Category Archives: Desert Diary 2013

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Arizona, Horseback

I’ve missed the sound of creaking leather keeping time with my horse’s gait. I’ve missed the feeling of tranquility settling into my body while navigating nature’s church, heavenly silence broken only by the clomp of hoof, and the occasional huff and snort from my sure-footed steed. I’ve even missed the smell of horse sweat wafting from beneath the saddle blanket as my pony warms in the heat of day.

When I moved to Arizona, I couldn’t wait to explore the area from the back of a horse. I was elated to discover SaddleBrooke had a horseback riding group. Don and Rebecca who live at SaddleBrooke Ranch organize monthly trail rides at various riding stables in the area.

In years past when I’ve rented trail horses they are usually a sorry looking lot. Most hadn’t been tended to all that well and were barn sour, plodding along until we made the turn heading for home. Once headed home one had to keep a tight rein, sometimes blistering a city girl’s palms—like riding a horse with a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

When I lived in Eureka I would ride horses that belonged to friends, and any horse would do. While living in Sacramento I celebrated my fortieth birthday by gifting myself with a horse, a gray Arabian gelding named Kurafi. I spent many years riding with Mom on her horse, Sonny. We’d lope the trails along the American River or take an all-day ride to Folsom Lake. If we came upon a clearing we would let the horses run, enjoying the whip of wind against our face. No riding helmets for us; we wore western hats!

We always brought along a lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic tables on the river’s bank. We had a favorite table that was mid-way through the ride; the horses knew the exact spot. But sometimes we decided to ride a bit further. The horses would pitch a fit; they were ready for their snack. While Mom and I enjoyed cheddar cheese sandwiches washed down with a Bud or Coors, the horses munched on peanut butter sandwiches, carrots and an apple. Sonny loved peanut butter. One day when we were crossing the Sunrise bridge a little boy was standing near the railing, eating a PB&J sandwich. As we walked by Sonny nimbly snatched the sandwich from the boy’s hand and ate it. We were all shocked but couldn’t contain our laughter.

But gone is my need for speed. Gone is my need to race hell-bent-for-leather down dusty trails, praying all the while that a mountain biker hasn’t decided to do the same. Nor do I need to experience the thrill of leaping logs that have fallen across the Georgia-Pacific logging roads outside of Eureka, where we could ride for hours. At this point in my life I’m happy plodding along, enjoying the scenery. A horse rented from a riding stable sounded perfect.

Since moving to SaddleBrooke I’ve been able to participate in three rides to different areas around Tucson. The first ride took place in September at the Double R Ranch in Marana, about an hour southwest of home, owned by Ron and Renee who hail from New York. Don’t be fooled by the New York connection. They are horse people through and through, and know their stuff when it comes to handling horses and people.

Upon arriving at the stable I decided to check out the horses. They looked healthy and well fed. That’s a good sign. Glancing through the open barn, I spotted a gray Arabian gelding, saddled and ready to ride. He looked exactly like Kurafi in his younger days. He had a sweet look about him and soft eyes. Walking up to him I spoke in a quiet voice, “Hi baby. How ya doin’?” As he nickered in response, I took his head in my hands, stroked his soft muzzle, and took a deep breath. Ah, the sweet smell of horse.

You don’t often see Arabians used as rental horses. While sure-footed, they can be high-spirited (which is why I like them) and easily spooked by something seemingly insignificant. I wanted to ride this little fella named Cyrano and hoped I could. As luck would have it, Ron said he’d hoped I would.

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Located on 20 acres adjacent to many miles of open desert land, our ride was a bit dusty, but then what’s a horseback ride without a little dust. I joined the 11:00 AM ride but by the time our group got saddled up and on the trail it was near noon. A 90-minute ride took us into the heat of the day. Only upon our return did we discover the temperature was 104. The two dogs that ran with us throughout the ride had also gone out on the 9:00 AM ride. Both dogs join most rides every day.

As it turned out Ron and Renee had three Arabians they use on trail rides. Several horses in their string were rescued from one unfavorable situation or another, but they all had good temperaments. Hooray for saving the horses, Renee!

It was a grand time viewing gorgeous scenery. Awesome thunder clouds against a blue sky looked like dumplings in a pool of blue soup. I could hardly wait for the next ride!

