My googling frequency of weird ish has shot through the roof since my move, and I’m erring on the conclusion that I have voluntarily moved to some form of hell. The grasshoppers fly, the cacti jump, and under your feet are really layers of rats, snakes, spiders, and lizards. Without further ado, here are 11+ encounters that have guided me to this decision:
- It’s Hot (as hell)
Okay, before you start emphatically saying “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen,” I know it’s the Arizona desert (and I love “food,” so leaving is not an option).I knew what I was getting myself into. I even tried to mentally and physically prepare myself for it. And, although I’m exaggerating some (or a lot), I’m an Idaho girl by blood (bleed blue!). Nothing could prepare me, a person who sweats enough to change an entire shirt’s color and look like I came fresh from the shower, for 100º F in October. The sun is blazing hot and I’m drizzling by 8:30 am. Let’s not even get started on my pupper who genetically overheats easily.
And, get this: on a day that was in the 90s, a student’s mom did not send the child with a swimsuit for the pool that day because it was too cold. Mind. Blown.
To top it all off, I walked around the desert for over 4 hours during midday sun, but still didn’t have the slightest tan to show for my suffering. What the heck.
- I Wish Dry had an Equally Disgusting Word like Moist
There is a reason why even just watching old western films makes your lips feel chapped. “Arid” doesn’t even begin to describe my terrain – although shout out to Kblack for the lovely Snap description. Everywhere is dust and prickly plants, half of my dog’s water evaporates during the day, and today I found a sham that literally crumbled to fine powder when touched because all moisture had been sucked out. Lifeless.
I saw my first cloud on October 17th, 2017, nearly 3 weeks after arriving. I almost cried at its beauty. I am beyond grateful for the warm sun that lifts my mood and brightens my day (literally), but that also means so is my evil villain eczema. Thank goodness for Cerave, cocoa butter, and coconut oil. I swear by this regimen, ask my dog who’s paws and nose are victims of their magical moisturizing powers.
One positive note about the dry climate is that my steadily sweating pores are deceivingly masked by our friend, Evaporation. Here, sweat actually does its job. The water leaving your body is evaporated from your skin, cooling you down (at least on the surface). The rate of evaporation here makes me appreciative that I am away from Philly’s humid summers where my sweat was impossible to hide. However, the downside is you actually lose much more water than you think during your time here, so dehydration can be constantly looming. Drink up, buttercups!
- Lack of Lush
There is something about being surrounded by vibrant green that really lifts one’s spirits. Maybe it is all the freshly emitted oxygen I inhale or the memories of laying in green fields, looking at cloud shapes. Either way, I’m sure native Arizonans don’t know what oxygen, grass, or clouds even are. Most soil isn’t viable plotting and to “dig” in this ground, you have to use some form of an ice pick. Metaphorical silver lining to my physically nonexistent cloud? The points of my high heels don’t sink into the earth!
Fortunately for Ellie, there is one area where I live where grass can be found. Unfortunately for both of us, this is where the Javelinas like to hang out. More on this later…
- Inanimate Objects Can Attack
I will concede that some form of “vegetation” does exist. But these are jagged trees, rough grass, and spiking things just waiting to impale you. Dramatic? Well come back tome after you’ve gained some first-hand knowledge about the Teddybear Cholla Cactus, also known as the Jumping Cactus. My first day in Tucson I was led on a tour of my new area. Three minutes in I was told to avoid the fuzzy, cuddly looking plants – you get too close, and the spindles of the cactus detect your body as a perfect place to attach to, leaping from the plant. Cacti teach their children well – way to branch out guys!
Easy to avoid this villain of nature, but don’t get too comfortable. I have experienced hard grass clinging to me and even strong javelin-like prongs stabbing through my tennis shoe, refusing to be removed.
The first day was the fire heat and the jumping cacti, but the second day forced me to think on me feet a little more. I was just getting off the phone with my mom, who used to live in the Tucson area. She had said, “the whole time I lived there, I never saw a scorpion!” No more than 10 minutes later, I enter my back door to my kitchen, opening to the exoskeleton of death. Thanks, mom, for the reassurance.
This is my first experience with them, and I heard they were notoriously hard to kill, so I stood there thinking of my assassination plan. Giant glass burning candle and papertowel was no match for this little guy.
- A milli sans Lil Wayne
I had only seen one or two millipedes prior to my time here, and although the ones I have seen here are mostly just carcasses of once living leggy creatures, I still won’t rest easy at night.
- Centipede Millipedes get the bad-guy rep because they look so unnatural, but unlike these cuddly guys, centipedes actually have poison glands with working biters. Luckily, the only one I have seen was in a glass box at a really cool place. But don’t sigh in relief too soon – these “little” guys grow up to 8 inches long.
- Rattle snakes
Now, we have these in Idaho, so no biggie… right? Well, all of Arizona is Rattlesnake heaven – nearly every inch of the cracked ground has been touched by one of these. The only place sans snakes is Humphreys Peak, the tallest mountain in the state, which I might re-term as Ivy heaven.
Yeah, you can likely avoid an encounter and a bite, but any bite is a medical emergency. The dollar sign on that bill? $5,000 a vile for antivenom. Some may need 20-50 viles. I’m not a math major, but I know what that equals: DAYUM. (Although I assure you that as a nurse I will more than certainly be able to administer your life saving treatment. You’re welcome).
