It was a quiet, seemingly uneventful, evening in Harper’s Valley. Harper’s Other Dad was setting the table and sharing the news of the day while I prepared a healthy, low-fat, dinner of sautéed tilapia and brown rice. There was nothing to foreshadow the terror that lay ahead. Suddenly the domestic tranquility was shattered by the telephone. It was our neighbor calling, or more accurately our neighbors’ houseguest.
Their guest is a former neighbor. She recently sold her house across the street and has been housesitting for a friend while looking for a new home. The house where she’s been staying is not that far away; less than 10 miles; but it is in a very rural area….. out in the desert….. at the end of a long, unlit, dirt road….. far enough from the nearest home that not even the most alert neighbor would be able to hear her screams. Being uncomfortable staying in the remote house alone while her husband was out-of-town, she was staying with our neighbors for a few days.
She was calling because she’d locked her keys in the trunk of her car. Channeling Butterfly McQueen, I explained; “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout breaking into no Mercedes”. But what she wanted was something far worse. She and our neighbor were going to drive back to where she’d been housesitting to get her extra keys. Two women, both of a certain age; they were afraid to face the wilds of the Sonoran Desert at night, on their own. They wanted to know if I would go with them.
It seems the area around the house, in addition to coyotes, scorpions, and other creatures that haunt the desert at night, was home to many snakes. In daylight, snakes usually find a cool place to hide from the heat of the sun but at night they uncoil from their hiding places and slither out to feed on whatever unsuspecting creatures are so foolhardy as to venture into their world of desert darkness. I was not entirely clear how my screaming-like-a-little-girl would protect them from snakes or otherwise facilitate their key-safari but, being raised to be a gentleman and a good neighbor I agreed. After all, hadn’t I taken heed of Suzanne Sugarbaker’s admonition that; “The man should kill the bug”? Surely the same would be true of snakes.
There are 39 varieties of snakes indigenous to Arizona; 22 of them venomous. This includes more than a dozen species of rattlesnakes. Our state reptile is the Arizona Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake; Crotalus willardi willardi. [Insert Governor Jan Brewer joke here.] I don’t know how many of those snakes live in the Sonoran Desert north of Scottsdale, less than 10 miles from the patio where I walk around barefoot, or how many of those are actually in my friend’s yard on a Monday evening but I was prepared to assume that the number was an integer greater than zero which is all I really needed to know.
So off we went into the night; the two ladies and I, armed with cell phones, flashlights, the wits the good Lord gave us (at least 1 & 1/2 between us); and all the bravado we could muster.
We turned left off of the paved road at the entrance to Basilisk Estates. The headlights briefly illuminated the “Abandon Hope, All Ye who Enter Here” sign but, as Charon had conveniently left the gate open, we did not need to stop and ponder its meaning. The sight of the paved road in the rearview mirror, that last symbol of civilization, disappeared into the dusty darkness along with my dreams of ever seeing the light of day again.
After what seemed like hours, because it was, we lurched to a stop in front of the small single-story house. The house was equipped with outside lights activated by motion-detectors. This gave the three of us the opportunity to get out of the car and begin to start scanning the ground with our flashlights. Maybe this was not going to be so bad after all.
That was the moment our former neighbor, and rapidly-becoming-former friend, chose to share one small detail not previously disclosed. The extra car keys are in the house. Unfortunately, access to the house required we locate the spare house key which is under a rock in the back yard. The medium-sized, green rock was about 20 feet into the back yard; or, from my perspective, 280 yards past the reach of the outside lights from the house. All was not bleak, however, because next to the back door was a 7 foot pole with a loop on the end of it which I was informed was “the snake stick”. Apparently, the idea of the snake stick is to tap it from side-to-side in a motion similar to that used by the visually-impared. If the stick gets close to something that starts to rattle you have the opportunity to change course before you are within striking distance. Armed with this knowledge and the right tool for the job, I was certainly feeling better.
So once again we were off; the three of us circled back-to-back, flashlights blazing, snake-stick tapping; picture Larry, Moe and Curley all doing simultaneous impressions of Elmer Fudd stalking ‘wabbits’. One of the ladies decided it was a good idea to make as much noise as possible to, hopefully, scare the snakes away. I thought that would actually work better on rabbits than snakes but, as I had begun to loudly whistle “There’s Got To Be A Morning After”, I thought it best not to criticize.
There was a brief moment of panic when the house lights went off because we were no longer in range of the motion detectors, or because our glacially slow pace no longer met the definition of “motion”. One of the ladies quickly volunteered to run back to the house to re-activate the lights. Unfortunately she was gone before I could suggest Rock/Paper/Scissors to decide who would go.
Eventually, we reached the Holy Grail of rocks, found the key and scooted back to the safety of the porch lights. 30 minutes later we were back on our neighbor’s patio, vodka in hand, congratulating ourselves on a job well done and joking about how we weren’t really scared at all.