Quartzsite: Frozen Eggs and Giant Freezers

It has now been a year since moving to the snowbird nesting home of Quartzsite, Arizona. Also known as the final resting place of Hi Jolly, the man who immigrated to help Uncle Sam’s Camel Corps work on a daily basis, this desert “oasis” for the elderly is interesting to say the least.

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It has now been a year since moving to the snowbird nesting home of Quartzsite, Arizona. Also known as the final resting place of Hi Jolly, the man who immigrated to help Uncle Sam’s Camel Corps work on a daily basis, this desert “oasis” for the elderly is interesting to say the least.  In many ways the phrase second childhood could apply to most of the temporary denizens of this RV wonderland.

In retrospect, the area is much colder in January 2016 than last year’s winter chill. A head start in the latter days of December 2015 with temperatures that dipped below freezing on a regular basis in the night,  cold has taken on new meaning. Not only that but it has also changed the purpose of certain items.

Most notable, the humble refrigerator was transformed into  giant freezer. Every single liquid item, including eggs, became solid examples of their natural state.  Green tea, bottled water, a “bag” of vegetable soup, milk, an energy drink and 10 eggs all were transformed into rock hard immoveable objects.

The eggs did have web-like cracks over the ice cold shells.  After hoping on the Internet to double-check, it was found that one could cook once frozen eggs without fear of contracting botulism or salmonella.  At least according to numerous websites, unless the raw eggs were stored in an device crawling with harmful bacteria, the icy yolks and whites could be thawed and cooked.

After moving the carton of ice-eggs to another fridge, one that was not altered by the constant lower temperature of under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, they became somewhat less frozen, and more “slushy-like” and able to be cooked.  These frozen eggs fried up nicely, in a bit of oil, and tasted “normal” on bits of toast.

It has been discovered that the main fridge is still operating as a giant freezer…All liquid denizens are still icy and hard as a rock, with the exception of a partially filled plastic jug of apple juice. Just why the juice has not become one with the cold and, at the very least, turned into a sort of icy sludge, is not known.

If one Googles the answer, it appears that apple juice contains more sugar and this keeps the freezing rate pretty well contained. As fascinating as all this is, the one thing that the intense, and unusual, cold has not changed, is the amount of Snowbirds flocking into Quartzsite in the New Year.

2016 has seen a massive influx of these geriatric teenagers and  octogenarian young oldsters.  The vendors have doubled and tripled in sized and scope in the last few weeks and the legion of RVs, ATVs and motorbikes have quadrupled. Outside the tents, where one can buy anything from cool sunglasses to various kitchen utensils, a plethora of vehicles now rest, temporarily, while their aged drivers waddle, limp and trot throughout the vendors wares on offer.

There is also an increase in the desert rat brigade, the hippies and love children, not, apparently the same thing, and beggars line the entrances, when the sun shines, of fast-food eateries along the main drag as well as outside the General and Dollar Store.

As a point of interest, these grubby and lost individuals have been forced to move on from a  facility that contains an ATM. This does not stop buskers (musicians) from playing their instruments for change until being moved on by the shop or restaurant owners.

There are those who seem to beg on a professional basis, one woman sports a new car and a sign which proclaims her need. This professional pan-handler wants money for petrol (gasoline) so she can visit her dying daughter, who suffers from a different ailment each week. She is moved on regularly, even the major personally called the 5-Oh to push her along. .

Of course with the new year just being days old and it still being the weekend, this snowbird paradise is chock-a-block (full to the brim) with both the returning population and those who are passing through. California license plates fill the car parks (parking lots) and each fast food eatery is filled to heaving with the hungry, loud, obnoxious and ill mannered.

Children who will, no doubt, all grow up to be as annoying as the 20 something’s who all appear to suffer from ADD, or ADHD and are incapable of sitting quietly, or still.  They are in good company, as most of the elderly enter the dining areas with hearing aides either turned off or down and seem incapable of carrying on a conversation in decent decibel levels.

