Mysteries at my feet

lines3The lines showed up one morning, on a section of my walk where the sand, driven over by the owner’s tractor, is unusually soft, and shows an imprint easily. Lizard tails, I thought. I checked carefully for any sign 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.

lines-hole2More 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. Then I was back to lizards. I took my pictures to a ranger at the State Park office, and she went through the same line of reasoning I did: lizards, then snakes, then 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.

birdfeet2-5610I showed her other lines. Ravens walking in the same soft sand. Something with small, round footprints that, she said, might be a young coyote.

pawprints5627I don’t see a large variety of creatures on those acres. Tiny lizards occasionally zip by. I hear coyotes calling and yipping at night. There were a couple of vultures sailing overhead for most of Easter, which was intriguing.

ant2There are lots of roomy ant hills, with armies of industrious ants, like this one, who, with a dozen compatriots, was taking seed heads from one place to another. I’ve seen 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 big enough to make these lines — a handsome white one, eighteen inches long, with a sculpted head and back, regally crossing the street one hot afternoon.


White winged doves coo and forage, two ravens perch on a telephone 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. Though I don’t often see them, I see the lines they leave as they weave their lives with mine, our song lines intersecting.line-footprints4

We 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.

When I was looking at pictures to include with this post, I found this one of a desert thoroughfare: Siegfried’s tractor, my footprints, Splash’s paw prints, some other small round footprint on the lower right. Lots of lines. thorofare3And I realized that the lines on the mid and upper right do look like they have feet on either side of them. So now I’m back to lizards. But they are the only ones that 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 — and all lines and footprints had been softened into gentle undulations in the sand, all distinctions erased.


  1. george wilson April 13, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    Bets, this is awareness kind of work. We all leave our tracks on the map of time..Yet they disappear in the wake of waves over that eternal sea. Yours in this mystery full of adventures, xoxo, Capt. George

  2. Marcia April 13, 2015 at 4:39 am #

    Thank you for taking me back to the desert and for reminding me of how beautiful, interconnected and temporary our footprints on the earth are.

    • Betsey April 13, 2015 at 7:00 am #

      Thank you, Marcia. It’s interesting how easy it can be to see things in the desert.

  3. Cara Brown April 12, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

    I love how carefully you pay attention. This collection of photos and your thoughts and wonderings open me to a world I would not see if not for you. And how it ends is perfect, as Carol noticed. Thank you for this. Are you heading north from the desert? Where to next? Love to you.

    • Betsey April 13, 2015 at 6:59 am #

      It reminds me of how carefully and deeply you see color! I’m in Las Cruces, NM, now, and heading to Utah in 2 or 3 days. Love to you, too.

  4. Carol Nicklaus April 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Oh, yes… All distinctions erased… What a great thought… We are just one species among so many. I wish we always remembered that.
    Love the white image up here. Is it “negative”? I don’t think so.

    • Betsey April 13, 2015 at 6:57 am #

      Yes, I, too, wish we could remember that. Or were even willing to admit it! Do you mean the white image in the background? It’s a version of the white bells in the slide show.