Thursday, June 3, 2021

Dulce in Snake Land: Aversion Training Up Close


Dulce closing in on coiled, hooded rattlesnake (circled) seconds before shock

I was about to depart for Dulce's snake aversion class when I received word that a friend's dog was bitten by a rattlesnake. Twice. Once on the foot and once on the face. Her beloved Corgi was in the throws of emergency treatment, receiving doses of antivenom. She was hopeful for a full recovery and looked forward to bringing Dweezil home the next morning.

Snake tracks across the road 

The class took on a heavier note. Dulce had already had four encounters with rattlesnakes: twice while on walks along the road, once in the dark outside my home and most recently one crawling by the deck at nightfall. I used the experiences to reinforce "NO, get back." She'd done well, but the fact remained, I would not always be with her to warn her curious nose away. The class was $100 and the professional trainer was coming to a local park. It couldn't have been more convenient.

The outdoor class entailed four snake encounter sites and used a shock collar to negatively reinforce the dog's curiosity of a snake. A shock was delivered as soon as the dog began to show interest in snake sight, smell or sound. My concern was that Dulce was timid in strange circumstances. I didn't want her overstimulated, on the other hand, I wanted her trained.

The teacher collared Dulce, led her on a lead and instructed me where to stand in relationship to the stations. The first station was a large plastic coiled snake, head rising with a scent pad. Dulce circled a wide berth, whereupon the instructor asked if she'd had encounters before. Most definitely, I said. The second station was a live, hooded, angry snake on the ground and a bucket w/scent. Dulce showed some curiosity about ten feet out (see first photo). ZAP. A shock, a yelp, a jump. That's all she needed. The third station was another species of snake and Dulce had nothing to do with it. Same with the final station, a scent bucket. The class reinforced immediate feedback many feet out from the snakes, who have impressive striking distance. 

The training was quick and effective. I don't anticipate Dulce getting near a snake again. Some folks get the snake vaccination and believe their dog is protected, however, every snake has a different venom and needs an antivenom to match. There are over forty species of rattlesnakes in the US and the rattlesnake vaccine works on one of those. In this neck of the woods, the vaccine is for the Western Diamondback rattler. Even in our small group of eight dogs, two owners had had encounters with deadly Mojave rattlers. If the vaccine and snake match, the vaccine may give more time to get to emergency. It may save your dog's life, but it will not save you the panic, emergency drive, heartbreak and vet bill. 

Rattler passing through  

I have a deep regard and affection for snakes. The one that slithered by my deck a couple weeks  ago was rudely interrupted by Dulce's barks. When I came outside to check I saw a four-foot, stretched out rattler beginning to coil. I ordered Dulce back and she actually ran a fifty foot circle around the house and came up the back stairs. We left it alone and it was predictably gone in the morning. There was another a few weeks ago near my portale, rattling so loud in the dark it sent chills through my body. We never did see it. Most dogs are curious, however. Many mistake a snake for a toy or a challenge. Last year a friend's unvaccinated dog got bit. My friend raced 50 miles, late at night, to an emergency vet service. They could not save his dog. Not only was his heart broken but he received a bill for $2500. 

It's a myth that young snakes are more venomous than older ones. Large or small, Dulce and I live in snake territory. There are plenty or rats and mice for them to feed upon. They like to be close to house foundations, shadows and porches. They can show up anywhere, and do. They hunt at night by following the heat of their prey, and while they will strike to defend themselves, they prefer not to be seen or threatened and go on their slithering way. If confronted, however, the snake is equipped. Hinged fangs unfold from the upper jaw; she lunges forward and delivers a powerful bite. The strike takes a half second to deliver venom. She chooses how much to inject, depending on the size of the predator, and may not inject venom at all.

My California friend's two Corgis were exploring the same area of yard together. One had snake aversion training, one did not. The one without training got struck. Forty-eight hours after the incident and numerous antivenom treatments, their beloved, vibrant dog couldn't turn it around. He was in extreme pain with neurological issues. My friends said goodbye to Dweezil.   

If your dog is six months old s/he is old enough for training. There's no perfect solution to dogs and rattlesnakes in the wild. I'm sure coyotes and wolves have figured it out. Shaking tails and hissing warn them away. Domestic dogs, on the other hand, need help to identify and avert snakes by smell, sound and sight. When Dulce bounds out the door I know I've done all I can to protect her. 

Dulce on watch 

Monday, May 10, 2021

One Fated Year

Oh those wily Fates. After several failed attempts to purchase land, I wondered if the Serengeti landscape southwest of Tucson Arizona was meant to be my home. That's when a piece of land I had eyed for over a year, and even recommended to others, became for sale. Not formally, mind you. I'd been perusing the internet and saw mention that the owner had ten acres for sale. Was it THEE ten acres? I contacted her immediately. We met that week and shook on a deal.  We finalized weeks later, on spring equinox. A few days later the country closed down in the face of Covid, as everyone struggled to get their bearings in the pandemic world. 

The Fates. World mythologies reference the trinity of magic ones in one form or another. They are the Virgin, Mother and Crone (Creator, Preserver, Destroyer); the Spinner, Measurer and Cutter of Life's Thread; Order, Destiny and Peace. Fairy Godmothers have their genesis in the Fates that stood at the cradle of newborns and determined the child's future. Parents would leave the door open and set out food to appease. As the Fates were present at birth they returned at death, to take back the soul. 

The energy around this land was definitely fated. From the fortuitous Facebook discovery to shaking on a deal with no idea how the money would materialize, right down to the flowing process with the county permits and electric pole installation. Even the trenching went smoothly, notwithstanding some major rock. Fates and friends were present from the beginning as the vision took hold: to create a place for rejuvenation and creativity on behalf of the planet. I named the land Querencia Hill. True to her name, those needing a safe place to express their authentic selves showed up and hooked up in the the RV guest spots I created. Build it and they will come. 

One year ago I moved onto this land. The work has been non-stop. The Fates giggled as countless loads of trash were hauled away, from RV walls to car parts to stoves and water heaters and a couple dozen tires. I joke that I am living atop a 1950's hardware store of rusty bolts, nails, screws and springs. I pull on a piece of buried wire and gawd knows where it will end. This morning I found a crochet hook. Pushing my rolling magnet is a regular exercise as more metal rises through the dirt. I wish there was a similar gadget for broken glass. The land sparkles at sunset. 

And yet, what more honorable work? Covid forced me here for a year, through 115-degree summer temps and a piece of the earth is better for it. What felt like a snail's pace now feels like a humongous accomplishment when compared to last April. This land has been an energetic confluence of loved ones. Solstice fires burn bright here; sisters drum heartbeats. Many grab a bucket to fill with trash or contribute to further the small projects. A shade ramada by the pond was moved to a back burner when the rains didn't come. The pond remains dry, in wait for charcoal moisture-laden clouds. 

The transition from eighteen years on the road to womad-in-place has been brutal at times. Although my spirit was tiring of daily movement, I thrived on the novelty of the road -- witnessing new places through fresh eyes, the effervescent trust in spontaneous decisions, the faith-filled courage of risk. And while nomadic life can take place on the edge of one's bed through vivid imagination, it isn't the same. Leastwise for me. 

One year into life on Querencia Hill and two vaccinations down, I loaded VAN-essa for my first road trip to a NM hot springs. Four glorious days. White lines under the front bumper once again, and yes, it was good to get home where projects continue and I hold out hope for a healthy summer monsoons to fill the large horseshoe-shaped pond. I envision a meditation spot on the peninsula and a game camera to reveal nightlife secrets of this holy landscape. My neighbors had Spoonbills and Ibis on their pond. I am jealous.

I have learned new patience in this covid world. Plans are tentative at best, and sometimes I struggle to trust the unfolding. The Fates dropped me on the wind-whipped hillside where sunsets give new definition to awe. The fairy godmothers brought me a rescue dog, Dulce, who guards the boundaries with aplomb and cherishes life at my side. They provided Hobo a place to curl his snoring self in a patch of sun. Now the Fates stand at the open gate to welcome those who seek push the refresh button, to meet their muse and create. I  smile. Prediction has dropped from my dictionary as my wild friends hold court. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Kill on the Hill

The soft transition from dawn to day was still in progress when Dulce's urgent bark propelled me from my chair. Barefoot on the frosty deck, I scanned hundreds of acres of tawny hills, a collage of sun and shadow against a cloudless sky. Dulce was insistent. I followed her stare to two anxious mule deer does twenty yards away, their eyes transfixed downslope. They took turns charging at a form I was yet to discern. They stomped and snorted their obvious upset. Within seconds two, three, then six coyotes appeared and circled. They backed off when charged but returned to a spot they would not give up. This dance went on for several minutes.  

I grabbed my camera and headed toward the drama, choosing to leave my gun be. Dulce and I walked toward my northern fence line. The deer surrendered their positions and reluctantly trotted east as we closed in  The coyotes, now numbering a dozen, dispersed downhill into a ravine. I followed bloody grass and chunks of wiry deer hair to a half eaten carcass, the bright red ribcage protruding from pulled back skin. Thin, small-hoofed legs hinted at a yearling. The doe's coyote charge, although in vain, was the instinctual defense of her young. 

I stared, mesmerized, at the glossy red sinew as wary coyotes skulked around a wide perimeter. An ebony raven flapped low overhead and perched in the top of a mesquite. She would patiently wait, eyeing the venison spoils, the bones she'd pick and poke clean. Spring was anything but shy on this first day of March. A hefty rainbow pincushion cactus was aglow in pink; a small ocotillo cactus exploded in new leaves. To my left was a gut pile, so neat and defined it looked like a sculpture. I called Dulce to my side, lest she get a hankering to dive in and roll.  

I have garnered myriad lessons from the wild through my seventy years. Foremost, that one can not escape the ephemeral nature of existence. The song dogs that fill the night air with exhilarating howls and yips will feast on beloved jackrabbits. The coyotes that slept curled protectively by the door of a recent visitor, night after night, will probably gnaw on this deer.  

The sounds of the chase and takedown must have been a horrific intro to the mysterious unfolding. Were the coyotes latecomers to a lion kill? Were they the takedown artists or scavengers? It is known that ravens follow coyotes to find a kill. Vultures, who smell death a mile away, need no such queues, but they are yet to arrive, to scrape spring skies with their tippy soars. 

The spirits are many on Querencia Hill. Most prevalent are deer, javelina, coyote, rattlesnake, cooper's and red-tailed hawks, finches, doves, sparrows and meadowlarks, zippy hummers and soft-spoken quail. Outspoken ravens and silent vultures rule the sky. Cottontails and jackrabbits scurry amongst rock. Packrats and mice join in clandestine deeds. When the large pond fills with monsoon water and game cameras are in place, I'm sure to confirm coatis and ring-tailed cats and mountain lion; perhaps even a jaguar visit.   

Mysteries unfold. Wild tales/tails abound. Spring winds carry many secrets. Coyotes lope amongst deer.

Blessed Be.

Casa  Blanca, our 5th-wheel home


Querencia: Spanish word for that safe place where one can be her/his authentic self. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Up Against the WALL: Breathing Peace on the Borderlands

There were two dozen of us. We travelled the ribbon highways from Arivaca to Sasabe Arizona, swung a left onto dirt, raised dust for another four miles and found ourselves at the WALL. We were one piece of five, a week long multi-faith spiritual resistance to witness the construction of one of the most destructive, ill-conceived and ignorant US presidential acts: the construction of a border wall at a time when border crossings were at their lowest in years, and the major drug portals were proven to be the legal border crossings, not the migrants. Studies and facts are irrelevant to this ego-driven man. So it is, land is ripped open, sacred burial grounds are decimated, border towns and cities are divided, village water supplies are dried up and wildlife migration routes, intact for eons, are destroyed.  This week long action was our response:

This was Buddhist day. I joined with others in meditation and service to contribute my energy to the greater good. In the spirit of my mentor Thich Nhat Hanh, I would seek connection and change through spiritual resistance. I was deeply thankful for the opportunity.

The WALL's metal slats loomed as we drew closer. Construction was ongoing. Wide gouges scarred the landscape to the east and west. Heaps of metal were stacked across the desert. Large machines moved up and down the hills. We arranged our chairs under shade tarps and with wall construction as the backdrop, we began our meditation. We were instructed to choose a focus that caused personal distress. The juxtaposition of peaceful intention and the WALL, with it's sounds, activity and repercussions, were overpowering.

I relaxed into the meditation and was surprised when I landed upon an image of my estranged 98-year old mother who had recently fallen and broken her hip. She had severed communication with me nearly a decade earlier, after my father died, and we had settled into a distant quiet. Her fall had stirred the emotional pot. In addition to blessing the desert-dwelling beings such as tortoise and jaguar, I wished her wellness and recovery as I sat in the shadow of the wall, cocooned in meditative compassion. Then, holding this vision, I whispered, "Wounded Mother." This revelation overtook me as the wounds of mother earth were exposed in miles of vertical iron and men driving machines, blasting through mountains, doing the work of one crazed man with stolen funds. To the extent we humans are desperately out of balance we can follow the heart-torn paths to the wounds of Mothers. The birth givers.

I had reached the point of peaceful indifference with my birth mother long ago. Her Karmic path is hers alone. Earth Mother, however, is another matter.  I will not sit by and allow our sustenance and existence on this planet be destroyed, day by day, by greed-driven men. 

I wish the machine men would have stopped, jumped from the metal monsters and joined us. The man assigned to keep the wall secure began by telling us we could not approach and ended up protecting our right to do so. 

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that we are what we love as well as that which we resist and hate. Resistance and peace must come from this realization. Compassion, if only for a few moments, can permeate the battlefields, whether personal, family, community or global. In viewing the worst of what humanity builds I spawn an image of tearing down the WALL. That the decades-long murderous unrest the US has created in Mexico and Central America, causing people to flee on foot, walk thousands of miles and risk their lives in our deadly desert wilderness, will culminate in justice for all. 

