Desert Encounters

 

The hind end of an animal I’d never seen before in this stretch of desert silenced my thoughts. Whatever it was, brown and furry and scurrying, stub-tailed and about the size of a rabbit, it made me aware. The novelty of birds with bright yellow feathers broke into my thought-cycle also as I ran—yellow warblers migrating through (at least I think so; I’m not a bird expert, just an admirer). A quail atop a bush, its crest profiled against the blue sky, brought another moment of surprised inner stillness. Quail are usually running on the ground. It’s the lizards who pose.

I stop for lizards. A lesser earless lizard, no bigger than my thumb, has little bright eyes and long golden toes, subtle gray-on-gray spotted markings, and tiny arms that enable it to do push-ups with flawless form. Its miniature legs run faster than I can. The greater earless lizards seem to be showing off their green hind legs, their side stripes, their green-and-orange forelegs, and the rose patches on the females’ flanks. I’m sure they’re displaying for each other, but I appreciate the show. Everything else on the ground blends in—brown or gray—but they glow. It seems odd for small, delicate, ground-dwelling creatures not to be camouflaged, but they flourish, maybe because they like the heat and nothing else does (except crazy runners). Their body ideal temperature for activity is 101 degrees. I observed a large one getting brighter the longer he baked. On my third lap of the trail, his orange stripes were radiant, as if he had to be heated properly to light up.

The prickly pear cacti are blossoming, bright yellow. Creosote bushes have small yellow buds. Ocotillo blooms shoot out like red-orange flames on the tips of slender, bare stalks. The yellow birds are posing on them, contrasting with the flowers, and perching among the creosote branches in a yellow-on-yellow match.

The birds-and-flowers encounters make me stop in awe. Yes, I’m running, but there are moments not to be hurried.

 

Cactus Flowers, Colander Hats and Other May Musings

This is my first May in Truth or Consequences. I may have complained about the wind a little (or a lot) but there’s much to love, and when the wind stops, this hot spring/summer month is beautiful. We don’t have green grass and tulips and daffodils here, but May does bring out some amazing flowers. Ocotillo! It’s not a cactus, though it can be mistaken for one when its leaves have fallen off. In the winter, it looks like a spray of long, thorny sticks. In the summer, it wears small green leaves. And in May, scarlet blossoms flare from its tips, stunning against the bare blue sky, attracting bees and hummingbirds. Tree cholla displays purple-pink blossoms on the ends of its long, spiky arms, prickly pear cacti are blooming with orange or yellow cups, and ice plants, low-growing succulents with daisy-like flowers in a rainbow of colors, cover swaths of ground all along the streets.

A year ago, I was teaching my last college classes, grading finals, preparing to move, and somehow keeping up with writing and yoga. This year, instead of marching in commencement in hot black academic regalia, I was walking with a float in T or C’s Fiesta Parade. Fiesta is a celebration of the town. Local businesses sponsor floats, political parties and candidates join the parade, and of course there are horses and a marching band. My favorite part of the parade was the Stationary Parade on the sidewalk, where residents in extraordinary costumes waved at the moving parade. Some of stationary parade “marchers” were “walking” in no-impact Gazelle workout equipment, legs swinging back and forth on airborne pedals. One man wore a suit of big silver sequins. And they wore, of course, colander hats.

This is not a mere kitchen item on one’s head. It’s millinery art. The Colander Krewe has been part of Fiesta for eleven years, and it’s catching on. The prize-winning float sponsored by Desert Archaic Gallery, Don’s Den, and Truth or Consequences Brewing Company—a float featuring a pink-wigged woman in a top hat beating a large drum, pulled by the iconic Whatever-mobile—was followed by people in costumes topped by astoundingly strange and original hats, including at least one colander.

Fiesta also includes a car show at the Moose Lodge, music and vendors in Ralph Edwards Park by the river, and a junk boat race. By trying to squeeze in the car show and the boat race, I missed all but the final junk boat, a strange creation heading off down the Rio Grande with what appeared to be tiny wheels on long arms like spider legs poking out from its floating center.

The vendor who caught my attention for the longest time was selling crystals, some of them enormous, and he had tubs full of geodes, most of them not broken open, so one could purchase a surprise. I didn’t—crystal-bearing rocks cover a corner of my desk already, some plucked from local trails—but I liked the idea of buying that gray rough sphere, knowing it holds a crystal cave, and waiting until the time is right to open it and reveal the magic. It’s a metaphor waiting to be used. I hope I can find a reason to use it, and to write a scene that includes colander hats.

*****

Totally off topic, but if you haven’t read The Calling yet or want to recommend it  to someone, it’s on sale through May 21 for 99 cents all e-book retail sites.