Mysteries at my feet

Mysterious linear tracks f desert wildlife at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordThe lines showed up one morning, on a section of my walk where the sand, driven over by a tractor, is unusually soft and easily shows imprints of desert wildlife. Lizard tails, I thought. I checked carefully for signs of tiny lizard feet but didn’t see any indentations along the lines. About a mile on, they showed up again, this time in the dry desert sand. So it had to be something with enough weight to mark that crustier sand. Still no footprints. Snakes, I thought, and, when I saw that several lines converged at a hole in the desert floor, I took that as confirmation.

Mystery tracks of desert wildlife at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordMore lines showed up each day. They kept converging on holes. They often led to the base of bushes. They hadn’t shown up until it was pretty hot. All that pointed to snakes, who like the warm weather, though coil themselves in the shade of desert shrubs when it’s too hot. They live in holes in the desert floor, protection from both too much heat and too much cold.

Then I remembered that snakes move in curves. I checked. They can move in straight lines, by straightening their scales and scooping themselves forward. That sounded exhausting; something a snake would only occasionally do. So I was back to lizards. I took my pictures to a ranger at the Anza Borrego State Park office, and she went through the same line of reasoning I did: lizards, then snakes, back to lizards. Except where were the feet? The cluster of lines around the hole made her think it might be a family of snakes.

Desert wildlife--raven tracks at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordI showed her other lines. Ravens walking in the same soft sand. Something with small, round footprints that, she said, might be a young coyote.

Desert wildlife--young coyote footprints at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordI don’t see a large variety of desert wildlife on those acres. Tiny lizards occasionally zip by. I hear coyotes calling and yipping at night, but seldom see them. Vultures sail overhead on wide, dark wings.

Desert wildlife--an ant carrying a seed head in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordThere are lots of roomy anthills, with armies of industrious ants, like this one, who, with a dozen compatriots, was taking seed heads from one place to another. I saw one rattlesnake but would have missed it if it hadn’t given me a mild rattle to keep me in my place. I’ve only seen one lizard I thought big enough to make lines in the crustier sand — a handsome white one, eighteen inches long, with a sculpted head and back, regally crossing the street one hot afternoon.

Desert wildife--a rattlesnake at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert By Betsey CrawfordWhite-winged doves coo and forage, two ravens perch on a utility pole on a semi-permanent basis, hummingbirds routinely buzz the back of the trailer and then disappear. Speckled beetles move swiftly in varied directions. These are profound energies that I walk among — lizard, coyote, raven, snake, hummingbird — acknowledged by their long and deeply held roots in many cultures’ lore. The ancient sage, the trickster, the magician, the great mother, the call of joy. Though I don’t always see my companions, I see the lines they leave, weaving their lives with mine, our song lines intersecting as we pass through the sun and shadow of the desert.

Desert wildlife--various footprints in the desert at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordWe are woven together by more than our interlacing footprints. Evolution holds us all in its patient embrace. I share 85% of my DNA with the coyote whose call heralds the desert night. Though my ancestors and the lizards’ ancestors parted evolutionary ways a few hundred million years ago, we are still tied by many strands of DNA, governing the most basic elements of our mingled lives.

Coyote resting under creosote bush in the southern California desert by Betsey CrawfordOn my last evening in the desert, while looking for photos for this post, I found this one of a desert thoroughfare: Siegfried’s tractor, my footprints, my dog Splash’s paw prints, some other small round footprint on the lower right. Lots of lines.

Desert wildlife--a variety of animal and human tracks in the desert at Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordStudying them, I realized that the lines on the mid and upper right do have feet on either side of them. So I was back to lizards. But there are many that don’t look like that, so snakes are still a possibility. Or both. Or something I haven’t thought of yet. It’s a mystery.

And will remain so. I went out on my last morning to check again for footprints along the lines. But another profound energy had swept in: a 35 mile-an-hour wind. All lines and footprints had been softened into gentle undulations in the sand, all distinctions erased.

Desert mountains in Ocotillo Wells in the Anza Borrego Desert by Betsey CrawfordI’d love to have you on the journey! If you add your email address, I’ll send you notices of new adventures.

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12 Comments

  1. Ann March 18, 2018 at 4:59 pm #

    Somehow this went to my spam folder—as if! They obviously didn’t have a clue in that moment who you are to me and the gift you so generously give to the world and which I’m soooooo grateful for. Happy Anniversary! Here’s to the next 3 years, and the next, and……

    💖💖💖

    PS, I never look in my spam folder, but I got a special nudge to. 😄😘❤️

    • Betsey April 2, 2018 at 3:17 pm #

      The nerve! Glad you got a special nudge, and thanks for the wishes and the sweet words.

  2. Ann March 18, 2018 at 4:58 pm #

    Somehow this went to my spam folder—as if! They obviously didn’t have a clue in that moment who you are to me and the gift you so generously give to the world and which I’m soooooo grateful for. Happy Anniversary! Here’s to the next 3 years, and the next, and……

    💖💖💖

  3. Marcia March 17, 2018 at 4:24 am #

    I’m so glad Soul of the Earth is beaming its light across the internet. Connectivity is the missing ingredient in the world today for so many.

  4. Susan Hagen March 15, 2018 at 11:57 am #

    Betsey, I always love your posts, though I rarely take the time to comment. This one, in particular, really speaks to me, as I prepare to go out into Death Valley for a week this spring. You have illuminated my journey and instructed me on looking more deeply (and cautiously, as in snakes!) into who will be traveling with me. Much love. Susan

    • Betsey April 2, 2018 at 3:19 pm #

      I can’t wait to hear about your trip. We went there on our way to the Anza Borrego Desert. It’s utterly amazing!

  5. Di March 12, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

    Blessed anniversary, Betsey. I love your work.

    • Betsey March 14, 2018 at 10:04 am #

      Thank you so much, Di.

  6. Grania Brolin March 11, 2018 at 10:00 am #

    Such a pleasure to be drawn back into peace.

    • Betsey March 12, 2018 at 11:01 am #

      I’m so glad I could provide that moment! We all need it so badly.

  7. karen March 11, 2018 at 6:28 am #

    All distinctions erased but that lugubrious face of the coyote — a distinct comment on the reasons we do this. Thank you for sharing the journey. I love the far and distant mysterious in the baking desert as we continue to pack up in this miserable NY cold, drawn out of our nose-to-the-grindstone daily ardors for a fleeting moment. I also like the linking of the many, some aberrant, pastiches so it becomes a story. I could forward to any of my herpetology friends, but then of course it would no longer be a mystery! Oh the mystery… to say nothing of the miracles, such as my responding within the hour! See, there IS hope.

    • Betsey March 12, 2018 at 11:01 am #

      Coyotes always look like they don’t think much of us. There’s plenty of mystery! By all means, send it on to your herpetology friends. I’d love to know what they think.

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