Rats, Mice, and Snakes

You'd think I'd be better about such things.

I wouldn't say it's a lot, but the amount of time I spend worrying about rats, mice, and snakes is certainly … noticeable. While it's true that things like that live up here in the desert, I honestly don't know if they're a problem in my little piece of it.

The land around here is littered with holes, which I take to be burrows, but one thing about the desert that's becoming increasingly obvious is that it doesn't change much. In fact, without someone or something doing something to it, it hardly ever changes at all.

It has no reason to, for one thing, but more importantly, I think, is what makes it the desert in the first place: no water.

Back in Junior High I heard the joke that science had discovered the universal solvent but had no place to put it (you see, being a universal solvent, it would eat through everything). Not particularly funny, I admit, but it laid the way for later on when I learned that water, of all things, comes as close to being a universal solvent as anything nature has given us.

Trees, rocks, dirt, mountains, you name it, water wears it down. Think of the Grand Canyon. It also, I believe, does its job at tearing apart vegetation and probably even dead animals.

There is no water in the desert, which I guess explains its name. This is taking me some getting used to. The guide book for the local Joshua Tree National Forest mentions in passing when talking about litter that many things like egg shells or orange peels that can be more or less safely discarded everywhere else have to be properly disposed of in the desert. Instead of rotting away and enriching the soil or whatever, they just lay out in the sun and dehydrate.

And, stick around forever.

Which brings me back to my burrows. Yep, they're out there. I'd guess there are a couple of hundred on my property alone but I have no idea how old they are or if they're “active.” With no rains to change the land, to crumble their edges, fill them in, or do any of that stuff, they just sit there.

A few days before I legally owned this place I was up here giving it a visit, looking at it and marveling that it would soon be mine. I was checking it out, seeing more closely what I was getting myself into, when a rabbit ran across what I now call the back yard (the area of my property that's outside the chain link fence).

Yes, I smiled.

In the four months or so since then, I've seen nary a thing on the surface. No lizards, no snakes, no varmints of any description. Nothing, really, except that one fuzzybug and ants both red and black.

I'm not entirely surprised by that, given as it's winter and I think this is when any self-respecting creature would be hibernating far underground instead of freezing it's ass off on the surface. When spring comes and encourages the plants to do more than just hunker down and put up with the winds, I suspect there may be more activity, maybe even more rabbits.

And then, I fear, more rats, mice, and snakes, but I honestly have no idea.

I'm worried about them being a problem without even knowing if they'll be a problem at all. Until I've lived here a year, I really have no way of knowing how “active” the land will be.

I remember feeling the same way about coyotes.

They're obviously up here and I've seen a couple, or the same one twice, on the road a few miles from my home. Once during the night when I was watching the sky fall in little chunks of meteors I heard them, far away, howling at something or other. I assembled a small pile of handy rocks near the door to throw at them only to learn from Jim across the street that he used to raise chickens and never had any problem with coyotes.

Which laid to rest my worries about Minardi fending off roving herds.

But, back to the rats. I've never seen any sign of them on the ground, but they're also very sneaky. A few weeks ago when I finally got around to cleaning out a shed that had been erected right next to the rear of the house I did (for me), a pretty thorough cleaning and in all my brushing and sweeping found a total of one of what my mom referred to as “calling cards.”

And that single, solitary tiny turd may have just as easily come from a mouse. And that, like everything else up here, may have been left any time since the day the shed was built.

When I tore down the bush by the corner of the house to get rid of the hiding place it offered to snakes and rats, the one living thing I disturbed in the process was a moth.

One moth.

So, yeah, I'm worried. All those burrows I found inside the fence have had their openings stepped on to more easily see if something comes out. But until I live through all four seasons up here, I have no idea if I have anything to worry about or not.

Desert Politics

As they're wont to do, the Marines are flexing their muscles.

They've been exploding things willy-nilly the last week or so, but I'm thinking that instead of trying to show nature that they, too, can make you think of thunder that they have an ulterior purpose behind all these booms.

The explosions, frequent as they are, don't bother me or Minardi, maybe because they're far enough way to be neither sharp nor particularly loud. I sometimes feel them as much as hear them, which is pretty impressive, but they've got about as much land as Rhode Island for blowing things up and I guess they want to show that they need and use it.

Which brings me to my point. There's a real dilemma for the testosterone-driven, one that's been going for several years. On the one hand, the Marines want more land and back in 2008 asked for another 250 square miles or so to better practice blowing things up.

This, I'd imagine, would naturally be just fine with the pro-military types who are based or lived in the area and whom I'd imagine find very little reason to ever deny our armed forces anything they want.

On the other hand … King of the Hammers.

The “Hammers,” as they're called, is an annual off-road race that takes place in the area the Marines want for blowing up. This past week there's been increased traffic in the area as off-road racers have been hauling all manner of vehicles and, of course, RVs, trailers, and whatnot into the nearby Off Road Recreation Center that also serves as the home of King Clone.

