Nature's Poetry 

Petey Mesquitey continues to wax philosophical about Southern Arizona wilds

Out past the last Circle K, beyond the final stoplight, strip mall and insipid subdivision--out where those banal trappings of the strapping Southwest finally fade--that's where you'll find Petey Mesquitey.

In Mesquitey Land, dragonflies are passionately contemplated; monsoons spark rollicking riffs; and even wily buffalo gourds get their due. It's a rangy and clever terrain where fancy Latin names rub shoulders with lovely native plants, and amorous frogs gurgle underwater love songs.

Now, if this didn't clear things up for you, just check out the CD. We're talking The Best of Growing Native Volume III. Or, for that matter, volumes one and two. The trio is compiled from 15-plus years of Growing Native, Mesquitey's long-running and wildly popular five-minute radio spots peppered throughout the week on Tucson's KXCI FM 91.3.

Each is a philosophical gem, wherein Mesquitey (aka Peter Gierlach) waxes about Southern Arizona's natural life, from the minute and mundane to the magnificent.

The nights are cool, and the days are still hot enough to make sitting in a pool awfully good, and you can sure drift off and daydream as you watch dragon flies dart about and fly-catchers catch insects and our hound-dog Wendall gargle its healthful waters ...

--from Growing Native

Old Tucson hands may remember Gierlach as a squeezebox ace with the Dusty Chaps, an adored country-swing band back in the 1980s. These days, he's hunkered down to a quieter life in the heart of Mesquitey Country, near the Chiricahua Mountains. His companions include a smattering of goats, dogs, chickens and the eternally patient Ms. Mesquitey.

He's also become a leading native-plant horticulturalist, with consulting gigs all over the Southwest. And the rest of the time, Petey strolls around southeastern Arizona, glimpsing nature's poetry where the rest of us see squat. Such as the kangaroo mound with its top clawed away, thereby offering choice home-design ideas:

Some critter dug the top, exposing all the neat tunnels and rooms, all seeming to have their own exit on the side of the mound. So it was sort of cool to look into the mound from up above it, and I thought that was marvelous--and those entrances and exits. And remember that not only does a single kangaroo rat live in the mound, but other critters like snakes and lizards and skinks and toads and salamanders live in it as well.

Taking advantage of the cool rooms and cool in temperature, not groovy cool, and coming and going through these various entrances and, of course, it made me want to put a door in every room of my 1991 Marvellette. So I daydreamed about that, and I trotted toward home ... .

Peter Gierlach grew up in Lexington, Ky., and got himself booted out of high school. That meant a trek to boarding school, "where I started reading Jack Kerouac," he says, "and couldn't wait to haul ass out of there."

So that's what he did, alighting at the UA at age 19. But the squeezebox accordion and the Dusty Chaps proved powerful sirens. "And I dropped out of college," he says. "My last known major was wildlife biology."

And so biology took a 10-year breather, as the Chaps became one of Tucson's hardest-working bands. But when that decade wound down, the late nights had already worn thin. All of a sudden, biology didn't look so bad. Gierlach ventured back into horticulture, working at local nurseries, including Desert Survivors, where he was manager for several years.

He contracted with the federal government to plant roadsides, and with Pima County and Desert Survivors to grow a native nursery at the Sweetwater Wetlands. For a time, he was director of native-plant outreach at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Now he's the Cochise County grower for Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

This is a windy way of explaining why Growing Native is a hit: Petey Mesquitey knows his stuff. And he's funny. True, at first, he did try serious. "I thought I'd have cool people on, and talk about plants and blah, blah, blah," he recalls. "Then I listened to my first show, and it just sucked."

Time to retool and cut loose. That's when the ideas started gushing. The tiniest moment could warrant a delightful discourse. Take Mesquitey's visit to Ramsey Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista:

There's this coolest frog in Ramsey Canyon, the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog. It's only down in the Huachucas. Its scientific name is rana, which is Latin for frog, and the species name--and I'm not making this up!--is sub aqua vocalis. Underwater vocalizations. Yes! Apparently, this frog calls underwater, and there are recordings of the Ramsey Canyon leopard frog calling underwater. Yes! ... My old Peterson's Guide says leopard frogs in general have a low motorboat sound and some grunting and chuckles, moaning ... .

As for the 'Petey Mesquitey' thing," he says, "I was just sitting around with friends, and we came up with it. It's such a dumb-ass name, we all just fell down cackling."

These days, Petey isn't always keen on venturing far from his 50-acre Cochise County ranchette. But every so often, he starts up the truck and heads for Tucson to record new spots at KXCI's downtown headquarters. In those highway miles, he comes up with monologues and songs and some fine ditties. And, sure, sometimes he feels like leaving Mesquitey-dom behind. He's been doing this gig free for all these years. Problem is, it keeps getting better.

Now join Petey Mesquitey, the desert tenor, as he joins the Ramsey Canyon leopard frogs as they moan, grunt and chuckle through some of through some of your favorite songs.

Petey then sings classics--from "Danny Boy" and "Kumbaya" to "Amazing Grace"--in pure frog-tone.

Trust us on this.

More by Tim Vanderpool


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