Evening Desert Walks

In the evening, when the sun is not as intense in the hot desert summer sky, I take my dog for his walks.  I really should say “our” walks because I need them just as much as he does, sitting inside the house with cold air blowing on me all day gives me a case of cabin fever.  Once I see the living room clock point at 7pm I know it’s time to break free from my air-conditioned prison and go outside in the not-so-hot fresh air.

Our favorite place to walk is along the dirt road that begins a quarter a mile from my house.  Once we go past the small cabins along the dirt road it’s open desert and Bo gets to go off his leash.  Bo is a tailless but handsome German Shepherd we got from the Desert Hot Springs pound and his stumpy tail wags as he voices his impatience to go for a walk with his yips and barks, seeing me put on my sneakers and pressing the buttons of my Garmin GPS watch.  He’s jumping and turning circles when I finally get down his leash from its place by the door.

When we go outside Bo pulls at the leash, he knows where we are going, and he could probably take us to the dirt road himself.  We walk along the dirt road with its small vacation cabins  tucked in among cactus gardens and palo verde trees.  They’re empty most of the time, looked after in the owner’s absence by an old couple in a green jeep, their cocker spaniels leaning out of the windows as they circle the driveways of the cabins, leaving tire tracks to make it look like people frequent the cabins.

We finally walk by all the small cabins and came to what I call the Cross Roads, where the  dirt road makes a junction with other dirt roads and depending on what I feel like I could go down to a wash, through hilly terrain, or toward a main road where a church sits on the corner.  I opted for the church road as it’s not used often by dirt bikers and Bo hates dirt bikes.  A dirt bike came from behind us one time and I heard the distinctive whine of the motor too late over the blowing desert wind.  Bo saw it and gave chase to the dirt bike and when the dirt biker saw he had a big dog on his heals he kicked it up into high gear and gave Bo his dust.  It didn’t detour my dog from having a good chase after that dirt bike, finding his way back to me a half mile down the dirt road with his tongue hanging, a doggish grin on his face from the good chase.

It’s only a half mile from the Cross Roads to the Church, a mile round trip, and Bo spends the time searching out rabbits, lizards, and peeing on creosote bushes, trotting contentedly from one location to another.  He must run around twice as far as I do, maybe even three times as far.

An idea came to me and I took of my Garmin GPS watch and looped it through Bo’s collar.  It stayed at the top of his collar, right by his pointed ears, I pressed the start button to begin recording the trip and took off Bo’s leash.  Let’s find out just how far he runs.

Immediately Bo started making his rounds, peeing on a bush here, sniffing a branch there, standing at attention with his ears perked looking intently at a creosote bush where a lizard was hiding.  Meanwhile I continued to walk toward the church.  I reached the church and made the u-turn back toward the Cross Roads with Bo a few feet from me trotting off the path, tongue hanging.

He saw something in the distance toward the Cross Roads and took off after it and for a while I didn’t see him.  I kept walking and noticed that there was a slow moving green Jeep coming down the hill path approaching the Cross Roads.  Where was Bo?  The Jeep slowed down and paused for a moment out of sight behind a swell in the desert.  Uh-oh, I’ll bet Bo is saying hello, I hoped he wasn’t bothering those cocker spaniels.  I started to call Bo and after a few minutes he finally came into view.  I told him what a good boy he was and patted his head all the while continuing to walk to the Cross Roads.  I leashed him when we got there in the middle of the fresh tracks of the Jeep and that was when I saw that Bo was limping a little bit in his front right paw.

Later on, after performing home surgery to remove the cactus thorns lodged in Bo’s front right paw, I took a look at my Garmin watch to see how far Bo went.  There was a film over the watch and I used my finger nail to scratch it off.  What did that come from?  Oh, it’s Bo’s drool, yuck!  The watch settled to the bottom of his collar as he ran and he drooled all over it.  I took a scour pad from the kitchen sink and scrubbed it off then synced the watch with its app on the phone to see the results.

I know that it’s a mile round trip from the Cross Roads to the  church.  Bo went 1.5 miles during that walk.  So does that mean that Bo runs 1.5 times further than I do?  If I did 3 miles would he go 4.5 miles?  Surely more data is needed to make a sound conclusion.  I could also tell from the map on the app that Bo did in fact go and see the old couple in the Jeep.  But he turned around and trotted through the desert when I called.  What a good dog!

 

 

Roses in the Desert

My Dad would give my Mom a dozen roses throughout their marriage.  All of them would be red to represent “love” but there would always be a lone yellow rose to represent “friendship.”  The only yellow rose blossom contrasted against the sea of red. Both my mother and her mother had rose bushes in their backyards.  I could see my mom’s yellow roses through the living room window, the blossoms swaying in the wind from my favorite armchair. I’d sit back and watch them.  My Grandma had a much larger variety of rose bushes. She had all sorts of colors and would display large bouquets of them on her kitchen table.

