Capitol Reef Utah, United States 1 Jun 10
Odometer 60,360 m 97,140 km

Each day at dawn I habitually dump from my riding boots whatever fell, burrowed or slithered its way in from the day and night before. Typical intruders include twigs and pebbles, a variety of seeds, mouse droppings, unruly lumps of sock fuzz--and the occasional wayward scorpion. But this June morning surprised even me: a freak, winter-like storm in the desert had packed my pair with

The stuff was everywhere. It covered my tent, stove and cookset, every recess of my bike, and nearly every square inch of
terra firma. Traipsing about left a predictable set of footprints behind. Then, looking up, I realized that I had camped directly beneath the epicenter of the storm: a gnarly cottonwood tree in the annual act of shedding its prolific, downy-like seeds in a veritable blizzard of snowflake-wannabes.

The sun sparks this flurry of activity. Successively longer days push temperatures and libidos higher, inducing
spring fever in all but the lifeless. With winter fading, conditions are finally ripe for making hay. A race to reproduce ensues. And within a few short months, often less, the torch will pass to a new generation to insure the species’ survival. Monkey business never looked so serious.


Springtime on the Colorado Plateau brims with this sort of magic. Seemingly overnight, desolate landscapes are transformed into Gardens of Eden. Flowers burst forth from the sand. Fragrances fill the air. And life’s most underrated passion play unfolds: a drama of co-evolution and interdependence between the sedentary and the mobile/the delicate and the hardy/the beauty and the beast.

Unlike most animals, flowering plants are hermaphroditic; that is, each flower possesses both male and female reproductive organs. But only a rare few can use these tools to fertilize themselves, thereby producing viable offspring. Instead, the vast majority must
cross-pollinate, wherein the pollen from one flower fertilizes the egg of another plant’s flower, and vice versa.

To review, stamens produce pollen--male gametes, equivalent to sperm. Pistils produce eggs--which once fertilized by another’s pollen, become seeds. A lucky few might accomplish this task by way of wind or water, but most require a more reliable method of delivery.

Since plants are unable to mosey down to the local watering hole...
they solicit the aid of wandering middlemen:
the pollinators.

Since plants are unable to mosey down to the local watering hole in search of mates, like their human counterparts, they solicit the aid of wandering middlemen: the pollinators. These bees, flies, moths, birds and bats are free to move about at will, and willingly play matchmaker, provided they get something in return.

Flowers seductively lure the pollinators in with their brightly colored petals, appealing texture and scent. They then entice them ever closer with promises of sweet nectar. In the process of imbibing the nectar, the cupids inadvertently douse themselves in pollen, which they unwittingly deliver to the next nectar-filled flower as the process repeats itself.

Now, step back and think about the utter brilliance of this method of procreation and what it takes to make it happen.

Sexual reproduction, whereby genes are mixed between unrelated parents, yields stronger, more genetically diverse offspring. It’s a complex strategy that for millennia has served its many adherents well. Now, add to that scheme an immobile organism (plants) that employs a range of highly mobile species from an entirely different Kingdom (animals) to perform an intimate task that ultimately makes each participant’s babies hardier.

How bizarre is this? Well, you could liken it to a human male having to solicit the assistance of a Venus flytrap (a carnivorous plant) to capture his sperm and deliver it, quite precisely, to the human female of his choosing.
A blizzard of cottonwood seeds inundates Jeremiah's campsite with several inches of fresh powder.
Capturing this drama on film isn’t easy, especially when traveling by motorcycle. For one thing, cargo space and weight are limited, so camera gear must be trimmed down to bare essentials. Convenience is out, since everything must be carefully and compactly stowed away in between every stop. And comfort? Well, how comfortable can you be crawling around in the desert sand dressed head-to-toe in crash-protective body armor?

Accepting the limitations of my chosen transport, I leave El Viento behind and hike off in search of pollen makers and pollinators.

Every flowering plant is in bloom. They strut their stuff and compete for attention like Hollywood starlets, each with their own trademark fragrance. The desert around me, usually a very quiet place, is a cacophony of buzzing, whirring, whining and flapping as all sorts of winged creatures flit about like overwhelmed kids in a candy store.

Because of the time-consuming and clumsy nature of setting up my camera on its tripod, complete with macro lens and remote trigger, I’m compelled to focus on a single bloom and hope that it’s visited by one of many potential suitors.

It’s hot. I’m dressed in black. And every bee, midge, aphid, fly, gnat and no-see-um within earshot seems wildly attracted to the wax in mine. But just as I consider a mad dash to retrieve my helmet and preserve my sanity, a large, iridescent fly alights on the cliffrose blossom poised beneath my lens.

Making no sudden movements, I slowly slip my thumb over the wireless trigger and hold my breath. Wait for it--he’s moving, now--hold it, hooooooooooold it…
fire in the hole!

Squeeze. Click. Gone.

These guys are fast. Some little ladies might argue--too fast. They can get in and out and move on to their next partner in a flash. Had I captured fly or flower? I didn't yet know.

Jumping back on El Viento, I made my way out to the main road and soon came upon a bug of another sort.
Germanis volkswagenus, an increasingly rare form of beetle, is distributed broadly across much of the paved world, and is known, on occasion, to play a significant role in human courtship.

Out the passenger door a young male was being forcibly ejected. Hopping shoeless on the burning asphalt, he begged the female driver, attractively attired in a flower-print sundress, for forgiveness. She responded by tossing his shoes out the window while screaming a high-pitched whine. The hapless male was finished, or so it seemed, his former mate buzzing off to greener pastures.

I carried on about my business, the proverbial fly on the wall, and soon found a more harmonious pairing of bitterwort and dragonfly to photograph.

Then, further up the road, I pass the beetle again. Only this time the male and female were outside together, leaning up against their love bug, hugging and smooching like nothing ever happened!

Pollination? Not exactly, but things were definitely looking up.

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