Living in the Sonoran Desert, I don’t often see mushrooms. Sometimes, fungus appears on the trunks of dying trees, but that’s not often. This year, Tucson has had a very wet monsoon season, which is wonderful after years of severe drought.
Along with the greening of the vegetation, the abundance of rain has brought forth some interesting mushrooms.
These interesting mushrooms are Podaxis pistillaris, the Desert Shaggy Mane mushroom. Possibly the most common mushroom in the Sonoran Desert, this genus of fungus, possibly this species, is found in deserts worldwide. The above ground portion, the fruiting body, appears after a soaking rain. The fibrous texture and closed cap are believed to protect the gills and spores from desiccation.
The mushroom starts out whitish, turns brown, eventually ends up as black powder.
Being unfamiliar with this type of mushroom, I was curious to see what happened to these specimens. Would they be consumed by rodents, rabbits or coyotes? Would the horses be interested in eating them? No, these mushrooms were undisturbed. This made me think this fungus is toxic. However, P. pistillaris, is eaten in many areas of the world and has high nutritional value.
In addition, this mushroom is used extensively in traditional medicines and cosmeceuticals throughout the world. Now, I’m intrigued to try this mushroom, but I’ll await instruction by an experienced mushroom hunter.
I’m always delighted when I discover new and different aspects of the Sonoran Desert.
Book Note: If you’d like to know more about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert, check out my Don’t series and the other Sonoran Desert-themed picture books.
Since my mare, Button, is approaching retirement from being a saddle horse, I decided to get a younger horse to take over her work. That is how Exuma, a Quarter Horse gelding, came into my life.
Exuma was born on April 28, 2017. Today is his fourth birthday!
Above photo courtesy of D. Iman
He has grown into his legs and is embracing his training to be a trail horse. He is fearless out in the desert, but he finds manmade objects, like furniture, mailboxes and garbage cans, a bit disconcerting. He is eager to learn, explore, taste (he is a growing boy) and just go!
It’s been an adventure for me to learn about young horses. His silliness, his testing of dominance and discovering the world outside of his stall are fascinating. He’s learning about relationships, getting along with other horses, standing patiently while I speak to other humans and that I will put my hands on him (brushing, hugging, petting).
One of the things that attracted me to him, other than his winning personality and lack of behavioral baggage, was his size. He is my mare’s size, about 14.2 hands. I wanted a nice small horse, like my mare. I don’t think I am an able enough rider for a bigger horse. As you may have guessed, with attention, time and exercise, Exuma has grown from his boyish figure into a taller, muscled gelding. Hopefully, with the bond we have forming, he will allow me to lead as we ride forth into the world.
It will be exciting as we both develop our trail riding skills. I hope we will create a team based on trust and mutual affection. Our story has just begun.
Oh, the places he–I mean we–will go!
Book Note: I do love being out in the Sonoran Desert and am often inspired with story ideas. I have written three children’s science books, written in rhyme with colorful illustrations that kids love. Looking for that perfect gift for a little one or a budding scientist? Check out my Don’t Series!
I have a music degree along with my science degrees. I’ve enjoyed singing and performing on stage throughout my life. People on stage or in concerts are often told to sing out, project to the audience. Singers are extolled for singing to the last row or to the balcony, so that everyone can hear them.
Today we have a new direction: Sing through your mask.
With the pandemic, in-person performances have been severely curtailed. But humans are a creative species who will adapt to changing circumstances. Even though the need for masks was apparent, singing in them was less than ideal. Every time I took a deep breath to sing, I’d inhale the cloth and the sound was somewhat muffled.
Today, clever designers have created “masks for singing.” These have sufficient space and stability for proper singing, enabling the singer to get good inhalation and to drop the jaw.
Of course, merely wearing a mask isn’t sufficient protection, so the chorus I sing with rehearses outside, maintaining six feet of distance. It’s nice for us to be able to hear the other singers and make harmony. Sometimes, the local wildlife even joins in, like Great Horned Owl and coyotes. Everyone deserves the opportunity to join in song.
Book Note: The musical side of my brain is also the side that loves poetry. The other side of my brain is where the scientist/educator in me lives. The two sides combine in my “Don’t Series” books, in which scientific information is woven into fun, rhyming stanzas. “Don’t Series” fans tell me the rhymes make learning fun and the knowledge sticks with them. So, if there is a person in your life who wants a fun and colorfully illustrated book about the differences between tortoises and turtles, or to learn all about the fascinating roadrunner bird, or the very interesting rattlesnake, I’ve got the book for you!
One of my activities that I love is taking my reptile family members to schools for sharing. I can talk about reptiles for hours. Of course, with the pandemic, I’m not able to do these live presentations for now.
