Primavera En El Desierto, story by Elaine James at
Roberto Nickson

Primavera En El Desierto

Primavera En El Desierto

written by: Elaine James



Springtime Fauna

I realized spring was upon us when I saw the first cockroach of the season casually making its way across the patio. I like to recline on my chaise, on the back patio, in the early morning, while I wait for the coffee to brew. I read the news, complete my daily WORDLE, and generally take the retiree-approved and templated start to the day. When I say “early” in the morning, I really mean “whenever I get up”, which is usually eight o’clock or so. It’s eight-thirty now, I’m still tired, and if the coffee isn’t ready soon I’ll be asleep out here with the cucarachas. I’ve given up on the rushed lifestyle, and that includes rushing out of bed for no particular reason. There has always been a sense of urgency in my life and now that I’m retired, I’m working hard to embrace leisure. You’d think it would come naturally, or at least easily, but not so, not for me.
The cockroach was an added dimension to the morning. We don’t see many cockroaches here in the winter as they’re seasonal, like mosquitoes in the northern hemisphere. In the summer, the cockroach population expands exponentially and we see them everywhere. We see them drowned in the swimming pool, around the septic tank access port, hugging the garbage cans, and sometimes coming up the shower drains and into the house. So fun. Now I have confirmation that spring is here, and summer is just around the corner with the appearance of this, our first cockroach.
It’d been chilly at night, and in the mornings for the past few months, and I’m ready for the weather to warm up. Nighttime temperatures of 13C are much too cold for this whiney, former Canadian resident, come on spring! Spring in the Sonoran desert brings flowers, birds, and other creatures to life in fabulous and noisy ways. The bird song while I sit here is a cacophony of beautiful sounds that I’ve never experienced in any other place. A Mockingbird joined the songfest frenzy with his amazing litany of plagiarized arias.
I’d never been much of a “spring” person when we lived in Canada as it only meant weeks of disturbed weather that would include rain, sleet, and snow, which always resulted in poor driving conditions, muddy yards and pets, and seemingly endless grey, cloudy days. Grey, cloudy days suck the life out of me and I hate them. Some folks have asked me if the endless, cloudless, sunny days here in the desert get boring or mundane. Nope, nope they don’t. Endless cloudy, grey, wet days are boring and mundane….I believe I mentioned life-sucking?
I’m more of a summer person myself, I like to swim in the sea, snorkel, fish, and hang out in our pool. I see spring as a harbinger of summer when I can get out and enjoy the things I love the most. Right now, at 23C, the pool is still too cold to swim in and the sea, well, it’s not even close to swimmable yet. These blisteringly cold temperatures leave me with kayaking and hiking as the preferred wintertime/springtime activities and, of course, reading, writing, and snoozing on the back patio are high on my list as well. Soon my lovely husband will be bringing me my first, fresh mug of coffee and the day will be off to another perfect start. Where is that cockroach? Oh, hey, there’s the first monarch butterfly of the day!
It appears the cockroach is moving in my general direction, I sit up so that he’ll notice me. Why don’t I just get up and squish him? I’m lazy, and I’ve not had coffee, that’s why I need coffee. Coffee is life. The cockroach notices my movement, and skitters sideways which satisfy my need for a safe distance, and I go back to my morning observations.
We have three raised garden beds off to the right of the patio, and I notice a long line of tiny ants streaming out from under the pavement over to the garden bed with the tomatoes. These ants are TINY! So small that they are barely visible when there’s only one. Unfortunately, they travel in packs like migrating wildebeest. I tell visitors they must always watch where they walk, stand, and sit when they’re outside. These tiny little pain mongers attack with a veracity that will leave your skin wishing for third-degree sunburn. One lone, single, diminutive ant bit my sweet baboo on the hip and left a welt that lasted for two weeks! They’re so small that you can’t feel them on you until they pierce your tender flesh with their fetid fangs. Yah, yah, mouthpiece….whatever, they bite like vampires.
Springtime here means the end of the tomatoes, and most other garden goodies as the sun becomes too intense, and the heat rises beyond their ability to survive. Adios tomatoes, you’ve been all kinds of delicious for the past five months and I’ll miss you. I’ll miss the deliciousness of the marinara you helped me create. Toodle’s fresh herbs and all of the delightful recipes you’ve enriched. Farewell, root veggies whose astronomic glycemic and carb index enhanced my butt. Carry on ants…demolish the sad garden remnants. Where’s that cockroach? Where’s my coffee?