Roses can even tolerate the scorching desert heat with enough water.  Yucca Valley has a lovely rose garden by their community center with a surprising variety of roses.  I enjoyed walking among them when we first moved to the Morongo Basin, being very watchful over my 18-month old daughter as she trotted among the thorny bushes trying to find the biggest and prettiest blossoms.  She’d point each one out to me before burying her little nose into the blooms, inhale deeply, and say “Ummm, is good!”

When I finally got my own home with a yard I knew I wanted to have some rose bushes.  Walmart was selling bare-root roses and I splurged one day and bought two of them There were no leaves or flowers on either of them.  They were just a couple of sticks with roots wrapped in plastic wrap. The label on one of them promised a yellow rose and the other a red rose.  I read the directions on the wrappers carefully and planted them in my backyard. The yellow rose was planted underneath my dining room window. I hoped that in time I would be able to look out my window and see the yellow blossoms swaying in the wind.

They both quickly had leaves and soon blossoms but the red rose didn’t seem to be doing was well as the yellow rose.  It’s blossoms were shaped weird and it didn’t bloom near as much as the yellow rose bush did. My dog discovered he enjoyed the taste of rose bush and chewed up the red rose so much that I put the poor bush out of its misery and uprooted it.  The yellow rose survived the mauling and my husband put stakes and a chicken wire fence around it for protection against our fury rose-killer. When my husband was installing the stakes he discovered why the yellow rose bush was doing so well.  He drove the stake right through the washing machine run off pipe. When ever my washing machine drained, my rose bush got watered. What a happy accident!

I’ve learned how to take care of my surviving yellow rose bush.  Youtube and Google directed me how to prune it. When I noticed the blooms weren’t frequent and unimpressive I asked for the advice of a more knowledgeable rose-grower.  My Mom told me that roses are heavy drinkers and feeders. Well, I had the watering down but my rose must be hungry too. I started fertilizing with rose food and my little rose bush has flourished.  

My yellow rose bush is doing well surrounded by its protective fence.  It’s watered by the washing machine and the leftover water in the dog’s water dish.  I write on my calendar when it’s time to fertilize it with rose food. It’s not big enough for me to look out of my dining room window to see its blooms but I think it will be with time.  I’ve enjoyed harvesting it’s blooms and displaying them on my kitchen table. When I sit at the kitchen table I get whiffs of the roses perfume and it smells sweeter than the other roses because it came from my own backyard.

The Cricket Wars

The sound of crickets chirping has always been a soothing sound to me.  It greeted me as I arrived home late at night and walked to the door after parking in the driveway.  The chirping crickets kept us company while we trick-or-treated in our neighborhood as we walked from house to house.  On the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland we floated past the man smoking his pipe while he watched the evening as the crickets were chirping in the make-believe scene.  The animatronic figure rocked back and forth in his rocking chair on his front porch of his house in the swamp.

I learned recently that the frequency of a cricket chirp can be modeled linearly.  The warmer the evening is, the higher frequency the cricket chirps. There’s even an equation that you can plug in the degrees in fahrenheit and predict how many chirps per minute a cricket will sound.

The sound of crickets chirping in the evening outside is a wonderful sound.  Crickets chirping inside is not soothing at all. A cricket inside the house is a trespasser.  

It started in the garage.  I would go in the garage to get something and hear a cricket chirping in there.  Huh, I thought, there’s a cricket in here. Wonder what he’s doing in here? A garage is not the optimal place for a cricket to live.

The garage was only the beginning of the cricket assault.  A few nights later I heard one in a storage closet that shares a wall with my 7-year old son’s bedroom.  We kept the cat boxes in there and and stored extra household items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies.  Huh, I mused, wonder why a cricket is in here? The storage closet is at the opposite end of the house from the garage and is not the optimal place for a cricket to live.

I didn’t think much of the crickets in the garage or storage room after that. But when my son said at bedtime one night “Mom, I can’t sleep, the cricket’s chirping too loud.” It became a matter of family security.  

I dutifully opened the storage room and was greeted with nothing but darkness and the almost constant sound of a cricket chirping.  I flipped the light switch to dispel the darkness but saw nothing but cat boxes and cleaning supplies.  It must have been hot in there to the cricket as he was chirping at a very high rate from some hidden position.   There was no way for me to see the cricket much less stop him from chirping.

War was declared between the crickets and I.  The crickets won that battle that night as my son took his blankets and set up his bed for the night on the floor of my bedroom so he could sleep.

Since then my son has relocated to our bedroom to sleep a few more times.  It was not every night but it was enough for me to recognize that I was losing battles in the Cricket Wars.  New measures had to be taken. I would give no mercy and appointed myself judge, jury, and executioner when it came to the crickets in the house.

I delivered the first verdict while reading in my favorite chair in my bedroom.  I spotted something scuttling out of the corner of my eye and I after I verified that it was a cricket and not a cockroach (my husband is the judge, jury, and executioner of cockroaches) I sprang into action.  I grabbed one of my sandals lying nearby where I kicked them off and carried out the execution. No mercy was granted to the trespassing cricket.

