Snowbirds: Older Heat Seeking Tribes

Snowbirds in their habitat by Cholla road.Like their feathered counterparts, Snowbirds migrate. The movement may be slower, one aspect of this creature’s physiology is advanced age, but nonetheless, each winter these beings flock toward the warmth of the desert. Not just any desert, mind you, but the Arizona hardpan that lies between Phoenix and the California border.

There are other migratory creatures that travel to this beautiful wasteland; Californian license plates adorn the road and countryside in profusion. These West Coast travelers are temporary nomadic residents who stay for a fortnight, or less; they are not staying for any real amount of time, hence the title of traveler. The less permanent spots on the desert floor have a precise time limit set on its occupants. 14 days, aka a fortnight, or 10 days depending upon the spot or whom one listens to.

Other visitors to this warmer area of the world come from afar. Exotic places such like Alaska and various parts of Canada can be seen on the backs, and fronts, of the various vehicles scattered throughout and around the small town of Quartzsite.

The “season” is apparently a short three-month span that starts mid-January and ends around the first of April. While the area has a steady trickle of visitors from October onwards, the real thrust of the migratory flock does not hit until the middle of the New Year’s first month. At that time, previously empty spaces of desert are taken up by various recreational vehicles of a very temporary nature. Occupants of these “dry camps” are there for the short haul.

Quartzsite itself does have “year-round” residents. The permanent denizens of the desert range from local business owners to the elderly who respond well to the lack of humidity on offer. Arthritis, Rheumatism and other diseases common amongst the aged, all cease to be as painful in this dry atmosphere.

Museum in Quartzsite, on Main Street.

Hardpan desert and mountains surround the small town that sprang up around Tyson Wells. The original purpose of the outpost was that of stagecoach stop. It was here that the coaches would pause to swap out horses, give any passengers a rest from the arduous journey and pick up any mail.

Many stagecoach stops like Wells also provided fresh mounts for the short-lived mail service of the Pony Express. This was the Old West’s version of speedy mail delivery. Adverts at the time asked for young, light, men who (preferably) had no “kin.” The rider had to fight off the elements, hostile Native Americans (known as Indians back in the day) who wanted to steal the horse and kill its rider. Other unfriendly barriers included bad men who wanted to steal the mail itself and animals, insects and serpents that all attacked a stranger who stumbled onto their path.

Before the “season” it is easy to forget that this desert is set in the modern day. Especially when walking after dark, the feeling is one of transporting back to olden days when Apaches were raiding or when the US Army was experimenting with the idea of using camels in the Western Desert.

Walking out along Cholla Road toward the mountains and Pipeline Road towards the insular community of Rainbow Acres, if one leaves the roadside and heads across the desert floor, signs of wildlife appear everywhere. Huge rabbit droppings are proof that jackrabbits are still in the area and before the season these huge creatures can be seen bounding off in the distance.

Open desert along Cholla Road outside Quartzsite, AZ

Until recently bands of coyotes ran through the area and even more recently a neighbor of the small snowbird community walked out into their front garden to find themselves looking into the ferocious eyes of a mountain lion. Walking along the dusty terrain, the tracks of a large cat can be seen. One particular hint to the “tenderfoot” a large dog’s paw prints can be mistaken for a wildcat or mountain lion track, and if they are side-by-side they probably do belong to some large pooch. If, however, the prints are more in line, like a household cat walks, then the tracks are of the domestic cat’s more dangerous, and much bigger, cousin.

Even after the crowds descend upon the town and its surrounding area, a walk in the desert at dusk, or in the dark, is a beautiful experience. It can, however, be a bit painful. Even in this day and age, a moment of carelessness or (to be very honest) a split second of not watching where one is going can be almost deadly.

Whilst walking back from town, an approximate trek of around 6 to 7 miles one way, I had taken a track recommended by a neighbor who claimed that it was a “straighter shot” than following the road. It was and I used it a few times without incident.

On one trip it was dusk and the sun was rapidly setting behind the mountains. The view was spectacular; light filtered up from the far side of those rugged hills and a small amount of cloud was interspersed with the fading daylight. The effect was a reddish tinted sunset that made me long for a camera other than my iPhone and the ability to used it properly.

As I walked toward Rainbow Acres, I turned my head back toward the mountains and the setting sun murmuring, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” Turning my head back to the direction I was walking, something grabbed my right foot and held it.

I went straight over and like those birds that used to adorn small eateries where they appeared to drink from glasses of water by leaning, or bobbing into the glass; I “face-planted” right into the dusty and gravel filled earth. My left cheekbone hit the ground so hard; it felt that my entire skull shifted in the opposite direction.

