There is a delight

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 11, 2017 8:59 PM

On March 15, 1910, just over a year after he left office, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that “there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” He was in Khartoum at the time, leading an expedition to Africa in search of specimens for the Smithsonian’s new Natural History museum. Khartoum is in the Sudan, and at the time, was a burgeoning metropolis. It is now the capital of the region. But at the time, it was surrounded by the white sands of the desert and the rich fauna of the Nile Valley. He wrote those words about the vistas and landscapes he had encountered. I use them today to describe the vistas and landscapes we encountered this morning.

I don’t know what compelled me to move west. This magical place was just where I always imagined myself to be. I do know what compelled us to move to the desert. It wasn’t anything we’d ever even considered but when we brought Justin to school here in August of 2009, we knew it would eventually be our new home. Settling into the east side of town, we continually marvel at the vistas and landscapes. We are surrounded by rock and mountains, by saguaros and ocotillos and trees. From our house on the hill we can see for at least 10 miles and probably more. The desert, rimmed by mountains, stretches before us to infinity.

Kevin was up early this morning, by 6:15, early for a Sunday, the day we jokingly refer to as “the day of rest.” He didn’t sleep well, probably because he was overtired. Yesterday he started rocking outside, finishing the lower swale, at 5 am. He was done by 7:30 and then he switched to finishing the front brakes on the Classic. Luckily, I convinced him to buy an air conditioner for the garage so it was at least somewhat hospitable in there while the temperatures raged outside. He worked all day, and then couldn’t sleep. 

I got up about a half hour later, when I heard the coffee pot sputter and snarl and spit signaling that it was almost done brewing. My boys were on the deck. I poured two cups of coffee and went out to join them. We marveled at the calm of the morning, at the temperature just in the low 70s. At 7:30, I said it would be a great morning for a motorcycle ride and suggested we go. I didn’t have to suggest twice.

We climbed aboard the Gold Wing and took off south and east. We weren’t going anywhere in particular so we never reached a destination. Instead, we simply meandered, finding a road we’d never taken before and following it. The day was still early; there were almost no cars where we were. Even the churches we went by, and there were many, weren’t yet open for business.

We went past Saguaro National Forest east, something that often makes us smile since we seemingly live in a saguaro forest of our own. We headed toward Colossal Caves knowing that we weren’t going to stop, but it gave a place to turn around. The road surface was smooth, unlike so much in the desert. There were no stop signs or stop lights, just a wide open two-lane road. The sun was warm but not hot. I watched quail and roadrunners crossing the road; I watched for deer and cattle. We saw horses, and an osprey that landed in the middle of the road to extract something that used to be something else. In the trees to the east, huge black ravens sat perched on the branches of mesquite trees, their feathers glistening in the morning sun.

I was struck by the vastness of it, the desolate nature, and sheer glory of this Sonoran desert we call home.

The fuller Teddy Roosevelt quote says: “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” That from a republican president. Something to celebrate on this Sunday.

And I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 1, 2017 7:53 PM

Saturday mornings are my refuge from life. Especially when it’s cool, the temperatures moderate under a cloudy sky and only the faintest of breezes drifting through the desert. This was the situation today when Riley and I set out on our Saturday morning walk. We go alone, just the two of us, mom and puppy, a woman and her dog. Saturday is Kevin’s day of working outside and I respect that. It’s his respite from the week previous; mine is the long walk with the dog. Soon it will be too hot to do this so I take advantage of it while I can.

Leash secured, I zipped up my sweatshirt, donned my sunglasses – a must even if it’s not currently sunny because my eyes are sensitive and because the sun might pop at any moment – grabbed a water bottle, slipped my phone into my back pocket and off we went. 

Riley is a good walker and like all dogs, loves it. He prances along, sniffing everything in his path, stopping to stare down any errant leaf or twig that wasn’t on the road yesterday. It’s comical to watch him as he dares whatever it is to move. Naturally, it won’t, unless there’s a sharp gust of wind. We had none of that today.

We started down Mira Vista Canyon Place, heading west. Like the canyons of Southern California – Topanga, Malibu, Decker, Benedict, Laurel – there is only one way in and one way out. It’s one of the scary things about California. If there is a natural disaster, the people who live in these canyons all must exit the same way at the same time. I suppose it’s scary here, too. We are surrounded by desert fauna, and at certain times and especially in the summer, that fauna is dry, tinder for a brush fire. There would be a rush toward the exit. But we are not heavily populated here; there are only 14 homes. 

