Sunday, March 19, 2006


Tall Tales

West Texas is the home of tall tales and West Texans are genetically programmed to tell harmless, brash, off-the-wall lies. They are very good at it and love to compete for the most outrageous stories, all of which they deliver in an almost reverent manner. If you look incredulous the tale-teller takes on a wounded and confused look (are you indicating that you might doubt me?).

Gary has one of the best tales, and he’ll swear it’s absolutely true even though today’s version only vaguely resembles the story he told six months ago. That telling went like this:

Gary, shaking his head, serious frown on, faraway look in his eye - I like to take photos of just about anything. I happened to be frequenting this one small canyon and I saw sign of mountain lion. Very fresh. Every time I walked the area there was more scat. One day I saw the lion heading up a trail to a cave in the canyon wall.

The next day I get my camera and walk the canyon rim, checking for the cave, thinking that I’d be in a safe position to get a shot when the lion came or went.

I found the cave and laid down at the edge of the cliff. The cave was 30 feet down and I had a great view. As I was settling in to wait I see this tail sticking out of the cave - the lion’s at home. Man, I’m excited! I get a little closer to the edge of the cliff, lean over a bit. Out of the cave come two baby mountain lions, just playing around with each other. Beautiful, magnificent, you can’t believe it! I edge a bit farther out over the edge, just to where I’m balanced and I’m about to start shooting pictures when the cubs scramble inside the cave. Geez, man I was disappointed but I stayed there figuring they’d come out again. Remember, I was hanging way out there.

Hell’s bells!! Suddenly that cliff edge gives way and I’m flying through the air, camera and all. Now I know how to fall, done it dozens of times, so I kind of somersault in the air. But I’m thinking that when I hit I’m going to be face to face with a couple hundred pounds of mighty mad mamma. I just made it. I hit feet first and was about to run like hell. But, here’s the thing - when I hit, I landed both feet on that lion’s tail. The lion just shot up going full speed vertically and cracked it’s head, WHAP!!, on the ceiling of the cave and knocked itself clean out. The babies shot off deep into the cave.

Well, I didn’t have any idea how hard that lion may have hit the ceiling so I tore off outta there as fast as I could. When I got back down the canyon I remembered - damn, I forgot to get a picture. I swear, I almost walked back up that canyon. But you know, I’m not all that lucky most of the time so I thought, Gary, you’d best get your sorry behind back home and dwell on how lucky it was that you landed on that cat’s tail.

He’s giving me that sad-eyed, "don’t you believe me" look again. I’d say he was lucky to have landed that cat’s tale.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


The Walk They Walk

Unless they are very young you can tell a real cowboy by his walk, particularly if rodeo was a part of his life. From their mid-30’s on it seems that cowboys have had their spines fused. They walk stiff and straight, shoulders thrown back, chest out. It looks as though they could never bend from the waist. Their bowed legs and wrecked knees take cautious wobbly steps.

Most older cowboys have trouble getting out of a chair. They struggle up using the chair’s arms and back as supports. As they straighten you can practically hear the creak of bones with no cartilage left in between. They scuttle slowly, somewhat sideways like a drunken crab as they try to orient both sides of their bodies to face straight ahead. It’s painful to watch and obviously even more painful to survive.

Years of being thrown from horses, getting kicked or run over by livestock, or avoiding being killed by any number of "on-the-job" hazards have taken their toll. Your chances of finding a cowboy over 40 who hasn’t had at least one broken bone are about as good as your chances of winning the lottery twice in a row. Most cowpokes have story after story of broken tibias, fibulas, femurs and bones whose names we’ve never heard. As they struggle from a chair you’ll hear, "yup, bunged up my back rodeoing. Should have quit a couple years before I did. Never did amount to much anyway".

John Wayne affected a cowboy swagger that encompassed some of this stiffness and pain, but most movie and tv cowboys walked normally, sprang up into the saddle and jumped blithely down from the horse once they pulled up to the barn. Most working cowboys haven’t done those things since they were in their teens.

