The Wild Heart of the Desert

I met an old friend out in the desert today. It was nice seeing the Mojave green rattlesnake again since I hadn’t seen one for a couple of years. I didn’t even notice it at first. I was walking down the middle of a sandy path, minding my own business, when a hiss and a whirring rattle startled me. I stopped, looked around, and there it was, about eight feet away, sunning itself beyond the shadows of a creosote bush.

I edged away from the rattler, and it inched away from me, back into the protection of the bush. And then I continued my walk, a smile on my face. I don’t know why such encounters make me feel good, perhaps because it’s nice to know that there is a wild heart still beating beneath the calm veneer of the desert.

I also got to rediscover the truth: I am not afraid of snakes, just healthily wary, and rightly so. The Mojave green rattlesnake will not attack, but if disturbed or cornered, they will defend themselves. Apparently, bites occur if people accidentally step on a snake or purposely harass it, so if people are careful, they can keep from being bit.

I know people who will run down snakes if they see them in the road, and sometimes they even go hunting for them on the assumption that the only good snakes are dead snakes. The only time that makes sense to me is if the snakes leave the wilds of the desert for the tames of our neighborhoods, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Nor does it happen very often that I get to see such a fearsome creature, so meeting up with it has made my day.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Finding Inspiration From Uninspiring Sources

Deserts have traditionally been mystical places where one goes to find inspiration, themselves, the meaning of life, but nowadays people use the desert as a park, a place of recreation rather than re-creation. They whiz by on dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles, they honk their dogs (let the dogs out of the vehicle and and follow along behind, honking whenever the creatures go to far astray), they have drunken parties, and they dump trash, including old furniture.

I used all of these bits to set the scene for the first chapter of Rubicon Ranch: A Collaborative Novel, a novel being written online by me and eight other Second Wind authors, especially the discarded furniture. I do believe I have seen enough old furniture in my walks to furnish a living room, but the piece that most captured my imagination was the television sitting out in the middle of nowhere. No road led to the television, just a footpath. Yet there it was. And so it appears in my chapter:

She turned around to get shots of the trail she’d just climbed and saw a glint of metal reflecting the sun. She squinted. What was that? A television? She found herself smiling—her first smile since Alexander died. She scrambled back down the trail. The television had been dumped a long time ago judging by the creosote bushes that had grown up around it, but footprints leading to the box suggested it had been visited recently. She took several shots from the trail, about fifteen yards from the television, then moved closer. The television had no screen, and she could see that something had been stuffed inside. A doll? She crept closer. Ten feet away, she stopped to take another photo, and the truth washed over her. Not a doll. Crammed inside the console was a child, a girl, her eyes half-eaten by some desert predator.

We’ve now posted the first six chapters of Rubicon Ranch, the latest one by Christine Husom, author of the Winnebago Mystery Series.  The most fun of a project such as this is that we do not yet know who killed the little girl (if in fact, she was killed) and we won’t know until all but the final chapter has been written. I hope you will enjoy following our story as we write it.

  • Chapter 1: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram
  • Chapter 2: Seth Bryan — by Lazarus Barnhill
  • Chapter 3: Jeff and Kourtney Peterson — by J B Kohl and Eric Beetner
  • Chapter 4: Dylan McKenzie — by Nancy A. Niles
  • Chapter 5: Mary “Moody” Sinclair — by JJ Dare
  • Chapter 6: Cooper Dahling — by Christine Husom
  • Even Fearsome Creatures Have Enemies

    While walking in the desert today, I saw a dead rattlesnake. I hesitated to take a photo, not wanting to memorialize death, but it was so beautiful lying there, that I went ahead and snapped an image of it. Although it looked vibrant, as if it were sleeping, I could see that it had been run over. This made me think how even such a fearsome creature as that Mojave green rattler had enemies, though its four-wheeled killer was one it could not even imagine.

    And so it is with a story’s villain.

    For a hero to overcome her nemesis, she has to come at the villain from a different direction, not go at the villain from his position of strength. If the villain is the strongest person in the world, he cannot be vanquished by the second strongest person, but he can be vanquished by intelligence, perhaps even middling intelligence. If the villain is strong and smart, he can be vanquished by a determination to win at all costs. If the villain is smart, strong, and equally determined, he can be vanquished by esoteric knowledge, something the villain cannot even imagine.

    My NaNoWriMo project has no villain. My poor character has to deal with her husband’s death, the loss of her home, the loss of her daughter’s respect. Since he had been the focus of her life, his death left her unfocused. Moreover, she finds out he is not who she thought he was, so to find out who she’s been all those years, she has to find out who he was. I’m wondering if her way out of this conundrum is to do or be something she’s never thought of before, something that until now has been unimaginable to her. Like what? I don’t know, but it will give me a direction to follow.

    What about your characters? Do you have a hero/villain situation? What special strengths does your villain have? What special strengths does your hero have?

    Snake in the Grass

    I bet you thought the title was a reference to a metaphor, didn’t you? Well  . . .

    I encountered my first Mojave green rattler while I was out walking in the desert today. I didn’t even notice it — I was walking down the middle of a sandy path, minding my own business, when a hiss and a rattle startled me.  I looked around and there was this beauty lying in the grass beneath a creosote bush. I moved ten feet away, then stopped and took a couple of photos. Apparently it didn’t like having its picture taken, because as I was aiming for the third, it raised it’s head and rattled at me again. I took the hint and left. Every time I think about this encounter, I smile. I don’t know why it makes me feel good, perhaps because I finally encountered the real desert. I also got to find out what I always suspected: I am not afraid of snakes, just healthily wary. 

    The Mojave green rattlesnake will not attack, but if disturbed or cornered, they will defend themselves. Apparently, bites occur if people accidentally step on a snake or purposely harass it, so if people are careful, they can keep from being bit. Generally, if bit, a person has time to walk out of the desert, since the effects don’t always take place immediately, and only 5% of the bites are fatal.  Supposedly, the only cure for the bite is antivenin at a cost of $18,000 per treatment. Now that’s scary! (But it can’t be right, can it? Seems excessive.)