Friday, November 26, 2010

National Geographic Moment

We've been trained by advertising to have 'Kodak Moments' and it takes little imagination to stretch it to 'National Geographic Moments' (or maybe 'Nature Channel Moments'). I have a lot of them, walking in the wilderness as I do. Recently, in the seemingly endless desert, looking for another of Mother Nature's powder rooms, I tapped my walking sticks on the ground in a circle around my selected location to ward off snakes and other creatures. In an instant, from out of the sky, talons first, appeared the largest raptor I've ever seen to snatch a fat black rat off the ground a meter in front of me. I never even saw the rat before his demise, just heard his little scream in the clutches of the giant bird. No exageration, the torso of the bird was the size of a school child and the wingspan beyond my area of focus. Talons outstretched, we were eye to eye. He was gone with a few enormous wind-generating flaps leaving me covered in the white sand of the desert floor. I was far too startled to pee for a good long while after that experience. Wow. A nature photographer couldn't have gotten that shot in a decade of baiting the scene with fat black rats.

I related the experience to a couple running a small roadside shop later in the day. Àguila Real, a Royal Eagle, the old man was certain from the description, though he thought the one I saw sounded on the small side. He told me this while preparing a small meal for me - the ubiquitous beans and tortillas - and sprinkled some cakey yellow powder on top. They keep the rattlesnakes under control, and the desert rats and other creatures, so they're a beneficial part of the ecosystem. He was rather proud of the fact that the eagles of Chihuahua are bigger than those in the US, but conceded that the mountain lions are smaller. He talked a lot about the rattlesnakes and was very interested in how many I've seen and where I've been spotting them. They're the desert's secret, he told me, and pointed to the yellow powder. Ground, dried rattlesnake. (ewwww) A cure-all for cancer, bronchitis, acne, etc. And the sac of fat on the intestines, the best medicine. Doctors, he insisted, won't accept that the simple desert people know better than they do so won't ever prescribe rattlesnake, but it works, he's certain. This time of year is good for collecting rattlesnakes because they're slower moving and not so aggressive. Catch them, kill them, skin them, dry them, grind up the meat and put it on everything you eat and rub it on your skin. His wife added that it will get stains out of clothing, too.

Mas frijoles, por favor, sin vibores.

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