Monday, May 5, 2008

Growing Up Mojave

I grew up in the Mojave Desert; Ridgecrest to be exact. For a while I've wanted to write about my experiences growing up in the California desert. I've come to realize my childhood was much different than most and I want to record those moments before they fade into nothingness.

And I visited this blog which listed seven random things. Well, there's one random thing about me - I grew up in the Mojave Desert, the Gateway to Death Valley, or as some call it the Gateway to Hell.

Here's another random thing - growing up we had pet tortoises. Today I decided to write a bit about our tortoises (all you never wanted to know). The first installation for my series "Growing Up Mojave." Enjoy!


Our first tortoises were boys, Tubby and Tiny Tim. You can sex an adult tortoise by the shape of his shell; in male tortoises the gular horn is enlongated and curved upward and the plastron or lower shell is concave. Females need room for eggs and therefore have a flatter plastron.

Tubby and Tiny Tim lived in the backyard behind the waterfall my dad built. They dug a burrow into the back of the waterfall and only God knows how many tunnels underneath the yard. My father always lived in fear the waterfall would collapse; it never did.

The waterfall was built out of lava rock collected from Little Lake which is not a lake at all but a spot of land that probably held water at some point. The lava rocks were extended as a short wall behind the waterfall to serve as the tortoise enclosure. Once, around five years of age, I slipped and fell on these rocks. The result was a mild scratch on my side which subsequently formed a scar that I still carry today - my tattoo in honor of the desert tortoise.

One day we found a female tortoise meandering through our cul-de-sac. She appeared to have a tag but it was worn and unreadable. Captive tortoises must have a permit and tag. It’s rather like a license plate sticker which is placed under the shell behind the back leg.

We tried to find the owner of this tortoise starting with our neighbors who had several of their own. Nope, not theirs. Next we contacted Leo Nowak - the local tortoise advocate. He allowed tortoises free roam of his house and they would wander about in various stages of repair. Many had been hit-by-cars or run over by four-wheelers. Some had wheels screwed into their shells as a substitute for rear limbs. Others had obvious malformations and injuries.

Long story short we never found the female’s owner and elected to keep her. She received a new permit and was christened Happy Star, yes, after the Carl’s Junior burger. Why? I have no idea. All I can say was I was a child. I liked Carl’s Junior. I had no intention, however, of turning this creature into an actual sandwich.

The introduction of a female tortoise created an entirely new dynamic between Tubby and Tiny Tim. They began to fight for her affection. They’d have epic battles running at each other at top tortoise speed and ram their gular horns together like bighorn sheep. We’d have to monitor them carefully because one or the other would get flipped upside down. When flipped they’d urinate and lose their water reserves. If left in this vulnerable position in the hot desert sun they’d die. So we’d make daily rounds flipping any tortoise in need.

Eventually Happy Star layed eggs. I could not say which male was the proud parent. When I moved North I brought two of the babies with me - Happy Hamburger and another whose name I can't remember. These little guys didn’t fare so well in the moist and cooler climate - even when housed indoors. So I sent them back to the desert to grow up where they belonged. After all there’s nothing wrong with growing up Mojave.


On a completely different subject. I started my triathlon training. I decided to keep an online journal for motivation. Here's a link for anyone interested in checking it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey! Stopped by to say hi and found this post. I lived in Bakersfield for 10 years and was a social worker for Kern County Department of Human Services. Ridgecrest was part of my caseload. I love the desert. I miss the desert. SO glad to know you are from there :)