I’ve got a friend who ended up with a morphine pump implant to squirt the drug directly into an area of his back so he can function. Before this he’d be working on something when suddenly he’d grab his back, his eyes would glaze over and he’d stagger over to the shade where he’d collapse in a spasm of pain. Fifteen or twenty minutes later he’d finally be able to pop a pain pill. Half an hour later he could begin to move around again. Most of the damage was from his rodeo days.

The first time I really studied the cowboy walk I was at a tire dealer in the small town north of us. An old cowpoke pulled in in one of those early 1970’s monster cars that seem to be a feature of this area. I watched him battle out of his vehicle.

After he told the tire man what he needed it came over to chat. He didn’t sashay, he didn’t mosey, it was more a modified duckwalk, stiff and with one shoulder lower than the other.

At one point in our talk he had to go over to his car and bend down to see what the tire man was talking about. He didn’t bend at the waist. Instead he slowly and painfully bent his knees and eased downward, keeping his spine rigid as he did so.

The knees are another factor in this cowboy walk. Most cowboys’ knees ceased normal functioning years ago. When they bend them it’s a real production trying to unbend them. But not to worry - bending them in the first place is nearly impossible.

You want to know if someone is a "drugstore cowboy" or the real thing? Ask him to walk over to your table - you’ll know in an instant.



Working Dogs

Of course, nearly every ranch here in West Texas has working dogs or cattle dogs as they are called. In the back of virtually every cowboy’s pickup you see one or two of these bundles of energy, savvy and guts. For the most part these are border collies, blue healers or blue ticks, kelpies or some mix of these breeds. They stand or pace in the pickup bed, always observant, always alert. They are good dogs, usually friendly. As you approach a parked pickup they’ll watch closely, look you in the eye, assume a sort of neutrality. Few will ever bark as you pass by. But, if you stop, thinking to pat one of these, you will likely be making a mistake. These are good guard dogs as well and you will be invading their territory.

Lots of folks out here besides the cowpokes have these breeds as well - I’m one, we have a border collie. The dogs are incredibly loyal, friendly, energetic, strong and extremely intelligent. I recently read of a poll among dog trainers who overwhelmingly chose the border collie as the smartest breed they work with.

Unless you live in the country, give the dogs a break and don’t get one as a pet. Our Mija, typical of these breeds, requires hours of action daily. We take long walks through the desert and if she doesn’t find an opportunity to chase a few rabbits or lizards she decides that you need to chase her and she goes into herding mode to try and provoke you.

Rabbits are her favorite. When one shoots out of the brush in front of us Mija yelps and takes off like a rocket, barreling through or over bushes, dodging the cactus spines and hurling across gulches in hot pursuit. She only stops when the rabbit dodges right behind a bush and she’s guessed left, losing the little hopper. She comes back panting in the extreme heat but she’s absolutely ready for more.

With lizards its close in action, feinting and weaving, trying to keep the lizard in the open so it won’t drop down one of the holes that surround nearly every bush and clump of lechuguilla. It’s a fast and furious bob and weave as the lizard, in total panic, tries to get to cover. Mija occasionally catches one of these, holding it gently in her mouth until I tell her to "drop it". The lizard looks stunned but soon scrambles off.

If we see no rabbits or lizards I will suddenly sense "in-coming" as a Mija missile rockets from behind, leaps into the air and very gently nips my elbow (these dogs will nip, harder, cattle on the rear haunch in the same way to direct them). As I yell "hey" she’s already circling behind me and bumping my calves, first one then the other, with her nose ("go that way, straighten out, go this way") - I’m being herded. She knows this bugs me and that I’ll yell and chase her, which is exactly what she wants.

These walks keep both of us in shape but every time we get home she’s ready to go again. To put such a dog in a small yard with no diversion is to kill it’s spirit. Fortunately we have 30 acres she can roam, and of course she can go further if she wishes, but she doesn’t. She stays and guard her human flock, occasionally herding them to let them know who’s boss.