However, I was tremendously comforted by the fact that I learned that they hibernate, and I was arriving before the start of their winter season…. Until I learned they hibernate in groups, sometimes over 1,000 snakes…
Although a real baby javelina, this is not an accurate depiction of these monsters.
I’ve ranted on facebook about my nightly javelina escapades, but wait, there’s more.
Every night these nocturnal creatures come out from hiding to rummage through food left from students and disturb our sole chunk of grass. Sole chunk of grass means that is Ellie’s favorite potty spot. Which means one night when she was oblivious to the pack of 8+ snorting creatures surrounding us, I turned around to see a large dark figure sneaking around a tree, positioning himself right behind me, glaring with his blood red eyes, ready to charge. Ellie finished just in time and we escaped!
I have been told that these creatures are typically very dense and are similar to me in that they are conflict-avoiders. Experience might tell me otherwise. My second encounter happened as I approached another large pack, this time passing them on my side, blind sighted by the darkness that their stinky bodies blend with. Dog leash in hand I look up and notice that rather than a mild semi-circle arrangement of angry creatures in front of me, I was almost completely enclosed by grunting, stunned, giant slabs of desert ham. I respectfully backed away, giving them their space to graze. As I walked to another area, I hear some clonking on the concrete behind me. I swivel my body and I stare into three large javelinas, following me. Thinking that they may just want to get by to more grass, I step down and away from their line of journey. Turns out, they also can climb down stairs, unlike cows, and were triangle-formation marching towards me. Nearly trapped between building walls, I find my sole escape. I quickly lock myself into the outdoor pool area, keeping me and Ellie Bug javelina free. This experience was only heightened by the google image I saw in the hours following:
1 1/2 inch long chompers and broad bodies for charging. Perfect.
As traumatic as they may be, I can’t help but giggle as they waddle-run away after a loud noise and stomping.
9. Gila Monsters
I haven’t been blessed with an uncontrolled encounter with this gorgeous beaded lizard, but I think I’ll try to steer clear. I learned that these mofos can latch onto you with their strong jaws (swole msucles pictured above – he probably never heard of leg day) and won’t budge for like 20 minutes, no matter any amount of painful flailing you do while they inject their toxins into your bloodstream. On top of that, they can survive only eating 3-5 times a year and barely need water to survive. This isn’t real life.
We do have one thing in common though: they can eat up to 1/3 of their body weight!
10. Meet my pet tarantula!
Day three I walked out of my house and almost stepped on this spider almost as big as my hand… in flats. Knowing they aren’t typically aggressive, I left him there. Later upon my googling rampage fear was rejuvenated. Tarantulas are unable to eat solid foods, so they bite their prey, inject toxins, which liquify the prey so they can slurp up their meals. Why, Earth? Why?
However, they are calm fuzzy creatures who aren’t poisonous to humans – but their bites do hurt and their fuzzy hairs can cause severe skin irritations when used defensively.
I also learned that he is probably a she. I haven’t named her yet, suggestions?
11. Sounds bad? Well, wait for what was googled next…
I don’t know how to say this nicely… What the hell?
This is a species of a “spider wasp” with long legs with hooks on the end to grab their unsuspecting prey. Their sting, which is one of the most painful insect stings in the world, is delivered by a stinger that is 1/4 of an inch, which subsequently paralyzes our fuzzy friends from above. Sounds bad? Well, what comes next is even more vividly terrifying.
The tarantula is dragged by the giant wasp to a nest of sorts where she proceeds to lay an egg in the spider’s abdomen. WHILE THE SPIDER IS STILL ALIVE the babies burst into the stomach cavity, feeding off of the tarantula. They save the “best for last” as they wait for the vital organ consumption, so the tarantula continues to suffer in some intermediate stage of life. Eventually, it emerges from the spider to start the nightmare cycle all over again.
Side note: New Mexicans are screwed up individuals, since this is their state insect.
And the rest…
Among the terrors listed above, I fall asleep to the sound of coyotes howling in the too-close-for-comfort distance. Stink bugs are scattered along the ground, butts up and ready for attack. There are some of the largest flies I have been swatted from my body. Roaches are far from small. And, there are YEAR ROUND MOSQUITOES. Don’t even get me started on the chupacabra.
All this, while I have to walk in the dark (light restrictive zone), with just a flashlight and a dog that will probably get me in more trouble than help. What a beautiful cycle of life!
I suppose I should have warned you at the beginning as some form of a “Trigger Warning” that the content of this post was going to be creepy, crawling, and potentially uncomfortable. Despite how I make my adventure so far seem above, I won’t label myself as scared, uncomfortable, or 2 seconds away from catching the first flight I can to somewhere new. I am truly enjoying my time in Arizona and my new journey.
Nothing can parallel or negate the beautiful sunsets, jagged mountains, full night skies, and new adventures. I wake up to hues of glowing pinks and blushing purples. I breathe in the view of the lime trees, guava trees, jujube fruit, and almond trees. The scent of growing cantaloupe, basil, and prickly pear manage to overcome the dust particles infesting the air. I walk through my day with the opportunity to feel sun-kissed skin, watch elegant butterflies, smile at bunnies romping away, and even to save tiny cute lizards. I end my day gazing at the vibrant oranges and blazing reds that glow in the sky. I’m learning so much about my environment, myself, and my dreams. And, best of all, there are no earwigs!