ANGEL IN THE DESERT
My Mother’s Story
The desert is a beautiful place to explore but also, it is a very dangerous place if you lose your way. This was found out one day in my mother’s late sixties. She was out venturing in the Nevada desert with her local rock club. She was with her boyfriend, searching for gems, crystals or small stones of particular colors, shapes and sizes.
Her boyfriend said he had to go to the bathroom. He asked if she would be all right by herself. She assured him that she would be fine. She had her jug of water, her umbrella for shade and told him not to worry. He pointed to the mountain, then to the red flag on the car and said to use those as a reference point and always keep them in sight. He pecked her on the cheek and hurried off while she continued to look for rocks.
Being a farm girl from Wisconsin and that she had been on these rock club hikes numerous times, I don’t know where her head was at that day, but yes, she got lost. She couldn’t see the flag of the car or remember which mountain peak that her boyfriend had pointed out. To her, all the mountain peaks looked the same. She walked around and when passing over a few knolls, thinking she was going in the right direction, but still no flag. All of a sudden she heard this awful scream coming from the ground in front of her. Scared, she looked down to see what it was and saw desert tortoise with a jumping cactus stuck on its head, above its eye and another on his front leg. It screamed again while trying to pull its head into a shell.
What could I do, she thought, the poor thing? She talked to the tortoise, “What happened to you? Don’t you know any better than to walk into a cactus?” She bent down and got onto her knees, “Now hold still, this will probably hurt,” she said.
She used her umbrella handle to pull off the cactus pods. Now with them removed, it wasn’t all that bad. There were only a few needles remaining, stuck in the tortoise’s skin. She told him, “Let me do your leg first.” She pulled out the needles, one by one. With each pull, he would jerk but just a little. She poured some water on his leg to soothe the pain, then talked to him again. “Okay, now the ones above your eye. I need you to hold very still.”
While she pulled, she continued to talk to him, telling him how dumb she was in getting herself lost in the desert. She also talked to God for help and guidance. She didn’t know if it helped to keep the tortoise from moving but she thought it did and it did, at least, make her feel less nervous at the time.
She removed all of the cactus needles and poured her water over his head to wash away the blood. To her, the tortoise looked thirsty while she poured the water. So she poured some more of her water into her cup and sure enough he took a good long drink. She never saw a tortoise drink before. Come to think of it, it was the first time in her sixty-eight years of life that she had ever seen a tortoise in the wild.
Now that he was better, she stood up to continue her search. She told the tortoise, “Now stay away from those cactuses,” she said and the tortoise was gone. She continued on her way and walked out into the desert, three knolls over and saw nothing. Then she decided to walk back to try a different direction once again. She passed the wet spot that was left in the dirt from her water and headed off in another direction. As she rounded the bend, the tortoise was once again by her feet. She stopped suddenly, almost stumbling over the tortoise, “Oh, what are you doing here?” she said while she looked around, “Are you back to say thank you? You’re very welcome.”
The sun was starting to hide behind the mountains, while she contemplated her situation. She watched the tortoise as he walked out about ten feet away. He turned around and looked at her, then walked back. He pulled on her shoestring and then walked out about ten feet, turned and looked at her once again. How strange she thought and asked him, “Do you want me to follow you? Okay, what do I have to lose, this way or that, I guess this way,” and she followed the tortoise.
The tortoise walked steadily while she followed along behind. She was just about ready to turn back around when she saw the red flag of the car. Then she heard the group starting to call out her name. When she crested the knoll, her boyfriend came running up, full of worry. They were just starting to form a search party.
That night around the campfire, she told them about her Angel in the desert. In the weeks to follow when she told me, I praised God, thanking Him for sending that tortoise to my mother for guidance.