Rattle-less

Mija and I were headed out the back for a walk up to the pumphouse by Paul’s. As we reached a small thicket of sage Mija bounded ahead. I watched. When I glanced back down I was about to step on the tail of a diamondback rattlesnake. Fortunately I caught myself and backed off. Mija started to come back to me but I told her to "stay". I realized that she must have just missed the snake’s tail when she shot out ahead.

The snake was stretched full out, as they often are in the morning, trying to catch some sun and warm up. This is a good time to come on a rattler as they’re sluggish with cold and reluctant to strike. This snake slowly coiled but still did not rattle.

I headed for the garden to get my snake removal kit, a hoe and two buckets. When I returned, having put Mija in the office, the snake had gone into a pricklypear cactus. With the handle end of the hoe I pushed it into the open, laid down the large bucket and with the business end of the hoe scooped the snake into the bucket, which I then set upright. I put the smaller bucket (actually a lightweight plastic plant pot with holes in the bottom) into the larger bucket where it rested on the rim, giving the snake some room.

Still the rattler hadn’t made a sound.

I took the buckets over to G at the house and we looked in. Sure enough, no rattles. They’d either been chopped off somehow or this snake was simply born without the ability to form rattles. It wasn’t young, being over 3 feet long, so something had happened.

Neighbor Paul had a similar experience a couple of months back. He drove into his carport, got out, walked around the truck and opened the passenger door to get something. For some reason he looked down and there, about six inches from his foot, was a diamondback in full coil, ready to strike, but making no sound. He thought, "if I stand here it’s going to strike, if I jump it’ll still likely hit me". He jumped but the snake remained coiled.

Paul, unfortunately, is one of those who shoots rattlers, and he did. When he examined the dead snake he saw that the rattle part of the tail was missing. As he turned to leave the carport he noticed something on the ground behind his tire - the rattler’s tail. He’d severed it as he drove in, putting himself in a very tight position.

As for our snake, I relocated it far out in the desert, away from habitation. On the way home I realized that most of us out here count on the buzzing to warn of snakes. Obviously a mistake to rely solely on sound. Odds are that there are many rattlers without rattles or with damaged ones. The tail whirs away, yet no sound. I’ve learned to keep an eye on the ground for that brand of snake.


Dressing Cowboy

Correct western apparel is a mixed bag. In fact, down here it doesn’t much matter what you wear, and on occasion, whether you wear anything at all. There’s the case of ranch residents who used to get on their ATVs au naturale and merrily ride around the ranch. They stopped traffic and shocked tourists and no doubt got sunburned in places "the sun don’t usely go". But most folks do wear something.

If you’re coming to West Texas and want to look cowboy, here’s what you’ll need: a pair of boots (cowboy boots that is). Don’t make them too fancy, like lizard skin or ostrich, the real working cowboys can’t afford boots like that and if they could they wouldn’t wear them for ridin’, ropin’ and hootin’. Well, maybe for hootin’. Go simple, not fancy carved or dyed.

Then you’ll need some genuine Levi’s jeans, well worn and maybe just a little long in the leg. And they need to be tight, tight enough so the Skoal can in your back pocket really stands out. Ramblin’ Jack Elliot says you got to take your new jeans, run a rope down one leg and up the other, tie ‘em to a tree and chuck ‘em in a fast-runnin’ stream for a few days to kinda loosen ‘em up. Those are "good blue jeans".

The belt is a very important piece of gear. You need a wide leather belt, preferably with your name or nickname carved out in the back (so someone following can say, "hey, Smokey has a Skoal can in his back pocket"). The buckle must be very large and if possible should have something to do with the rodeo - a rodeo champion buckle is, of course, ideal - these are usually huge. You may find one in a pawn shop but most cowboys go to their graves with their championship buckle - that and their saddle.

Next is a pearl snaps cowboy shirt. This doesn’t have buttons, it has snaps that are faced with mother of pearl. It snaps up the front and at the sleeves and is really slick. Get one ordinary and one fancy one with a white collar and colored body for those barn dances.

