Living in the Real Desert: Nightlife

Desert Mountain

Since being here in this popular desert oasis near the Arizona/California border, I’ve observed many things. For instance, my smartphone’s 4G from Wal-Mart’s T-Mobile does not work out in the desert, or in town for that matter. It is annoying enough that neither company will be getting any more business from this 50-something customer.

Since living in the real desert, I’ve been caught out, so to speak, several times and wound up walking, or biking, back from town after dark. This habit has provided a great look at the local nightlife. As mentioned in an earlier article about this haven for the aged, one local denizen reported coming face to face with a mountain lion in their front yard. Luckily, I’ve not come into contact with this feline. Yet.

I’ve seen the tracks across the hardpan desert floor and saw more again this evening in my trip through the dusk back to the RV. The paw marks of this beast are huge. At one point the tracks showed the creature had run after something, probably one of the jackrabbits that bound through the cactus and sagebrush.

While walking to and from the town, I’ve seen a surprisingly large amount of jackrabbits, a few smaller longer eared types of bunny (this evening at dusk), a doe (the night before last actually) and something yellow, small and faster than a speeding bullet (the same night).

Getting a late start back to my temporary home, I walked the long way along the road rather than taking my “shortcut” across the desert. Remembering those mountain lion tracks made me err to the side of caution. About a quarter mile from the turn-off to the small community where the RV is located, a small deer came right up to the opposite side of the road from where I was walking.

The distance between the creature and myself could have been no more than 15 to 20 feet as it started to cross to my side of the desert. I lit her up with my small shotgun shell LED torch and seconds later a car came up and stopped. All three participants in this little tableau froze.

After a frozen second or two, the deer turned and disappeared into the darkness and the car reversed a little; looking for the animal presumably and then both the vehicle and I moved on. The doe was nowhere to be seen so she obviously changed her mind about crossing the suddenly crowded road.

Desert Road

No other living wild thing was seen until reaching the desert community where I am currently staying. Three streets away from “home,” I saw a streak of yellow shoot across the road with a burst of speed that would have turned Speedy Gonzalez green with envy.

Despite this lightening-like dash into the desert, the small creature was slow enough that a few details stood out. Its color, for one thing, and that it was covered in fur another. It had a small head so the first thing I thought was, “Weasel?”

This was immediately followed by, “What the hell does a weasel look like?” I honestly could not remember. For all I knew, that could have been a baby coyote or some other small creature. It seemed to be around 18 to 20 inches long…maybe. One thing for certain, at night all creatures look bigger, in the desert, in the dark.

Nearing the RV while pondering the recent animals sighted around the local area I thought of how tickled I’d been in England when I spied a hedgehog (my favorite small wild creature) or a wild fox. When driving for the East Anglian Times back in the 1990s there were a huge group of foxes that ran around Colchester Park on the Essex paper run. Sadly there were always a few dead ones on the side of the road, the price paid by the group for getting too close to civilization.

Hedgehogs were also seen quite a lot and not just on the Essex run. One foggy morning, around 0200, while unloading bundles of papers at a newsagents, a packet of crisps (potato chips) was spotted floating above the ground by three or four inches.

This odd sight was not caused by wind and the packet did not appear to be blown by anything. Instead, it was jerking forward and then backward before floating forward again. The chap who was teaching me the Felixstowe run reached down and snatched at the floating crisp packet. A baby hedgehog came flying along with the plastic bag. The little creature had gotten its head stuck in the thing and was walking along while trying to dislodge it.

I was thinking of both these separate incidents and briefly remembered that one thing that was not an issue in the United Kingdom was rabies. Mainly due to the country’s strict quarantine laws there has not been an outbreak for what seems a millennia. The second I had this thought, about rabies, I broke out in goose flesh.

What in the hell was I doing marching along after dark in a country where rabies was not banished from memory? What if that streaking yellow thing had been heading towards me and not across the road in front of me? Could I have reacted in time to keep a rabid animal from nom-nomming on part of my body?

Rabid rabbit image...

Having been to the ER (emergency room) and then later the hospital for a heart attack, with the end result being two emergency surgeries, I’ve had injections in my stomach. I can personally attest to the fact that these are not fun, but better than the alternative. The fact that rabies used to be treated by receiving a shed-load of injections in the navel means the shots must be pure agony.