I’ve offered to present my reptiles using Zoom meetings, but then decided I might try a live Facebook talk. I had seen others do them and it looked straightforward enough. I chose a Thursday at 3:00 pm MST as a good time to start. I picked my topic, one of my book’s birthdays, and collected some props.
I have a standup banner printed with my company names and thought it would make a good background for my talk. I pulled out the six-foot banner and assembled it (no easy feat), laying it out on the floor to tie it tight to the corners and sides. When I went to put it upright, I discovered how tall my hallway ceiling was—much lower than the rooms of my home! After whacking the ceiling all the way down the hallway, I reached my broadcast spot.
I set my chair and table in position and moved my laptop over. It was fully charged and should easily last for an hour or so. More on that later. I watched the clock move closer to 3:00 pm. I was poised to click on the ‘Live’ button. Precisely at 3:00, I clicked the button expecting to see my face come up. Instead, I went to a page with a lot of settings! Oops. I glanced quickly over my choices, made a few selections and continued to ‘being live.’ Whew!
I was having a great time discussing rattlesnakes and my book about them, Don’t Make Me Rattle, when a “low battery” notification came up on my screen–which was more like a “no battery” notification. My screen went blank just as I quickly realized I should sign off. In nine minutes, my entire laptop’s battery was drained! Lesson learned. In the future, I will make sure my laptop is plugged in. I’m sure I have a longer cord somewhere.
But, in those nine minutes, I realized something important. I miss the interactions in the classrooms. I discovered I do want to interact with people. Facebook Live allows me to receive live comments and questions—how fun! It will be the means for me to reach out about my books, the importance of science, and my reptilian family members.
Look for me on Thursdays at 3:00 pm MST on Elaine Powers on Facebook. You’ll see my smiling face with an ocean beach scene in the background.
Snazzy the Snake is celebrating! February 25th is the birthday of Don’t Make Me Rattle!, the rhyming book by author Elaine A. Powers full of rattlesnake facts and vibrant illustrations.
While Elaine writes to make science education fun, she writes particularly about rattlers so we will respect, not fear, them. They are shy creatures who prefer not to engage with humans. The rattle is only a warning: Please stay away!
Learn the rattlesnake’s role in the ecosystem, about their social behavior, what the venom is for and much, much more in this 40-page book with bold illustrations by illustrator Nicholas Thorpe.
One afternoon about 3:00 p.m., I heard sirens on a nearby main road. The sirens went on for quite a while and included several pitches. The vehicles probably included those from the police and fire departments, and perhaps an ambulance. I listened as I brushed my horse, Button.
She turned to listen to the noise, too–not that she hadn’t heard sirens before, but these did seem to be excessive.
Then, voices nearby were raised in a chorus that matched the pitches of the sirens! The large pack of coyotes in the area joined in the song. I usually hear the coyotes’ chorus at dawn or dusk, not mid-afternoon, but they added spontaneous flourishes and harmony to the sirens that midday. One ran up and down the scale in an amazing arpeggio. It was a magical choral moment.
They typically call to each other in greeting to help them stay in contact and reunite. On that afternoon, did they believe the sirens were pack members calling hello, or did they simply grab an opportunity to enjoy a musical interlude in the afternoon?
Book Note: I live in the Sonoran Desert and enjoy the wildlife immensely. I have written three books on Sonoran Desert wildlife, one for little ones about desert tortoises entitled Don’t Call Me Turtle; and two others for all ages, called Don’t Make Me Flyabout roadrunners, and Don’t Make Me Rattle, about rattlesnakes. They are written in rhyme and vividly illustrated to make learning the science throughout fun.
These books make excellent gifts and can be used for school projects, too. Check out my ‘Don’t Series’ today.
I came across this beauty, a Western Diamondback Rattler, on a recent ride in the Sonoran Desert.
Ooh, February 1st is National Serpent Day! Some of my favorite animals are serpents. I grew up with snakes as family pets, mostly garter snakes, because my brother was allergic to fur. We cuddled them like you would any other pet.
The term serpent usually refers to a large snake, often in a negative way. In my books, I try to educate people about the value of snakes, to respect them, not to fear them. Religious beliefs have, unfortunately, been used to persecute snakes, which are important to the ecosystem of the human environment. Imagine a world overrun with rodents.
One of the misunderstood serpents in the Sonoran Desert, where I currently reside, is the rattlesnake. You can learn all about them in Don’t Make Me Rattle! You’ll learn about what great mothers’ rattlers are, how they collect drinking water, what their venom is really used for and many other interesting facts.