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While writing about the indigenous population of Quartzsite, Arizona could become a full-time occupation, the setting sun and dipping temperature mandate an early finish to the working day. Riding a bicycle along roads populated by drivers who have little business being behind the wheel of a peddle tricycle, let alone a huge motorized death machine, is hazardous at best and nerve-wracking to the extreme. All the more so after dark.

In order to arrive alive at home,  do not be deceived this writer has been forced off the road and clipped by an elderly driver before and has almost been hit several times by the same type of vehicle operator, it is prudent to depart while there is enough light for both the driver and the bicyclist to see by.

As the cold weather continues, and the stream of snowbirds, and new vendors, keep pouring in, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

 

Life in the Real Desert: A Moment in Time

Picture of green meteorite
Taking time to sort my site out for inclusion into more places on the Internet, such as Alltop.com which is a pretty good place to find websites that specialize in certain things, and trying to fix a backend problem, which is actually a whole lot less personal than it sounds, my blog portion of my site has suffered. Add to that a big dollop of “I feel sorry for myself” along with fighting the ever increasing heat and I’ve been focussing on movies, television and the odd celebrity news instead of my more personal views of the world.

All of this kerfuffle is taking place among the amazing “real” life in the Arizona desert and two nights ago a “moment in time” caught my attention and fired up my imagination; bringing out my inner child for a frozen space of time. Reminding me that all of life is made up of moments in time, some more beautiful than others.

For a week, after the sun has gone down, the mercury has not. Temperatures stay at over 100 degrees and the wind that blows from the south is hot, arid and around 11 to 12 miles per hour, if not into the 20s. Riding back the night before last, my eyes were streaming tears non-stop as it felt like I had a hair dryer blowing directly into my exposed sockets all the way home.

Getting into the house after the ride, my eyes were sore, gritty and hot. I pondered getting some goggles to replace my glasses, that were lost in Las Vegas and fell asleep seconds after setting down.

The next night, the temperature dropped to below 100, around 97 and the weather site stated that it felt like 93. (Every time I think of the temperature I hear Pvt. Hudson from Aliens in my head stating with forced, and fake, jocularity “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat!”) Wind speed was only around 9 miles per hour and did not feel like it was being sent from the gates of Hell. With my shirt off it was a pretty pleasant ride back home on my trusty Schwinn.

At the midpoint, around three miles from home, I stopped for my congratulatory drink of water. Silence surrounded me broken only by my permanent tinnitus and I looked around at a desert lit by the small sliver of moon and one very bright star.

Off to my left stands the deserted house that I’ve yet to visit and take pictures of and as I peered through the night in that direction, I saw it.

A meteorite that could only have been a quarter of a mile, or less, away was streaking down diagonally to the desert floor and only about 50 feet from the ground. It was large enough that as it burned bright green and red it lit up that portion of the hardpan. At the exact moment I spied this visitor from space even my tinnitus fell silent. The entire incident took place in muffled quiet and time spun out making this tiny incident feel much longer than the few seconds it really encompassed.

Standing there in awe I pondered that if I had not been there in that exact spot, where I stop every night on the way home, this marvel would have been missed. I also had an epiphany of sorts. Life, I decided is a series of moments in time, each insignificant on their own but when added up equal an importance of earth shattering magnitude.

I got back on my bike and peddled into the faint warm wind and, looking nervously at the sky over my head, also realized that luckily, I was over on this section of the desert when the thing from space plummeted to the ground. At the speed that thing travelled, had I been “over there” I’d never have known what had hit me…

Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

Cloudy sky in Quartzsite, AZThe real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.

I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.

Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)

Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.

I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.

It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.

Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.

Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: The Sands are Alive (With the Sounds of Barking)

Schwinn 700C - my bike
After an eventful weekend of flat tyres on the bike, repeated attempts to fix this problem went badly and left me with a disposition best left alone, and weird dreams, it was time to take stock of the critters who have been scampering, scuttling, and gamboling across the desert floor. The sands are alive this time of year, it seems, with all sorts of little animals, and a lot of huge insects. The air is also alive with the sounds of barking, I’ll talk about this a bit as well and doves are not the peaceful creatures they seem to be. This will be sort of a pictorial, and I will apologize up front for the poor quality of my snaps.

