Monday, June 28, 2010

In which Sarah and her mother narrowly avoid death by snakebite

First, let me begin with a disclaimer: in eighteen years of living in the desert and almost ten years of visiting and vacationing here, this is the first poisonous snake I have ever encountered in the wild--and I've spent quite a bit of time tromping around in this arid and uncharted wilderness. I don't want the follwing account to dissuade any visitors from experiencing the unique adventure that is Ridgecrest. As long as you don't wander outside barefoot in the dead of night, stick your hand in any holes in the ground, drive off without water, a map, and a full tank of gas, or call Ronald Reagan a poo-head, you'll be fine. Everybody got it? Good. Now, on we go.

So mom and I have been waking up at 5am most mornings to go jogging in the desert. A crazy way to vacation, I know, but it makes sense if you think about it. If we're going to feel good about eating out as often as we have been, we have to exercize somehow, but it's too hot to be outside for any extended amount of time during the middle of the day. Since we are on vacation, there's nothing to keep us from indulging in long and luxurious naps during the heat of the day* to make up for lost sleep. Plus, a desert sunrise is a visual delicacy not to be missed. Mom is a relatively new edition to the strange and wonderful world of the jogger, and so she was running a few paces behind me along the right side of the slender dirt road that constituted our chosen route.** This turned out to be a Good Thing because, as I ran ahead, I happened to spy a snake, not four feet ahead of me, on her side of the path. It was light brown, the color of the sand in which it sat, curved like a reptilian 'S', in a frozen--yet menacing--position. Recalling some zoological training I received in elementary school, I noted that the creature's head was not round (like the friendly and harmless gopher snake), but angular (which means 'poison'). It was about a foot and a half long, roughly as thick as a beerbrat, and there were some dark diamond-shaped blotches running down its back.*** I don't remember the exact warning I shouted to my mother, but I do recall backing away slowly and sticking my arm out, fingers spread, like you do when you're trying to protect someone in the passenger's seat of your car, so as to stop her from running past me and getting bitten. The very end of the snake's tail looked red and raw, as if part of it--the rattle(!)--had been ripped off. Standing at a cautious distance, I took a picture of the dreaded serpent with Mom's phone, but I suspect the quality of the image will require me to point the snake out, like a UFO enthusiast distinguishing the unexplainable blurry lights from the explainable ones . We decided to turn around and leave the rest of the trail to the snake. It looked like a Sidewinder, and Sidewinders are notoriously fast.

The rest of our run was free of incident. However, I could not shake the unpleasantness of having come so very close to death (or severe discomfort). How easy would it have been for me to glance up at the glorious desert mountains, bathed in early sunlight, instead of spotting the snake in front of me? What if I had missed it altogether and thus allowed my mother to step on it and get bitten? I am very grateful that God protected us, and all we got was a cool story to share. But anyone who has lived at all knows that protection from physical harm and even death is not a guarantee. Mom, always the pragmatist, points out to me that we are always surrounded by danger. We could get run-over crossing the street, suddenly discover a deadly allergy, develop a terminal illness, get mistaken for CIA operatives and be assassinated by enemy spies. I guess it's just too easy to forget that our lives on Earth are fragile, and will eventually end.

The moral of my story? Actually, there are several: enjoy every moment you get in this life, tell people you love that you love them--often, don't pass up opportunities for doing Awesome, and finally, when jogging in the desert LOOK WHERE YOU'RE GOING!

P.S. Since I lack the l33t skillz to work even basic internet magic, I can only encourage you to google 'Mojave Sidewinder Snake' for pictures of our early morning menace.

*'heat of the day': 7am to 7pm, give or take.
** Our chosen route was one of those random dirt roads created by local marksmen who drive their trucks out to empty places to shoot junk (i.e. coffee cans with rocks in them, old pumpkins, broken down appliances, etc.). We're not worried about meeting any gun enthusiasts out there because anyone who is dedicated and disciplined enough to be out at 5:30 on a Monday morning undoubtedly drives out to the official shooting range, which is impossible to mistake for empty desert on account of being full of shot-up metal deer and bunnies, and in any case, it's fenced off.
***A quick internet search has confirmed our suspicions that it was a Mojave Sidewinder--"rarely fatal," but your leg might swell up and fall off.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wear sunscreen...

