I saw him out of the corner of my eye. A diamond back rattlesnake silently slid to the back of the shed only three feet from where I was standing. The mesquite trees were hanging low around the shed making it difficult to walk through so I was pruning them. Up to this point I had never seen a snake back there, but I had taken to calling it the snake pit due to the piles of old concrete blocks and buckets of old construction pieces combined with the high weeds. David planned to load up the trailer and haul that old junk to the landfill one day but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
My Apache friend, Guati, told me if I ever ran into a rattlesnake to give him a call. He would come and shoot it. He showed me his snake shooting pistol and let me heft it in my hand. Better yet, Guati encouraged me to get my own gun, said he would teach me how to shoot. I don’t think I could kill any living being, though, not even a rattlesnake. So I told Guati I’d leave the rattlesnake hunting to him. Guati lives a good half hour away and I figured by the time he arrived any snake I ran into would be long gone.
I’ve familiarized myself with rattlesnake prevention. Tall concrete walls around the yard are recommended but that is not a practical solution for the ranch. It’s too big. There is some kind of mesh you can buy as well but again not practical. So I do my best by keeping the grass cut short. I’ve also worn out two pairs of work gloves clearing piles of brush and debris to minimize hiding places. A rattlesnake had the misfortune to show up on Easter Sunday when we had a family party going on here. One of the guests, a tough young kid, chopped that snake’s head off then skinned it. He said it was good eating. I like to try new foods but when it comes to snake I told him I would take a pass.
I am always cautious outside. Who knows what kinds of things I’ve missed because my eyes are on the ground watching for snakes. It’s not an obsession, merely caution, something everyone around here does. So when I decided to prune those trees, near the snake pit, I wore steel toe shoes and I went in slow. I scanned the ground carefully before taking any steps, looking right , looking left, looking straight ahead but not behind me and that was where he came from. I stood still and calmly watched him. About three feet long, his geometric markings were definite but subtle in color. You can tell a rattler’s age by the number of rattles. He had five. Between the rattle and his body he had a few black and white stripes. If he rattled I never heard it. If he watched me working I never knew it. If I unwittingly came close to him, I was unaware. He gave me a wide berth, headed to the shed and glided behind the concrete blocks. After all my fears about rattlesnakes I actually found him to be quite beautiful and full of grace.
But I am going to leave the clean up in back of the shed to David.
The other day my friend Nancy brought me a beautiful big white wicker basket with a small towel decorated with sunflowers tucked inside.
“For your garden.” Nancy said. “When you are harvesting tomatoes you will have something to put them in.”
And I thought what a romantic notion! I imagined how Nancy saw me, dressed in a flowing white gauzy shirt and pants, earth sandals on my feet, my hair curling under a wide brimmed straw hat with a small nosegay pinned to the hatband, floating through the garden, basket in hand plucking tomatoes. Nancy enjoys visiting my garden and following its progress. She likes the straight lines of stout tomato stakes and rustling corn and exclaims over the flowering squash and cantaloupe. She scans it carefully looking for weeds and is happy that she cannot find even one. Nancy is a lovely person, a true romantic. After 41 years of marriage she still refers to her husband as her prince. She has the heart and soul of a poet and in her eyes my garden is beautiful and perfect.
I accepted this gift but at first wondered what to do with it. In reality gardening is not a white wicker basket fantasy, it is down and dirty work. My shoes and gardening gloves are stiff with mud, my army green cotton tee is damp with perspiration and my hair is jammed sloppily into a hair tie under my hat. I hack away at the weeds every day with a hoe and battle tomato hornworms with tweezers and red pepper water. I patiently train the beans and gourds to climb the fence and coax the watermelons to stay in their space. The strawberries and baby peas are coming in and as I pluck them I toss them into a small brown bag, at least the ones I don’t pop into my mouth first. The garden is over 3,300 square feet which means I sweat and toil in it for hours every day. I wish it was perfect so I wouldn’t have to work so hard!
Romance drives us. At least it does me. An old boyfriend once accused me of having no sense of romance. He was wrong. I do like romance, I am romantic. The problem was we defined it differently. I thought of it as ease, he thought of it as work. I can remember only one romantic moment with him. One night while I was cooking dinner he turned on some soft music then took my hand and pulled me into a slow dance. I can’t remember the song but I do remember whirling in the kitchen in the low evening light while chicken and lemons sizzled in the pan. It was lovely and earned him a great dinner and dessert (if you know what I mean). You would think based on my response he would have tried the romance angle again but he never did. Too much work, I guess.
Romance is deep down inside me, buried under layers of musty memories, that fiery desire for utopia. Did I hold romantic illusions coming to Arizona? Of course I did. A simple email exchange with the owner of the ranch and I was off to a new life. What are the chances of that happening? That my desires would align so fully with David’s needs for someone to manage his operation. How romantic! Like a Julia Roberts movie of the little forlorn woman finding a new life and living the dream, it happened that easily. I entered into this change knowing it would be a culture shock, knowing it would be financially difficult, knowing I had a lot to learn, knowing I was entering the great unknown. Yet I trusted in the Universe, that if I gave all my concerns to Spirit that the way would be paved. And the challenges I faced would disperse with ease. I pictured myself writing away the days, having great adventures, becoming a famous author, riding horses, hiking, meeting new people and following my bliss. Instead of dispersing the challenges have multiplied. Living in a remote area, there have been times I have found myself trapped and isolated for days on end. Managing the groups has tried my patience and I have found horses to be so much more to handle than caring for my cat. I am on high alert at all times for things that bite and sting. I am sweaty, dirty and my shoes smell like horse manure. I work every day for very little money. I squeeze in time to write whenever I can.
I ran into Pat the Ranger today and, since I had not seen him in a month or so, he was amazed at all the crazy experiences I have had including a horse stomping and scorpion stings.
“Are you still happy living here? Still sticking around?” Pat asked.
“I bought steel toe shoes.” I replied. “I guess that means I’m in for the long haul.”
And that’s the gist of it. Steel toe shoes. The dose of reality that slaps you in the face as the lens of the rose colored glass falls out. Am I still happy living here? The toe is healing and so is my spirit. I rise every day because I want to, no more dragging myself out of bed with dread. I look forward to each day with hope and joy knowing challenges are ahead but that I can handle it. In fact I welcome them. And it occurs to me that I have a romantic life. It occurs to me that when you are following your bliss, the challenges of reality are nothing more than stepping stones to the romantic ideal of happiness and fulfillment. It occurs to me that Nancy was right; my new white wicker basket is perfect for me.
I walked out my door this morning, pulled on my work gloves and grabbed the wheelbarrow. Walking down the lane to fetch hay for the horses, I stopped to look at the blue sky framing the red mountain cliffs. I said a small prayer.
“Thank you for this perfect moment, this perfect sky, this perfect mountain, this perfect day, this perfect second. Thank you for allowing me to experience it. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.”