I blame it on my poor iPhone, which to be fair has had some rough handling this year, two spills in the desert, one in a wash and the other on what seemed to be perfectly flat ground, a “hit and run” in Love’s car park and another impromptu flip when hitting the wrong brake at Burger King.

Quick quiz: What is the big difference between having a tumble in Love’s Truck Stop car park and Burger King’s car park? Answer: Burger King has employees who care! Two employees who did not know me that well, yet, came over and after checking I was okay, and that the bike was not damaged, went back to their personal conversation. Did I mention that they were on their break? Class act Burger King.

Not so my prospecting neighbor. He has come back in from searching for gold to bring eight dogs, one of which is a loud constantly barking Chihuahua that sets the rest of his pets off. The noisy little bugger should thank its annoying little stars that I do not own a gun, otherwise at five in the morning, he, or she would be eliminated with extreme prejudice. Sorry animal nuts lovers, no irritating creature is worthy of saving when it will not shut the f*** up.

I have only seen the dog once. It stood on the other side of our property fence and glared daggers at me while barking non-stop. The little sh*** never even stopped for air. My hands itched for an instrument of destruction but my more civilized instincts took over. Besides, it was not five in the morning.

One friend who lives three houses down mentioned the irritating mutt and told of how it came and barked at their entire garden party for a couple of hours. Just as it was mentioned that perhaps a marauding coyote might eat the little pest, it stopped yapping and moved on. I am currently on the look out for a coyote call on the internet…

Apart from obnoxious domestic dogs, I’ve discovered another type of dog; prairie dogs. What I had mistaken for a kangaroo rat was in fact a hole dweller. I did not realize my mistake until one stopped and reared up on its rear haunches, stretched its neck up and took a long careful look around before proceeding. I took the cute creature’s picture after it decided to hide out in a hollow spot on the hard pan floor and peek out:

Prairie dog in AZ
Camera shy…

When a camera is not immediately to hand, these small cute creatures scamper quickly across the eye line. They do pause to have a quick look about and then zoom on their merry way. These same animals were the bane of a cowboy’s existence back in the old days as many a horse stepped into a prairie dog hole with the end result being a broken leg and “old Paint” being put out of his misery with a well placed shot.

Other wild creatures include lizards, like this health conscious lizard filmed on the fence (this was before the little happy mutt moved in next door, hence the total silence except my commentary):

Another chap hangs around the side of the house and under the carport:

Lizard

A neighborhood visitor, a prairie gopher snake – now we know what those prairie dogs are scouting for – came by for a leisurely visit and despite not being bothered by all the attention at the time, has not yet been back:

Snake crossing the road, @4ft

Now about those doves…Certainly the air has been full of barking from the eight dogs, all ranging in size like the owner is paying a personal homage to the dogs in Second Hand Lions – sadly there is not pig or chicken hanging around for comic effect. The other noise, which permeates the early morning hours along with the woodpecker’s knocking on wood, tin, brick and anything else they can bash with their beaks, are the doves.

Sidenote: These woodpeckers are young ones, I think, and thus far they are uncanny at imitating the knocking noise associated with someone pounding on your front door. There is also a bird, a mockingbird perhaps, which does an insanely good job aping a cock crowing. Without the necessary power of a cockerel this feathered micmic sounds like it has laryngitis as it whispers, “cock-a-doodle-doo” a few times then stops. I am trying to get this on tape as it is priceless.

Doves, despite their calmly cooing on an afternoon, are the loudest creatures in the world come mating time. Squawking, flapping, fighting, mating, and otherwise making one hell of a row by smashing on the tin roof of my domestic dwelling, they are the loudest neighbors imaginable.

They also stomp. These birds are well known for making the least practicable nests possible in England and it seems their American cousins suffer the same inept home building skills. Building their temporary abode out of brittle sticks, they place them on air conditioning units and window ledges.

