The Deliberate Path of Gila Monster

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I dream of monsters. Reptiles who crawl into my slumber, I yearn for the teachings, for their company. Over the past month, I have seen an uncanny number of Gila monsters on my hikes. They’ve (almost mysteriously) appeared in my path and have sparked a curiosity in me to learn more about them.

The most obvious of reptiles, the Gila monster is one of the few lizards that are venomous. Of course, unlike rattlesnakes I have encountered, who are quick to strike, Gila monsters are meandering creatures. They are reluctant to interact and simply want to continue on their way. They are passive. You’d have to put your hand under their mouth to get them to attack, or else try to pick them up.

What I know of Gila monsters is that they want to get where they are going with a deliberate intention about them. They’re focused and intent, going about their business under the hot morning sun – a true desert soul.

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The Basics of the Gila Monster

The Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, is a venomous reptile who’s native to the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. They range in length between 10-14 inches and weigh approximately 4 pounds. Their distinct markings of orange (sometimes appearing pink or yellow) and black patterned beads (not scales) cannot be missed. One of the showiest of lizards, they are beautiful by all accounts.

Their bite contains a powerful neurotoxin that causes necrosis (death of the tissues) in the unfortunate victim. The quintessential hermit, they spend most of their time in burrows (95% of the year) and emerge only to warm themselves in the sun and seek out other species’ eggs, their primary diet. Because of their body composition (mostly fat), Gila monsters can live for a year on about 3-4 meals.

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Symbolism of Gila Monster

There is much mythology and folklore about the Gila monster. I don’t wish to get into these stories, however, since they are not mine to own. I also think we do a disservice to the species who appear before us with something to say by consulting Madame Esoteric’s Guide to Animal Totems, or what have you.

The patterns of the Gila monster are especially intriguing. There is no mistaking these creatures, with their blazed orange and black – maybe a warning to stay away from them. I gather, though, that they stand out because they are animals of authenticity. There is no denying who they are. They are their authentic selves.

This asks a question…Am I being my true nature, or do I throw up a facade? Can I be this real, bold, and authentic in my life?

Gila monster is a master of survival, an original preservationist, as they can go without food for months. This species presents the lesson of living life within one’s means, of conserving resources and energy, whether that be your time, emotional or mental health, or finances.

Am I guarding my health, resources, emotions? Or am I releasing them foolishly, without thought of the future?

This elusive monster spends the majority of their time underground. Guarded from the intensity of the summer months and possible predators, Gila monsters show us that going under is life-preserving. Burrowing beneath the earth, there is power in finding respite, a place to dream and emerge stronger. Gila monster tells us to pay attention to our dreams and to find shelter, whether it is within one’s body or the physical world.

In my own interpretation of the Gila monster, I am called to heed the warning of giving too freely of my resources. I should focus on my true nature and what I am called to do. To keep my decisions on a critical plane, where all options are before me.

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Walking with Gila monster is a call to watch my ass. Where am I in danger, or at risk of losing what I need to survive? It’s not a cry of paranoia, but one of good sense and self-protection.

I adore this amazing species, who has grown on me over the past few years. The Gila monster is an emblem of home, the Sonoran desert. A slow pace and careful judgement are how you survive in a tough terrain of limited food, water, and cool shelter. Gila monster is the god of true survival, where only those who are deliberate in action and purpose thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons in Awareness

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I was about to write this particular blog post for a separate, intermittent poetry journal to keep it from going completely dormant. I thought, because this post is about INTUITION and the SENSES and how I have come to a deeper awareness of both when in the wild, these topics would somehow seem too esoteric, too emotional, and God forbid, too poetic for an environmental blog. I thought there must be some figurative border wall between writing passionately and writing logically.

But I stopped myself from indulging this undue separation of wild lands and wild feeling. After all, isn’t it that we are drawn to the wild because it sings to us and coaxes us out, so we can enjoy its peace, its healing, its sensory gifts?
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I have had several dreams recently of a fox. Usually, the fox in question is running through trees, alongside my car, or in thick brush. When I notice him; I wake up…

This past Saturday night was spent winter camping in the Sierra Ancha’s, a range just northeast of Phoenix, above the Tonto Basin. Winter camping in Arizona isn’t quite as intense an experience as in areas with lots of snow and threat of avalanche, but certainly a winter camper in the mountains here will meet nights of below freezing temps and winds, snow hugging north-facing slopes, and an icy dampness across the earth. I knew the experience of camping in the Ancha’s would be uncomfortable and in that discomfort, I dreamed of connecting more, sensing more, and physically challenging myself to make adjustments or adapt.

Our arrival on Saturday morning was pleasant. The thermometer read mid-50s and sunshine poured through winter branches and warmed rocks. Few people were on trails or forest roads. So, into the perimeter of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness we went – a friend and I – seeking solitude in the hidden joys of the low season. As we hiked up to a waterfall — just a ridge away from where Edward Abbey spent time in a fire lookout during the late 60s — the air filled our lungs and nostrils with the metallic scent of snow.  And, yes, snow has a scent. I never thought of this before, but it does: a mixture of soil and decomposed rock (minerals). This was the first lesson in sensory perception.

Making our way back to camp, the puddles and creeks bore the impression of the impending night and subsequent coldness ahead of us. Ice crystals clung to the banks and fractured layers of ice topped Rose Creek. With our fire lit and our bellies full, we watched the western light diminish above us, as we prepared for the night and took an extra sweep across the site to ensure no crumbs or bits of food remained.

Deep under the covers, I listened; first, to the sound of running water, and then to the careful steps of small hooves passing near the tents. Reading and journaling, I noticed the chill of the air on my exposed face and fingers. My breath fogged my glasses. Condensation dampened my wool blanket, above another blanket and my winter grade bag. How infrequent it is that I should feel this cold. A night unprepared in the woods leaves an indelible impression. ( I never camp without back up blankets and layers this time of year. ) Some time later, I would crawl out and seek gloves and a hat… and much later, another pair of socks.

As I dreamed beneath the pines, the forest remained alive, vigilant, and pulsing. Some animals roamed and rooted; some animals were sleeping also. The creek fell to a quiet murmur as the night passed.
 
Around 6am, I awoke to the proud yaps and eventual serenade of a coyote above the ridge. Within seconds of his finale, the sun broke the darkness. Did he sense the coming break of dawn? Peering out into the morning, I noticed fox tracks near my tent and I recollected the sounds of the night. Deer was identified, as was the bravado of coyote. But fox… no sounds, no sighting. Clever fox, slipping between day and night, never loses awareness, yet eludes us in our lack thereof.

A night of winter camping brings me into myself, tingles my skin, and perks up my ears. Fox sense can be described as the ability to discernibly perceive, to see but not be seen. Fox teaches the importance of blending in and remaining aware. I can think of no greater lesson in perception and adaptability. I humbly give thanks to both teachers: Winter Season and Fox.