I’ve just returned from a period of rejuvenation. Every so often I have the opportunity to visit an undisclosed location. I say it’s undisclosed because I want to keep this secret for as long as I can before the owners open it as a bed-and-breakfast. In addition to the main house, there is a fully loaded one-bedroom guest cabin where I stay. There are trees everywhere, and the only sounds are the birds, wind chimes and the occasional sound of music emanating from the main house. Occasionally, you hear the wind in the trees, but the weather is usually calm and a campfire burns continuously without disturbance. There are places to walk, deer to see, pets to be played with and great conversation. The food is amazing, and there is as much interaction as you like, and I like a lot.
I rarely leave the property during my stay because I want to maintain the feeling that I’m completely isolated from civilization for as long as possible. Civilization can be reached within a few minutes, but I put the world out of my mind when I’m finally away from everything that might trouble me. Paved roads run out miles before you get there, and you have the feeling that if you yelled your head off, the only creatures that could hear you wouldn’t care. Best of all, cell phones are unreliable out there, and I think it’s the last place in the United States where you can’t be reached unless you want to be. (A note to future bed-and-breakfast guests: there is Wi-Fi should you have to post a blog entry or check your flight schedule.)
On my final morning of this self-imposed isolation, I walked a small portion of the 80 acres alone, and I took photographs of the flora and video of the wind blowing through the tops of the trees. I took a walk each of the days I was there, as it helps with clearing one’s head. I cherish the opportunity to take this break from everyday life, but I do have some concerns while I’m in the midst of solitude. Aside from the small number of humans that I saw each day, I was always aware that we were not alone. Nature’s many creatures, wondrous as they are, hover in the shadows of the woods and in the grass.
I’m always on the lookout for snakes. I can’t stand them, and though I’ve never come upon one during any previous visits, I had a strong feeling that I was going to see one on this trip. What makes this particular spot on the planet so beautiful is that no developers have cleared the land and plowed it all under so that they could create a golf course or incorporate non-native plants into the landscape. Since mankind has not harmed the acreage, I hold to a very strong belief that the place is overrun with vipers. I’m so paranoid about snakes that I keep every door and screen latched securely, even if I turn my back for just a second. I look around the inside of the cabin every time I walk in from outside. I act like a security officer making sure the coast is clear because I am determined to avoid walking into the bathroom in the middle of the night and hearing the warning rattle of one of Mother Nature’s most easily agitated creatures.
As it happened, I was alone for most of my final day during this recent visit. After getting through my morning routine, I thought I’d take a walk before lunch and an afternoon of heavy-duty writing, which I’d neglected for two weeks. I emerged from the cabin about 11:00 and took a left turn down the driveway to the property’s entrance. The gate was closed, so there would be no unexpected visitors. The driveway is white gravel now; it used to be red dirt, which disguised a number of possible creatures that like to get sun while remaining camouflaged. With nothing on the path, I stopped here and there to look at the spring blooms and new undergrowth. Once I reached the cabin, I felt that I’d ended my walk too soon, so I headed down the sandy path toward the large barn in a big clearing so that I could turn and take the path leading to a park-like area just before the pond.
I’d seen a family of deer in that spot just two days before, so I waited a while to see if they might return. The wind happened to be blowing, so I decided to take some video of the treetops swaying with their new spring leaves.
After a few minutes with no deer and no visit from Beauty the German Shepherd, I decided to head back. I was starting to get hungry, and I knew that there would be leftover gumbo from the day before. I’d had a lesson in making a dark roux, and I longed to have another serving at the top of the hill.
I wasn’t going too fast, but I was walking with a purpose, starting to let my guard down about something crossing my path when, sure enough, a snake had coiled itself in the middle of the trail right where I had walked just a few minutes earlier. When I reported the sighting, I was asked to describe the thing. Honestly, I didn’t pause long enough to make an entry in some non-existent nature journal. Instead, I let out an explicative, jumped to the left as far as I could, hoping that its spouse wasn’t lurking in the tall grass, then I ran up the hill as fast as I could without looking back.