For non-working wear you’ll have to get a bolo tie. This is a braided piece of leather with silver "tassels" that loops around your neck. It’s held together by some ornamental piece that slides up and down the "tie". The ornamental part should be turquoise and silver or some rodeo momento, though the latter would likely be too big.

The crowning piece of cowboy gear is, obviously, the cowboy hat. If it’s not a Stetson then it must be handmade. It has to have your name inside on a flap. It can be most any size and shape but it should be black or gray, except for very special occasions when you can wear a white one. White is not practical for daily ridin’, ropin’ and hootin’. Well, maybe for hootin’. The hat must, except for your special hat, be well broken it - bent, sweated up and with telltale signs of cattle dung clinging to it. A bullet hole also adds a nice touch. Your hat is even more important than your belt buckle. Somebody swipes your buckle you’ll have to "work ‘em over". Somebody steals your hat you’re "gonna have to kill that boy".

What can’t you wear if you’re a cowboy? A t-shirt, except under your snap down shirt. Shorts, except undershorts. Flip-flops - no real range-rider would be caught dead in flip-flops. A real tie, except perhaps at your mother’s funeral - and then it must be that 40 year old 5 inch wide tie your daddy wore at his mother’s funeral. A baseball cap - that’s for sissies and crackheads (the crackheads wear theirs backwards, as do some unknowing sissies). Polyester slacks - need I elaborate? And last, cowboys should NEVER wear an earring, nose ring or any kind of ring that goes anywhere besides on a finger (and those are optional).


Driving

When we first came to this area we asked someone how to get to a certain place. The reply was, "go to the middle of nowhere and take a right, then go even more to the middle of nowhere - you’ll be within a few miles from there".

That was a pretty fair statement at the time. Now, things are closing in a bit. It doesn’t feel so isolated and the distances seem more manageable. That’s one thing about West Texas - the distances. It’s 1.25 hours to get to the nearest hospital (if you can call it that), 3.5 hours to the nearest commercial airport (5 hours to the next nearest), 3.25 hours to reasonable groceries and a real hospital, 7-8 hours to a real city, and only 30 minutes to a bank branch and a post office. All of this is on good straight roads with speed limits of 70-75 miles per hour.

Every so often I’ll drive the 3-3.5 hours to go shopping, spend maybe 3 hours hitting the butcher shop, grocery store, liquor store, pet shop, home center and wholesale grocery and drive back the same day. You need to be very organized to do that run.

Our neighbor who is building a house has to make the trip about once a week and it doesn’t seem to phase him. Texans are used to distance and they usually talk in terms of hours instead of miles, it’s easier because some places aren’t far but they are hard to get to. When we came down to look for a place to buy the realtor put on 250 miles one day just showing us around - pretty usual for her but we were exhausted. Some days that 250 miles yields no sale.

A drive across Texas from El Paso in the northwest to Brownsville in the southeast is a hard two day trip and I’m not talking backroads but interstate highways most of the way. Personally, I’d do it in three days just to get in some quality scenery time.

Texas backroads are a treat. You can drive for miles without seeing a soul on the road. You can pass through very small towns without seeing anyone on the street. Yet you can stop at a farm stall out in absolute nowhere and they’ll have sold out the melons for the day.

It’s interesting. In all this open, deserted country, people are far more observant of speed laws than around cities. You can be driving down a stretch of road that is absolutely straight for 15 miles and no one is doing more than 3-5 miles over the limit and most are right on the limit. Texans don’t seem to mind driving.

So, being so far from anywhere, what do you do in an emergency? Well, you mostly hope that there isn’t one. If there is, the ambulance is 30 miles away or more but usually a Sheriff’s Deputy is only 10-15 miles down or up the road. And, they’re all good at what they do.