It seems that the brittle sticks are not to their liking so the feathered homemakers then stomp on the twigs presumably in an effort to soften them up. For such a “peaceful” bird, when stamping on the nests they could be wearing seven league boots, or at least heavy hobnailed boots. Plus, it has to be said, that for such pretty creatures, their offspring are, “Uuuugleeee!” See for yourself:

Baby Doves
To be honest they were a lot uglier a few weeks earlier…
Baby Doves
See? UUUGLEEEE! (Just sayin’.)

There are other creatures awaiting discovery via my iPhone 5. A red-tailed lizard, which was apparently quite a delicacy amongst the local Native American denizens, crawls into a crevice and inflates itself so it cannot be plucked out. One was glimpsed on a ride into town, although its tail was more orange than red and it was huge.

Of course there are other inhabitants in the real desert. Coyotes, one of which is so “domesticated” that according to another friendly neighbor, it comes and lies on top of the low fence for a nap, completely ignoring all the two-legged denizens who are walking around its sleeping form. Baby bunnies are all over the place, one in my garden has gotten so use to me that it no longer runs when I come out.

Deer, mountain lions, bobcats or wildcats all make this area home. I found a dead deer the other week and all that is left of that poor thing is one leg, a bit of vertebra and the odd rib bone. Tracks of a large mountain lion have been spied on my several jaunts across the desert floor and luckily I have yet to bump into this large predator.

One more desert resident can be seen constantly (usually searching or as in the case of the expired deer landing nearby) and this is the buzzard or vulture. Surely the ugliest creatures ever created; these can be seen soaring above the sands looking for carrion. They also sit in trees near a dead, or dying animal, waiting…

Buzzards...or vultures...

Single vulture
This chappy looks like a bit of CG but he is real…

The only creature I’ve not included in my little pictorial was that of the very aggressive rattlesnake I encountered on the way back from town. The snapshot taken of this angry chappy did not turn out too well as I opted to stay clear the other side of the road from him. This after coming within two scant inches of his slowly moving form. Slow, that is, till I turned round and took his picture, in my Twitter feed I named the creature Kanye West; who also hates having his picture taken by strangers…

20 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Pilgrim’s Progress

Author photo March 2013
Finishing my first cup of tea and ruminating over the past few days events has left me with an epiphany of sorts. Let me explain: Back in 2012 while I was in Basildon Hospital, in the UK, and recovering from the dual surgery that saved my life, I got a visit from a lovely lady who worked in the medical facility. She warned me that one day, it would all sink in about how close to death I had been. “It is usual for survivors to experience crushing depression,” she said.

Well, it is now over two and a half years since that fateful day; where my universe shrank down to a tiny space of unbelievable pain, and that depression has still not made an appearance. Certainly I do feel down sometimes, these happen at the oddest times as well. Yesterday, for example, had this new desert dweller becoming the recipient of not one, but several acts of kindness. Yet when arriving back home, I was caught up in a blue funk that lasted till sleep.

Most of that was from being overly tired. My only mechanical mode of transport was out of commision for a few days, requiring a back inner tube, so it was two days of attempting to patch said tube and one day of angrily marching a total of 3.5 miles only to realize that by the time I got to the store it would be closed. It was then a much slower trip home as the anger was spent and I was tired, after all the wasted adrenaline drained away.

That walk, although not too hot according to the thermometer, beat the hell out of me and for the next two days I hurt everywhere. Lesson learned: Do not storm off on a moderately hot day in a foul mood.

This pilgrim’s progress has been slow and not just to adjusting to life in the desert here in the southwestern state of Arizona. The reason for this slow acclimation to things since that August day where I should have died not once, but twice, came to me this morning after an odd dream in the wee hours just as the sun was peeping over the mountains in the east.

Sleeping fitfully, I moved between dozing and wakefulness, I thought, all night. As the sky began to light up, I was laying on my left side, half-awake and grumpily cursing the doves and their annoying nest noises; they stomp on the brittle twigs making a sound like people walking on gravel which is very disconcerting when half-asleep.