We walked toward the gate and like most Saturdays I planned to exit through and walk further than weekday mornings. There is time; and today there were favorable conditions. We pushed along, Riley trotting by my side. We stopped for some water and continued on. There were no creatures out. We saw no deer, not even a rabbit. The only car that drove past us was the non-waving Mabes. There’s always one unfriendly neighbor in every neighborhood.

At the gate, we climbed up the small rip rap hill and walked around and out. At the end of the road, I usually go left. Left there are homes and paved roads. I went right instead. 

There is a sign just past the turn to our road as you climb north. It says Primitive Road, Not Regularly Maintained. There was pavement for several hundred feet but as we crested the short hill in front of us, that pavement ended. To the left was Ponce de Leon. I love saying that name. Ponce de Leon. Much like I like saying Kuala Lumpur.

Again, we went right, onto Coronado. The pavement crumbled into dirt and rock. There were no homes along the path, though there were the old tracks of off-road vehicles. Riley and I trudged up and down hills, carefully picking our way through rocks and brush, my eyes constantly down watching for snakes or Gila monsters. We stopped again for water and I surveyed the desert. The saguaros are beginning to bud, the ocotillos are already waving with orange flowers. Mesquite and palo verde trees, brittle bush. Everything green and lush by desert standards. To the north, more houses dotted the hills leading up to Mount Lemmon; to the south were the homes in our neighborhood and the city far beyond. 

We kept going. I worried that it might be a harder hike than I anticipated but nearly two and half miles later, we found the paved road of Winnetka Court. Again we turned right, south this time, and found our way back to Mira Vista Canyon Place and home.

We could’ve gone the normal way, the expected way. But I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises. And it made all the difference on this Saturday.

What vacation

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 27, 2016 7:21 PM

It always amazes me how quickly we return to our regularly scheduled lives, already in progress. We spent the last three full days in Paso Robles, on California’s central coast, cooking, visiting, hanging out, and of course, tasting wine. We arrived on Wednesday at 3 having left Tucson at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 am. We wanted to beat the traffic, or at least as much of it as possible, and for the most part we did. It got a little cranky as we made our way through Pasadena, and then again through Ventura along the coast but once we got past that snark and hiccup, we were fairly flying. 

We met Roy and Bobbi, our partners in all things wine, on the side of the road at the Vineyard exit. We hugged, and then we drove the rest of the way to the rental house, caravanning. Thus the adventure began. On Thursday, we went to one winery – believe it or not, four were open – and bought some wine for Thanksgiving. We cooked and had a meal that made us all want to curl up in a ball and sleep for a week. Luckily more wineries awaited on Friday and Saturday. 

We went to new places, as we always do, and found at least one new favorite in Ranchita Canyon. It’s small. But they make some lovely rich, dark reds. Reds with attitude. The kind of wine that puts hair on your chest. Our kind of wine. We bought a case and joined their wine club which gave us an automatic 25% off the case price. And because it was Black Friday, they were having everyone who purchased spin their wheel of fortune wheel for an additional percentage off. Yes, it was cheesy. But when I spun for an additional 25%, I didn’t think it was so dumb after all. 

We went to Rabbit Ridge and Graveyard, Villa San Juliette and J & J and Four Sisters. We bought wine at several and skipped the others. We went to our old favorites and proverbial stomping grounds: Niner, Vina Robles, Sculpterra. We tried another new winery on Saturday, Turley. A beautiful facility that specializes in Zinfandel. We’re not huge fans of Zin. Luckily they also had two Petite Sirahs.

And then, this morning came. Again, early, though not as bad as Wednesday. We got up close to 5:30 and after throwing some clothes on and brushing our teeth, hit the road for the long ride to Tucson just before 6. We wanted to beat the traffic, and we did, for the most part. After 10.5 hours, we pulled up our drive and into the garage. Home. 

