Petey Mesquitey, who enthralls Tucson radio audiences in five-minute weekly bursts about native trees, shrubs, seeds and critters, will offer 45 minutes of his repertoire and repartee next week at a benefit show.
Mesquitey will display his abilities to turn the discovery of a quarter, an acorn and a green bean at the bottom of his washing machine into a series of riffs on the joys and values of all three.
He promises to "tell stories, talk about plants and animals, burst into song on occasion and read bad poetry" in the benefit for the Tucson conservation group Sky Island Alliance.
"There are so many nonprofit environmental groups out there that you have to pick one - I'm too broke to support them all," Mesquitey quipped in a a telephone interview from his home below the west slope of the Chiricahua Mountains.
"I like SIA. I know many people down there. They seem real low-key, attainable. They're right on top of every mountain that we look around and doing neat stuff. I could do it for the Sierra Club, but it wouldn't mean much to me. They are so national. I want to do something real local."
Mesquitey, 64, has been doing his weekly show on KXCI-FM for 21 years. The show is broadcast five times weekly. He is a horticulturist by trade who worked 32 years as a laborer in various nurseries and still sells native plants Saturday mornings in Bisbee.
He is perhaps best known to old-time Tucsonans as Peter Gierlach, a founder and lead singer of the country swing band Dusty Chaps. The band played regularly here for a decade before breaking up in 1979, although it continues to do periodic reunions.
Today, he likes to turn his natural interest in the outdoors into songs and poetry - "I like the kangaroo rat, so I find out what the scientific name is, do research and find out what interests me about where they live. Then, I figure I can write a silly song about a kangaroo rat and make it into a sea chantey.
"If I see a millipede, I find out more about them, then I raise a question about whether millipedes can do the hokey pokey," Mesquitey said.
He is, for all practical purposes, an environmental refugee from Tucson, having fled his northwest-side existence here in 1995 after watching development rip out ironwood trees to create subdivisions with names such as "Ironwood Meadows," which he says he couldn't stomach. He and his wife now live on 60 acres and still marvel at their ability to see wild animals regularly: javelina, mule deer, coatimundi and mountain lions on occasion. They also chased a bear out of their backyard six weeks ago.
He says he'll talk about environmental issues at the benefit show but promises not to rant about them.
"I talk about the Santa Cruz River and our water use, but I tell it in story form, not diatribe form," said Mesquitey, who was friends with the late essayist/novelist Edward Abbey and hangs out with plenty of people he says are far more outspoken on the environment than he.
"I have to deal with what makes me feel good and natural. I started on my radio show and did diatribes. That sucked. It just didn't sound right. I like to laugh a lot more than pound on people."
If you go
• What: "An Evening of Song and Poetry," with writer-poet-singer Petey Mesquitey and poet Jefferson Carter.
• When: 7 p.m. Jan. 11.
• Where: Zuzi Theater, Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave.
• Cost: $5 donation suggested; benefits the Sky Island Alliance conservation group.