In October we went to the Pusch Ridge Riding Stables, about fifteen minutes from home, to ride through a portion of the Catalina State Park located adjacent to Coronado National Forest on the western slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Our guide for the day was Jean. The terrain on this ride couldn’t have been more different from the last one, with small hills and gullies, trees, some barrel and prickly pear cactus, and lots of teddy bear cholla. Being October, it was cooler and very pleasant. We ambled along single file, enjoying the sights and smells of the desert and magnificent mountains. Again, the horses were healthy and well cared for, with nary an attitude among them.

In November the group went to Donnelly’s D-Spur Ranch for a sunset ride in Gold Canyon about an hour northwest of SaddleBrooke, just east of Apache Junction. Located in the foothills of the legendary Superstition Mountains on 5,800 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert, Don Donnelly has been providing custom Arizona horseback adventures in the Superstition Mountains and Gold Canyon since 1980. Their website says, “We must protect our precious wilderness areas so that future generations can enjoy them as we have. We try to do our best to have the least impact on the land as possible and leave our favorite trails as beautiful as when we found them. When going into the back country, leave only hoof prints, take only memories. We are a working cattle ranch with great horses to ride and a friendly atmosphere. We are committed to preserving the cowboy lifestyle.” Yep! My kind of folks!

This ride was by far the most scenic of the three. It felt like a ride back in time to prehistoric days. I could imagine scaly-winged raptors swooping down from the mountain top, razor-sharp claws extended to pluck their prey from the desert floor. Some of the saguaro stood nearly as tall as a redwood tree. The scenery was breathtaking. Someone with a sense of humor had hung animal beanie babies from the trees along the trail to ensure we saw “wild life.”

On this ride you had the option of riding horseback or traveling by horse-drawn wagon, after which everyone enjoyed a chuck wagon dinner of steak, beans, baked potato, coleslaw, chocolate cake, and pie. The food was delicious and the campfire smelled divine. Cooking s’mores over the campfire was a treat I haven’t enjoyed since my horseback adventures at the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, California. During and after dinner we were entertained by a local singing cowboy.

There are many more riding stables in the area, all with interesting scenery. I look forward to joining my compadres on the next horseback adventure. But now that there is a nip in the air, I’ll need to bundle up.

Wishing everyone a fantabulous 2014! If you come to visit, be sure to bring your riding boots!

Until next time,
Adios mi amigas y amigos!

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The Brookemobile

Spa services in SaddleBrooke are convenient. About two miles from the house, within the confines of “the compound,” is Strandz Salon and Spa. There, Mom and I can get our hair cut in a fashionable style, a massage to loosen tightened muscles, a facial to deep clean the pores, a manicure to spiff up the finger nails, and a pedicure to brighten the toes. It is a good time for Mom and me to share a few hours of pampering. Soon, the owner tells me, I can also get Botox treatments. Botox treatments are not on my bucket list of things to do before I die. I hate needles.

But with the spa so close it seems silly to take the car such a short distance. Thelma barely gets her engines warm. On the spur of the moment in mid-August after one of our spa treatments, I decided to “look” at golf cars at Coyote Golf Cars, also within the compound. (They call them “cars” here as opposed to “carts” because, to quote the salesman, Mark, “you pull a cart.” Whatever. Even spellcheck wants to change it to golf “cart.”)

I tend to avoid purchasing toys that require much maintenance. When living in Benicia I had a jet ski. It was fun but maintenance was a pain in the butt. Cort and I had to hook the trailer to the pickup and tow it to the marina. Back it down the ramp, making sure the plug was in the back end so it didn’t sink. (Voice of experience on that one.) Ride it to the gas pump to fill it with gas and check the oil. Have a few hours of fun on the Carquinez Strait or up-delta. Then haul it out again. Hose it down thoroughly to remove all the salt water, making sure to remove the plug so fresh water flushed through the system could drain. Dry it off before parking it in the garage to sit for another few weeks before taking it out again.

I figured with all I have going on at the house, such as continuing to shop for furniture, repairing irrigation lines that the rabbits chew in their search for water, raking javelina scat over the hillside because I don’t like looking at it across my fence, and the multitude of other chores that come with owning a home, I had enough to take care of. I didn’t need one more thing on my list.