Author self portrait
Self portrait of wounds sustained by punching the desert floor with my face.

Luckily, I fell over on my face so the MacBook Pro in the backpack was undamaged. The same could not be said for my cheekbone, forehead, left hand and wrist. Until I could get cleaned up, the amount of blood oozing from the various wounds made me look as though Freddy Krueger had swiped me with one razor fingered mitt.

Thankfully I was walking in the desert and not along the road and it was getting darker by the minute. Raising one hand to my face I could feel that I was bleeding pretty impressively there as well and had anyone seen me, they would have thought a scrape with the roaming mountain lion had occurred.

The very next day I spent a little time backtracking my journey. I have very distinctive tread on my shoes making it easy for me to play frontiersman and “track” myself. I found where the fall had taken place. A half-buried stone about the size of those old “magic 8 balls” had been partially dislodged by my right foot.

(You know the ones, right? Ask the black ball a question, like, “Does Debby like me?” Then give it a shake and turn it over. A small oddly shaped die with different messages on it would float up to the tiny window and one could read either yes, no, or some other prediction. This old childhood favorite was used most amusingly in the first Toy Story film where Woody asks the magic ball if the Andy will pick him over Buzz and the ball’s answer is, “Don’t count on it.” Cue frustration on Woody’s part.)

4X4’s, or quads, are ridden all over the area and surprisingly not one had obliterated the events in the dusty trail on the desert floor. It was easy to see where my left hand had connected with the earth as well as my face and my left-knee along with my hat.

Somewhat chillingly, right next to where my cheekbone thudded into the not-so soft ground, was a large stone with a jagged edge…pointed up. Had my face come into contact with that, I might not have survived to write about the experience. Proof that the modern day desert is still deadly, even when populated by great concentrations of snowbirds and other nomadic creatures that apparently already know the dangers of the area.

Or, at the very least, have learned to watch where they are going…

Walking back recently, the moonless sky was full of stars so close that there was the feeling they could be touched with outstretched fingertips. Stopping for a moment and looking back, lesson learned, a group of five Chinese Lanterns were floating in a miniature constellation.

The pattern was eerily beautiful and for brief moment looked like tiny UFOs until their proximity to the Earth itself was observed and each slowly flew out of their shaped configuration as they caught separate updrafts.

18 January, 2015
Quartzsite, Arizona

Blogging Part 5: Viewing

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As I sit here watching my WordPress follower number steadily approach the big four-oh-oh, I’m thinking of things that I’ve done and can’t help but wonder if others do it too.

One of my lazy habits for a long time was to go to the Readers menu and go through all my followers blog posts. If I was feeling guilty, I’d quickly go down the list and hit “Like” on the ones with the titles that impressed me most. (or thumbnails)

Now besides showing a sort of “kack-handed” support, it also showed just how lazy I could get. It also doesn’t show up on the bloggers view count. Now I did not realise this, back when I was doing it. It only became apparent when I paid a bit more attention to the “stats” for my site.

I would get a notification that “so-and-so” and good old (fill in site name here) had “Liked” my latest post.

But…

My views had not increased. It took a little concentration on my part, but, I eventually made the connection. In a moment of serendipitous epiphany-age, I put two and two together and, besides getting four, I realised they’d hit the “Like” button without actually reading the post.

Now, I’ve always had a “thing” about my view counts. I had it on my first blog at Blogger.com and I had it on my second blog on Tumblr.com and I still have it. I’m attached to my view counts and will (throughout the day) keep checking them to see if they’ve gone up. I am, almost, OCD in my feeling about my view counts.

I then made another connection. I was doing that myself! I felt a little bit ashamed. I mean, I read incredibly fast (always have) and it seemed worse than cheating for me to ignore the actual content of the bloggers I was following to not at least look at the damned post!

So I have stopped that heinous habit and started really liking the post versus, liking the idea or the notification of the post. I would like to point out that I didn’t do that all the time, just occasionally when I “felt” strapped for time. Something that, now-a-days, I’m not but old imagined stresses are hard to break.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this preoccupation with viewing figures.

So how about you?

So you have anything that you obsess over? Do you compulsively check your follower numbers or views? Do you even bother to look at your stats at all? Do you succumb to this “lazy liking” and not read posts at all?

Let me know.

My obsession.
My obsession.

Getting Used to the Silence

My front garden (aka front yard)
My front garden (aka front yard)

Up until Friday the 26th of March this year, I was used to a (to me anyway) fairly full house. Then my daughter and her fella moved out of the house.

