Snowbirds visiting southern New Mexico are showing up on the desert trails where I run. I’ve noticed some of them are still plugged in. Sitting on a bench staring down into a phone. Walking with earbuds in or with music playing aloud. Sitting on a rock under a juniper tree with talk radio crushing the silence.
Their avoidance of the unbroken experience of nature makes me pay more attention to it. On a cloudless blue day, it was so quiet I could detect the soft sound of the breeze across my ears and the flutter of a quail taking flight. After a wonderfully long and heavy rain, the sandscape was dramatically repainted in soft, curving streaks of beige and brown where new rivulets had run to the lake. There was even a little mud. Not to mention deer tracks, a roadrunner, and a jackrabbit.
On a warm day, I even spied a few snake tracks. They like the sun as much the human visitors do.
Given the choice to disconnect from something, I’d choose the phone.
What was going on that night? Are they always out in such numbers, and the conditions simply revealed their traces? Or was it a special event?
A light evening rainstorm, isolated in Elephant Butte, cleared all other imprints from the sand on the trail, so only the tiny dots of rain pocked the otherwise smooth surface. It was so hot the next day, no humans had set foot there until I went for a run. Every few feet, a snake track crossed the trail. Thin snakes, thick snakes, straight-line travelers, undulating travelers. Travels to bushes, to rocks, to holes. I had wondered what lived in that hole. Now I know.
I also know how a snake can travel in a straight line. If it’s in no hurry, it can propel itself along on the scales in its belly, almost like walking. I watched a video. Amazing. Now back to writing the book in progress. As long as it’s been taking, I seem as slow as a scale-walking snake after a rain, but I’ve been busy. Every night. Apparently, so have the snakes.
The world we see through headlines seems to be falling apart, filled with violence and dysfunction, and ordinary life can be full of petty hassles. I need to get out in the natural world where life is more in balance than in the man-made one, and do it daily. Before the temperature goes over a hundred and after it goes down.
The same conditions that make June in New Mexico so challenging during the day—no humidity, no clouds, hot winds clearing the sky—make it spectacular after dark. Even just standing in an alley, a short way from the streetlights, I can look up and see not only the bigger, closer stars, but the background billions and billions sparkling like a beach of diamond sand behind them.
Heat and all, I still run, heading out while the temperature is only in the nineties. As I was about to start a run a few days ago, I encountered a grasshopper longer than my index finger. Yes, it held still and let me measure. Its head was marbled, its body striped and speckled, and it had golden antennae that looked like strands of broom straw. Beautiful, in its own buggy way. Along the trail, pearlescent gray lizards with radiant orange bands on their sides perched on rocks then ran away. Another species displayed glowing blue-green hind legs that appeared lit from within. I think it’s some kind of collared lizard or perhaps a type of earless lizard, but I couldn’t find one quite like it when I searched on web sites. Whatever it’s called, it’s a miracle. So is having vision to see to it and a mind to appreciate it. For all of this, I am grateful.
Southwestern earless lizard photo courtesy of the New Mexico Herpetological Society.