However, Mark convinced me that a golf car was easy to maintain. All I had to do was keep air in the tires. If I brought it to their shop once a month they would check the tires, filling them with air as needed. Mark said that when winter arrives, they would be happy to put the curtains on so Mom and I wouldn’t get cold as we buzz around the ‘hood. The only other thing I had to do was keep water in the batteries, filling them once a month with distilled water from this handy-dandy plastic jug that hooks to a hose that fills the batteries. There is a little gizmo that spins as the water runs through the hose. When it stops spinning, the batteries are full. Or, if I preferred, they would fill the batteries when I brought it in to have the tires checked. On top of all that, they just happened to have a nice used one on sale at a very good price. Imagine that! I figured I could handle those two maintenance items, and the car was a pretty color of emerald green with plastic “burl wood” trim. Mom and I would be “lookin’ good” as we cruised the streets.

After taking it for a spin I was hooked and wrote them a check. They delivered it a couple of days later because I had them include new batteries and new tires in the price. Mom and I named her Sally, The Brookemobile.

I have to admit, it is fun zipping around (at a top speed of 25 mph), exploring some of the areas where I wouldn’t take the car. Plus, parking for golf cars is more convenient when we go to the Roadrunner Grill for breakfast or to happy hour at The Preserve clubhouse where we order our favorite: a mouth-watering margarita, blended, with a splash of orange juice—hold the salt.

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A month passes by and I decide it’s time to fill the batteries with water. Seemed simple enough when Mark showed me how, giving me a very clear demonstration.

I roll out of bed in the mornings around 5 or 5:30 to begin my day. I enjoy a few hours of quiet time watching the sun rise above the Catalina Mountains. I’ve seen spectacular morning skies brush stroked in hues of orange, lavender, robin-egg blue, and gray. By about 6:30 this particular morning I’d fed the cats and changed their water. Mom was still in bed. The time seemed perfect to fill the batteries.

I hoisted the jug of water onto Sally’s roof just like Mark had instructed me and pulled the seat up to get at the batteries underneath. However, the seat doesn’t stay in place very well when it is lifted up. As I muscled the seat forward attempting to hold it in place with my elbow while trying to connect the hose from the jug to the water-hose-thingy on the batteries, the jug of water slipped off the roof, hitting me in the forehead. (Because I’m only 5’4”, I couldn’t see that the roof had a slight slope.)

Strange enough, it didn’t hurt much but I thought, “I’m going to have one heck of a headache from this little chore.” Touching my fingers to my head, it felt wet. Looking at my fingers, they were dripping with blood. “Oh, crap. I don’t have time for this,” I said to Sally. As blood ran into my eye, I headed to the bathroom to assess the damage. Upon examination I could see that there was a big “dent” in my head with an inch-long split running towards my eye.

“This can’t be good,” I thought, “but what to do?” Mom was still asleep. I pounded on the door of the casita until she woke up and came to the door a bit bleary-eyed.

Gasping, she said, “Susan, what did you do?”

“Well, Mom, I didn’t do anything. The jug of water did it all. How bad does it look? Do you think I should go to the emergency room?’

“Yes,” she replied. “Right now. You need stitches.”

First I had to keep the blood out of my eye so I could see to drive. Checking the medicine drawer I discovered I didn’t have a Band-Aid large enough to cover the gash so I slapped on two of them after cleaning the area with a bit of peroxide. Ooowee! That smarted!

I didn’t know where the closest hospital was located so I called my next door neighbor, Fred, and explained the situation. He said Oro Valley Urgent Care was only about fifteen minutes away, with the Oro Valley Hospital a few miles beyond. I called Urgent Care and discovered they didn’t open until 8:00, but figured the time I’d spend there would be less than in the emergency room.

Mom wanted to go with me so I drove to the hospital, waiting in the parking lot for about 20 minutes until they opened their doors. The wound was oozing only a small amount of blood by this time. The Band-Aids kept the blood from dripping down my face.

As we waited, I thought about the last time Mom and I were together when I had to have stitches in my face. I was about two years old. My folks were building our first house at the time, with Mom working right beside Dad, working every bit as hard as he was, or more. I was playing outside, looking to get into trouble I suppose, and found it. I tottered into a pile of building material rubbish that would later be burned. In that pile of rubbish I found a window scraper with the razor blade attached. Oh, goody! Something shiny to play with. I picked the scraper out of the pile, ran across the front yard as fast as any toddler could, and tripped, slicing my cheek from just below my eye to just above the corner of my mouth. I was lucky. A smidge higher, I would have a droopy eye. A smidge lower, I would have a droopy mouth.

