Originally published in Desert Oracle No. 1 (Spring 2015)
“Letter From North Joshua Tree”
by Jay Babcock
November 11, 2014
I’m composing this missive from beneath our desert ash tree. Watering the Joshua tree, watching the male finches zip about, running Steve Gunn’s Way Out Weather on the house hi-fi out the open windows. That I’m outdoors mid-morning in November means that the warm autumn is continuing: little to no wind, daytime temperatures cycling 10 degrees north and south of 80F, blue skies and clear nights.
But yeah, I’m watering a 16-foot Joshua tree in November because there hasn’t been much rain here since Spring. That was enough to give us our our first wildflower season in years, albeit a mild one. Mildflowers. And grass, and more plants, which meant for everyone to feed on. The ants seemed to mobilize first and widest — black and reds alike, constructing chains of mounds wherever there was sand. Then during the summer months the ant-devourers were out en masse — we saw the greatest variety and quantity of our lizard friends since Stephanie and I set up housekeeping here (as my grandfather would say) five years ago: Desert Horneds, Desert Banded Geckos (!), Western Whiptails. All their real names, your honor. And the insects! I will also call them by their secular names: Thistledown Velvet Ants, Pallid Grasshoppers, Giant Redheaded Centipedes, Tarantula Hawk Wasps — the latter having larvae-nesting habits so hideous they may singlehandedly prove the case for the universe being fundamentally evil in the antinatalist sense.
Then there were the Giant Hairy Scorpions, pictured above: six-inch-long land lobsters with a mildly venomous sting, who were so plentiful in our outdoor raised bed garlic patch that I hand-relocated them by the dozen to an undisclosed location twice. (Amazingly, these ‘insects’ can live for 25 years. Can your dog?) More bats and butterflies (especially around the compost/manure operation) too. Friends down near Aberdeen Road saw a family of Ringtail cats several nights in a row in October.
And this past weekend, one of the migratory flocks of turkey vultures that we see here twice yearly roosted overnight in our neighbor Old Joe’s giant honey mesquite tree, 250 yards from our house, and in Miguel and Marta’s grove up the road. In the morning they sat on fence posts and at the trees’ apexes, with their three-foot wings extended, motionless for minutes on end sunning themselves, warming up for the day’s flight. “They look like wet umbrellas,” said a friend. Then they were off, in that funnel/cyclone formation they travel in.