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  • suzjennifer62

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort…” -Martin Luther King, Jr


Defense. It’s what wins football games. As the two champion teams met on the field for this year’s final football game, it was predicted to be an exciting match-up. Whether your team won, this game did not fail to provide tight-knuckled action. With a low number of points scored, it was a show of equal defensive strength and was a matter of which team had more stamina. The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl with defense. Defense is also about survival.




Walking Winnie in the desert, I am more acutely aware of defense. Every animal, every plant, every insect and reptile that survives out here does so with nature’s most precious skill; defense. They all have their strengths and vulnerabilities. The diamondback can render an enemy helpless by injecting his paralyzing venom, but can just as easily become the prey to a road runner. Another tool in survival is adapting, and the wildlife here is full of remarkable examples of this. Animals adapt to the Sonoran desert heat by burrowing underground or spending the days in caves and coming out at night to forage.


Before coming to live in southern Arizona at the north-eastern end of the Sonoran Desert, I was a novice regarding desert life. With little personal experience to draw from, I played by ear. Expecting to dry out like a prune in the arid region, it thrilled me to experience two rainy seasons a year. The Sonoran Desert here in Arizona has a semi-arid climate, sometimes dry and other times downright tropical.




With scenes in my mind from the cartoon, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, I imagined baron expanses of sand with no vegetation, and high plateaus atop vaulting walls of rock jutting out from the canyon floors. There is sand, and rocks, cliffs and canyons. But there are also forests of cactus and trees that not only thrive, they provide habitats for the fauna. I am amazed at how green is the desert scape in which I live. Carved out by volumes of flowing rain water are the great washes defined by banks worn round from monsoons. When dry, the waterways provide highways for the critters who range forth and establish their territory.


Like the topography of the land that shifts with the coming and going of the rain, everything changes with the seasons. The cactus that, during the wet seasons, swells and expands to store life sustaining water, keeps itself alive through the droughts. The road runner who, like seabirds, can conserve water by secreting salt through glands behind his eyes, is an example of adaptation, the greatest key to survival. Adapting is what the Kansas City Chiefs did on Sunday, thus they came out victorious.





Though somewhat skilled in adaptation, I wasn’t prepared for the antagonistic nature of the desert environments. I learned and have frequently said, “everything in the desert either bites, stings, pokes, or burns.” To the point of being attacked by chollas whose branches seem to reach out when I pass, to being grabbed and held around the ankle by a devil’s claw seed pod, I have learned.


Painfully aware that as a species, humans don’t have quick, fox-like reflexes to guard ourselves when we surprise a diamondback. Nor do we have thick hides like the javelinas to avoid the permeating quills when we stumble into a cactus. We will not develop characteristics to shield ourselves from the burning rays of radiating heat, or develop features that conserve water. Finding a place to hide is our only defense. And hiding is not living.


Keeping Winnie on a short leash allows me to steer her away from exploring areas where snakes and scorpions could hide. Never allowing her to hang out in her yard without supervision keeps a coyote from serving Winnie to its litter of pups for dinner. We carry the proper tools to defend ourselves, but first we try to stay clear of threats.




The not so adaptable team that lost the biggest game of some of their life times this past weekend learned from the harsh environment they encountered. Humbling though it was, losing doesn’t require them to shrink off with their tails between their legs. They should be proud of the game they played and show respect for the team they played against.


Better than my ability to defend is the ability to respect. The harsh world I first encountered here in Catalina is now a world for which I have the utmost respect. I am fascinated to witness the many symbiotic relationships and find there is a lot more harmony than one would expect given the lack of surface sympathy. For me, living in the desert is about coping. I will not wither and shrink away from the harshness. Instead, I will embrace its beauty.


To live with grace and dignity, we should all take a lesson from the desert.

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