Tag Archive | Mahonia fremontii


My own! I found ‘my own’ Fremont holly this afternoon by its fragrance. All fragrance in the desert is enhanced by heat, it seems: an afternoon walk through the juniper-piñon forest smells so different than a morning walk, once the sun has softened the saps. I relish these hot walks, but rarely indulge anymore, the paths too hot on bare dog paws, and the ambient temperature hard on Stellar’s respiration recently, in his last aging days. But this afternoon late we took a short loop walk north and west of the yarden, a path we travel many mornings when it’s cooler, less fragrant, and that’s when I smelled it.

A gentle whiff, a hint, on the warm breeze… at first, a nose-tickling memory, that big holly uphill, just south of the fenceline… too close… there’s one nearby, I can smell it… I followed my nose even as Stellar followed the path ahead, and saw through the trees, off to the right, a bright yellow glow beyond deep green boughs. A treasure found! ‘My own’ Mahonia fremontii, in ‘my own’ woods! I knew there had to be one, and knew this was the season to hunt for it with my nose. This shrub has grown here for decades invisibly; I’ve walked within forty feet of it almost daily the past few years. Only by noticing its cousin elsewhere nearby, inhaling its intoxicating, almost cloying aroma, and paying attention, did I manage to find it this spring.

Not nearly as huge as the neighbor’s, nor as tangled, ‘my own’ Fremont holly stands alone and sculptural between a tall piñon and a few junipers, not far off the Breakfast Loop trail, toward the draw before the horse ranch. In the heat of late afternoon its fragrance intensified, leading me to it. I’m grateful for fragrance: of the wild holly, the white iris, the pink honeysuckle covered in bees, the last lilac… Grateful, too, though frightened, late this night, for the fraught, forewarning fragrance of smoke on the dark breeze: there’s a fire somewhere, already. We’ll know more later.

Tiny Dogs!

Stellar’s fantastic day began with a walk to the canyon, the medium-long way, his almost favorite route. He was so happy!
What does he hear that I don’t?

Stellar and I are both grateful today for an unexpected visit from the tiny dogs and their person. He hasn’t seen his main girlfriend Popis for a very long time, and she brought her new adopted sister Phoebe Snow Reno. (Her name is too big for her body.) He was beside himself with excitement, and now he’s unwakeably asleep. But even before that interlude, we were grateful for a good walk to the canyon on an early spring morning, greening trees, flowering shrubs, birdsong, and strong enough legs. Then we were grateful for a thrilling sensory discovery when we took an untried shortcut: a mammoth Fremont holly, far taller than I and at least twenty feet across. The flash of yellow caught my attention, but then the scent arrested my footsteps. I turned immediately toward it, inhaling deeply.

This massive old shrub was tangled in a juniper thicket: hard to know how they got so enmeshed but clearly it happened many years ago.
This was my first glimpse of this gorgeous creature next door, and then the heady, sweet aroma almost knocked me over. A few yards farther on I found a second one, much smaller, just beyond my lower gate. How have I never noticed that one before? These discoveries inspire me to search ‘my own’ woods for more, since they’ll be easy to find in full, fragrant bloom.

After a good morning rest for Stellar, and a few hours of work for me, the tiny dogs stopped by and gave us a break from our exertions. Stellar wore himself out, utterly distracted by and unable to focus with two of them to pay attention to. It was quite the interlude.

Tiny Dogs! – Official Trailer for the tender rom-com filmed on location today.

Remarkably, after another several-hours rest while I worked, Stellar had the stamina for a third walk. As we meandered home we discovered another natural treasure, a huge, perfectly circular, claret cup cactus that we’ve never passed before, the first in bloom I’ve seen this season. I’m grateful for all these quotidian wonders in a single day, not the least of which is that this old dog keeps on ticking. Also I’m grateful that this old body I inhabit can keep up with him: we are perfectly matched in pace these days, and equally easy to please.