Now the house feels very empty…and quiet.

I’ve spent the past two days cleaning and washing and sorting the house until it looks fresh. It also looks empty. I decided this morning to take a few pictures and describe this silent location I live in. So tighten up your belts, the tour starts now.

The first thing you’ll see coming into my abode will be the front hallway –

My front hallway.
My front hallway.

Not too exciting by anyone’s standards but it is mine and it leads into the kitchen.

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See! I told you I’d been cleaning!

Then, if you turn around and go straight to your left you enter…The front room, aka sitting room.

My entertainment corner! Video games are mandatory.
My entertainment corner! Video games are mandatory.
My place of work...the downstairs one. Gloves for the heavy jobs only.
My place of work…the downstairs one. Gloves for the heavy jobs only.
My Stevie King collection, unfortunately a lot of them are in the attic due to lack of bookcases.
My Stevie King collection, unfortunately a lot of them are in the attic due to lack of bookcases.
My "remembrance" wall, The Twin towers skyline before 9/11 and my Gran Know way on the right.
My “remembrance” wall, The Twin towers skyline before 9/11 and my Gran Knox way on the right.

Then if you go up the stairs the first room you come to will be this one –

My third bedroom, cum spare room, cum office.
My third bedroom, cum spare room, cum office.

Then the very empty and too quiet second bedroom –

It's so empty! *sniff*
It’s so empty! *sniff*

And finally my last refuge at night, the master bedroom!

Complete with American "made in Missouri" quilt.
Complete with American “made in Missouri” quilt.

I’ve stopped the tour here. Why? Well because as the post title says “Getting Used to the Silence”  and that is a bit of a misnomer. I’ve discovered that since I have become the sole occupant of this house, that it makes one hell of a row at night. Especially at bedtime and especially just as I’m drifting off to sleep.

I don’t know how I never noticed it before. the house: creaks, pops, shuffles (I know, weird right), groans, snaps and makes a myriad of other sounds that defy description.

The end result of this cacophony of noise? Me jumping back awake every two minutes or so until I’ve convinced myself that, “Yes the downstairs doors were all locked and bolted. And yes, you are alone in the house!”

I personally blame the emptiness, and the pervading quiet that disarms me and is taking ages to get used to.

But honestly, it is allowing me to get on with my new-found work (I’m writing for Rogue Cinema and I’m now a part of the staff with owner/editor Duane L Martin and a bunch of other folks (including Misty Layne from Cinema Schninema).

I’m also signing on with Tomorrow Comes Media to participate in their author’s tour programme as well as writing my own blog and trying to write my first book (along with creating more short stories for a collection).

On top of that, I’m still watching films and excitedly awaiting the shooting date of Once Bitten, Twice Shy written, directed and produced by the super talented Natasha Harmer.

My cup truly “runneth over.”

So I’m trying to get used to the silence (except at night) and working on a schedule that will allow me to do everything and get to spend some quality me-time in my back garden.

We've got the sun, now we just need some warmth!
We’ve got the sun, now we just need some warmth!

A New Start

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I got up early this Easter Sunday to bring up those little things that you need when you are moving out and in my haste to get away early, I forgot about half of what I meant to bring.

So I’ll have to make another trip to bring the other things that Meg and Max need in their new home. They both moved out on Good Friday and have been sorting their new place out over the long weekend.

This is actually the second time that my daughter Meg has left the nest. The first time was when she left for university and her mother and I were still married. That was quite a long time ago.

She moved in with me after she finished uni and we limped along for a long while. I enjoyed her company and she helped to keep the house sorted and she was my movie and gaming buddy. But while she was living with me her life was stagnating. We lived in the wrong town and just about the time we decided that we needed to change what we were doing, I got injured at work and then almost died.

While we were both dusting ourselves off from that catastrophe she and her fella Max re-kindled their spurious connection. They had met in 2011 and despite the fact that they were both interested in each other, neither of them were in a good place at that time.

After a year-ish, they got together and the “Gods” must have smiled because they were so in tune with each other that they formed an instant couple.

Now they are taking that first tremulous step together and have moved into their first flat. I am happy and excited for them. I helped them to move and they’re now cleaning the disgusting carpet that the previous tenant obviously never apparently hoovered.

Sitting here watching them strenuously steam clean their carpet, reminds me of all the new times that I’ve had a “new” start or just a fresh one. Either with one wife or another or on my own (although the last time I moved into a new place I had the Meg’s help) and now it’s her turn.