They loaded me up in the ambulance one day and trucked me up to our non-hospital. We had to go through a Border Patrol checkpoint on the way and some windy mountainous country. From call-in to delivery was about two hours including a pretty thorough exam at our house prior to leaving. Of course, if I’d been very bad off they’d have transferred me to the real hospital another two hours away. If you have a really serious problem your chances are poor.

If you choose to live out in the boondocks you need a couple of things: good health and a real appreciation for the inside of a motor vehicle, because here you’re "going nowhere in a hurry, fast".

The Wave


When you first drive through this area of West Texas you notice one thing immediately - most of the drivers lift a finger as they approach you. No, it's not that middle digit but the forefinger, though some will lift two or three fingers - it's a matter of personal style. They are waving.

Now sometimes they won't wave, particularly if you look like an out-of-stater. That's because outsiders rarely respond or respond too late. But if you look local, especially if you're driving a pickup truck and/or wearing a cowboy hat, you'll likely get the wave, and you need to be prepared to return it.

Here's how: always drive with one hand on top of the steering wheel. As someone approaches you simply raise your index finger and hang it in the air for a couple of seconds. You'll almost certainly get a response if the person is a local.

Why the wave? Well, it's friendly, or more accurately it's neighborly. I think it's also an acknowledgment of the situation: here you are miles from nowhere with perhaps one car coming into sight every 10 miles or more. In other words, you're not in a crowd. You are, in fact, among a very sparse group of people, people upon whom you may have to depend if you break down or have a medical problem. You need the very next person coming down the pike to stop and help. So, you bond. That finger wave is a "glad to be here with you". It's a "you can count on me, buddy, we're all in this together".

Last year I started out from my house at about 6:30am and drove the 10 miles to the main highway. I saw no one on the way. When I hit the highway I headed north to our nearest town of any size. I drove 20 more miles without seeing a vehicle ahead or behind me. Then along came a telephone company truck. The next vehicle headed my way, also a phone company truck, came 6 miles later. In the 72 miles from my house to town I counted 6 vehicles.

Out here you have to depend on your neighbors (neighbors meaning anyone else in the county). There are some folks here I just plain don't like and some who don't like me. But if I see them stuck or broken down or signaling trouble, I'll stop and help. They'd do the same. We may not speak much during the time but we'd assist each other and then be on our way. When you live remote that's the way things are. That finger wave is a pact, it's a code we all know and it goes beyond friendly - it goes to basic survival.

We're almost a clan. We're not city, suburb or even rural. We're remote, and that carries certain obligations.

It's also part of the politeness of folks here. West Texans pride themselves in their courtesy, in their "yes, ma'ams" and "yes, sirs", in the touching of their hat brims as you pass, in the shy, almost imperceptible head nod and in that flick of the finger on the steering wheel. Howdy, neighbor.

For all this, people are generally reserved, they don't talk much - at least not the natives. The newbies who've come out and who haven't seen another human in a week or so will grab you with a haunted, desperate look and talk your ear off. Some can't stand the quiet, the reclusivity, and they will eventually leave. Others of us try to adapt, because it's the only alternative. We do the wave, we nod hello, we tend toward being a bit reserved in our conversation. We try to fit into this rugged environment where the next person down the road may be essential.

Chewin’

Why is it that cowboys and baseball players seem to be about the only people on the planet who chew tobacco? There are exceptions of course. I know a Swedish economist consultant who puts cute miniature "tea bags" of tobacco in between his lip and gums. Very tidy, no need to spit. But Tom is an eccentric. You see no "tea bags" here - leave it to the Swedes to keep things tidy.

If you want to try your luck with chew, here’s how it’s done. You buy yourself a tin of Skoal or Copenhagen or one of the less popular brands. You take a pinch of the stuff between your forefinger and thumb and you pack it down between your lip and gum. I’ve noticed that most people seem to either place the "chew" or "chaw" in the center of the mouth or toward the left side. Maybe left-handers favor the right side of the mouth, I guess I’ve never noticed.

You take your tongue and pack it in harder. You don’t want a wad to dislodge in mid-conversation and choke you to death.

