1 dead peacock, 2 rattlesnake encounters, 3 bearded dragons and more. A look back at my strange 2021.

Long ago a friend told me that how you spend your New Years Day is a reflection of, or sets the tone for how your year will be. True or not, I have spent most of my adult life actively avoiding being painfully hung over or in jail, just incase. This year, 2021 was no exception. I stayed home for New Years Eve, got to bed early, woke up feeling perfectly fine. Until I checked my Facebook…

2020 and 2021 have been 2 hard years on all of us to say the least. 2 years of a world wide pandemic consuming entire countries, forcing us to separate from everyone and everything. We quarantined away while we lost family and friends. We grieved alone. Jobs shifted to working from home or ended entirely. Socializing moved completely to online. Masks. Vaccines. Climate Change. The Election. Schools. Guns. Racism. All of our pain shoved to the top of the never ending Breaking News cycle. 2 Years of an entire planet feeling stressed, scared, confused, angry, hurt, isolated and filled with an overall sense of dread literally forced some of us into our very own cocoons to completely melt and come out entirely new beings.

I emerged at the end of last year from my cocoon as a nonprofit. With my love of nature and animals as strong as ever, I dedicated my unemployed self to supporting desert inspired, nature based education and safety. I named my new non profit the Desert Nature Alliance or simply the DNA.

Spending so much time alone and bored turned into going on long walks or hikes through the open desert around my home. On almost every trip I would find bones, parts of skulls or even entire animal remains. I started collecting them turning it into a small museum. I knew there was too much value and education in what I was finding and was positive it had become my calling. I started making videos of me on a hike or showing my “audience” the parts, pieces and even live animals I was finding and then posting online. This led to creating a Youtube channel “oh so Stace and the Desert Nature Alliance”.

What I had not anticipated was how my friends, family and those who followed me online would now see the newly hatched me, or more specifically, how they would treat me. Un like Instagram, Facebook calls everyone your “friend”. Instagram gives you “followers” which has always sounded like a cult to me. Youtube scares away half of your audience by using the term “subscribers” even though no one pays for a subscription. Social media has thrived through the pandemic and turned into the primary way of staying in the loop. Facebook Messenger set the tone for my 2021.

So lets go over some of the highlights of my 2021 shall we?

1 Dead Peacock: January 1 2021 one of my “friends” messaged me with hands down the most jarring statement I’ve read in sometime “Our Peacock died last night because of all of the fireworks. Do you want him for your collection otherwise I will just get rid of him.”

I sat stunned. I re read the text. A dead pet peacock? Did I want it?

Immediately my eyes filled with tears. I barely knew this friend, I’d call more of an acquaintance. Don’t get me wrong, I like this person but I am not close to her at all, just follow each other on FB. The reason I even know her is a weird story in and of itself. A few years ago I assisted her in purchasing a very large amount of glassware (50 crates worth) from a family member of mine who committed suicide last year. Odd circumstances for sure.

Now she is offering me her deceased bird? a Peacock?? New Years Day. She lives a good hour away.

Do I want it?

That is a unique question with very hard answers.

I cried. Then I walked over to my husband and cried some more. Crying because I was scared. How do I even start to tell him our plans for the day had now drastically changed. I knew in my heart I wouldn’t say no. The opportunity to have such a glorious bird on display in my tiny museum as an actual example of how bad fireworks can be was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Yet my skills in taxidermy are no where near peacock level. I mostly stay in the land of skeletons and articulation. What if I messed up? What if all the feathers fell out? This meant handling a very large dead bird. Where was I going to work on it? Why did she think of ME when this happened?

My brain was swimming through the tears.

My 2021 had started with someone else’s dead peacock. What kind of tone was THAT setting for my year to come?

An accurate one.

So much random craziness happened to me this year that I am only going to cover what I would consider the events worth reading about.

May and June became the two worst months I’ve probably ever had in my 53 years of life. Hardly a day went by without something significant or extremely scary happened to me.

Almost Drowned: On a trip floating down the Salt River my tube got caught in the strong current and pinned me into a tree branch, trapping me, beating me against trees and rocks seriously banging me up. If not for my husbands strength and ability to fling me forward I most assuredly would have drowned. My knee to this day still has issues. Terrified by almost drowning, then hearing on the local news of actual drownings in the Salt River right after, I haven’t been back tubing the river nor plan to.