Mom and Dad rushed me to the emergency room where the doctor on call stitched up my face, without any anesthetic, or so Mom tells me. She said people could hear me screaming down the hospital hallways. The doctor did a terrible job, leaving gaps in the wound. Growing up, the kids teased me something fierce, calling me Scarface, and other unpleasant names, as the tissue along the scar line was raised and quite red. Mom said she would have liked for me to have had plastic surgery but we didn’t have the money.

Over time, the scar has faded, but if you look close you can still see the marks on my cheek where the needle entered. Some of you might have noticed the scar but didn’t want to ask about it. If not, you surely will look for it the next time we meet. It doesn’t bother me anymore; it is part of who I am. And it makes for a good story.

All because of a heavy plastic water jug there’s going to be another scar on my face. What will people think or say? Are they going to make fun of me at happy hour? I doubt it. As we age, hopefully we learn to be more kind to our peers. Plus, our eyesight begins to fail and things aren’t always as clear as they once were. And, it makes for another good story. Right?

Once the doors opened to the facility, I had to wait my turn as people with hacking coughs choked and gagged their way through the morning. No one seemed to be too concerned about the senior citizen with the bloody Band-Aids on her forehead. After completing paperwork that convinced them I could pay for my visit, I was ushered to one of the back rooms, told to lie down, and assured that someone would be with me shortly. (If this accident would have happened twenty days later, I would have been covered under Medicare. Woohoo!)

As I waited, my body covered with a white cotton blanket to ward off a chill, I thought, “Gee, it’s usually Mom lying here in a hospital bed while I tend to her.” I tried not to think about the stitches, about the needle that would weave its way through my skin. I wondered how much it was going to hurt. I really don’t like needles.

At last the nurse practitioner arrived. I explained what had happened. She asked me if anyone was abusing me at home. I guess this is a standard question these days. I told her I live with my mom and three cats. Spoiled? Yes. Abusive? No. She then went on to explain that she would apply a topical ointment to numb the area so I wouldn’t feel the needle puncturing my skin, nor the tug as she pulled the stitches tight. I told her, “Give me plenty of that numbing stuff!” I prayed I wouldn’t pass out during the procedure. I was beginning to feel nauseous just thinking about it.

Seventeen “dissolving” stitches later (they didn’t dissolve so I had to return for a snip and clip), I was good to go. Though embarrassed at the situation, I was glad to have Mom with me. She held my hand, rubbing the uninjured side of my head the whole time I was stretched out in bed. Even at this age it felt good to have Mom by my side in the hospital, giving me comfort. And this time I didn’t scream.

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Life Among the Wild Ones

Like a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar, the young buck stared back at me through my bedroom window. Startled by my raising the pleated window blind, he paused for a moment as if to say, “What? I wasn’t doing anything!”, before executing a short leap over my two-foot tall fence that serves only as decoration. (So far, it hasn’t kept any critter out that was intent on exploring my back yard.) From the other side of the fence, he continued to stare at me as if to say, “Really. I didn’t eat a thing.” He was so close I could see the gray-brown fuzz of his budding antlers.

In my peripheral vision, I noticed movement off to my right. Turning in that direction, I saw another young buck in my neighbor’s yard, munching green leaves. Surely Ken next door doesn’t have anything planted for the deer to eat. Once the boys moved on, I peeked over the low concrete block wall and couldn’t see anything that looked good enough to eat. But what do I know; I’m not a deer … or hungry.

The critters that live in SaddleBrooke have been sharing their territory with humans since the mid-1980s. Human residents respect the critters right to be here, learning to coexist, and, in fact, the critters are part of the reason everyone enjoys living here. As a result, my back yard has become a mini movie theater of sorts.

On the Fourth of July, Mom and I watched a spectacular fireworks display from our patio. It was quite a show, lasting about thirty minutes. Halfway through the display of red, green, yellow, and blue flares lighting up the sky, complete with pops and whistles, we heard rustling in the brush across the fence. Earlier in the day, we’d spotted a herd of seven deer grazing in the grove of trees in the middle of the golf course. We assumed the rustle of brush was the deer heading for higher ground, having been startled by the noise that sounded like gunshot.

