1 min read

the man who talked to snakes

Years ago I lived in Tucson. I was miserable. Too few people my age, too damn hot all the time. My roomie, 8 years older and wiser than me, she said, "Sometimes I was my happiest in places I really wanted to leave."

Meanwhile, this autistic dude on meetup.com led weekly night hikes through Sabino Canyon and other areas.

He guided a group of us up mountains and down washes, stopping when we encountered rattlesnakes and tarantulas, toads and javelinas and scorpions. I learned that if I shine a light in the dark and something glitters, it's usually the eyes of a spider. That the exoskeletons of scorpions glow under a blacklight. How to differentiate between types of rattlesnakes, and that most of them are super chill and quite lovely. I knew why the snakes were out at night and when they'd switch to being out in the day. I learned their habits.

He had a series during monsoon season where he'd take us out at different progressions of the season, at different times of night, so we could observe the various creatures that only exist during monsoons and those who only come out at various times in the dark.

I learned that the Sonoran desert toad is highly toxic so nothing eats it except crows, which fling it into the air and get it to land on its back so they can eat through the non-toxic skin on its stomach.

I thought I was just passing time with friendly strangers in an inhospitable land. Really, though, I was becoming part of that land. Knowing the names of the cacti and plants, the phases of nature. Absorbing the neon of the sunsets over the saguaros as we began our hikes. Understanding the ways of the various creatures and how to speak their silent languages.

We once saw nine rattlers on a single hike. It didn't phase me. They were the desert, I was the desert.

That one dude off meetup.com, I don't even remember his name, he made me into Pocahontas.

And my roommate was right. The place I couldn't wait to leave ended up being one of the happiest periods of my life.