RALPH BARTHOLDT: Winter in Arizona, still few years off

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I had a pal who went to Bisbee.

He was a filmmaker for one of the wildlife programs that we in middle America love so much because it shows what we consider to be wild animals engaging each other, and every now and then, killing for sustenance.

It is pure escapism for members of the flannel and facial hair crowd who are whisked away to an existence that requires snowshoes and wolverine ruff under Thomas Kinkade’s icy mountain peaks and sunsets.

Included are commercial breaks for trips to the kitchen for milk and Oreos.

My pal went to Bisbee in the winter to film a certain kind of hare I think, or maybe it was the Clark’s nutcracker.

I remember him calling from somewhere in Colorado to ask if he could sleep on the couch. It was spring by then. It had been a long trip and he had picked up several porcupines along the way that he kept in cages under the canopy of his pickup truck.

He planned to film them against an evening sunset in the Bitterroots.

By the time he got to Montana, where I lived, he smelled like everything that raises the hackle on a domestic pet.

Every grinning, porch-loving Lab with a lumbering gait and tree-limb tail sleeping within a three-block circle of my house jumped to its feet and snarled when he walked past.

He had spent several months around Bisbee living in the desert on the former Hereford ranch of two bachelor brothers whose entire lives were endured on the homestead under the metallic creak of windmills and the scuttle of the chuckwallas, screech of burrowing owls and silent skitter of scorpions.

Not wanting to pester the brothers, he washed up in cafes, roadside rest areas, or not at all, got a pass to wander the yellow-grass swales of Fort Huachuca and eventually made it back north in time for the snow to subside from the Sapphire Mountains.

With a pile of porcupines in cages, that by now he had sort-of tamed, he spoke of the desert with a fondness born of something new, but no longer mysterious.

When the snow flies, I sometimes consider Bisbee, or any place with a sun or cacti motif on license plates produced at its state penitentiary. Roadrunners, cactus flowers and arroyos, red rocks and canyon wrens.

While knee deep in contemplation I sometimes hear my telephone ding.

It’s a note from a friend who drives from North Idaho to spend winters in a camp trailer someplace in the desert around Yuma.

“How is the weather?” He asks.

“Cold.”

“That’s to be expected,” he says.

He keeps a hat on to prevent sunburn, he explains, gleefully, I think, and asks about the snow.

It’s pretty deep, I say.

His winter camp in the sand is shared with two dogs, a boat, an ATV and a handgun that can shoot .410 and .45 caliber loads with equal candor.

Sometimes burros bray at night.

Always there is a lake nearby where crappies the size of frying pans jump into his boat.

He’s not shy about sending pictures.

You should try it sometime, he says. Come on down, bring the dog, there’s lots of quail.

In some future winter, serious consideration of Bisbee, a pinon spitting campfire and a box of yellow Pacifico may allure.

For now, there’s a certain comfort in snow, the sound of it sliding off the roof, and icicles crashing on the deck.

I’m good with it.

As long as there’s a nature show on Netflix, with breaks to hit the kitchen for milk and Oreos.

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