Fauna Sueno

The young iguanas are on the perimeter wall sunning themselves and I wonder where they go during the winter? We don’t see them or the other, various types of reptiles during the cold months…where do they all go? Every year I enjoy the iguanas and I always pick one and name it Andy. It’s a great name for an iguana.
Soon the other summertime creatures will join us for the blistering hot days and steaming, humid nights, and I watch every morning to see who’s arrived. The rattlesnakes should appear any time now, and I’m sure I’ll see one or two crossing the road during my morning walks. I’m guessing that the opossums will be carrying around their kids on their backs soon too as I believe they will have been born in February sometime.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the cockroach as it makes its way across the patio, if he comes near me he is a dead cockroach! While I’m watching, I note another springtime creature in the form of a scorpion has arrived on the patio. I’m a bit surprised to see a scorpion out in the open like this as they usually keep to dark, dank places, like my soul. Last week while uncovering some newly poured concrete borders, my husband pulled back the plastic and found a lethargic and slow-moving specimen. He squished it. We have spent time in the past relocating them to a nearby riparian area, but there are just too many of them..and we don’t need their soon-to-be children here either. There are many articles, pictures, and other materials available to enable the identification of deadly poisonous vs. super painful scorpions. With all of the information, and all of the scorpions gathered at our Casa over the years, we’re not yet to be able to identify the deadly ones. We’ve developed a locate and destroy scorpion strategy.
A scorpion on the patio will mean that I’ll have to get up, go find a garden implement, and squish the thing. I’m concerned that my husband will come out the back door with my long-awaited cup of coffee and get stung. We have a “no bare feet” rule at our house just for this reason, but I don’t want to take any chances. As I watched, Senor scorpion moved closer and closer to the cockroach who’d not yet noticed him, is he going directly for him? What for? Are they natural enemies? So many insect questions right now! Yes! Senor scorpion is definitely homing in on Luis…yes, I’ve named him! Will there be a fight? I don’t know what to do, a few moments ago I was contemplating the best way to end them both. Now, I’m wondering if I’m a bad person for being fascinated by the impending blood sport? Okay, this is getting serious now, Luis has noticed Senor scorpion and is very still. I know that Luis knows Senor is there, even though he’s not turned fully around so they’re facing each other. I wait, and I wait some more…..
Now Senor is within a foot of Luis, and I’m worried for my little friend. Scorpions eat cockroaches, don’t they? Run Luis run! Luis is making a break for it, he skitters directly towards the wall of the outdoor bathroom, Gawd, he’s almost made it! Senor is in hot pursuit, but he’s not as quick. Luis has nowhere to go, his back is against the wall! Senor moves in but Luis moves this way and that, trying to fake out Senor. It’s tense I tell ya, the strategy employed by Luis seems to be working and Senor appears confused. I can tell that my blood pressure is getting high, my heart rate has increased, and I’m sitting straight up in my chaise. How long have I been like this? Seconds, minutes? I don’t know. Will I need to reach for the heart medication? Jesus.
I’m taking deep breaths to calm myself, while repeating “he’s okay, Luis is fine”, like a mantra. Senor is back to his old ways and has located Luis again, do they use echolocation? Eyesight? Clearly, I know who I’m rooting for. Senor’s tail is up and arched over his back, what’s wrong with him? His posture is so aggressive and it’s just not a good look. My anxiety has reached epic proportions and I don’t know how much more I can take! Run Luis run! He doesn’t. Now I’m thinking that Luis must be the stupidest cockroach on the planet. If he’s so stupid, how’d he get to his epic size? He’s at least 2 inches long, and why doesn’t he fly? Cockroaches have wings right? Fly Luis fly! Nope, Luis seems happy to be stalked by a cranky scorpion.
I don’t know what to do, do I intervene, let nature take its course, or…? There appears to be a detente for now and I’m relieved as I need the breathing space to relax. The boys are still, and appear to be watching each other closely. I wonder how Senor figures he’s going to consume Luis? Luis is bigger than senor, and I’m sure outweighs him. Isn’t gluttony a sin? Aren’t they both guilty of this sin? Luis is a cockroach after all….food is life.
Could this come to war? Like an octagon MMA fight only for creepy crawlers? Where’s an MMA commentator when I need him? If this is going to be a brawl then there’ll need to be professional commentary. I’m a spectator sort myself, so leave me outta that role. Sure I know some of the lingo. I can scream “drop the bomb” and “rear-naked choke” with the best of them, but I’m no Joe Rogan.
This could be the clash of the titans. One has poison, hunger and aggression, the other has size, speed, and wings (not that he seems to know how to use them). I’m so fascinated watching this drama unfold, that I had failed to notice the ant stream deviated from its garden path. Those voracious hormigas looked like they were headed this way? What for? There’s no food here. What’s up with the iguanas and other reptiles that they’re not taking care of the insect problem? It certainly appears to me that we’ve enough edible insects to support and expand reptile existence here. It’s not even summer yet!


Por Fin Cafe!

