Wondering and Wandering in the Desert, Part I

We are in the last week of our month in the desert, and we have had so many experiences that they are swirling in my head like the images in the fancy kaleidoscopes sold at the art shows that dot the Coachella Valley most weekends …

… Like the gentleman dressed in the navy cotton robe with red trim, a rumpled bucket hat on his head, thongs with bootie socks, and a towel draped around his neck. He sets out bravely, crossing the 150 yards or so of green, to swim in the pool two condos down from us. In an hour he will make the return trip. From our vantage point, we can see an identical pool with the same exposure approximately 30 feet from his door. If he used that pool, he would not risk being berated by golfers or hit by one of their balls. John and I wonder, What is the appeal of our pool?

We have two canine neighbors. Blackie is a female 18-month-old black Labrador, and Blondie, also female, is a golden retriever of a certain age. Dogs are not allowed on the golf course, and all dogs that are outside have to be leashed, but these two seem to be the exception. The first day we were here, we saw them rush out at random golf carts, and I thought, There are going to be complaints about these two. But after a few days, John pointed out that the dogs were selective and when one stopped in front of our condo, we realized these clever canines had trained carefully selected humans to provide them with treats. Now I wonder how they did that. More to the point, how did they train John to give them treats every evening at dusk?

If it is not the lawn mower awakening us in the morning, it is the Canada geese. I have become completely immune to their early wake-up call—and quite fascinated with their behavior. A few mornings ago, I looked out on the green and a pair of geese were dining on the grass. Unexpectedly, a pair of snow geese flew in close to the feeding pair. At this rude intrusion, the Canada geese raised their heads in alarm and stared, but the snow geese started feeding calmly. One Canada goose lowered its head threateningly at the interlopers, who firmly ignored it. In a short while, the group mingled and fed together peacefully. All this was witnessed by a very verbal crow, who kept up a running commentary on the edge of the group.

About twenty minutes later, more Canada geese arrived on the green. The mixed quartet were shunned and kept on the outskirts of the flock. We left for the day, and when we returned in the afternoon we passed a large flock of feeding Canada geese. A few crows were kibitzing on the outskirts of the flock. In the middle of the group were the two snow geese. I wonder if the Canada geese realized a basic avian kinship with the placid, nonthreatening snow geese? The next day we were out, and I noticed four large birds flying over the Santa Rosa Mountains. A quick look through John’s binoculars assured me that they were snow geese. I watched them for a time until they disappeared over the mountains. I have not seen the snow geese since that day, but I still think about how their avian behavior mirrored our own human behavior. In case you are wondering, this is an absolutely true story. Just ask the crows!

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