Island Music in The Desert
A story (well, a rant) by a writer I like mentioned LinkedIn, stirring memories of positive interactions. One was reconnecting through the platform with a good-looking wildlife biologist from a long-ago job with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. In my reply I briefly described the memorable 1970s encounter when she led me on a desert death-march up an evidently endless dry wash, my kidneys pummeled by a heavy big-truck battery intended to power a javelina trap. The writer of the LinkedIn rant replied I should write that story. Well, I had — published in my Duck Hunter Diaries. When I went back to look at a file copy, other entries caught my eye and took me back to Phoenix of 45 years ago in a flash. Some of what I found:
Steel band in Phoenix
July 18, 1977 — Nassau steel band music on the record player in Phoenix? I dug it out in a mood of depression. Beau listens entranced, and “Book,” a stray calico cat, prowls around ignorant of the fact she is accepted here because of Junkanoo, our lost, lamented Bahamian cat.
The turntable grinds to a halt, interrupting my melancholy; a circuit has been thrown. House wiring, or typical Phoenix brownout? I expect Phoenix air conditioning is running full bore these muggy nights with massive thunderheads standing above the Valley of the Sun, threatening monsoon but delivering dust devils. Blazing-hot dry days contrast with muggy, miserable nights. Top temperature lately: 112 degrees. You notice the slightest change when you live in a house without air conditioning. Our evaporative “swamp cooler” keeps the house comfortable on dry hot days, but nights swelter like a Tallahassee steam bath. It’s a more familiar heat to my Florida bones — familiar but unloved.
I went to Black Canyon Shooting Range to shoot my latest gun, a totally useless addition to my collection. To wit: a Webley&Scott, Ltd., .38 S&W break top revolver in “war finish” as the Brits call Parkerizing. There was a white-painted “Z” on the frame; some barrio Zorro? I wanted a gun to carry on border night patrols. But the Webley is .38 S&W, not .38 Special. Talk about buying a pig in a poke. I didn’t even realize it until I tried to load .38 Special rounds. How pathetic is that? Still, fired from a rest at 25 yards — once I had the correct ammo — it put all six inside three inches single action, widened some double-action. The front sight is so tall the gun throws five or six inches low with sights aligned. A butterfly gun and nothing but; though it calls to mind the indefatigable Dr. Watson with his service revolver.
That old Webley has darn near as much glamour (English spelling please, since I have Bahamian music on) as a single-action Colt, and may be more-traveled than the first-generation .45 I saw on the auction block. I rescued the Webley from Phoenix police custody at their auction of confiscated and found firearms; the notation said it was found in an abandoned rooming house. The tariff was a princely $65 and tax, with no one else bothering to bid. We are in debt to our ears from the move here, with faulty plumbing, a broken-down truck, and an aching hole in one of Wanda’s teeth; hard not to be depressed. But I had to buy a gun from the cops out of respect for a department that trusts civilians.
September 4, 1977 — Tomorrow, Paka’s pups will be five weeks old. She went under the hibiscus bush in the heat of the afternoon August 1 and dropped them and cleaned them and had them nursing contentedly before Beau came screaming into the house, “there’s something under Paka — and it’s moving!” The whole deal has been a thrill for Beau and Heather with some trauma, like being screamed at for dropping one of the puppies when it squirmed. Beau announced his intention to have the brown one. There were three whites, three blacks and the brown male. The white darkened soon to a rich gold except for white patches on chests and paws.
They were all precocious in nervous-system development, and Paka was an outstanding mom. We fed her hamburger and eggs to keep the milk flowing, and she tended them solicitously. They were over four weeks old and frisky when a yellow female went down within 24 hours; flat, empty, dehydrated, done. The vet named some kind of disease. The second yellow female is a shadow now, refusing to eat, sucking piteously on Paka’s dried teats, wasting away. I force-fed it water, antibiotics and milk in an eye-dropper on doctor’s orders. We’ve isolated it in the back bathroom.
The other pups are perky but every time one flops down after playing, I feel a chill. The yellow and brown males seem most fully hydrated, the all-black female and black male next. The healthy yellow is friendliest to humans; the brown is a single-minded, eating machine — first to the bowl; last to leave. The black male is first to challenge any strange sound, yapyapyap, then a fierce puppy growl. He looks the most like Papa Harry. The people who gave us Paka want the yellow male, and I suppose we will send him to them if they foot the shipping bill to Washington. I’m afraid to commit myself to any one pup because secretly I was leaning toward the yellow females, marked so alike I don’t know which died.
I brought in a dove this evening, flipped it in the improvised pen behind the couch, and the brown one snapped it right up and rambled around toting it. Then he settled down and began to strip it down in a businesslike manner, but abandoned the chore when he heard the others lapping milk. When I took them outside, the black male had the dove opened up chewing meat and organs. I have been out two afternoons for doves — once near the Arlington Cattle Company and once where Seventh Street runs into the desert.
A place southwest of Buckeye was supposed to be a honey hole, but I only had shooting at six birds and dropped two. I was turned aside from the best spot by a phony “Posted” sign; one of the Wildlife Managers later informed me it was signed by “A. Ghost.” At Seventh Street, the Citizen Band radio people knew when the check station folded up and kept right on shooting way past sundown. There was approximately no chance Rob Young, whose patch this is, would come back, or even Sturla the Terrible, as we call the geeky little WM assigned to deal with random wildlife issues in the city proper.
September 10, 1977 — the front they said was due before dove season hit last night, with grumbling exquinoxial thunder, sheet lightning and the rattle of pebbles flung by gusts of wind. It was 110 yesterday and 86 today, muggy with stratus clouds over most of the sky. The pups were in ordered retreat in the back yard, turning to look at the approaching clouds, slinking toward the back door by turns, but they abandoned all pretense of bluffing the storm and scampered for safety when I opened the door.
The storm had them charged up, and they yapped incessantly while I sorted shotgun shells. I interrupted a reply to Shirrel Rhoades’ latest letter to rescue the pack. He now is associate publisher of Harper’s Magazine. Just your basic success story, he said modestly. My letter was getting long and gabby when the storm intervened.