Another misunderstood and persecuted snake is the rainbow boa of The Bahamas. I’ve written a couple of books about the gorgeous rainbow boa.
One is more of a natural history book, The Bahamian Boa: A Tabby Tale, while the other is an adventure tale, Tabby and Cleo: Unexpected Friends. It includes Bahamian folk tales and a study of human nature and is a true tale of friendship. Don’t worry, the adventure tale is full of science, as well.
May I suggest you get to know more about serpents and the important roles they play in their ecosystems, whether in person in your neighborhood or with a good book? Here are a few of the serpents I’ve known personally.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes
This rattler was born in my garage.
Met this magnificent rattler while walking my horse.
Writing a book is often the easiest part of “the book business.” Unfortunately, due to the hours lost to writing, the author then has to market her work, even, in our times, if she is traditionally published.
As scary as it is to go to bookstores and ask the manager or the book buyer to consider selling my books, I have met some very interesting people along the way. When I was searching for selling opportunities, many people suggested I contact Winn Bundy at Singing Wind Bookshop.
I was not familiar with Singing Wind Bookshop. It was located in Benson, AZ for many years. I knew where Benson was, so I got directions and headed out. Singing Wind was not in the city limits of Benson, but in the surrounding territory. Driving through the open spaces, I wondered where the directions were taking me. Finally, there appeared a sign on a dirt road: Headquarters for Books about the Southwest.
That dirt road took me to an amazing place. The Singing Wind Bookshop was located within Winn Bundy’s ranch house. And yes, it was a working ranch. As I entered the bookshop, I was greeted by a dog, and a gray-haired woman, who insisted on giving me a tour of the shop. That was a requirement – you had to have the tour.
I was used to book shops with organized sections: Fiction, Self-Help, Science, History, etc. Singing Wind was uniquely organized by Winn but it was organized. She could find any book that she stocked in the multitude of literary works contained in the rooms.
It was a magical place where you could spend hours among an unusual array of books, many I doubt I’d find anywhere else. She truly had the best collection of books about the Southwest.
After I had selected several must-have books, I approached the manager about stocking my books. I first offered her Don’t Call Me Turtle!She was non-committal, saying Winn would have to approve it.
I was thrilled when Winn told me that she thought my book was great and wanted it for her bookshop. I knew then I was a success as an author. I had Winn Bundy’s approval.
I was amazed that this cattlewoman in the middle of the wide open spaces of Southern Arizona knew so many authors around the world. We were working on school programs together when Winn’s health deteriorated. It would have been such an honor to work with her and the students. She did incredible work to promote literacy from her ranch house bookshop. If you like to read more about this remarkable woman, here is a great article in The Arizona Daily Star.
Don’t forget to purchase your copy of the Winn-Bundy-approved Don’t Series by me!
In the above illustration from Don’t Make Me Rattle! the reader can see the heat-sensing ability of rattlesnakes.
I’ve been at odds with some of the ideas of traditional publishers lately. First is the preference to avoid rhyming in picture books. Personally, I feel picture books should always rhyme. I don’t think Dr. Suess would be as popular as he is without the rhyming. He even made words up!
Another disagreement I’ve had with publishers is over illustrations. I hire illustrators to create bold, brightly colored images. Now, a study from Carnegie Mellon says children’s books should have fewer illustrations!
Despite their conclusions, I think illustrations are important in children’s books. We are very visual animals and use our color vision extensively. Bright colors appeal to young children and color is known to affect moods and behavior.
Okay, I understand that if children only have words to read, they will concentrate on them and have better reading comprehension. But where is the joy of reading, the excitement of opening a book, delighting in the illustration, then delving into the words? If you let a child choose a book to read, it will usually be the one with the bright, colorful pictures.
I realize that the illustrations in my books are what attracts buyers, but then they do enjoy the words—especially the rhyming words! I get letters from kids and adults about this. Colorful illustrations and quality text work together to improve not only the reading but the interest in reading. A minority of teenagers today read for enjoyment. If the love of books isn’t ingrained in the early readers, interest in reading will fade as they age. The content of the words is enhanced with a skillfully rendered picture.
And, to be honest, the illustrations aren’t only for the children. Adults appreciate them, too, just like the rhyming!
If you want to enjoy colorfully illustrated picture and adventure books, and believe as I do that illustrations keep the kids reading, visit My Books here at ElaineAPowers.com and Our Books at Lyric Power Publishing LLC to check out our wonderful science-based, illustrated, rhyming, FUN, educational books.
Book Note: Here’s a direct link to Don’t Make Me Rattle, which is full of scientific information about rattlesnakes, with fantastic colorful illustrations’ and ALL of the science is written in rhyme to help the student remember the facts. How about that!
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