Trash Talkers: At our only local grocery store one early morning during a holiday weekend I got the privilege of over hearing two clerks (male and female both older than me) who were simply standing around, openly talking massive amounts of shit about the customers that morning who had dared to complain that only self check was open. I decided to not hold my tongue. I turned around and looked the female dead in the eyes and said point blank “are you really standing here right next to me talking shit about all of us customers while we self check our own shit?” to which she promptly walked away to a register and opened up! I refuse to go back. I drive 15 minutes over to Apache Junction now and go to the Frys there.

A Bad Neighbor and Heat Stroke: During one of my solo hiking/bone collecting trips on an extremely hot Arizona day I encountered a man who I hope I never encounter again. Most everyone worries that some wild animal or a rattlesnake might hurt me. I have always said I carry my stick for protection against men. I guess folks think I am just kidding. I am not. I personally have dealt with too many of the same type of man who seems to think I enjoy their awful banter (old, angry, inappropriate white men with bellies that looks about 6 months pregnant who want to flirt with me) and I have had my fill. So there I am alone in a local wash where I tend to find parts and pieces and often see coyote and javelina when I hear a mans voice say “hello!”. I cringe and turn to see an elderly white man. I tense up. As soon as he starts talking my senses go into overdrive and I want to get away. I want nothing to do with him or his conversation that I’m positive I wont be agreeing with. Sure enough, within mere moments of meeting, his topics of choice turn quickly from the local wildlife to racist political nonsense. He informed me multiple times he was a gun owner. He used the N word. Most of what came out of his mouth I am not going to type out. I refuse. Lets just say I was NOT the female he had hoped for. My head started spinning because of the heat and now I was feeling very un easy about the situation I was in. He reached a point in his verbal vomiting I could no longer take and I wound up exploding, cussing him out like no other being in his life ever has. I know this by the look on his face when I unleashed on him. You can thank all of the men I worked with at the golf course doing maintenance for my creative cussing ability. I stomped away in my steel toe boots still cussing fully aware he just might shoot me as I told the entire planet he was a complete waste of skin.

By the time I made it home I was very close to severe heat stoke and spent a few hours vomiting and shaking. I wont go back to that area alone and now take my husband (a Marine) and the dogs (no real protection what so ever just barkers) with me.

Intruder Alert: The triple digit heat in Arizona is legendary. Summer nights can be brutal even with air-conditioning. I made the mistake of letting my guard down, thinking it was reasonably safe to prop my bedroom sliding door open with an old half screen, trying to get cooler night air to help me sleep. Menopause hot flashes seriously suck during an AZ summer.

One night I’m laying in bed and hear something hit the screen. I wear contacts and have horrible vision so I couldn’t just look over and see what was there. Again I hear the screen being pushed then I hear the grunt. It’s a Javelina at my door trying to figure out how to get in!!!! Now if you are not sure what a Javelina is ( pronounced Ha vuh leen a ) its a collard peccary. It sort of looks like a pig but not and has wiry hair and very sharp teeth. I jump up to close the door and that startles the Javi causing it to run off. I no longer prop my door open and bought 2 extra fans to keep me cool.

Rattled: Our heat brings out the snakes for a good part of the year. It is part of living in Arizona. Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are common here along with around 12 or so other species of rattlesnakes, the most species in any state. A few are even protected. We live on 3 acres of desert so seeing a snake from time to time is normal but still scary and must be handled properly. My first encounter ever with a rattler I did everything wrong, called 911 and had them send me the fire department! I have since learned more, seen a lot more and even have grabbers to move a snake if needed. But that doesn’t mean encountering a rattler no longer frightens me. They are deadly and deserve respect.

It wasn’t too long after my encounter with the old man in the wash that I had back to back encounters with rattlesnakes.

One afternoon a monsoon was heading our way with winds sending the patio furniture flying. I ran barefoot outside to grab the cushions and chairs. As I ran around the side of the house I ran straight at a WDR ( Western Diamondback Rattlesnake) trying to make its escape from the storm. We both reared back as I had equally startled the snake. I ran back inside the house to grab shoes and my phone but only managed to watch the rattler cruise down our back hillside.