When I was shown photographs of possible snakes like someone going through mugshots to identify a purse-snatcher, I learned that it was a copperhead. I was told that I was lucky it wasn’t a timber rattler that might’ve chased after me.
Some would tell me that the snake symbolizes change, and that I should accept a visit from this creature as a sign. I agree: a sign to stay inside unless I go walking with someone in front of me and someone behind me.
One thing that occurred to me after this heart-pounding incident is that if I’d been able to get phone service at the undisclosed location, I might’ve been on the phone as I stepped on the thing. The upside to phone service is that I could’ve called 911, but would help have reached me in time?
Furthermore, had I been on the phone with no threat of snakes, I would’ve missed out on the sights, sounds and smells around me that were recharging my batteries. I get very limited time at this place every few years, and I should savor every second. Back in Los Angeles, there are plenty of opportunities for phones and technology. You really have to disconnect from time to time, and I understood that very clearly when I arrived. It took receiving a phone call at the Grand Canyon to wake me up and understand that.
We recently took a trip through Arizona to explore Americana, including Route 66, some ghost towns and the various beautiful spots in that state. We had stretched a day’s drive to Flagstaff into three, and no one had called me for much of that time. However, the night before we reached the Grand Canyon, a call came in from an unknown number. There were no messages after the first two calls, which I ignored, but then there was a message that the party needed to reach me. Because service was spotty in places, the message was choppy and unintelligible. I could tell that they needed me to get back to them so I left a message explaining that my availability was sketchy and they should call back when they could.
At the Grand Canyon, I had taken my phone since it’s also my camera. The phone vibrated in my hands as my arms stretched out to get a slightly better shot of the Colorado River, which had come into view. I suppose that 2:07 in the afternoon was convenient for the caller, but I hadn’t expected to hear from her because we’d heard from locals in Flagstaff and people who worked in the park not to expect service. I’m not one to nervously “check my bars” so I was completely surprised when the call came through.
Instinctively, I answered the phone without consideration of those around me who were there to breathe in the expanse of such an ancient wonder. At the time, I felt the call was important, but Gary gave me a look and shushed me. I couldn’t just cut the conversation off since I’d answered and needed to clear the matter up, so I walked away embarrassed.
“That couldn’t have waited?” he asked. I was finished and walking toward him. I could see that perturbed look on his face. If you can’t be free of the world’s encumbrances at the Grand Canyon, then where?
I like to think I’m good about being considerate of others when I’m on the phone, which is due in part to my dislike of discussing my business for all to hear. That’s why I can’t work in a cubicle or in an office without doors. My private conversations are private, but that day I had forgotten myself at the Grand Canyon of all places.
I know that it’s difficult for most of us to put down our phones and gadgets, but I am one who knows that I need to disconnect when the demands of city living start wearing me down. That said, I’m glad to be home.
©2014 by Patrick Brown
2 Replies to “Nature Calls”
Don’t get me started about rattlesnakes. During our 27 years in Fair Oaks (“suburb” of Sacramento) we would find them in our garages, under our kids’ red wagons, once under a baby’s walker with the baby in it(!!), on our driveways, or basking on boulders in our nearby canyon. Fortunately, Don, aka The Snake Charmer for his love of snakes and other reasons, would play hero. He had his own “guillotine”, a short handled, sharp bladed army shovel, and it was “Off with its head”, when Don swung that mighty tool. Now in Santa Rosa we just have skunks and raccoons walking in our (fenced) back yards…. God, I miss San Francisco…
When Brett was four years old, he picked up a baby Copper Head……so I can relate to how frightening that can be. His grandmother knocked it out of his hands before it could bite him. And to think, a few months earlier he had been bitten by a Black Widow Spider. Enjoyed your story of the great outdoors which I can certainly relate too. That kind of trip is something that we all need…..solitude can be good for the soul.