I don't think the Marines particularly dislike off-road racing, but I'd have to admit anything they have for moving over the desert would make pretty short work of the professional's buggies and, being Marines, might even welcome the fight.

In any case, the expansion has been delayed or postponed or something and, as is the American way, is probably sitting around in some court or other. The Hammers people, in pressing their case, cite how important their event is to the community, talking about how much money local businesses get, how hundreds of thousands of people will lose their way of life by the loss of public land, and even that thousands of desert tortoises might get blown up. Their thinking, it must be assumed, is that that is a fate somewhat worse than being run over.

It's gotta be hard to choose between tearing up the desert and supporting the military, and even I'm of two minds about it. Without a strong, overwhelming military, we'd have hundreds of thousands more adolescents running around our cities maybe painting everything in sight or trying to get on YouTube by attempting some feat after asking a friend to hold their drink a moment.

So, I'm thinking the Marines are just showing off right now. Also, that the King of the Hammers race will be a success and might be worth a visit.

House Monitor

The desert is trying to kill me.

A couple days ago I woke up just fine, but while drinking some coffee I noticed that my foot hurt, that I was hobbling around, and that it really hurt to stand or to put any weight on my left foot.

This made me mad.

My body, it seemed, was falling apart, quicker and sooner than I expected, and no matter how frighteningly old and sad that guy who looks back at me in the mirror looks, I like to think I've still got a few good years left. But, no, it looked as if I'd be forever lame and immediately envisioned all sorts of drastic events.

When I took a shower, I felt refreshed and better, and not just because of my squeaky clean skin. I couldn't help but notice that my left foot, the one that was painful, was swollen, all pink and puffed up. Later, I looked more carefully at it and wasn't too surprised to see that on the ball of that foot there was a small circle, about the size of a pea, that was dark and in its center was what looked like a tiny bite mark.

So, there was a reason after all for limping, which was much better than thinking that my body was just failing in general. I was also pretty happy to see that there were no lines, dark or otherwise, leading up from the bite since I'd been told that was a sign of poison heading toward my heart and would severely limit my remaining life to a matter of hours.

A dab of antiseptic and a band-aid later, and I was good to go.

And go I did, outside to look at the desert and more specifically, at my little bit of it. This is a fairly common pastime of mine and not only gives me time to reflect but also lets me check up on the crap that still surrounds my home. Between desert winds, light sprinkles of rain and whatnot, it never hurts to check how things are holding up out there.

While still messy, nothing was out of place, but it did make me a little sad when I saw how overwhelming my future would be if I ever got around to actually starting to do anything.

So I went back to my chair by the front door, sat, and stared. This was better.

Or, it was better until I looked at the Comet cleanser that I'd poured around the entrance to my home, just around the threshold. I was told that was good way to keep ants out and, since that's the sort of thing I want, I'd done it and had been pleased with the results. I'd even seen actual ants approach the blue field, draw back, and walk its length before throwing up their tiny ant arms in frustration and returning to explore the larger, Comet free, desert in search of food.
While it works okay on ants, I couldn't help but notice that something else during the night had pretty much disregarded the repellant properties of household cleanser and had left a series of tracks along its length and width.

I first lied to myself that it must be lizards, but if so, they were left by some rare breed of lizards that don't have any feet since there were no foot prints. Nope, just squiggly lines in the Comet, ones that I immediately assumed to be those of young rattlesnakes since they were only about the width of a pencil.

The Internet told me that rattlesnakes like to live in or under bushes, rocks, and bits of wood. Not surprisingly, I have all three on my property, but between the door and the corner of the house, there's a bush that I never particularly cared for.

Not only does it have stickers and small puffs like a dandelion, but much smaller, but it's growing right alongside the house and, no doubt, undermining the foundation. Also, at the corner of the house is a small pile of rocks whose presence I've not quite figured out. The way I see it, there's two obvious possibilities: they're decorative or they're functional.

Many, if not all, of the homes out here have decorative rocks on the property, perhaps because they're everywhere out here and, at the very least, people move them out of the way so there are smooth places to drive and walk. The bases of the larger bushes on my own property have partial or complete circles of a variety of stones, so it may have just looked pleasing to someone to have some piled up at the corner of the house.

Or, they could be serving some useful purpose and maintaining the integrity of the foundation against wind and rain. In either case, it would be easy enough to move them (carefully, taken care not to be bit if snakes are living there) and get rid of the ugly bush, but I was a little worried about exposing the foundation.

In driving around, most of the places have exposed foundations, so my thinking of learning of how to lay brick may be a tad premature. What I may do is something I learned from the experts who came to repair our computers back in my working days and remove the rocks and then “monitor the system.”

By monitoring the system, of course, the techs meant hanging around, joking and talking and occasionally taking me out for sushi. It was a professionally accepted term for doing nothing and perfectly describes sitting back and watching nothing happen.

So, in addition to keeping an eye on my foot, which is pink like a baby and of a nice size for women if they were as drawn to thickness as they are foot length, I'll move the rocks, cut down the bush, and monitor my house.

At least until I actually have to do something.