National Geographic : 1929 Jan
ARIZONA COMES OF AGE and birds live on the insects or on seeds. Desert plants, like mesquite, paloverde, creosote bush, ocotillo, and cacti, usually grow some distance apart, not because the soil is poor, but because each clump re quires much space from which to draw needed moisture. Back and forth among these brush clumps the tiny wild desert things travel, seeking food. Of the small furry folk, like rabbits, chipmunks, mice, and rats, nearly all work at night to escape the hawks. You can trace this tiny life only by get ting down on the ground. There it is very plain. The so-called "empty world" of the desert isn't empty at all. From down where rats and chipmunks sit, the desert scene is like a forest of high trees cut by winding roads. Until late afternoon no creature is astir. Then coyotes wake up and start rabbit hunting. Hawks follow the coyotes, to get a chance at any birds scared up. Toward dusk bobcats come out to stalk chipmunks. Owls join the quest for food, making life risky for rats that venture forth for seeds and bark. THE PACK RAT BUILDS A FORT There is the ingenious pack rat. He builds a fortlike house, often ten inches high, of sticks and pebbles. It has many doors. So, if an enemy coyote starts to dig him out from one door, the pack rat dashes out another. Along the runways to his house he scatters cholla thorns to worry those who hunt him. One species of desert rat appears to mi grate. Some years ago thousands appeared in the town of Nogales. They overran the place. At night I saw dozens of them vo raciously catching bugs under street arc lights. Then there is the lively, long-tailed kangaroo rat. Hunting the swift-running, desert scaled quail between Tubac and the Baboquivari Mountains, I saw many of these sprightly rodents. They dig long tunnels and standardized houses of many galleries under the sand. If your horse steps on one, he may sink down knee-deep and flounder. It was a hot, starlit Arizona night. At a desert tank town the night agent, in shirt sleeves and green visor, pounded his brass keys. Moths fluttered at the foul oil lamp. Lounging in the agent's one extra chair sat a naturalist I know, out from Wash ington to trap desert mammals. Weeks of labor done, his specimens packed and shipped, he was waiting now for the mid night train east. Beside him on the floor was a paper box. It had holes cut in its sides and held a live kangaroo rat, trapped that day near a mesquite-covered sand dune two miles back from the railway. A KANGAROO RAT'S ROUND TRIP TO WASHINGTON Suddenly, during a lull of the telegraph instrument, a sharp tapping came from the rat's box. Tap-tap-tap-tap. "Holy smokehouse!" exclaimed the agent. "That rat's a telegrapher. He's calling Tucson." And "Tucson" the two men named him, and chatted until the dusty train roared in. Months later, westbound, the naturalist came again to the tank town. It was night, and there was the same agent in shirt sleeves and green visor. Under his arm the man of science car ried a paper box with holes in it. "You brought him back!" grunted the agent. "Yes. He got weak in Washington. The climate, or the lack of right seeds. I was going to 'Frisco anyway, so I took this route." "I'll get my lantern," said the agent. And the two men, trudging through desert brush and sandy hillocks, finally found the very dune, and the rat-hole, where three months before Tucson had been caught. They took the lid off Tucson's box. He jumped out and fairly popped his long tail as he flashed from sight into his familiar hole. Arizonians are Nature lovers. They live close to her and enjoy a rich fund of ani mal stories. From a circus in a hill-bound town of north Arizona, says cowboy lore, a moun tain lion escaped. One hundred dollars was offered for its return. Two cowboys, idling in town, heard the news and rode off to hunt the lion. Late next day, torn, scratched, and weary, but victorious, they sought the circus manager. "Give us that $ioo," they demanded. "We certainly earned it. Your big cat's roped, hog-tied, and in the corral."