The other night I was on the way home from a family gathering and ran across a snake in the road.  I pulled right over.  Discovering that the snake was alive, I backed up, turned on my flashers and positioned my car back in the road behind the snake so that no one could run it over.  It was a little late for a snake to be sunning itself on the asphalt but I was hopeful.  I got out to investigate.  A rattler, probably about 4 or 5 years old.  Although its coils were still moving — slowly, as always; I have never seen one of these things actually get up any speed — its head was not coming up, and, as close as I was getting to it, I knew this was not a good thing.  About this time, a young man in a BMW with a few friends in back came screeching around the corner and narrowly missed my car.  He careened on down the road, and I got back to trying to figure out if I could help the snake.  Some movement but that head still did not come up even as I got closer.  A few minutes later, the young man in the BMW came back to see if I needed any help.  I told him what I was doing, which seemed not only to confuse him but make him faintly disgusted.  (His personal headline: Crazy middle-aged snake lady causes a pile up on Camino Real.)

Just as he was pulling away again — alas, towards the direction he had originally come from — two more cars stopped and pulled over.  One was a couple about my age and the other a young family in a van.  Both the men got out, while the mother in the van tried to explain why the girls, who wanted very badly to see the snake, could not get out.  She told them it was a dangerous snake, but kept the sliding side door open so the girls could watch from good vantage.  Their father approached the snake with what amounted, really, to a long twig.  The other man was right behind him, giving him the assistance of good, clear directions.  Unhappily by this time the snake was dead. But the man with the twig got it on the twig and moved it to the side of the road.  Just then, the young man in the BMW, having turned around and got going in his original direction again, came speedily by and offered up that we were stopped at a dangerous curve in the road (which, if taken at the speed he was going, was true enough).  We all nodded and, snake moved to the side of the road,  got back in our cars and went on.

This is one of the things I love about living in Tucson.  Unless people are afraid of it, they seem to respect and even revere wildlfe.  After all, we all stopped our cars to check on that rattlesnake and try to help it, and they are certainly quite foreign to most of us.  We’re not sure how to be around them.  I have come across a few rattlers sunning themselves in the road and have never had any problems convincing them to move along before a car comes along.  But I’ve always seen them before they saw me, so to speak, and so my approach upon them felt safe to me.  My neighbor Laura had that very uncomfortable experienc of coming upon one in her patio and not seeing it before it had to warn her off.  She said she has never, never had such a clear message.  In that instance, she did call Rural Metro Fire, as she has dogs. They came and removed the snake, which so often means the death of the snake because they have such high site fidelity.  (Interestingly when several members of our neighborhood, which is in the county, attended a meeting a few months ago about the possibility of being absorbed into the City of Tucson, one of the things that came up is that the Tucson Fire Department will not do snake removals.  I was surprised how many people seemed to think that was a deal breaker.)  My sister’s favorite local herpatologist, Phil Rosen, says that snakes need only the faintest of blows in the road to experience mortal injuries.  They are that delicate.


Old People

We are kind of odd in my family when it comes to our expectations about aging.  Although my father died very young, at 60, my sibs and I think we’re going to live into healthy old age.  At 80, Mother is going strong (to say the very least). My father’s parents made it into their mid-80s with little fuss.  They had what Andrew Weil and other gurus of aging allude to as a precipitous decline: a few months of serious illness before dying.  For my mother’s mother it was similar.  Although Sena (whom I have blogged about earlier) had some very serious mental difficulties, she lived into her mid-80s, in the care of my grandfather most of that time.

And he’s the one, the source of our insouciance.  At 75 he was still running the sawmill on Mt. Lemmon and one day was carried off the back of the logging truck by a stiff wind.  Broken neck.  (And, perhaps more dangerous than the incident itself, there was the long drive down the mountain with my grandmother at the wheel while he tried to hold his head still.)  At the hospital the doctor said, “Why Mr. Zimmerman, you should be dead.”  At 95 he started his flannel shirt on fire while warming himself over the burners on the stove.  Third-degree burns over part of his back and a birthday celebrated in St. Mary’s burn unit.  A few years later he fell off the roof of the shed in his backyard.  No real damage.  At 101 he broke his hip in a more pedestrian manner but did walk again.  He died at 104 after a massive stroke, with a killer living will in place that meant no fuss, no muss.  When it came to his own sense of aging, I don’t think his horizon ever shifted.  Old was somewhere out there, just over the next hill.

