Return to A Deliberate Year

Don't Shake Hands With The Cactus

23 August 04

McPhee Reservoir, Colorado

I like it here so much that I tried to sign up for another full week this morning. Can't do it. They're hooked into a national reservation system, and you can only do 4 days at a time from the hut at the entrance. Which I did. I guess I could go phone in a reservation for the place I'm in, but they want 9 dollars for that, and it takes 10 days to process. Welcome to the Bureaucracy of the Outdoors.

Best to take it one day at a time, like the AA: "Hello there. My name is Bob G, and I'm a camper. And I ain't giving it up."

Apart from that small disappointment, it's been a wonderful day already. And hey, it's only noon. I've been sitting in the wind-stirred shade of a pinon tree, pretending to read. I'm sucking on a slow beer in lieu of lunch, and studying all these animals that are ignoring me.

There's a lizard on a flat rock over there. Gray, with little brown hatch marks down his back. Every now and then his tail sweeps back and forth across the stone. Woo-hoo. Party Time in Lizard Land.

Me and the Liz, I think we've come to an understanding. There's a couple of tiny black flies that keep trying to fly down the neck of my beer. First they parade around the rim, and then want to dive right in. I wave them over in his direction. He's got a lightning tongue, if they ever get close enough.

Meanwhile I'll just have to drink faster than they do. Competition is a wonderful thing, they say. I'm not sure if these guys are thieves or entrepreneurs, though. Guess it depends on your point of view.

So far flies are the only wildlife around here that show much interest in me. And charming as they are, they just love me for my beer. Hummingbirds have discovered the feeder I hung up in the Juniper. They flash off to tell their friends. There's a fat mountain bluebird up there too, keeping an eye on things. Out over the canyon some sort of brown eagle rises and falls, sometimes showing the white under his wings as he veers off.

None of them pay me much mind. They have their own lives, about which, amazingly, they seem quite serious.

The cicadas, which rule the night with what I am told is a rhythmic frenzy of loud bug lust, are all worn out this morning. They lie on the ground like little brown sticks, and only move if you attempt to walk on them. Then they barely get out of your way.

I've had mornings like that, and for the same reason. It's been a while.

The only other thing that seems to have noticed me out here was a black-eared jackrabbit investigating camp when I came out this morning. Those are some serious ears. Maybe a foot long, sticking straight up. Dark, mild, attentive eyes. And unlike the chubby cottontails, this guy is built for speed. All legs, and lean. Nature's own Olympic Champion in the broken field run. Awkward looking, but this guy can move.

What was that saying from Watership Down? "If you catch me, you can eat me. But first you must catch me."

Good luck.

Speaking of eating, I nearly swallowed a fly just then. Gack. That's almost enough to make me give up beer in the morning. Almost.

All in all, the animals I have met here are relatively benign to humans. Plants are another matter. There's a lot of deadfall wood on this site, and downhill toward the dropoff. I went about collecting some for the evening campfire a few minutes ago, and was viciously attacked by an ear of cactus. Not the whole plant, thank goodness, or we wouldn't be having this conversation. Just this little round loose ear lying on the ground, maybe 4 inches across. The needles themselves were at least two inches long. I reached down to pick up a pile of dead branches, and got more than I bargained for.

It imbedded lightly, as if it merely intended to walk on stilts across the back my hand. Darn near made it too. But there's this tiny barb at the end of each needle that limits it's overall mobility, not to mention yours . Sharp as a woman's wit. Once it goes in, it doesn't come out.

I tried to just shake it off, and three more spines rotated around and stuck in, as though to thank me for my trouble. Don't ask me what a cactus gets out of this sort of intimate acquaintance. I assure you that it's unrequited love.

I had to drop the wood and carefully pull this thing off from the other side. Pop, pop, pop, pop. Tenacious devil.

I'm now reading, or at least holding, John Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces". My second time through, if I make it through.

Ooops, there goes the Liz. That's what I mean about this place. However good the book is, and it is, there's too much stuff going on to concentrate. The wind gets in your ears, and blows all those words away.

Hmmm. Echoes in there.

Time for a walk along the rim. If there happens to be one or two of you stuck in the clammy false comfort of air conditioning somewhere, I encourage you to cut loose and come on up. Bring beer and drop by. I'm somewhere downslope of the red Ford pickup. Campfire starts around 7, give or take an hour or two. Music provided by the Colorado Cicada Orchestra.

Don't shake hands with the cactus.

Unproductively yours,


Return to Around the Campfire
Comments are welcome in the rec.outdoors.rv-travel newsgroup,
or to
© Copyright 2003-2008 Bob Giddings, All Rights Reserved
Webspace provided by Arcata Pet Supplies