Desert Dispatches

A hummingbird sits on the circular perch for the second feeder I added to the front porch. The sun beams strongly from the southeast, that desert morning light adding at least twenty degrees to what the air feels like and what the mercury says. For several minutes I sit and watch, nursing my last sip of coffee as I try to mirror the experience she’s having. Hank lays in his bed, propped on the corner of the porch that gets the most direct sunlight. Three beings enjoying the life-giving rays of light, regarding each other curiously in close quarters. 


Just south, a major road whirs with low-grade white noise. A Gila woodpecker screams across the street, while two other hummingbirds perch on opposite ends of the scraggly mesquite tree in the yard and squawk and chirp their territorial songs. The lone female sips gluttonously from the feeder, then takes a long break to simply sit. It’s rare to see a hummingbird sitting still for this long – one of the many reasons I relate to them. Movement is survival, it’s safer than stillness. Movement is life affirming. But every once in a while, it feels good to find a safe place to sit and soak up some sun. Right around the time I start to wonder if she’s healthy, she winks and flies off into the distance, that magical disappearing act hummingbirds do so well. I am starting to recognize the few that frequent the feeders on my new porch. 

“Were you waiting on Hank?” I field the question as a long trail run comes to an end. 


“No way, Hank was waiting on me.” Both are sort of true, neither is totally correct. 


Hank was placing his feet carefully on the sharp rocks, then we both paused as I tried to follow my ears to lay eyes on the cactus wren singing its song from somewhere deep in the ocotillo and cholla that line the trail. I don’t know exactly what it’s saying, but I know I should pay attention. Other people run right by, race back to the car, back to the house and the busy life that awaits below. All I want is to be up here a little longer, to be still and passive enough that the birds sing their songs to me and the subtle movements of the deer reveal their hidden herds among the boulders above. 

* * *

I’m heading to the coffee shop and slam on the brakes. A butterfly is dancing across the road and it needs a chance to get to where it’s going safely. Each native-scaped yard is a microcosm of the Sky Islands that dot this region, an isolated refuge from the vast and unforgiving sea below. For the jaguars and the coatis, the desert floor is the ocean. For the birds and the butterflies, it is all the concrete and glass that slices apart their familiar foliage. For me, it is some of both. Civilization is my species’ lifeline, and yet it can be a dangerous and soul-sucking realm. I prefer to watch the sunset from somewhere high in the hills, the twinkle of the city lights below a distant reminder of the world I must eventually return to. 

It feels much better to be up here, not an apex predator, not quite comfortably numb, using all my senses. I stop to crouch and study the sand.

“You good, bro?” My riding buddy for the day yells back as he notices I’m not keeping his pace through the landscape. 


“Yep, just looking at some lion prints!” 



“Yeah, super clear and fresh ones.” He hurries back towards me. 


“I’ve never seen anything like that before. You’re saying that’s from a mountain lion?” 


“Oh, most definitely. I see signs of them almost every time I come out this far.” 


“That’s crazy, I’ve never seen anything like that.”


“Never? And you ride the stuff you do?” 


“Nah, I don’t notice things like that. I did almost hit a lynx once with my car.” 




“Maybe, it had the ears and the spots.” 


* * *