The next night I slept on the couch trying to get closer to the air-conditioning. Around 4 am the dogs woke me up to go outside to pee. Instead of grabbing my glasses I simply wandered over to the back sliding door and in the pitch dark opened the door to the immediate sound of a rattle! In the dark, can’t see, obvious rattlesnake somewhere by my feet, I stood frozen in terror. The first noise to come out of me was a half scream half groan. I managed to scream for my husband who tumbled his way out of bed as I screamed “turn on the lights!” Sure as shit there was a medium sized WDR coiled on the outside of the sliding track, probably had camped out there because the metal track was cool. Once I could breathe again I got dressed and went out side and moved the snake with my grabbers.

Shock set in the next day. I was now a jumpy mess. It had all been way too much on my system in such a short period of time.

Stress, hormones, life and family took a toll on me this year. Menopause is no joke. Mood swings range from teary to hostile. I haven’t spoken to my son now in a few years. We don’t get along at all. My sister tried to contact me via FB Messenger after 20 years of silence. I told her to continue staying away. I dropped “friends” I no longer relate to. I watched my social world collapse into a pile of dust. Once outgoing and busy I now find myself alone and not that mad at it. I am hopeful new, fun loving energy comes my way but not running to find it.

3 Bearded Dragons: Online I seem to “know” more people than what my day to day life would reflect. I’ve kept in touch with lots of people I used to work with or met along the way. About 5 years ago, while volunteering at a local museum, I met Kimberly and David. Both about 10 years my senior, David was a volunteer at the train station and I worked in the barn. Kimberly didn’t volunteer but she popped by often. Nice couple. At the beginning of this year Kimberly reached out to me asking if I would do a photo shoot for them for their anniversary. I only use my phone for my pictures so I was flattered by the request and told her yes but considering I am not a professional and use an iPhone, no charge, it would be my pleasure. So in August when I got a call from Kimberly, I picked up thinking it was about the photo shoot. It was not. She was frazzled and spoke super fast. Seems things had drastically changed in their world and they were selling their home and moving back to the south to be by family. David wanted me and ONLY me to have his beloved pet bearded dragons. I went numb as she talked. Did she just say “dragons” as in plural? I had no idea they even owned bearded dragons let alone I was the God Mother to them! She continued on talking as though of course I would happily take 3 adult bearded dragons each with 75 gallon tanks! Oh and we needed to pick them up soon as the house was being shown to buyers. I got off the phone in shock, confused and totally afraid of telling my husband that not only did he need to help me with moving 3 very large tanks but that I/we were now their owners! I had no real reason for not yelling HELL NO !!! at her and simply saying it was not my problem except my heart couldn’t do that. We asked another friend for help and went and loaded up Atticus, Cate and Dino, requiring me to completely redo my living room to accommodate such large tanks with stands. In our one bedroom house we already have 2 dogs, a fish tank with a gold fish and snail, a tarantula, a gopher snake and a cat . We needed 3 bearded dragons like we need holes in our heads but they are cool and interesting enough that they quickly became family.

This is where this story takes a very sad turn. In November Kimberly’s daughter posted on Facebook that her mother had an accident at home and sadly passed away. We were simply meant to have those 3 dragons.

Though it sounds like nothing but negative happened for me in 2021 that isn’t the case at all. One afternoon we saw a gorgeous bobcat on our patio! So inspired, a bobcat study started and I was able to go volunteer with bobcats for a short time. We created pamplets for the DNA about desert safety and gave advice about the whats and wheres out here. I made tons of educational videos for my YouTube channel. My nonprofit kept me focused on what really is important to me. I love sharing my little corner of the desert with the world online or wherever. I love being outside, with all the wildlife around me. Our planet needs help. Our creatures need protection. Our friends and family need to be able to come visit my desert safely and get back home.

This year again saw visitors to our Arizona trails that died while out there or needed serious assistance to get back down safely. I made a series of videos talking about drinking enough water, the heat, hiking and when to not go. My mission remains clear. I am a voice and presence out here in Gold Canyon Arizona. I may not have known I was already influencing others and making an impact as I tumbled my way through 2021 but looking back it becomes very clear that I am. The animals needed me. I guess so did some of my friends.

My final project for the year was designing a beautiful calendar for 2022 featuring my adopted/rescued desert tortoise Sherman, the mascot of the DNA. AZGF have over 100 tortoise that need homes. Part of our mission is to let the public know they can help. The peacock turned out really well and is on permanent display in my museum. Right now visiting is by invitation only but as my DNA grows so too will my workspace.

Do I have plans for New Years this year? So far no. I just wont be checking Facebook Messenger until Jan 2 2022.


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