Family lore has it that granddaddy’s father died at 100 falling out of a tree.  (Nope, no more details, but he was not looney, as they say, and was up that tree for some good reason.)  So we’re hoping those are the genes we got.  Well, really we’re assuming those are the genes we got.  Live strong, live long, don’t be afraid to climb onto the roof or into trees because you are old.  Ironically, my brother is president of a quickly growing senior living company and I see him bringing these same expectations to the company’s programming.  As much as it is the fashion in the senior living industry to tout physical wellness and brain fitness programs, he has created a particularly sophisticated and savvy suite of programs and does not think they should be limited to those types who are obviously hale and hearty.  If somewhere in their lives that go-get-’em spirit (marking them out as the roof/tree climbers in our exaggerated familial experience) has abated, residents in his communities, mostly through these programs, are encouraged to re-discover it.  Why not, for goodness sakes?

Company in the Kitchen

Mt Lemmon Store and Inn, Summerhaven, Arizona

Mt Lemmon Store and Inn, Summerhaven, Arizona

I think there is no other place in my life that I have as much company as when I am in the kitchen cooking. There’s Bev, my friend Linda’s mother, who one day in the kitchen at my house demonstrated the correct way to use a pepper mill. Held at a tilt with back and forth grinding motion. Bev was one of the loveliest people I have ever known (who was not at all discomforted when I told her that), and the last day I spent with Bev, not too long before she died, was spent watching Rick Steve eat his way through Europe, and ended with her daughters and me cooking dinner together and us all sitting down to eat. It was a good day.  Then there is my aunt Norma, who, with Uncle Dick, came to stay with us when my family all gathered as my father lay dying. Over those three weeks there was lots of cooking (and drinking). Norma likes the water to be really, really boiling before you put the pasta in. More recently there is Frances. She and her partner were over for a BBQ some months ago and I was getting my normal kick out of spraying the Pam on the gas grill after I had already lit it. She made me promise not to do that any more. Promise. So when I use a pepper mill, boil water for pasta or BBQ there’re Bev, Norma or Frances.  And I really enjoy the company.

The ur-ness of all this sense of presence in the kitchen is perhaps that my mother tells me that I cook like her mother. A big part of this commonality is that neither of us address(ed) our tasks in the kitchen with that tidiness flag flying too high. I can mess up a kitchen and apparently she could too. But the bigger part of the resemblance, I like to think, is an elegant kitchen bustle and the joyousness in cooking for lots of people. I am not sure how she practiced her craft — family recipes, continual invention and experimentation, cookbooks — but Grandma Z was known to be a good cook. She and my grandfather built and ran The Mt. Lemmon Inn on Mt Lemmon outside Tucson and people would make the long trip up the mountain just to have some of her pie. Our family still occasionally has the enchiladas that she showed her girls how to cook but the recipe has gone no further. (Grandma died several years ago at the end of an attenuated mental decline and my mother, now 80, is concentrating on writing rather than cooking, as she has as long as I can remember.) In my sometimes hyperkinetic world, cooking is one of the most naturally relaxing and feet-planting things I do. I like to think that might be Grandma.

Shuga Mae on a Walk

Shug letting me take her picture with my laptop camera

Shug letting me take her picture with my laptop camera

Shug and I just got back from a walk in the arroyo and ran into boys on motor cycles — both 2- and 4-wheeled contraptions — again this week. In the past we have got to the side and let them pass us. But today we could not yield as we were in a narrow passage, and they had to go slowly behind us for a few minutes. I was so proud of her. Her Golden nature makes her very friendly and she is a bit of a nervous sort but she just kept walking by my side as if they were not back there. And then when there was room to do so, we got to the side and she let them go by without even a sniff. It was almost as if the noise, dust and smell had never been there. Fond wish.

Shug has a furminator now and we only use it down in the wash as it looks very much as if some furry animal has been killed and devoured after a few minutes of brushing.  She’s very patient about that, as she is about most things.  Her sister Natalie is a rescue Greyhound and when they go together to the dog park for the Greyhound to have a good run, Natalie cannot seem to work up much interest for that great insane burst of speed she’s there to undertake until she has harassed Shug for a bit.  She nips at Shug’s legs and then when she is sufficiently worked up, she takes off in a great bolt across the field.  I have never seen such fast beauty.

Fall in Tucson

Even though it is nearly Thanksgiving, the daytime high temperature here in Tucson has not dropped much below the 80s.  That is, we are being unseasonable here.  Although the heat is certainly affecting humans, who are just a little edgy (although it would be hard to say exactly what that is about, what, with all the change afoot in this country), the fauna are discombobulated – or discomposed, as it apparently used to be called.  The ants are still in the kitchen, although they should have gone to bed weeks ago. Snakes seem to have started their over-wintering but lizards are still out.  A friend recently found an old Desert Tortoise crossing a busy intersection who was very ready to go to bed as soon as she (the tortoise, that is) had a vet check – 40 year old female in good health – and was put in a cardboard box in a dark cool closet.