We unloaded our six plus cases of assorted wines, as well as our suitcases. We unpacked quickly and put the suitcases away. The wine still waits outside the wine room door for entrance and sorting. We took showers, I started laundry. And now, as I type this, it’s just before 8 pm. I’m on my computer, working (and blogging). Kevin is at the eat-at bar, checking email. The football game is on. We settled back into our routines quickly and easily. Tomorrow, work begins with a vengeance. In some ways, it’s like the vacation never happened.

But it did, and as always, I am grateful. For friends, for wine; for great rental houses, for fun menus. For life. Let the holidays begin.

108 miles and not yet to Phoenix

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 23, 2016 6:48 AM

The first thing that happened was a text message at 12:17 am. We're selling our old artificial Christmas tree on Craig's List for $35 and there is evidently a desire for a six-foot tree in great condition. We didn't answer it because technically we were sleeping and conducting business regarding a used tree at that time of the morning/night is obscene.

At 3:15 I heard the hiss and snarl of the coffee maker as it finished brewing the 12 cups I'd asked it to make last night when we went to bed. I rolled over and clutched my pillow, balling it up under my head and snuggled in.

At 3:23 Kevin's alarm went off, a melodic song that always reminds me of Japan. He likes to set his alarm for strange times for reasons that I've never fully understood and he's never fully explained. I think he just likes to think he's being unpredictable. He sat up, reached for the phone and the chime was silenced.

At 3:30 my alarm went off, a chipper sound that belied the time of day. My ring tone for the alarm is more like a xylophone and way to happy for such an early hour. I sat up, turned it off, yawned, and said I miss my dog. 

Riley is in the kennel. We took him yesterday afternoon about 4:00. We've never left him in a kennel before. Last year, we left him at our vet's office. They board a very small number of animals and while it was fine, we didn't like that he was cooped up in a small room with no way to get outside to pee or poop. He had to wait for someone to come walk him. This year, we made a reservation at a traditional kennel with indoor/outdoor runs and we fretted about it the whole time. About a week and a half ago, Kevin stopped at another place near us, took a tour and came home to announce it was probably the nicest kennel he'd ever seen, also with indoor/outdoor runs. Plus the dogs are taken out into a little park type area every day to romp and play and sniff. Naturally they were booked but they put us on a waiting list. Yesterday, at about 11, they called. They had a cancellation and now had a run for Riley. It's a veterinary center which we like because our boy has anxiety issues. If something were to happen, if he gets too upset, they can help him. He was a nervous wreck when we took him in. It broke both of our hearts. We pick him up Monday morning. Until then, I'll call every day.

By 4:29, we pulled away from the house, the Sport loaded with suitcases and coolers. We reset the trip counter on the dash and started on our journey. We had a full tank of gas and hoped to average 22 miles per gallon. We didn't buy this car for its fuel efficiency. Last night Kevin checked all the fluids and the air in the tires. We scrubbed the windshield inside and out. We prepared.

It was dark and cold. The temp on the dash read 42. By the time we turned onto Catalina Highway it had dropped to 39 and a little snowflake appeared next to the numbers, the car's way of telling us it could snow soon. I reached over and turned on my seat warmer. Might as well have a hot butt, especially since we were both in shorts. At least I wore a sweatshirt.

The journey up the 10, then west through the desert and finally north along the ocean is 715 miles. 10 hours. 

The headlights lit our way. Kevin turned on the driving lights, too. Tonight we'll be in Templeton, just south of Paso Robles. We'll have pizza and wine. We'll sit outside by the fire pit or inside next to the fire. It's supposed to be cold there too. 

But first we needed to get to Phoenix. Phoenix always seems like the official launching pad. When we come home, it always signifies the start of the final leg.

I looked over at the dash. 108 miles. I could see the lights of Phoenix sparkling ahead. Ready, set, go for vacation.

TFW

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 19, 2016 6:44 PM

The desert is many things. A glorious habitat of life and death where everything bites, and some can kill. It is not a comfortable place; it is not for the fain of heart. It is harsh landscape and towering saguaros, jagged rocks and crusty sand. It is filled with creatures that slink and those that haunt. Deer stand like statues and stare, javelinas snort and puff, ravens and falcons caw and cry, mountain lions crouch and coyotes howl at the moon. It scorches in the summer and freezes in the winter and when it rains, it destroys. 

