The toads come with the summer rains. As big as the rocks on which they sit, their skin contains a poison that can all but paralyze the throat of any would-be hunter. My dog excels in catching such toads, over and over and over again. Leap, chomp, SPIT.
"Oh no, oh no, oh no," I cry as I drag her home for the antidote, copious amounts of water poured in, around and over the dog's mouth. She has good reason to cower at the sight of a bathtub. There has never been a toad ordeal when I haven't inadvertently turned on the shower and drenched us both into hysterics with ice-cold water. Forget about The Mouth That Grabs Toads. What about my hair?
I wrote a book about Mission San Xavier del Bac south of Tucson. I began by describing the morning hours at the old white church. Built in the late 1700s, the church looks good in those early hours on the desert, waiting patiently for all who will come. Sometimes the church waits for me. I go there to sign books.
Each time I round the last corner of desert scrub and see the church head-on, I make the same promise. I say, "I will be a good person while I'm here." I say, "I will be nice."
Since my usual personality travels will me, nice can require a miracle. I've come to the right place.
Being a desert dweller, I have an intimate relationship with cactus. On various mornings, I have been dragged screaming through cactus thickets by my dog Daisy on the hunt for whatever moves. I have pulled prickers out of various parts of my anatomy with tweezers and groans.
My dog pulls hers out with her teeth, spitting them away like an old mountain man with a mouthful of rattler venom. She's a tough babe. They used to say that about me.
I've gone soft about this piece of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. I've walked, ridden, stared at this desert for years on end. I know the dangers it presents. I also know the safety of its great expanse. Out here, you can see the enemy coming.
Illustrations by Arlene Pedersen