Growing up in the wide-open spaces of the high desert city of El Paso, Texas instilled a passion in me for the sky and the stars. As a teenager, at times I would go out onto our top deck and sleep with the immense universe above me. During the peak time in August, the reliable Perseid meteor shower would offer me plenty of opportunities to wish upon those falling stars and dream.
When I designed and built my own home in Santa Teresa, New Mexico (a suburb of El Paso) in 1986, I put in all the essentials: an art studio, a library, more bookshelves in every room (one can never own too many books), and of course a 4’ x 4’ (1.2 m x 1.2 m) skylight above our bed so I could sleep under the stars once again.
One day, the phone rang as I was getting out of the bath. I ran to answer it, just as I was, in the empty house. It turned out to be a rather extended conversation, so I just stretched out on the bed to talk. For some reason, I did not look up for at least twenty-five minutes and what do you think I saw when I did?
There was a buzzard circling overhead! No doubt he saw this still white bloated body beneath him and thought: Lunch! I waved at him and said, “I’m alive!” No doubt he now thought, “drat it” and snapped his wing tips, as he flew away disappointed.
After I moved to France, I was telling this funny story to a Frenchwoman at a party. But she did not laugh or even smile. Instead, she looked at me solemnly and said, “Is that why you moved to France? Did you foresee your own death?”
Mountain Park was not always as developed as seen in the photo above. We moved here in 1957 and the desert mountain landscape was our back yard and playground. There was no lack of local fauna, including buzzards, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas (quite harmless), coyotes, and later occasional mountain lions, and mule deer…many, many mule deer. I can assure you I never “saw my own death” despite the myriad of rattlesnake stories. Our yard with the ivy trellised side of the house hosted an easy buffet with the many birds’ nests for the neighborhood snakes. Besides, if it wasn’t for a coachwhip I found on my way home from school, I would never have learned to do my own laundry before I moved away. But those stories are for another time.
Left: Susan and Keith on the lower raised patio (before being replaced with the rec room, office and upper deck). Keith’s pet horny toad (horned lizard) is on the table between his hands.
Photo ©1961 Fred K. James
The mule deer started coming down from the mountain during droughts and discovered the pleasure of foraging in the yards, plus the lure of deer corn and water provided by some of the residents, not the least me every time I returned for a visit back to El Paso from Paris. Working from Dad’s old office, I relished watching the deer, birds and squirrels congregate on the side patio. All I needed was a poofy blouse and full skirt to go out and twirl among them singing away like Snow White. When Mom died in 2018, we had to sell the family home of over 60 years, which still brings me to tears.
© 2022 Ann James Massey, SWA, CPSA, UKCPS, AAPL
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