As the birds settled down and began to make their cooing noises, I felt the cover beside me move. Four little feet made their way to my back and a small warm body then lay carefully next to my upper back. I could “feel” a bushy tail move up near my neck and could “smell” a fusty fur smell. I instantly relaxed, although in the back of my head was the awareness that there are no animals in the place, and felt totally at peace as sleep reclaimed me.

That this was a dream became apparent later when I had an amusing thought that I could well have a wild skunk lying right on top of me and I turned to see what was snuggled against me. I found a rag doll in the shape of pointy nose elf-like creature with a sewn on striped cone hat. We conversed, as one does, with no words but in our heads.

I did actually wake up at that point and found that I was alone and pondered the doll thing that my mind had dredged up. It made no sense, after all why would a two-legged doll walk on all fours to get across my cover. It was a surreal moment and the realization that it was so brought on my epiphany.

Speaking to someone a few days ago, I mentioned the forecast of massive depression from the medical lady in the hospital and said that I was still waiting for that shoe to drop. My “light-bulb” moment this morning was that this will not occur. What has happened instead is a constant state of surrealness, if you will.

I left Basildon Hospital (the cardiac section) four days after one of the most invasive surgeries one can endure, the first surgery should have been so routine that it was boring, and everything, it seems stems from that time. My second surgery took a long time, during which I was “technically dead.”

A machine kept my blood pumping and my lungs breathing while the doc’s stopped my heart to perform the aortic dissection and bypass, this after they whipped a vein out of my right leg, and the estimated time I was “dead” was around eight or more hours. Now, if you had asked me after I recovered from this procedure how long I was “out” or how long I was “dead” no answer would have been available. A lot of remembering had to happen before I could recall and this only happened after I asked my daughter, who had to live through all this.

The point being that from the moment I was moved from ICU to the recovery ward, everything has seemed surreal. You could even argue that my waking up during the first surgery, when they discovered that my aortic arch had been perforated and most of my aorta was split open, and managing to talk around the tube in my throat started the whole thing. This also is the reason, I believe, for the “gravel” in my voice since the surgery.

Sidenote: To the family who were staying in Basildon Hospital with their own medical emergency, “Thank you for the kindness you showed my child who had to deal with all this on her own.”

The epiphany this morning has been that I have never really gotten over the surreal stage of this whole heart attack malarkey. My brain seems to be operating in a sort of fugue state of semi-awareness with small moments of clarity. At times I can almost react to things normally but there is still that feeling of unreality flitting around the edges.

I find myself unable to function properly in social settings. The actor in me puts on a good show, but basic things like exchanging phone numbers while interacting with another person who has just asked for mine go by the wayside. Just trying to remember to thank someone for a good deed or act of kindness is also fraught with inactivity or at least poor responses.

Anyone who has known me well can tell you that I have a radar that can tell when a person is on the level or not to be trusted almost seconds after meeting them. That ability seems to have been left on the operating table along with some of my common sense. How else can I explain being taken in by a con artist so completely that I moved in with the bugger, and his wife, and only woke up after it seemed I was about to be made a patsy? (And upon learning that he was a “wanted” felon.)

There are a long list of things that all point to my mind still existing in this surreal state. A place where my subconscious is attempting to get round surviving back in 2012 and despite my resolute marching forward to this new beat of the drum, I am struggling. Not desperately, but just enough that my thinking is affected.

Everything happens for a reason. I firmly believe this, just as I believe that my “pilgrim’s progress” here in the desert is needed at the point in time. A step back from busy society and a chance for me to get my soldiers back in step. This quiet time is needed to help me get back on an even keel, or at least recognize that moving back to the foreign country I left so long ago is either my new “normality” or just another turn of the screw in my current directionless journey.

Time will tell and at least now I can realize where my “head is at.” Even if it took a two-legged dream doll to point me in the right direction.

19 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith