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  • Thrive Detroit

Desert Visit


It’s quiet where I live now. I wake around 4:00 am, because it seems that is what I do now. Lying under a mound of blankets, I usually manage to kick one foot free to cool from the heat in the bed. The windows that surround the bed are open, inviting what little air flow there is to come in. I lay quiet, listening for nothing in particular, but listening nevertheless. The desert doesn’t speak much at night. There are those exceptions when, in the distance, a coyote howl can be heard. Some nights, one lonely coyote call rings out. Occasionally, others reply back. Their howls start out high and piercing, fading away as quickly as they begin. Sometimes their cries are disturbing. Perhaps they stir within me an ancestral fear that what wanders the night may wander too close to me Rolling over, I shoo away those ghosts of the desert and settle in only to hear the sound of movement in the courtyard beyond the windows, a familiar sound made by one of my neighbor’s cats as he decides to rest on the soft pillows found on our chairs. I contemplate banging on the window to make him leave, but there are advantages to having cats present in your yard to keep away unwanted critters. Recently a friend from my home town in Michigan, considering a Southwest vacation, called to ask about the chances of meeting a rattlesnake or scorpion while out here. I have yet to meet up with a scorpion, and would rather not have that experience with this prehistoric looking species. I adamantly follow the cardinal rule of this region—never placing my hand, especially my fingers, any place I can’t see. Somehow this seems to be a good idea no matter what region you live in. After more than thirty years of roaming the Southwest, I’ve only seen a rattlesnake once. It was curled up by the wall of an ancient abode, trying to find relief from the noonday sun. It looked old and dusty, like something left over from an old ghost town. An antique memorial to a time when the desert was theirs to roam. I try to reassure my friend that seeing any of these species from our region would be rare. And as I said that, I flashed upon a time when I heard those words after I expressed concern over seeing bears while hiking in the Teton Range outside of Jackson, Wyoming. “Oh no,” assured the park ranger, “finding a bear would be very rare.” Apparently not all bears were in on the secret of being rare. And while the bear and her cubs were kind enough to keep some distance, their appearance did motivate me to hike at record speed. I hesitated after thinking of that experience, trying to choose my words carefully to reassure my friend. Redirecting the conversation, I started to relate the beauty in the wide-open spaces, the call of the coyotes, the ancient cliff-dwelling homes, the vivid color of the wildflowers, and the song of the mockingbirds. The word “coyotes” caught her attention, bringing up another fear to be dispelled. Reassuring her over this new fear with words such as “hard to find, don’t like people,” I finally hear relative calm return to her voice. “I’ll send you a book about the interesting ancient sites you could visit,” I offer in my helpful voice. “Okay,” she responds. “But do they have snakes, scorpions, or coyotes there?” “Hmm,” I think, and then add, “how about that New England foliage?”

Diana Creel Elarde is a psychology professor, author and speaker. She can be reached at


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