It is the land of extremes, a place where there is 50 degrees difference between noon and midnight, where the sun rises over the Rincons to the east and sets beyond the Catalinas and the Tucsons in the west, dragging a painted sky with it. Desert sunsets are like nothing before seen, perhaps even imagined. Impossible colors mix and melt into clouds and jet trails. More times than not, your breath catches for its sheer beauty.

In the summer it is 100 plus, in the winter it is 20 degrees, sometimes colder. And when the wind blows it's with enough force to stop you in place. Up on the hill, where the house is, the wind can be vicious. Steady at 25 miles per hour, gusts up to 50, sometimes more. These winds and gusts can be frightening because they're so fierce. Like an animal that shouldn't be caged, it thrashes and scratches and tears at the world, indiscriminate as to what it touches and rips. We've had cactus uprooted, rocks tumble down. It's amazing more doesn't happen.

We have a neighbor whose house is also on a hill. Like us, they love it here. But the extremes can occasionally infiltrate the psyche and you find yourself howling at the moon, the sun and the desert. Our neighbor describes it like this: "Too fucking hot. Too fucking cold. And too fucking windy." She says it with a great deal of affection. You have to love the hot, the cold and the wind to live here. 

Last night, the winds stirred. By midnight, the air was a swirling cocktail of needles, leaves, of ocotillo branches hitting the house and wind chimes clanging outside the open windows. By this morning, it was 25 miles per hour as we walked the dog. For more than two miles we pushed, or it pushed us. All around, we heard chimes clanging. We saw leaves take flight and birds coast along without having to flap. We felt the warmth of the sun struggling to push through. Underneath, the air was cool. It was too windy even to talk. The wind carried all words and laughter away and stuck them to a cactus somewhere. 

Beyond the relentless wind, all we could hear was our neighbor’s voice and laughter, up in her house on the hill. We could see her shaking her head, and as she struggled to pull a door closed, she was saying it. Over and over again. Too fucking windy. Too fucking windy. Too.

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I’m listening to the wind howl

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 3, 2016 9:45 PM

In the late afternoons, as the sun is listing toward the western horizon, right before it melts into the mountains, the air becomes incredibly still as if everything is afraid to move lest they disturb the beauty and tranquility of the desert. And then at the exact moment the sun disappears, the wind rears up in protest. Don’t go. But it goes anyway and dejected the wind dies down, leaving the desert darkening and quiet once again. Or at least it does usually.

Sometimes, the wind gets angry early, for no apparent reason, or if there is one, it’s lost on me. Today is a day like that. This morning was quiet and gentle, barely a breeze. The air was thicker than usual, like it had rained over night, though we didn’t hear it. If the rain falls in the dark, and everyone is asleep, does it still ping the skylight? There were still some residual clouds, left over from yesterday’s rain, but they were scattered, unable to regroup before the sun made them dissipate. 

By 11 am, though, when I walked down the hill, the wind was starting to blow. I had to take care of my neighbor’s dogs again. She had to drive to Palm Desert unexpectedly to care for her aging mother, and her dog sitter wouldn’t be able to get to the house until later. Would I mind? Of course not. It’s a welcome break, a reason to get up from my desk and go outside. It also doesn’t hurt that I can build up my step count on my fitness tracker. I told her that and she laughed. I know she feels like she’s intruding, but she’s not, at all.

I walked down, and then down again. If it’s possible, their drive is even steeper than ours. I let myself in, and promptly got pretend-mauled by Brody. Jax simply sat down, staring at he through his big brown eyes, his Rottweiler head steady and calm. I always wonder what he’s thinking when he sees me. He’s so gentle but is he secretly thinking of ways to attack? I have no such wonder when it comes to Brody. He’s a big goof of a boy, a black golden doodle and he happily jumps and growls and air snaps. 

I gave them some water, gave them some pets, and then bid them adieu and perhaps later. (Turns out I didn’t need to go back as the dog sitter arrived mid-afternoon.) I trudged back up the hill, into a wind blowing stronger than when I got there, and I’d only been inside for 15 minutes or so. By the time I got back up to our house, winded and hot, the desert was blowing at me pretty good. 

Strong and whistling, making my wind chimes hit the wall and the glass of the windows, clanging rather than just singing prettily. By the time the sun began its trek toward the west, the whistle had turned to a sorrowful howl, a wounded animal in search of attention and love. It will get none from me. I don’t like wind. I find it rude and intrusive, sometimes, depending on the gusts, I find it dangerous, strong enough to rip trees from the ground, to make the solar panels on the roof moan with the struggle to stay attached.