That all wounded Mothers will be healed. 

More Photos of the Day:

Rising Sun 

Meditation Instructions 

Witness to Destruction 

Marked Remains 

THE FUTURE: Looking East Toward Nogales, toward Sycamore Canyon. 

Border Patrol Flyovers  


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Madera Canyon: Wild Salvation

Into the Santa Rita Mountains I go ... 

Oh Lordy, it was good to be back! It had been a couple years since I'd been in Madera Canyon. The last time, in fact, had been with Carole. We returned for a day hike along the lush sycamore-lined stream, one of many visits we shared to this land frequented by the jaguar. It was also the locale of Hope's first backpack some forty years ago. Yep, there were many memories in the Santa Rita mountains. This visit was spurred by June's triple digit heat and a burning desire to connect with some very special birds. I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. but awoke at 4:00. I arrived the canyon at 6:30. Primo bird time. I expected to get a good dose of the 250 recorded species.

I parked in front of the small lodge to await my friend Judith, and headed for their natural viewing area replete with bird feeders. Within minutes I learned that the very rare Berylline Hummingbird had been spotted, and was showing up about every twenty minutes at a feeder to drink. I would attempt to see it several times before my visit ended, but would I be successful?

Judith arrived and we headed upcanyon to see the Sulfur-bellied Flycatchers, said to be nesting in an old telephone pole not far from the road. I heard them before I saw them ... sounded like the squeaking of a bunch of dog toys. They were remarkable! That yellow chest and rusty tail ... gorgeous birds. And a new sighting for me. Yahoo!

The bird I longed to see the most, however, was the Elegant Trogon. A Mexican bird, S. Arizona is its northernmost range, and it's rare. It has been frequenting this canyon, however, for many years. I have spotted them in the Huachuca Mountains, Cave Creek near Portal, Sycamore Canyon and Mexico. I wanted to share some time with one here, today.

Miraculously, I was awarded within minutes. A female was spotted in an oak tree not far from the road. Furthermore, I'd never seen a female before ... always the colorful males. She perched in their unmistakable way, with rump out and tail tucked inward. A picture of peace.

Her male, meanwhile, called from the thick Sycamore canopy. I was able to catch this shot at a distance. I would hear him for the next few hours, but rarely got a glimpse.

Trogons nest in tree cavities. After years of trying to see these elusive birds, I was gobsmacked to see this pair nesting in the top of an old telephone pole right on the road! They take turns on the nest so we waited for an hour for the exchange. At one point Momma came out of the hole to chase away a woodpecker, but she returned inside and did not exchange places with the guy who must have been having too much fun in the forest.

Momma Trogon returning to her brood

Two hours of Trogon waiting was enough.
We donned our covid masks and returned to the popular hummer feeders to see if that Berylline was around. The sun and scenes were irresistible. If you want an idea of why the Magnificent is so named, check out the difference in sizes of this male Magnificent and an Anna's hummer at the same feeder.

Judith and I had one more stop to make, but before we departed, I ducked down to look into a bush where the Berylline was said to hang out. As I did so it flew up to a feeder and was promptly chased away by other hummers. We got a good look at her green body, nondescript face and and rufous wings, More than enough to call it a sighting. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Must be lonely to be the only one of your species in a world of feeders.

Down the road we went to a distant sycamore tree where a tiny Northern Pygmy Owl was nesting in a hole in tree. Normally this would be the highlight of a birding trip. On this day it was one more incredible moment. We didn't get to see the parents feeding but we did spy the baby peering out of the stunning white trunk.

I can not count all of the birds we saw this day. Bridaled Titmice, Hepatic Tanagers, Wrens, Arizona Woodpeckers were profuse and even an American Robin, rare for this area. His song lilted through the forest, taking me back to my Iowa childhood, hearing his riff through the humid haze as the sun rose. 

Two new bird sightings is a banner day and the Trogons were an uplifting gift. What counted the most, however, was the preciousness of this holy place and the many beings that call it home. The coatis, jaguar, ocelots, birds, lions, bears ... these wild spirits keep us sane. They offset human addiction to control and domestication. Their presence calls upon us to respect and protect them. To acknowledge our kinship.

I hope you can find a special place as the summer solstice approaches. Commune with those energies larger than we. May we join on June 20th, New Moon and solar eclipse, and give humble thanks for this hallowed planet. Love to you and all our relations. Be well ...

Jimson Weed

Moon Over Wrightston and Hopkins Telescope


One never feels alone in this canyon. The deep ravine speaks in many tongues.

For more on the cultural history of Madera (spanish for 'wood') follow this link:,road%20to%20haul%20the%20lumber.