As I’ve mentioned before, the stars in the desert seem to be just out of arms reach. The dark desert sky is full of these celestial sparks of memory. The desert itself is  full of animals that, despite the profusion of people who have flocked to the desert for the season, call this area home. Living abroad for so long, and in a country where there are more people than open spaces, helped me to forget that America is full of wild areas where civilization is just an illusion waiting to be shattered.

22 January 2015

On the Road to Nowhere

So, I have a 1040 appointment for my first follow-on with my surgeon. Since the hospital where I had my two surgeries performed is miles away I got up early to miss the traffic snarl that is a permanent fixture of the road network where I live.

This was going to be a long drive – the longest since my heart attack and subsequent surgeries – so my daughter Meg was coming along to help with the unfamiliar and long drive. Unfamiliar, because both times I made the journey, I had not driven.

The first time to the hospital I was strapped into a gurney in the back of a speeding ambulance and was a bit preoccupied with the pain of the heart attack to notice where we were going. I even found out later that we drove through one helluva thunderstorm that I was completely unaware of.

The second time was my somewhat inglorious departure from the hospital. A very good friend had picked me up so I could leave in the evening. Without any hesitation he got one of his mates to ‘cover’ the start of his night shift so he could drive the long distance to get me home. I did not pay a lot of attention as I was still so ‘drugged’ up that we could have been driving on the moon.

So this morning, despite neither of us sleeping well (me because my sinuses decided to reflect the middle of the night weather change and Meg because the same weather change caused her bedroom temperature to skyrocket), we both got up extra early.

Amazingly we both got ready to leave on time (0900) for the Sat Nav‘s over optimistic estimate of a one hour and fifteen minute drive to the hospital. The second we hit the main road that leads to the dual carriageway (aka highway)  traffic was backed up and moving at a crawl.

I did not react as I normally do. I did not curse and smack the steering wheel. I did make a few obligatory remarks about the driving skills of my fellow motorists and put the radio on for the travel news.

A side note about travel news. I listen to a station that caters to (how to delicately put this) older listeners. Folks who really do know how to Jitterbug and do the Lindy. You know, folks who actually had a chance to meet Glen Miller. I will point out that I do not particularly like this station. They like talking to the older listeners more than playing music. I applaud their attentiveness to their fans, but… Any way they usually give travel updates every 15 minutes.

Not this morning.

I kept listening to the station for travel updates that are advertised as being “every 15 minutes” but after a half hour of driving they still had not given anyone a clue about the state of the roads or why everybody and their brother was on the road this morning.

It was not until  after we were trapped in a mile long traffic jam that the travel news came on and helpfully informed us of the multi-vehicle crash that had caused it. Just for the record? It was a whole lot later than 15 minutes Mr Radio Announcer.

Annoying (but as Meg pointed out not as annoying as it must have been for the poor folks that actually had the accident)although not insurmountable. Except for the fact that the accident occurred on the Orwell Bridge and said bridge is the main artery into and out of the area. One carefully placed (or not so carefully placed) accident can cause a gridlock in the county that can last for hours.

Traffic Congestion
Traffic Congestion (Photo credit: freefotouk)

A few years ago one such accident occurred and a 30 minute journey to work became a three and a half hour tortuous slog down back roads that got smaller and less navigable the closer I got to work. Luckily for me, today I only had to ring the hospital and tell them that I was caught in a gridlock and could not make the appointment.

One very short mobile (cell) phone call later and whatever stress that was looming in the back of my mind because of the traffic jam, dissipated. Poof. Just like that.

The one thing I noticed about the whole situation this morning is that not once during the most stressful part of my short abortive journey did I long for a cigarette. There was no urge, no involuntary ‘reaching for a packet’ or patting of shirt pockets hunting for packs of smokes.

Considering that not too long ago, I would have irritably and angrily puffed my way through at least a half pack of cigarettes, this was quite an accomplishment.  I mean, I wasn’t even chewing gum.

So my first follow on appointment was rearranged and we got caught for well over an hour in a traffic jam and I was in a situation that historically would have had me smoking like a forest fire. Not only that, but I would have been well on my way to some ‘righteous-road-rage.’

I guess I am really trying to change my outlook on life and my reaction to it.

Shame it took a heart attack and a close call with death to bring it about. Still, better late than never.

So long mate.