A Solstice Message from a Desert Creature in a Heating Oven

It was 90 degrees by 7am, predicted to almost match yesterday’s record 115. I went out at 5:45 am with the dog, figuring it was our last chance for a walk. He was reluctant, but I told him it would be ok until the sun came over the mountain. Animals know.

A Sonoran Desert dweller for 28 years now, I still complain fiercely in June. This year I decided to try in earnest to learn from the desert. What can the land and the desert inhabitants teach me about how we will survive this oven that is heating up?

As we walked I was struck by how quiet everything was. Animals doing things slowly, under cover. Doves cooed to each other, maybe about food that was available. Quail chattered from invisible hiding places, perhaps claiming their places where they would bed down in the heat. Ants were the busy ones, carrying little supplies into their hole. A hawk hurried by, maybe through with her morning hunt.

Last night my husband and I went in our pool as the sun was mercifully going down. Bats gathered to swoop down around us for water, as they usually do. Only the scene turned into something out of Hitchcock. At a certain point I exited to sit out of range and watch in wonder the cloud of diving bats. Water is precious.

We have a Jacuzzi that sits a bit higher than the pool, and water trickles over rocks to trick us into thinking we’re cool. Bees always gather there in the morning to drink, and since we live on the edge of wild land, there’s nothing to be done about it, except co-exist. Today they were in a frenzy, the top echelon packed tightly into the prime spots on the wet cement, while the wannabees (sorry) swarmed around wanting their turn.

I’ve learned from past experience that the ugly desert toads are smart enough to be hiding underground now, waiting for our monsoon rains (please, God!) before they make their (unwelcome) appearance. I haven’t seen a snake in weeks, so I think they are also smart enough to burrow.

Our next-door neighbors have a wildlife pond, and the trail through the desert across our yard into theirs has become more apparent this year than ever. Deer have been appearing below our pool, looking longingly at my enclosed veggie garden before sailing over our fence to get a drink. One of them died in our yard last week. Was it old, as my husband theorizes? Or did it die of thirst and heat? (The vultures and coyotes were evidently delighted; the carcass is almost gone.)

If you’re from the city, you may be either gasping in horror at this point, or perhaps longing for the wild side if you’re adventurous. But all that is not my point. I’m trying to derive lessons from all I’m observing.

As the blanket of heat muffles all activity, I settle into my blessed air conditioning and muse. I, too, want to move more slowly and hibernate. June here is like winter for other people; we stay indoors. Like the ants, I gather my supplies in the mornings and hide in the afternoon. Like the bats, it’s best if I dance with my days by watching the light. They come out when the bugs are plentiful, and then disappear.

Will we, like the bees, end up competing and swarming for water? Will we like the deer, coyotes and other animals, have to travel to quench our thirst? Could our descendants die from thirst?

I’m rather horrified at this point that Arizona still has not set up regulations about washing cars, hosing off porches and watering golf courses. Surely we’ll have to get real about the future of water. And will our desert cities become ghost towns? Should we invest in shoring up our coastal towns against the rising sea? Or go inland? Should I even own a pool?

Petroglyphs in the foothills above us remind me of native people who somehow found ways to survive this heat. Did they migrate up into the mountains? Will we have to follow them?

On this, the day of the year when there is the most light, I bow down to the sun. After all, we are completely depending upon this source of light and life. We exist in fragile relationship to this earth home. And so I salute the cities (like Tucson!) and the states (like California) that are proceeding with creative and bold responses to climate change.

We’re blessed with pretty good brains and a consciousness that is hopefully evolving. And a good thing, too, since we’re in the midst of a global shift that seems to have turned the world upside down. If we turn our upset over that into a kind of sleepiness about global warming, we relinquish our instinctive intelligence that nature has passed to us. Instead, my solstice prayer is that we learn from nature about what is required now, on this day, in this time, for this earth.

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