After "loading up" you place the tin in either your breast pocket or the back pocket of your jeans. In both places (particularly in very tight jeans) the distinct shape of the can announces that you’re a chewin’ man. The other sure sign is that big bulge in your cheek that makes you talk a bit odd.

Then there’s the technical part - the spit. If you’re considering taking up this sport read this next sentence VERY carefully. DO NOT swallow!! If you happen to forget that rule you will be well appraised of the fact a short while down the road. Sure, some of the stuff goes down, and to the uninitiated you’ll know it. To the seasoned user it’s not a problem. Still, there’s a great deal left hanging there in your saliva and you have to get rid of it. Herein lies both the technique and the art and this is why I think most people use the stuff - the graceful, even tasteful elimination process.

If you are outdoors in a place that caters to cowboys or baseball players, you can rare back and spit. HOW you spit is the key. I’ve seen some who just hawk out a gob, some who almost spray it out, others who sort of dribble. The real pro, and the chewing gentleman, forms a projectile - an almost round, very compact wad of spit. This wad can travel a fairly amazing distance if projected correctly. And there are some experts who can hurl the wad with considerable accuracy. It is a fact that some folks can hit a distant spittoon with uncanny consistency.

If, however, you are indoors and it is not spittoon country you must be discrete. You need to find a receptacle into which to deposit your savings. In a bar or restaurant this is easy - a beer or pop can will do nicely. One must take particular care to dispose of the beer or pop can properly as there is the age old story of someone reaching for the wrong can and slurping up a big surprise. In other circumstances one may have to excuse oneself and journey to the rest facilities or step outside.

One thing: if you take up this habit, ALWAYS have a spare tin of chew around. In most polite company you’ll not be able to "bum" some and a chewin’ man without his chaw is a sad and miserable creature indeed. Why, you could lose the World Series if the pitcher runs out of chaw, or you could find yourself on the ground with 2000 pounds of bad bull coming down your way if you cowboyed without a pinch.

One last point (a question): can someone please explain the fine sensation of French kissing a guy who’s got a wad of tobacco and gooey spit sliding around in there?

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Cougar

It rained all of yesterday and the sky was overcast this morning, fog hanging on the mountains. We were just settling down for a brief shuteye after lunch when Mija bounded from the bed barking. We heard a commotion and joined her at the back door. East Corazone had clearly come under attack. We heard heavy artillery explosions and small arms fire coming from the mountain whose top third was enveloped in clouds. Suddenly we saw sprays of dust where the explosions had hit. The clatter continued downslope with dust spouting into the air. This was our first experience of a rock fall on the mountain and it was impressive and unsettling. The explosions ceased and the dust settled. Our first thoughts were that it was nice not to have been hiking on that particular slope at the time.

Just downslope and into a side valley this attack was undoubtedly followed by a startled mountain lion. About a quarter of a mile from here we have one of the big cats hanging out. We haven’t seen it yet but we’ve seen several sites it uses to deposit its scat, and there’s no mistaking mountain lion scat for any other around here. Coming on really fresh scat makes those small hairs on the back of your neck stand up and take notice.

Our neighbor has heard the cougar (another common name here) on occasion. They sound like a woman in high distress - wailing and carrying on. No one has been bothered by them down here on the Ranch but in the adjacent Big Bend National Park a hiker had a tussle with an old and ill lion a couple of years back. The guy sustained some scratches but got away. Healthy lions usually do not go for people in areas where they have plenty of habitat with lots of food (other than human). When they are crowded in a small range, there can be trouble.

There have been lion attacks on bikers and joggers recently in Southern California. A study of the maps and characteristics of the areas show serious human encroachment on habitat. These lions were hungry and some humans, especially bikers and joggers apparently, looked like good prey.

We suspect our cougar friend often travels through our property as they have a fairly wide range. In the dark we keep an eye on Mija just in case. But during the day we don’t bother, Mija has quite a capacity for hearing and smelling and seeing things that we don’t notice. And she’s not foolhardy.

