The sky was just lightening and, in the distance, the Carrizo Plain was covered with a white mist that looked like an endless lake. It was our last morning before entering the endless rivers of Californian traffic to visit some good friends in Santa Cruz. During one of our last hikes in the gold and emerald hills surrounding the Selby Campground where we were camped, Kat expressed sadness that it was all coming to an end. The tone of our adventure was about to change as we started our return journey northward into Canada. Like coming back from a long and extended vacation, we have practical matters to deal with: tax returns, repairs to our truck and camper (fortunately, all minor), crossing the border without running afoul of Canadian Customs. And looking for a new home. The real world for most people.
I was perched on the edge of a large boulder, trying to take a picture of a pretty yellow flower tucked into a crack, when I heard a horrible grating noise that at first made me think of a burned out motor in a portable drill. Or an agitated wasp, if the wasp was as big as my shoe. At first I didn’t understand what it was, but when I looked down to maybe a foot-and-a-half below from where I was perched, I spotted an angry rattlesnake. Its coiled body was as thick as a beer can and its pink mouth was wide open revealing revealing fangs the size of large nails. Not only was it shaking its rattle, but it was hissing at me.
Just before dawn, I walked out into the still cool desert to look at the sky. Mornings and evenings are the most beautiful times in the Arizona desert, when the pinks and reds hang in the air like a thick glowing mist that stretches from one horizon to the other. On this morning, I was entertained with a remarkable celestial event I have never experienced before. I watched as the full moon, who had spent the entire night traversing the sky and bathing the desert in silver light, dropped beneath the western horizon at the exact same moment as the sun rose in the east. The evening before, their roles were reversed and, as the moon rose in the east, the sun set in the west. It was as if the sun and moon were sharing opposite ends of the same plate, and the plate was slowly turning on an invisible axis.
They’re everywhere we go. I see them clogging up the roads with rigs the size of train cars. When shopping, the same rigs are spread across four parking stalls. Inside the grocery stores, the aisles are swarming with pot-bellied men in white beards slowly shuffling behind their poodle-haired spouses. The campgrounds, RV parks, and state parks are crammed with their shiny rigs. Locals complain that they can’t take their kids camping because the best camp spots are reserved for months in advance. They’re all here from the northern states and Canada to escape the cold winters and bask in the gorgeous southern sun. They are the snowbirds. And we do not flock with them.
I knew we were in for a rough night when we looked outside and saw a woman walk to the sparse shrubs just outside our camper, drop her sweats, and squat to relieve herself as she showed us her more than ample moon. She seemed unaware that we were sitting just few feet on the embankment above her, watching from our dinette window. Kat gasped as I quickly turned my head, not wanting to etch the image onto my brain, but knowing it was already too late.