I have extended the duty of cricket executioner to my kids.  They were trained in the procedures after they came running down the hall “Mom! Mom!  There’s a cricket in the bathroom!”

“Go kill it!” I replied.

My son was too happy to comply with this command.  But my daughter wanted to grant the cricket probation by removing it from the bathroom and setting it loose outside.  I am still working on my daughter’s training in cricket execution.

The family cat has also joined in the Cricket Wars.  Every morning, an hour before everyone is up, the cat and I hang out at my little desk.  I sip my coffee while she’s curled up in my lap. One morning she jumped down from my lap and was interested  in something by the small bookcase nearby. She sniffed at it and I saw it hop. The cat found herself a small cricket.  She pawed it around the floor and pounced on it. When she grew bored of her game she gave one last jump on it and chomped down the cricket as a pre-breakfast appetizer.  Judge. Jury. Executioner.

I suppose I could look into hiring an exterminator but I’m leery about all the chemicals they spray around the house.  We haven’t seen a cricket for a few weeks now. I’m sure the Cricket Wars are not over but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve won this battle.  Crickets should keep their high-frequency chirping outside and trespassers will not be tolerated. I’ve got highly-trained cricket executioners and a guard-cat on duty 24 hours a day.

Coyotes in the Desert

I have the teacher’s edition of the first grade curriculum open in front of me with eager first-grade faces looking up at me from behind their little desks.  I have to give a lesson on carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores. I am substitute-teaching at Condor Elementary School on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC).  

There’s nothing like accessing prior knowledge when teaching a new concept.  

“Do any of you hear the coyotes at night?”

About 20 heads nod up and down and some reply with an enthusiastic “Yeah!”

“And what do they sound like?”  I knew what their response would be but I couldn’t help myself.  

“Aaaaah – Oooooooh!” Howl about 20 first graders.  Some emphasize their howls with tilting their heads back.

“That’s right!”  I say after the last of them get their howls out.  “Coyotes are carnivores which means they eat other animals.”

I’ve been hearing coyotes howl at night ever since I can remember.  My family would come out to Twentynine Palms to spend the weekend at our small homestead cabin in the outskirts of Twentynine.  It was about 25 minutes to downtown Twentynine Palms with the MCAGCC practically in the backyard. I always associated hearing coyotes as a sign of being in the boonies.

I was surprised when I heard coyotes howl during the first nights at our new home in downtown Twentynine Palms.  It sounded like I had a chorus of coyotes singing for me just outside my gate. Their yip-yips sounded when they celebrated a successful hunt.  One or two of them would cross the street or trot down the road in the early morning. Coyotes are always something to see. Lean and long with coloring to match the desert landscape, they are quite beautiful.  

The coyotes don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.  They are happy to make any quiet place their home. The Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery is surrounded by a chain link fence with large oleanders planted along the perimeter to serve as a windbreak.   People occasionally walk the asphalt paths of the cemetery as it’s a quiet and relatively flat area. I was walking the fence with it’s oleanders one day when movement caught my eye. I walked closer to the side of the fence and startled something out of hiding. Three coyote pups ran out of their den.

“Oh!  I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was your home!”  I tell their retreating figures.

The puppies were cute and small.  They looked like miniature versions of their parents.

We live in-town but we get frequent visits by coyotes.  A large coyote trotted through the alleyway behind our back yard.  A few seconds later two more coyotes followed the first. They were graceful in appearance and purposeful in movement.  Then I remembered that my cat was outside. My 7-year old son spotted the cat high on the limb of a dead tree in the empty lot next door to us.  He’s a smart cat to shimmy up there when those coyotes came through. Coyotes are carnivores after all.

Small dogs and cats keep coyotes well-fed.  I woke to hear my two dogs barking furiously outside at 4:30 in the morning.  I padded over to the blinds in my bedroom window to see what they were barking at.  Both the shepherd and chihuahua mix had their attention fixated at something across the street.  The shepherd’s hackles were raised and his front legs were propped up on our chain link fence.  The chihuahua mix was so excited that she continuously hopped up and down next to the shepherd.  She hopped about a foot or two up the corner of the chain link fence. Then she climbed up the rest of the fence and jumped down on the opposite side and took off like a shot across the street toward the unknown thing.

Once I saw her go over the fence I quickly found my shoes and grabbed the flashlight that we keep above the stove.  I hurried faster when I heard her aggressive barks turn to howls of pain. I opened the front door and went across the street, shining the flash light and looking for our dog.  The light shined on a coyote’s backside trotting down the street away from me. It had our little dog in its mouth and there was nothing I could do. I was incredulous.

One of the most difficult things I had to do was tell my young daughter about what happened to her cherished pet.  A hard lesson to learn.  Living in the desert means I must keep my small pets inside for their own safety. Coyotes are neat to see and a pleasure to hear but they are carnivores and they don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.