I’m sitting here on one of their three chairs (they’ll get the rest of the furniture later) and I can’t help but be filled with enthusiasm for the new life they’re starting and how lucky she and Max are to have found each other.

I’m having a new chapter open up in my life as well, but, that will be another post for another time. Until then, I’ll help my daughter and her fella out as much as I can and interfere as little as possible. Now I’ll raise my coffee in a toast to the new life they’ve started and to their freshly cleaned carpet!

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Second Chances

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Yes you read the title correctly, it says second chances – plural. I know that a lot of folks never get a second chance – singular. They go through their lives either successfully, poorly, middle-of-the-road-ly, or otherwise and they never get another snatch at the brass ring or another bite of the apple.

I seem to have spent my entire life getting these “back-hand” second chances.

I remember when I turned my back on acting the first time. My first wife did not like me being “in the business” and since I was very young and very much in love, I turned my back on my passion. Years passed, the bloom went off the rose of my first marriage and I got divorced.

I didn’t handle it well. Too young and too broken-up, thoughts of ending it all danced around the periphery of my mind. Not seriously though, thank who-ever: but I was pretty damn miserable for a long time. I moved to England, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and not long after arriving in the UK, I was drafted into an amateur theatre group.

I was back to acting again and I was loving it.

Then my job began to interfere and I had to turn my back on it again. Time moved on. I got married again and just before I got reassigned to The Netherlands (Holland) a mate of mine got me a job as an extra on an American TV movie, The Last Days of Patton. I worked for over 12 hours playing a WWII soldier who goes through a rifle drill with a whole platoon and we then got to meet General Patton (George C Scott).

The giant mansion behind "Patton" head is where we filmed.
The giant mansion behind “Patton’s” head is where we filmed.

It  was a memorable moment. Mr Scott was personable and approachable. He spent his time between takes talking to us Air Force guys who’d learned to do a rifle drill after a couple of hours of training by the film’s technical advisor. I remember thanking the “guy upstairs” for giving me this, a sort of taste of what I’d been missing.

Later when we’d settled in at our new Dutch home, I got to do some radio work and through the AFN guys, I got some film and TV work. Again getting a little taste of what I had turned my back on so many years ago. My daughter was born on the day that I had two auditions for a couple of American television commercials. I decided that my daughter’s entrance into this world was more important and called the casting folks up to express my apologies.

I got a few more little jobs here and there and met some interesting people and almost got a couple of great acting jobs. But fate had another idea and these close grabs at the brass ring, missed.

Later, when we moved back to the UK, I got out of the Air Force (I didn’t retire, I got out via the early out cut-back program) and did some more voice-over work. I even did some extra work. But reality kept creeping in and kicking me in the face. I kept trying to write the whole time I was being diverted from the acting side of my life. That activity was as doomed as the acting. Something always got in the way.

Lack of privacy; lack of ideas; lack of concentration; lack of confidence. All these things interfered with any sort of creative process and more. I finally decided to turn my back on any sort of creativity.

All thoughts of creating something either physically or mentally were killed off and buried.

The proud, the few, the under-appreciated...
The proud, the few, the under-appreciated…

Life went on, I found a good job that allowed me the time to enjoy my family and watch my daughter grow up. The job also came with a great retirement set up. It wasn’t the best job in the world and it was not anything that I’d have chosen for myself as the “last” job I’d ever do.

Then, injured at work and off for just under six months. Right after I start back to work, I have a heart attack. Two surgeries; one an emergency surgery that left me with pretty much permanent damage. The end result of this was my life was saved, barely, and I was ill-health retired from my job.

I won’t lie. I was a little depressed about losing this job that I’d done for just under ten years. I didn’t love it, but I like most of the people I worked with and I’d finally gotten top pay for my job. I felt like the character on films and TV that shrugs and says, “Eh, it’s a living.” But I was panic-stricken.

I had no idea what I was going to do.

I still don’t; but I’ve finally woken up to the fact that, for what ever reason, I’ve been given another second chance.  I’m not sure how many this is now, but it’s a lot. I don’t know if I’ll wind up doing anything creative or not. I do know that I’ll keep blogging, because it is a bit addictive now that I’ve started it, but I kind of feel like the sky’s the limit at the moment.

What is really evident to me is that of all the second chances I’ve been given, this one is perhaps the most important. All the previous ones were sort of career or personal goal oriented.

This one is a second chance at life.

I am going to try not to waste it.

Boldly going to where I've never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk...
Boldly going to where I’ve never gone before. Sorry Captain Kirk…