It’s amazing to me how alive something so invisible can be. How alive and vibrant and terrible and tyrannical. I’ve never understood why wind needs to be so forceful, not when a nice breeze will do, thank you. But blow and cuss it does. And so I sit here, listening to its jangly song, watching as it whips the buffelgrass and the fountain grass and the ocotillos and the mesquite trees, watching the saguaros sway. And I celebrate the fact that while it is blowing it out loud out there, I am perfectly protected in here, and that makes me happy.

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There was a dead snake along the road this morning

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 1, 2016 9:09 PM

It was just after 8 am. The sun had long since risen above the house and was busy warming the day. Riley and I got a late start on our walk but since it was only hinting at 70º I knew we’d be fine. We trudged along, me saying “slow” about every ten feet. I’m trying to train him to not be such a puller and I’ve never liked the word “heel.” Dogs know the words they taught, and I’m teaching “slow.” His leash was wrapped around my left hand; I was keeping him close to me.

There were workers at the Strobel’s house. Kevin had mentioned that he heard what he thought were trucks and trailers down below, where the house is being built. He asked me to take a look as I went by, just to see who it was and whether we should call the sheriff. It was the contractor – I recognized his truck – and several others. All were busy working. The contractor saw me and waved. I waved back. 

We trudged along, Riley and I. No one else was out. No cars passed us. I always keep my eyes open for creatures, namely javelinas or coyotes. I look to the right and the left and dead ahead for the entirety of the walk. Javelinas can be nasty and dangerous. Coyotes not so much because Riley is a big dog. But I fear Riley would freak and cause a scene. I watch for Gila monsters that can bite down on a dog and not let go; I watch for tortoises that will bite if provoked and attacked. I watch for snakes. 

As we rounded a gentle curve, and began to walk down a small decline, there was one on the side of the road. A rattlesnake. We haven’t seen many snakes up here. We know they’re around; how could they not be given the terrain and the climate? I saw one in what was call the Cooper Area, where we take the dog to pee during the day and before we go to bed at night. There was the one that somehow got into the house. Another that was on the road another morning. We kept Riley close and made a wide circle to get around it. When we returned it was gone. 

I pulled Riley’s leash closer. He didn’t see it, but I kept my eyes on it as we continued by. When we came back past, it was still there, still in the exact same position, part of its scaly body looped over the other. This time, Riley saw it and stopped. He stood staring, his body extended in the direction of the snake, his head forward and down. He didn’t try to pull. He just watched, waiting.

Slow. 

I picked up a rock and tossed it. The snake didn’t move. It was dead. Completely intact. No apparent trauma. Perhaps one of the falcons or ravens had grabbed it up and then dropped it from a great height. Maybe it just died of old age. It didn’t matter. What mattered was there was a dead snake along the road. 

We continued toward home, my dog and I. I watched and listened for other predators. I nodded toward the contractor again. I thought about the snake and its symbolism. Rattlesnakes are lethal creatures, striking to kill. But it was dead. Could it be that it somehow also symbolized the death of fear?

We all live in fear, sometimes it can be crippling. Most times it just gnaws at the back of your soul. Fear of failure, of loss. Fear that we’re not good enough, fear that we’ll never be what we dreamed of becoming as children. Fear of life. 

A rattlesnake is but one creature representing the personification of fear, but it’s a just representation. If it can die for no visible reason, could our own insecurities and fears die as easily? Can mine?

The death of fear. The death of anger. The death of lashing out, of striking out. All manifested in the death of one snake along the road this morning. Something to think about.

Maybe tonight I’ll sleep

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 26, 2016 10:54 PM

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I’ve mentioned before that this election is killing me; it’s keeping me up at night. I get to sleep but I can’t seem to stay there. Almost every night I wake up and then I’m awake for somewhere between one hour and two hours. I can’t turn off my brain. I toss and turn. I’m not thinking about anything in particular; I’m just a ball of anxiety. 