I went shopping today at Fred Meyer--shopping for a new pair of jeans, actually. I don't know how it is for you gentlemen readers, but any lady will sympathize with the drawn out mental, emotional, and physical anguish involved in shopping for jeans. In fact, I had a short commiserating conversation with a woman at the store who saw me wrestle six pairs of jeans out of my dressing room and hang all but one of them on the 'somebody else put it away cause I'm not buying it' rack. It was the second batch of jeans that I had gone through, too. Trying on clothes is always a draining experience. Altogether too much time is spent looking at oneself in one's underclothes--flat and poochy in all the wrong places. Only in movies do people look nicer with fewer clothes on, and then we really shouldn't be looking, should we.

In any case, the experience reminded me of one of the speeches that was made at my school's recent eighth grade 'graduation' ceremony. It was a list, really, given by a former Conway student now high school senior, of all the things she wished somebody would have told her when she was a freshman. I was thinking today, as I struggled with the zipper of a pair of jeans that would turn out to be too tight or too long or both, that if I had made such a list to pass on my hard-earned wisdom to fresh minds just starting out on a new life adventure, I would have started with "When you find a comfortable pair of jeans that also makes you look good, buy them. Buy two pair, if you can. And then go and buy yourself a lottery ticket, because it is clearly your lucky day."

And then of course, once I started I had to compile the whole list. So here it is, my personal message to graduates* of any level:

1. When you find a good pair of jeans, buy them.

2. The same goes for comfortable shoes. Buy them. Buy two pair of them, because you never know when you'll find another good pair of shoes again.

3. If you have to choose between looking stupid and not having any fun, choose to look stupid. (You're going to end up looking stupid to someone somewhere along the line anyway, so why worry about it?)

4. When someone wants to talk to you, close your book, turn off the t.v., stop playing the video game, stop texting, look that person in the eye, and pay attention.

5. Tell the truth. Always tell the truth. A lie might seem easier, but it will bite you in the butt every time.

6. You can't give what isn't yours. If you can't discipline yourself, you will never truly belong to yourself, so if you want to make any difference whatsoever, take every opportunity to develop personal discipline.

7. Sometimes this means following the stupid rules simply because the person in charge asked you to.

8. There are some mistakes that you can't learn from...because you're dead.

9. Sometimes loving someone means letting them do something for you for which you can't pay them back. Always, loving someone means doing things for them without expecting to be paid back.

10. Don't let the fact that you can't feed all the starving orphans in India keep you from investing time and energy into the emotionally, spiritually, and (possibly) physically starving children down the street.

And finally, my best piece of advice:

11. Ask for help. If you don't understand something, ask for help. If you don't get it the first time, ask again. If you were meant to do everything on your own, you would have been born a grown up--and even the most brilliant and effective grown ups ask for help, so there's really no getting around it. Ask for help. And then of course, you have to listen to the answer.

Congratulations graduating classes of 2010. (Now we all throw our hats in the air.)

*and speaking of graduates: guess who got her diploma in the mail today? Me! That's who! And boy does it look impressive: scarlet casing, Latin words on the cover, my full name in schmancy font. I think it's even bigger than my other ones, too!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I wrote this in October, 2009.

(Warning: entry contains possibly pretentious verbiage along with quite definite third-person brooding. Proceed at your own risk.)

Once upon a time there was a girl on a crowded ferry sailing into the night. Surrounded by kaleidoscoping muted conversation, she found herself profoundly alone, extravagantly lavishing words like “profoundly” and “kaleidoscoping” on what ought to have been an unremarkable Friday night. Perhaps she knew, deep down, that this was no ordinary Friday night. It was a night of significance, if only because this particular night found her able to write exactly what she felt. She felt detached from the world, like an introverted window reflection, like one of those amazing illustrations that create whole scenes with a few lines and some carefully placed smudges. How strange to be trapped in this bobbing bubble of light with so many amiable strangers. How surreal to relish this nothing-time, this transition. But this is life, isn’t it? It’s so easy to see where you’ve been and plan where you’re going. Infinitesimally small is the point of intersection where you actually are. So delicate and short-lived is the present. Why, oh why does it seem to last forever? Do we move? Or do we, like trees, just sit and grow and mistake the wind that breathes through our branches for our own walking?

---The girl sitting across from me is sketching in a sketchbook. She looks like a regular commuter. But she and I share a secret, a divine inheritance when we create, even if all our scratching ultimately yields handfuls of nothing. I must grasp at this image, scaffold it with my words, and carry it with me: a humble little sketch of a present now passing, like light through a bottle.

(Don't say I didn't warn you. This just goes to show that referring to yourself in the third person almost always elicits weirdness. Amateur writers and professional athletes take note.)