, and already I was seeking solace somewhere else.

In the ensuing years, the desert would call to me like the sea, but it was much farther away than the Atlantic, and never quite practical to visit. Still, I felt its pull, and voices whispered to me time and time again that I would find myself there. When it came time to plot out my very last tour, and its very last leg, I knew the desert had to play a part in it. I booked a trip to Tucson, where the Sonoran Desert blew kisses from across the country. There was a puzzle I’d been trying to solve for three decades, and maybe this was where I’d find the final missing piece.

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Zac Efron’s Speedo Keeps Giving

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When Zac Efron gets into his freedom Speedo, it’s quite a sight to behold. He’s filled them out here before, and has been teasing his bits for years. The red, white and blue provides a stunning cover-up for some of this country’s most precious jewels.

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Simon Dunn’s Insane Tan Line (And Naked Ass)

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Let’s not mince words and waste time, as this previous post has all the Simon Dunn links you need. Here are some more naked shots from his scorching DNA spread by the ever-amazing Christian Scott. Search words: “Simon Dunn naked” or “Simon Dunn nude” . What more could you want for a Friday morning? Tan lines, nude dude – I think we’re all set.

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Time Traveling Tour Stop

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The Delusional Grandeur Tour hits New York City this weekend with a much-heralded return to ‘Sunset Boulevard’, but as is often the case with this blog, we are time-traveling back to a dramatically different tour stop: Tucson, Arizona. This weekend begins the series of desert delusions, and it’s a story that originates way back in the dim days of my childhood. That’s getting ahead of myself, and we’ll be shifting timeframes enough without adding to the confusion. Besides, we need to get back into touring mode, which is a much a state of mind as it is an actual journey. A comprehensive look at where we’ve been:

THE DELUSIONAL GRANDEUR TOUR: LAST STAND OF A ROCK STAR

01)  Intro/Curtain – Part OnePart TwoPart Three

02)  Sunset Pool – Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

03)  On The Road Hotel – Part OnePart TwoPart Three

04)  Rock Star Addict – Part OnePart TwoPart Three

05)  Animal Demons – Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

06)  Steam Punk Birdcage – Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four

07) Red Riding Wood - Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

08) Winter Top Hat - Part OnePart Two

09) Warrior Retribution - Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart Eight

10) Cologne Glamour Fashion - Part 1Part 2Part 3

11) Samsara Healing Water - Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

12) Spring Thaw Salvation - Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

13) Flower Bomb Balm - Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

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Hunk of the Day: Connor Franta

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At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, which is getting closer and closer to the truth, I was blithely unaware of Connor Franta until he hoped up on one of my social media feeds the other day. I’m very glad I did, and though he’s clearly way too young for my taste, the new generation is primed and ready to lead us into the future. In his first turn as Hunk of the Day, Mr. Franta brings a fresh perspective to the world in his collection of hugely popular YouTube videos. Check out his channel here, and then get that scorching ‘Gay Times’ magazine cover featured above.

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