The next morning my other neighbor, Fred, asked if I’d seen the javelina running along the fence line during the firework’s display. Fearing hunters, the javelina family of three adults and five babies were scurrying out of harm’s way. Thank goodness they didn’t jump the fence, as I’m told they can. Mom would have been ready to pack her bags, I’m certain.

Two weeks ago, I stepped out on the back patio to sweep the bean pods that had fallen from the mesquite tree to discover a HUGE tarantula resting next to the wall. Holy S…..! I slammed the door and called Robert, my pest control guy and definitely one of my new best friends.

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“Robert! There’s a tarantula on my patio,” I yelled into the phone. “What do I do?”

“Oh, they’re one of the good guys,” Robert replied.

Tarantulas? Good guys? Those man-eating, creatures-on-steroids in the horror movies? Yep. Robert said they eat scorpions and other bugs we don’t want in the yard. In some circles, they’re considered an “exotic pet.”

Robert says he/she was probably half-dead from the pesticide he’d sprayed along the foundation of the house and to just sweep the tarantula into the cactus. Following his instructions, I grabbed the broom with a very long handle and pushed him/her into the rock. I kept flipping it until it was next to a barrel cactus. The tarantula didn’t put up much of a fight. However, when he/she got up on all eight legs, the span looked to be more than four inches, with a walnut-sized body. Yikes!

Mom, who suffers from arachnophobia, wasn’t buying any of it. She watched it all from the safety of the family room.

And then there was the night the desert toad showed up for dinner. Desert toads aren’t just a cute little toad. These buggers grow to the size of a football, or so Larry the Electrician tells me. You do not want to run over one at night (I guess they sit in the road) because it will smell terrible and make a nasty mess on the underbelly of your car. Furthermore, if your dog or cat licks one, they can die within seconds of ingesting the toxins released from the toad’s slimy body.

Fortunately, the toad that showed up for dinner was only about the size of a baseball. He plopped himself down in front of one of the accent lights in the back yard. Flicking his tongue in and out, he ate the insects attracted to the light until his belly was full. I could almost hear him belch when he was finished.

Desert toads lie burrowed in the desert landscape and only come out during the monsoon season, which we are now experiencing. After the monsoon is over, sometime in September, they will go back underground until next year. While quite ugly in appearance, the Sonoran Desert Toads are interesting. However, I will not be kissing those toads looking for my prince in disguise!

As in Palm Desert, there are many roadrunners here, though they look to be a bit larger in size. I often have one sitting on my back fence or in the mesquite tree where he chases off the doves that like to perch on one particular branch. The doves can handle themselves and give him a wide berth, so I don’t bother to go outside and flap my arms to shoo him away.

However, one day around noon, a roadrunner was hoping along the fence, scanning the ground. All of a sudden he pounced on a lizard and proceeded to get all but two inches of wiggling tail into his beak. Gulp! Gulp! Gulp! Gulp! The roadrunner kept choking, trying to get the entire lizard down his gullet. OMG! I could see it traveling down his throat! I could not bring myself to eat lunch that day.

And finally, we have moths, lots of moths, especially at this time of year. Robert, my pest control guy, told me to put moth balls in my closet because the moths like to hang out there and lay their eggs in the clothing. The larvae that hatch proceed to eat your clothes.

Well, I refuse to smell like one of those little old ladies you meet on occasion who appears to have bathed in eau-de-moth-ball. You know what I’m talking about. Someone told me that cedar blocks work just as well so I bought a couple, along with some cedar balls. I would much rather smell like cedar than moth balls. But one morning on the patio I discovered a moth that was on his last leg, or wing I guess, having suffered the same fate as the tarantula. This wasn’t a little moth. This bugger had a four-inch wing span. If the size of the moth dictates the size of the larvae, my entire wardrobe would be gone in hours, had it come to rest in my closet. Please tell me cedar works as well as moth balls!

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Despite my city-girl-squeamish stomach, I feel at home here, swaddled in contentment. I’ve finished redoing the courtyard where Mom, Dakota, Chianne, Reilly, and I have morning coffee together. My cactus is in bloom with fragrant flowers. I will adjust as others have done, learning to live amongst the wild ones that inhabited this landscape before man moved in, cluttering this colorful desert canvas with his buildings, golf courses, and swimming pools.

