Life in the Real Desert: Close to Death

Buzzard in desert,
It is safe to say that my day got off to a bad start. The old prospector next door, with his eight noisy mongrels, woke me up when two of the animals began barking at just before 6 a.m. Despite best attempts to head back to the Land of Nod (I was tired as sleep in the night was interrupted by an idiot who was trying to start an engine with no muffler, aka exhaust pipe, attached to it from 23:30 to 00:30, that is half 11 pm to half gone midnight for those who have difficulty with the 24 hour clock) I was unsuccessful, it was too light and I was too annoyed. On top of that it was blooming hot and once awake, both at night and in the morning, sleep was, in the former instance a long time coming and in the latter, not approachable at all.

To exacerbate the poor start to my day, literally yards from my desert dwelling, an elderly neighbour came within a cat’s whisker of knocking me and my bike right off the road. Completely oblivious, at least I hope he was and that this was not a deliberate attempt to help me meet my maker, the sod never slowed down, although to be fair he was not travelling that fast, nor did he acknowledge my shouts of fury and my, very, rude gestures. As my adrenaline surged, I found myself making obscene remarks about his lineage and accusing him of self masturbation, in other words of being a wanker. Had I thought of it, I would have grabbed a rock and sincerely tried to hit the windscreen on the back of his Chevy pickup truck.

I am, it is safe to say, still furious. I still have the huge bump and bruising on my right leg from the other unconscious prat who knocked me off the car park surface, aka parking lot, at Love’s Truck Stop. *A place I have avoided like the plague since that little incident in March.* After my close brush with yet another attempt on my life, I was paranoid about every vehicle that passed me.

I realize that many of my fellow desert dwellers are, as stated in the title, close to death. Failing skill sets, a lack of cohesive attention to tasks at hand, failing health and, in some cases, just a bad attitude full stop, do not make these folks the best of neighbours.

Needless to say, blogging while angry is not a good idea, but, like the Incredible Hulk, sans the green and the increased size, my rage has been running on high since this idiot almost hit me with his bloody truck. All the way to the public library, titles for my first blog post scampered across my imaginary laptop screen, the one in my head, each more annoyed and insulting than the last.

Title’s like, “Rednecks Never Die, They Just Move to Quartzsite,” was the least offensive of the lot. The thing that calmed me down was the continual attempt to rework the old mot, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed Jack is king.” This last internal dialogue, where I kept trying to substitute several annoyed phrases in place of blind, finally allowed the worst of my vitriol to dissipate.

Not completely though.

Just enough to stop the “Hulk smash” urge.

The problem is not just living amongst folks who are closer to death than I am, at least in terms of age. With an existing hole, apparently still in my aortic arch and damage to veins and arteries, as well as in one kidney, I may pop off more quickly than they will. With the exception of a dear new neighbour who has only a short time to live, and this lovely chap will be sorely missed by all who know him, the rest of the population in the neighborhood are a mixed bag who may all outlive me, especially if they persist in trying to kill me with their effing motor vehicles and that is where the problem lies.

These inept drivers may be quite nice away from their cars, trucks, vans and ATVs, although others seem to have the type of bad attitude that brings out the worst in me. If I can keep from becoming road statistic, I will remain tickled to death to have survived my further close brushes with the grim reaper.

Hopefully writing this rant out on a hot and dry day in the desert will help my anger and annoyance to abate further. If not my next update may come from behind bars and not, I hasten to add, the kind that serve drinks.

1 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