I’ve tried not to watch politics at night. Sometimes it works. I’ve tried not to read The Washington Post and check Fivethirtyeight, which I’m ashamed to say I’m almost obsessive about. This election terrifies me like no other. I can’t seem to shake the feeling of impending doom. I’m mortified that some of my fellow Americans think that a man like him is qualified to lead the greatest country on earth. I purposely don’t talk politics with anyone unless I know that they think the same and feel the same as I. I don’t want to think – or feel – differently about someone. 

And we now live in a red state so I’m not surrounded, necessarily, but people of the same persuasion, if not necessarily by default. The fact that we’re in Tucson helps. Tucson is very blue, very liberal. The other day I got my hair cut and colored and my hairdresser said she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know how this state is considered so red and so right because Tucson isn’t like that and neither is Phoenix. I agree with her. Where are these people? 

I’m afraid that some may be people I know and like. And so I don’t ask, and don’t speak, and I’ve no doubt it contributes to my anxiety 

Tonight was the first debate and I almost didn’t watch. Bobbi didn’t watch. Granted she had class tonight but even if she didn’t, she wasn’t sure she would have been able to view it. She couldn’t stand the stress. Kevin said the same thing to me earlier. 

“Are you going to watch the debate?” I asked. 

“I just don’t know if I can do it,” he said. 

Today is our anniversary; 18 years married. Ten years ago, we were in Lake Las Vegas. We’d gone for the weekend, to get away and just enjoy our married-ness. We took the motorcycle and drove from LA. It was miserable. The weather was horrific, the heat unbearable. We couldn’t escape it. By the time we got to the Ritz Carlton, we could literally have been wrung out. We got to our room and took a shower. Kevin got some champagne and, dressed in the white robes that came from the room, we lounged on the bed, drinking some bubbly and watching the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. 


Our 10th anniversary

Tonight, we watched the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of whom are we crazy about but we much prefer the former to the latter. We’re Democrats after all. 

“You know ten years ago…” I said earlier. 

“I know,” he said smiling. “We were in Vegas watching Obama and McCain. It’s nice that they schedule presidential debates on our anniversary.”

Indeed. Maybe tonight I’ll even be able to sleep.

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That’s Mr. Tarantulasaurus Rex to you

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 10, 2016 9:02 PM

We grow ‘em big out here. By ‘em I mean, well, everything especially bugs. Our flies are twice the size, ditto wasps. We have crickets that are enormous; grasshoppers, too. Spiders are large. It’s not uncommon to see scorpions that are several inches long, whipping their nasty, stinging tails in the air to warn off predators. They are never a match for my shoes. I stomp them and then stomp them again, even though they’re outside. In fact, they’re all outside with the exception of the occasional wall spider. I kill those, too. I am not, by nature, a violent person. But I don’t think that scorpions deserve to live anywhere, even outside. As for spiders, I have no trouble with them outside. It’s when they’re prowling my walls in the bedroom that I find fault. 

These spiders, flat wall spiders, are usually an inch and a half to two inches wide. They’re probably harmless. Still. 

We’ve had centipedes, giant redheads they’re called, that are six to eight inches long. They’re blonde and scaly with two red pinchers on each end and a thousand feet in between. They’re ugly, a little scary and huge.

Like I said, we grow ‘em big out here. 

Witness what was in the portico this morning. Meet one Mr. Tarantulasaurus Rex. A tarantula. He was probably about three inches or so wide, from one hairy leg to the tip of the other seven. It’s our version of the T-Rex. They are terribly unattractive. I am not a fan though I admit to being completely intrigued by them. I know some people keep them for pets. I can’t imagine, in much the same way I can’t imagine keeping a snake for a pet. Some creatures are just not supposed to be cuddled. 

The tarantula, known by Aphonpelma chalcodes, is very common here in the desert. It tends to come out most during monsoon season – we are fast nearing the end of that – and into early fall. They dig holes in the desert that are about the size of a quarter where they nest. If a hole has silk in or over it, it’s an active tarantula nest. Females tend to hang pretty close to their hole while males are often hot footing it around the ‘hood trolling for a date. 

This creature is primitive, just like so many other creatures here in the desert, and has evolved little in terms of appearance in their some 350 million years on earth. Females tend to be light brown while males are darker. They’re furry, supposedly using their hair to sense vibrations which might indicate a predator or prey. They can also flick their hairs at an attacker. These hairs are barbed and irritating though not poisonous, at least not to humans. Neither is their venom. In fact, tarantulas are very docile and only bite when truly provoked. 