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A Different Desert

The déjà vu moment caught me by surprise. It happened last October on a road trip to Tucson to see my friend, Juni Fisher, perform at a place called SaddleBrooke, a community located about forty minutes northwest of downtown Tucson.

I’d left the nerve-wracking, 80-mph, bumper-to-bumper, auto-and-18-wheeler traffic of I-10 to take the scenic Phoenix bypass over to I-8, a much less traveled stretch of freeway. About fifteen miles east of Gila Bend, my mind was adrift in the stark beauty of the Ocotillo, Cholla, and Palo Verde spread out against a backdrop of the Sauceda and Sand Tank mountain ranges. In a split-second flash of recognition, I saw myself dressed in a prairie skirt, horseback, beside a covered wagon heading west. In the same instant, I heard the whispered words, “I’ve been here before.” At those words, an emotional floodgate opened, and I began to cry. Based on prior happenings of this sort, I knew I’d been here in a former lifetime, and that my exploration of Arizona during the past couple of years was a result of a deep-seated need to return. Could this be the reason for my interest in the poetry of the Pioneering Women of The West?

Throughout recent years, thoughts of Arizona have flitted about in my brain, like a butterfly landing on a delicate flower, before taking wing to land on another. During road trips with Cort, we’d intended to spend a few days in Tucson because its old west atmosphere appealed to us. But after six to eight weeks on the road, like a barn-sour mare, by the time we reached Tucson I was chomping at the bit to get home. As a result, we never spent more than one night there, in a motel adjacent to the freeway, ready for a quick departure.

Benicia, the town in which I lived before moving to Palm Desert, is a waterfront community. Most of the homes are painted in typical coastal colors, in varying hues of blue, gray, or white. When it was time to paint our home in 2007, I wanted something different, something brighter, and more southwest in color. To my neighbor’s dismay, I chose a color that I referred to as “Arizona Orange,” though it really wasn’t a bright orange, rather a soft, peachy tone.

While reviewing my journals during the writing of my book, Angel on My Doorstep, three years after Cort’s passing, I came upon another reference I’d made about Arizona. I discovered I’d written in my journal in December of 2010 about “wintering in Arizona” because I was tired of the wet, damp, bone-chilling cold of Northern California. Was I subconsciously writing about a date with destiny?

Last August, while on a riverboat cruise in France, I met Joyce from Minneapolis who wintered in Tucson. When I inquired about the lifestyle in the Tucson area, she said she loved it, and that there was an active arts community as well as many excellent restaurants. She assured me there was plenty to do. So when I decided to go to Tucson in October I contacted Joyce to see if she knew of a real estate agent who could show me the area and a few homes, just to get a feel for the lifestyle. By this time, I’d explored several towns in Arizona, crossing them off my list: Sedona―no shopping other than touristy stuff; Wickenburg―too remote; Prescott―too far from an international airport; Scottsdale―I’d have to drive through the mess of Phoenix traffic to get to the airport; and Mesa―too flat. I was ready to see what Tucson had to offer.

In researching SaddleBrooke prior to my trip, I discovered it is a 55+ active adult resort community of about 5,000 homes, located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, just off Hwy. 77 after passing through the towns of Oro Valley and Catalina. Arriving at SaddleBrooke I was greeted by undulating hillsides dotted with Palo Verde and Mesquite trees, Soaptree Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus in shades of lavender and sage-green, and a scattering of Teddybear Cholla. (You do not want to hug these bears, I assure you.) I was surprised at how green the landscape appeared. Some homes had yellow roses thriving in their front yards. I’d expected dirt and sand with a sprinkling of cactus varieties and perhaps a few desert trees. But at an elevation of 3,285 feet SaddleBrooke is a bit cooler than the city of Tucson. I discovered that there are four golf courses, tennis courts, pickleball courts, three clubhouses complete with swimming pools and fitness centers, five restaurants, two theaters, a day spa, and lots of activities to enjoy. I was intrigued by it all.

On that fateful Friday night in October, after Juni’s performance ended, she and I stood in the parking lot chatting. I could hear the howl of coyote and the hoot of owl in the still, black-as-ink night. A slight chill filled the air, but I was comfortable in shirtsleeves. I could envision myself living there.