What’s that I smell? Bacon! Sweeet, sweeet bacon! My Baboo must be pulling out all the stops this morning! No wonder coffee is taking so long! Smells like there’ll be breakfast too! This means there’ll be a meal with the floor show. Oh yeah……
My husband, aka Baboo, is an excellent cook, electrician, power engineer, masseuse, distiller, conversationalist, and all-around fine person. He’s handsome and resourceful and bringing breakfast with bacon elixir can only enhance his already stellar persona. The man has single-handedly renovated four homes for us, all while holding a full-time job, farming, and trying to have a life. No finer person has ever been in my life, but he better not come out here and interrupt the drama playing out in front of me. There should be food, and coffee, always coffee.
I like to set drama to good music, and I ruminate on the appropriateness of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I’m thinking Spring isn’t going to work even though it is spring. Much too soft and flowery. I can imagine cute birds and butterflies floating around. Il Sospetto seems to be more high drama and fitting for this soon-to-be epic throw-down. I let the concert begin to play in my head…yes, that’s the ticket. The stage is set, the theatre is hushed and I wait in anticipation of the next move from our players. The ants are closing in, they’ve crossed over from the gravelled path onto the patio. It won’t take them long to arrive on the scene. Enter, stage left!
Luis has edged his way along the bathroom wall toward open ground with plenty of running room, but Senor anticipates this clever ploy and moves to cut off Luis’s escape. The strategy involved is unbelievable and it looks like Luis is going to be dinner for Senor. Perhaps the ants are there as the cleanup crew? Nature’s insect vultures if you will?
Senor has closed within striking distance and I can see Luis’s defensive posture. His tiny cockroach butt is backed against the wall, his antenna straight out in front of him, his weird bug eyes staring at Senor. Senor makes a grab with his left arm thingy, and the pincer grabs hold of one of Luis’s antennae. Senor strikes with his tail! A swing and a miss, just a tiny wet splotch on the stone beside Luis. He strikes again! Another miss and splotch! How big of a poison load do scorpions carry anyway? Senor readjusts his grip. Luis gives an almighty jerk, and Senor is left with an antenna in his pincer. Luis makes a break for it, but wait, what is this? A wall of ants! Dammit! This guy can’t catch a break and he reminds me of the Wiley Coyote on Bugs Bunny. Maybe he should just give up…..winter’s coming.
Not our Luis! He takes a mighty cockroach leap across the ant brigade and makes it to open ground. He’s moving like the wind, and if a cockroach could be described as elegant, hair blowing in the breeze, he’s nailed it. Yes, right into the gaping maw of Andy, who’d apparently been waiting and watching the entire time. Who knew life in the backyard could be so complex and gladiatorial? I’d been rooting for Luis and now I felt let down, like a reader of a short story who’d become invested in the tragic hero. Where’s the end of the story? What about the other players? Where’s my coffee?
Andy looked happy and satisfied and went back up to his perch on the wall. Senor looked bereft. I wondered what he’d do now without the Luis buffet he’d been chasing. Do scorpions eat ants? There’s certainly enough of them, but perhaps because of their size, it would be like eating popcorn? Sure they’re crunchy and tasty, but are they a meal? Senor made his way over to his last remembered location of Luis and was still for a time. Was he confused? Did he believe in magic? Did he not see the monstrous Andy devour our tragic Luis in a single gulp? Hmmmmm… iguanas eat scorpions? Could there be an act two?
I felt Baboo’s hand gently shaking my shoulder as he said my name. I felt him settle a hot cup of coffee into my hand. I opened my eyes and he was leaning down over me and smiling. Did you fall asleep out here? I realized that I had, and took that first sip of beauteous, wondrous coffee. Baboo has already disappeared back into the house to bring breakfast out. He arrived back with a tray of cutlery, plates, eggs, toast, juice, and bacon. I knew I’d smelled bacon! Lovely! He set everything down on the bistro table that we’d set up under the shade canopy and held a chair out for me to sit on. I can’t say that I leapt to my feet, as “leaping” is not something I indulge in any longer, I did, however, move with some haste. I’m motivated like Pavlov’s dog. It truly is spring if we’re having breakfast outside, on the patio, under the canopy. In the summer, it’s already too hot to eat outside by 8:30 in the morning.
I glanced around the patio for any sign of the imaginary characters or drama that had just played out before me. Even the real cockroach from earlier seemed to have disappeared. Nothing, not a creature moved. Andy was still on top of the wall with his friends and gazed down on us with lazy lizard eyes. I glared at him knowingly. The ants were still in their militarily precise line going to and from the garden bed, with no sign of them on the patio.
Breakfast was perfect and I told Baboo so, I enjoyed my start to the day. Even with the sidebar fantasy, the day looked bright, sunny and without insect mayhem. I cleared up the dishes and put them in the tray to bring into the house. I think the least I could do is clear up after my beloved has cooked us a great meal. I told him I’d bring more coffee out when I came back. Doing the dishes has never been one of my favourite household chores, but I also like a clean kitchen, so I did the dishes up before taking more coffee outside. I grabbed the carafe and headed out the back door. As I stepped out onto the patio, Baboo jumped up and stomped on a cockroach that had just shimmied out from under the chaise I’d recently vacated. He looked at me and said, “spring has arrived”!

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