Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Clearly I've become a bit schizophrenic in my passion regarding place. I love the Sonoran desert to the point of feeling a spiritual connection, but despite years of developing summer heat strategies I still feel too cooped up from June through at least August.

Or maybe in the years since I've had another option, namely our Colorado mountain property, the property we are now going to build a cabin on, I can't help thinking about snuggling under the covers and taking the chill off an August morning with a fire in the wood burning stove before spending the rest of the day outside, instead of sleeping without even a sheet and dashing out for a quick morning walk in the predawn heat that is Tucson in the summer.

Mind you, if I were forced to choose between my life here in the desert, snugged up against the Tucson Mountains, and a life in the Colorado Rockies, I'd choose the desert, hands down. Luckily I don't have to choose. And neither do you. I've created a new blog to document our mountain time and the past, present, and future of a high elevation cabin.

Join me at my other blog Rocky Mountain Cabin Redux for our adventure rebuilding the family cabin and our "high" life.

Fantasy Job

While we are still hung-over from our time in the Rockies and struggling with the triple digit reality of the desert summer, one constant high point of my week is my volunteer job. Growing up in San Diego I became enchanted with the idea of working at the zoo as a keeper, maybe in one of the huge walk-in aviaries or taking care of the baby animals at the Children's Zoo. It took me a few decades, but I finally made it, not at the San Diego Zoo but at another world renowned zoo, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

When I decided to retire late last year the first thing I did, before writing my letter of resignation, was to check the Desert Museum's website for when the next docent class would start. In the first fifteen minutes of my first visit to the Desert Museum in 2001, before moving to Tucson, I knew I wanted to be one of the docents dressed in their desert sand and white,walking around with an elegant barn own on their arm, explaining the mysteries and intricacies of Sonoran desert ecology from a seemingly bottomless well of knowledge. During my years of working a job that was often not nearly challenging enough I'd dream of the future when I could spend a day a week sharing my passion for the desert with others. And yes, with an owl on my gloved hand.

Alas, there was no docent training this year, not until the late summer of 2010. Not to be deterred, I decided to look into other volunteer opportunities at the Desert Museum, of which there are many. Tucson is a mecca for folks wanting to donate their time, energy, expertise, and enthusiasms. Within a month of arriving in Tucson late in 2001 I was a volunteer ranger at Saguaro National Park, and have been now for over seven years, and I love my work there as well, primarily leading moonlight hikes in the cooler months. But that is another story for another post.

As I looked at the list of volunteer opportunities at the Desert Museum (they maintain a volunteer staff of about 300, and a volunteer docent staff of about 200), a position with the Interpretive Animal Collection, those very animals you see docents sharing with the visitors, sparked my interest.

For about half a year I've been reporting early one day a week for a six to seven hour day of checking on the animals well-being (as in snake handling), cleaning enclosures, preparing daily diets (down to the gram), feeding hungry kestrel's on the glove, and helping with the Wild and on the Loose show in the theater. It's physical and exhausting, but more fun than any one person should be allowed. I spend one day a week getting up close and personal to kestrels, screech owls, barn owls, a Harris hawk, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, assorted rodents, salamanders, toads, tortoises, a military macaw, lilac crowned parrots, a pelican, a great blue heron, a porcupine, ring-tails, a coati, and a hooded skunk.

These animals all have personalities on top of their ingrained natural behaviors. Like us they have good days and temperamental days, and you quickly learn to read the cues and respect them. But it is fascinating and rewarding to get to know them, learn about them, and care for them.

It's a job that gives far more than any paycheck could.