On Saturday morning, I met Marilyn, my real estate agent and new best friend. We spent the day looking at homes for sale. I even made an offer on one home, which the seller countered. As I reviewed the seller’s counter offer, I placed my hands, palms down, onto the document. It just didn’t “feel right.” Then I recalled a dream I’d had back in August. In my dream, I’d found a wonderful home to buy, and had made an offer. But the words, “It’s too soon,” echoed in the dream. So I passed on the deal, confident that when the time was right my home would be waiting for me.

During the previous months, I’d had discussions with Mom about her moving in with me and perhaps the two of us moving to Arizona. In November, Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and another precancerous condition, both requiring surgery. We were told the surgeries would be extensive, that she’d probably spend the next six months either in the hospital or at home recovering, with the possibility of lifelong complications, such as incontinence.

Mom had had enough of doctors and surgeries throughout the last fourteen years. Three years ago, during neck surgery, her vocal cords were injured. She hasn’t been able to speak much above a whisper since, despite two corrective procedures. Mom said she wasn’t about to have “one more damn surgery.” She was prepared to die.

In December, Mom came to spend the Christmas holidays with me, to decide where and how we would spend whatever time she had left. We drove to Tucson to see if she would like it there. We scoured the entire Tucson area, in all directions. I couldn’t find a community that I liked better than SaddleBrooke. However, with Mom’s health issues, I didn’t feel it would be in her best interest to move to Tucson. We decided that she would move in with me in Palm Desert.

In January, we went back to Sacramento, made arrangements with an estate company to buy up all but a few of her personal belongings, sold her car, and stuffed my car (Thelma) to the gills with what she had left, after having brought one load to Palm Desert in December.

Once she settled in, I had to get Mom established with a doctor who would take her through the end-of-life process. However, new doctors gave a more optimistic diagnosis. To make it short, she had the surgery for colon cancer and recovered quickly. Neither radiation nor chemotherapy was required. The other issue didn’t appear to be as serious as the Sacramento doctor had indicated. Go figure.

We put plans to move to SaddleBrooke on the fast track. I bought a home in March, closing escrow on April 11th. Everything proceeded without incident, as it should when the timing is right. Because I still had belongings in storage in Benicia, such as seventeen boxes of Christmas decorations, and cooking utensils from not only the house but the motor home Cort and I’d once owned, I made arrangements to move it all to Arizona.

We made a couple of trips to Tucson to purchase basic furniture: bedroom sets so we’d have something to sleep on, family room furniture so we’d have some place to sit, and kitchen furniture so we’d have some place to eat. On May 24th, I stuffed our last minute belongings into every nook and cranny Thelma had to offer, placing the three cats in their pet taxis atop suitcases. The thought was that, number one, we were short on space, and, number two, if the girls could see out the window on the six-hour trip, perhaps Chianne wouldn’t meow constantly. However, despite using Peace and Calming essential oils, Chianne still voiced her displeasure the entire trip, though it wasn’t as loud as normal, and it was a bit slurred. Can a cat slur a meow? Yep! Perhaps I used a bit too much of the essential oil.

And so . . . here we are. Mom is content, having settled herself into the casita adjacent to the main house. The cats are happy, as they race from room to room, as if running on an oval track. There’s also plenty of wild life for them to watch out the windows, their tails a-twitch and teeth a-chatter.

WP-Diff-Desert.-3-Cats

While I haven’t seen a resident coyote or bobcat yet, there have been deer across my two-foot tall, wrought iron fence, peering in the window. I’ve seen evidence of a javelina rooting in the soil around a young cactus. I’ve watched a quail family, complete with a dozen chicks, pecking at fallen pods from the Screwbean Mesquite. To Mom’s horror, Western Whiptail lizards skitter through the courtyard. One day, a Common Kingsnake dropped in for a visit. Such is life in the country. Though I have to admit, this is about as country as I want to get.

WP-Diff-Desert.-Snake

As to why I’m here, in SaddleBrooke, Arizona, I have no clue. A few nights ago, Mom and I were sitting on the back patio enjoying chilled glasses of Pinot Grigio. We looked at each other and said, “What in the hell are we doing here?”

WP-Diff-Desert.-Mom-in-Chai

I’m not sure. But I’m confident all will be revealed in time.