Like many other species of large mammals, the cougar has been continually driven into smaller areas, becoming locally extinct in spots as bounties were levied to rid cattle areas of "varmints". Here we seem to have plenty and they are rarely hunted.

We have seen bobcats and occasionally get reports of other cats in the area: maguey, jaguarundi and even ocelot. There have been very rare reports of Mexicans wolves or lobos. The rare cats and the lobos are thought to range up from Mexico, only miles away. We hope to see one of these animals stalking a rabbit down the arroyo someday.

Our rockslide was the first since we’ve lived here. We enjoy speculating on the cause. Perhaps a whirlwind added the last straw to a finely balanced rock. Or maybe an Aoudad, introduced from North Africa to this area years ago for hunting, took a wrong step, putting it’s 350 pounds where it shouldn’t have. Then again, it might be that our lion friend walked up to a rock and gave it a nudge, just to surprise us.

Whatever the cause it was a reminder that there is a massive amount of potential power just a few hundred yards from our verandah.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Drought

We’re in the sixth or seventh week of nearly steady 100 degree days. Daily the clouds build, huge and fluffy and water pregnant, south and north. Moisture is somehow being sucked from the dust dry earth and carried skyward. As it passes it drenches you in humidity. The desert is not meant to be humid.

At dawn you can say nothing - locals say only fools and newcomers try to predict the weather here. At 2pm there’s hope. The clouds are formidable hulks rising to 40,000 feet over the Chisos Mountains. By 3pm there are more. Vague feelings of disappointment begin at 4 o’clock. If the sky is not full by then it will all slowly unravel. Large patches of blue will be exposed. Thunderheads will collapse on themselves. Whole cloud banks will dissolve before your eyes. No rain today.

It’s been that way for weeks on end. We’re in a drought. The animals are crazed for food and drink. Mice burrow under screening to eat our lettuce. Rats climb the sheep fence to grab an inch long cucumber. Critters eat our melons, even the leaves and large stems of the plants. The tomatoes are long gone, the ones high on the bush have been nabbed by the birds, the lower branches were stripped by rodents. A thornless cactus, two feet tall and widely branched has disappeared - maybe even the roots are gone. Coyotes come to the porch at night to drink the dog’s water. We are awakened by furious barking and growling as Mija lunges for the door, but by the time we get there the coyotes are only shadows.

We see the scat of many different animals but still cannot figure out which one loves the coffee grounds in the compost pile. Every morning we find the degradable coffee filter from the day before torn apart and empty.

The sunsets are spectacular, playing off the remnants of the day’s clouds and reflecting off the Rosillos and Rattlesnake Ridge to the east and south. By early evening there are only wisps of clouds, by night the sky is clear and the billions of pinpricks light the desert floor, so brilliant you don’t need a flashlight to see your path. Still, best to have one in case of snakes. It would not do to step on a Mohave rattler.

Our catchment tanks are nearing empty. Yet ten miles down the road they’ve had three inches of rain in five days. The desert is fickle. Like Coyote, it is the trickster. Maybe tomorrow a storm will build behind the Corazones and come sweeping, unexpected, down upon us. This has happened.

It is said that the coyotes have been struck by a disease. We see few but there are many rabbits. Nature is cruel in the dry - just when the food source peaks an epidemic strikes. When plenty comes, death is not far behind.

Our pipeline from the well on the hill leaked today. Within minutes there were doves, sparrows, finches, bees, wasps and butterflies at the small puddle which was being formed. I delay the repairs in sympathy but I know I should let Nature strike Her balance.

It’s deep in the night. There are no sounds except the imperceptible humming of the starlight - you can’t really hear it but you sense it, along with the slow scratchings of the skunk and badger and the cough of the javelina. The big cats are shifting the dust in their silent stalking.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the earth will come alive with pelting droplets, with rain thrown horizontal by wild currents. Maybe there will even be hail and the cooling afterwards. But tonight, only the slow, hot wind.