Females can live up to 25 years but males usually only live one year past sexual maturity which happens between 8 and 12. They don’t like water, which is interesting considering they come out in monsoon season, only drink occasionally, and in the winter, become dormant. Essentially they crawl into their holes and cover themselves up with silk and soil to wait for the cold to pass. 

They’re gruesome looking but they’re slow and steady and almost always outside. We’ve yet to see one inside. Thank dog.

So there he was, this guy in the portico. It really wasn’t a good place for him to be if only because I didn’t want to look at him. Armed with a long-handled dustpan and the broom, I walked out, swept him up and carried him out to the desert. It was part of the tarantula-relocation program. We run several such programs here including the toad-relocation program, and the Gila monster relocation program. They all get new identities and a new lease on life. In this case, I named our new friend Tarantulasaurus Rex. That’s Mr. T to you. A new friend to celebrate?

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The legend of the red beast

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 5, 2016 12:00 AM

It is said, by the natives, that a great red beast haunts the desert of Arizona. It can be seen at sunset, galloping through the dust, the skeletal remains of its passenger lashed to the saddle. Is it seeking revenge or redemption? Perhaps we’ll never know.

In 1856, Jefferson Davis, who would go on to notoriety as the president of the Confederate States, was the secretary of war. Having fought in Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848, he knew well the harsh climate of the desert southwest. When he became Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, in 1853, he was charged with updating how the military functioned. He promptly ordered 62 camels. They were transported by boat to Indianola, Texas, arriving on May 14 where they were then taken to Camp Verde in Kerr County. Camels, the thinking went, would be great in the desert climate because they can survive with very little food or water, and they have great strength and stamina. They also, evidently, have serious attitude problems. Or maybe it was just that they had to live in Texas. Either way, the camels refused to live with the horses and mules, and even fought amongst themselves.

After the Civil War started in January 1861, and Davis became first provisional president of the south in February and then officially in February 1862, the Confederate forces seized Camp Verde. No record remains of what happened to the camels but most historians believe they were released onto the Texas plains. 

This is where we pick up our story. In 1883, a woman living on a southern Arizona ranch was trampled to death by a huge red beast with a skeletal creature riding on its back. When local ranchers gave chase, they found only cloven-hoof prints and tufts of red animal hair. More sightings began to emerge, tales of a wild beast, a ghost terrorizing cattle and bears, one who could run faster than any other. Legend had the beast standing 30 feet tall with the ability to disappear from sight. 

Once when prospectors were working in the Verde River, the Red Ghost appeared. They fired their rifles and in its retreat something fell from the creature’s back that would later be identified as a human skull with flesh and hair still attached. The Mohave County Miner wrote that the beast might be a camel, but local residents dismissed that idea because there was no earthly reason for there to be a skeletal-being perched atop. Several days later, the Red Ghost appeared again on a lonely road. Campers were awakened in the middle of the night by a loud scream and encountered a huge creature. The men ran for their lives, hiding in the brush. The next day, all they found were cloven-hoof prints and red strands of hair. 

This went on for another 10 years. Then in February of 1893, rancher Mizoo Hastings saw the Ghost in his vegetable patch. With one shot, he brought the beast down. It was indeed a camel. With a human skeleton strapped to its back. The skeleton that had been riding the creature had been tied to the animal with thick leather straps many years earlier. No one knew who it was or who had committed this horrific act. 

Historians speculated that perhaps the man had been tied to the camel as a form of revenge. Or that perhaps he was a Union soldier tied to the camel by the Confederate invaders of Camp Verde.

Regardless, the animal’s back was heavily scarred by the rawhide strips. Perhaps it was seeking revenge. 

Some speculated that a prospector named Jake found gold, and that he loaded his gold onto his camel. He went into a saloon to celebrate where he told his tale of finding riches. A man in the saloon followed him and when Jake camped for the night, the man murdered him. Later that night, the camel attacked the man, killing him.

Decades passed. Centuries. One night, the ghost of Jake appeared, riding on his camel. At night, still, if you listen, you can hear them. If the moon is full, you can see them. Riding across the desert. Riding into forever. Riding.

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