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The new picture on my blog is from somewhere in Northern Nevada, close to Dufferena Hot Springs: an old abandoned homestead. I have been busy downloading photos to use for a presentation at work. I’m not thrilled, but I volunteered. What am I doing?? I sort of planned on just doing a slide show of places I like to go (mostly in Oregon, with a little Nevada thrown in), but how many people in a professional urban environment are going to appreciate desert photos, back country camping, no toilets, and rattlesnakes?

I personally am no fan of the latter, but I believe it is “live and let live” and I let them live as long as they let me live. So far, that hasn’t been a problem, although I have been known to jump several feet the opposite direction when I set off a rattler. (That isn’t to mention the times I have hesitated and considered leaping when I have set off a cicada or dry brush or nearly stepped on a bull snake. Pardon me, a “gopher snake”. Who cares what the proper name is when it startles you??)

I thought I could tell of near misses, like when the rattler buzzed in the rocks at Succor Creek and I was located some ten feet to the east of it and leaped ten more, heart thumping (after having restarted) and cursing myself for my stupidity (rock hopping along the river’s edge on a hot day and thinking “there ought to be a rattler hiding in the shade in these rocks somewhere…”). Or of the time a bullet whizzed over my head as I was sipping coffee on a ridge. Now THAT was scary. The rattler is business as usual compared to that. You stand a chance of survival with a rattler: it may not inject enough poison to kill you, you could pump the poison out, you could lay in a cold creek and slow your heart down, and it nearly always WARNS you. Not to minimize the danger (I am afraid of rattlers), but a bullet… THAT comes out of nowhere and you can’t predict it, you can’t see it, you can’t project it, and most of the time you don’t even hear the report from the rifle that shot it. As it was, the bullet whizzed over my head by a few feet and continued on down the slope of the mountain. It was probably an opening-weekend-of-deer-season ridge shot (never take a ridge shot – you don’t know where the bullet will go) that was on it’s final passage to earth.

Most of our close calls have been weather related: the lightning/hail storms that come out of nowhere. One in particular was up on the northern end of the Steens, hiking up a trail that took off from a road going to some rock formation. Don and Levi were, of course, right up on top of the ridge. We didn’t know where our friend, Frank, was. Friends Kathy & Jesse, Arwen and I were in the aspens when it hit. We huddled until Frank came down and joined us. We decided it was best to get OFF THE TOP of the canyon and head for the rigs, so we hustled down hill. Somewhere, Levi joined us. Then Don. Trees were sparse, the lightning was real, and then it began to hail stones as large as a quarter and as small as a nickel. We broke the rules and found the lowest big juniper (lowest as in off the ridge line – it was off the ridge line) and huddled in our summer clothes under the juniper like wild horses or cattle: kids in the center, adults circled around them in protective fashion, and two big dogs whining and yelping and trying to get under where the kids were, too. Those of us with hats fared better than those without. Afterward, we had hot soup and cocoa in Frank & Kathy’s VW van.

There was the badger, too. Well, a couple of them. One attacked the tire of our F-250 when we came around a corner on a dirt road he was crossing. We backed up and gave him his space and he ambled angrily up the hill. The other badger just hid in the brush and growled at us as we gingerly removed all of our camp gear and got into the rig as quickly as possible. Hey, we had no idea he was living under the bush when we decided to camp there! We’re just lucky he decided to growl and warn us.

We had a close encounter with a mustang once. The palomino stallion was herding his harem of six or seven down toward the water hole and we were trying to sneak close enough to get a good photo. He saw or smelled us but didn’t know what we were, so he charged us. He came within 150 feet, neck arched and snorting, straight on at us. Fearless. I couldn’t get a picture of him because he was looking right at us. That was in northern Nevada, just south of the Ruby Mountains and north of the old Pony Express trail. Horse dung littered the trail, piles in heaps three feet deep. We saw no fewer than seven bands of horses plus the band of “bachelors.” I could live there.

I love all that. The bugs, the birds, the beasts. Sneaking up on an antelope to see how close I can come before he gets up on all fours and thinks about running… I don’t mind having no toilet and we travel with a solar shower. I’m not sure I can explain all of that to a room full of people who probably have never camped before (or only have camped inside the boundaries of a State Park with shower facilities and a hundred other people). It’s a different life. I’m just doing this because it is the only thing I know to present and it is, in its very essence, who I am: a desert rat who is currently living out her life in the rather cloudy, wet, and urban lower Willamette Valley.

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