“An Unwanted, Unexpected Love,” April 30, 2018

Nature likes to nudge us with little surprises, just when we least expect them. Or maybe when we need them most. I try to pay attention, lest I miss something I don’t want to miss. But sometimes I get a bit distracted. Lucky for me, I can always count on my husband to point things out. What else are husbands for?

One morning last week, I watched him as he ventured out on the patio and stood studying the mountains in the distance. I was sitting on the sofa drinking coffee, trying to recall what I needed to do that day and why exactly I cared.

Suddenly, I saw him whirl around and come trotting toward the door. It was by far the fastest move he had made in the entire month since he had hip replacement surgery. So I knew it had to be important. He slid open the door, stuck his head inside and whispered the magic word: “Chicks!”

Quail chicks, to be precise.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

We live on a hillside in the Mojave Desert overlooking the neon spectacle known around the world as Sin City. Most folks call it Las Vegas, or Vegas for short. We just call it home.

We moved here as newlyweds 12 years ago for my husband’s job and stayed because we like it. Talk about a surprise. I grew up in the blue mountains of the Carolinas, raised my children on the rocky coast of California. I never wanted to live in a desert.

But here’s a funny thing I’ve learned about life: It likes to make us fall in love with things we thought we didn’t want.

I fell in love with the desert. Not with the Strip and all its neon glories. But with the desert itself — with its dryness and heat, its sunsets and mountains, its coyotes and jackrabbits and, oh my, the quail.

We see adult quail every day in our yard and on the fence. They nest in the mock orange bushes around our house. Every spring in late April we start watching for the chicks. Fuzzy and tiny — about the size of your thumb — they dodder along on tooth-pick legs chasing after their mama, who’s forever fussing about something, God bless her, and I, for one, don’t blame her a bit.

I never tire of watching them. They grow up fast. There can be a dozen eggs in a single clutch. But their numbers tend to dwindle for reasons I don’t like to think about. Some years we’ve watched a series of broods grow up, furry little bands of birds parading back and forth across our patio. There are worse ways to pass a summer.

I can’t say it was love at first sight with the cactus by the back fence. (I’m wary of things that can cause me pain and make me lose my religion.) But this morning that cactus is in full bloom, if only for a few days, and I am over the moon in love.

“Look!” I said to my husband. “The cactus looks like a bride holding a bouquet of white peonies (like the one I carried for our wedding) and she’s surrounded by a bridesmaid and four little flower girls and all of their peony bouquets are red!”

He gave me one of his mildly worried looks and said, “Hmm.”

That cactus has bloomed in the past but never like today. Why do things often seem the most beautiful just before you have to tell them goodbye?

We are moving soon, back to California, to watch our own “chicks” (our combined kids and six grandkids) bloom and grow.

But we’ll take with us our memories of the desert: The dazzling sunsets that defy description. The crescent moon that sits like a candle on the mountain. The coyotes that serenade us late at night. The jackrabbits that graze on our lawn. The quail chicks that parade across our lives. And the blooming cactus bridal party.

There will be new surprises, new things to fall in love with, and old things to love again, in our new life in California. But I will remember falling in love with the desert, with all its beauty, all the gifts it gave me and all the lessons it taught me.

If I forget, I’ll count on my husband to point them out.



  1. Denise H says

    I have been reading your columns in the Abilene Reporter-News here in Abilene, Texas since we moved here 1-1/2 years ago from the desert of Mesa, AZ. What a breath of fresh air! Your columns are lovely, insightful, inspirational, and funny – a rare mix in today’s newspapers! Thank you so much! Have a safe and healthy return to California in the near future. We moved 4 months after I had hip surgery (fell off a ladder trimming a tree in our backyard, and broke it in 3 places, a very bad break) and I understand making a big move out of state after that! God bless you and your family.

  2. Lot of love !

  3. Sherri Shoff says

    You are such an inspiration for anyone who has loved, lost, and loved again. whether it be a parent, a child, a husband, a friend you bring us all peace. best to you as you head back to California

  4. Mary Edmonds says

    Yor column brings peace and remembrance. For one thing, we used to live in Henderson, Nev, for four lovely years. But my husband was a precision machinist and there was little work, so we ended up back home in Indiana. But that was in the late 60’s, before freeways and the loss of the beautiful hotels on the Strip. We could see the mountains and the city from our back yard. The memories are so wonderful. Thanks for helping me to remember when Boulder Highway was the main road, and a little burg called Pittman was a place we passed as we went down to the valley. Two of our four children born in Boulder City. I know things are very different now, but the mountains and other natural things are still there. Thanks for the memories! (Tried to correct mistakes. Hope the corrected version makes it.)

  5. LoEllen Hoffman says

    Really enjoyed your story about Joe. xxoo Like all your stories! Read them in Salina Journal,Salina,Kansas

  6. Cynthia Giel says

    Just yesterday I commented to my husband how the trees here in Pittsburgh were so bare and still looked like winter. This morning he came in and asked me if I had seen the back yard – the greening of the area has begun. Now, for me to notice and enjoy the change is one thing. But, for him to actually notice and comment is , indeed, a rare moment. He has always liked to work in the soil but I think he has finally turned into a true nature observer. Spring has finally arrived in the ‘burg.’ Hallelujah!!!

  7. Such welcome news for the peninsula. I cannot wait to bring you a houserewarming gift. Hugs C and M

  8. we have lived in the desert for 8 years,,50 miles West of Phoenix,,we came for visits the first two winters,,loved it and bought our home exactly 8 years ago,, We came from Indiana and visit back there every summer,, the desert has a beauty all its own,, We love it,, All 11 of our grand children have come to visit and enjoy our sunsets and riding through the mountains near sunset,,
    Have fun on your next adventure back in sunny California,,I enjoy your posts so much,,
    We have a mutual friend sort of,, my friend Tom Jerles was the Redkey Indiana principal and you spoke and visited his school,,He wrote about meeting you and both of us agree,,You do super work,,and we enjoy your posts,, Best wishes,,Enjoy your kids and grands,,we get to see ours in Indiana in July,, Dianne Hartzell Tonopah AZ

  9. Winona Franllin says

    Hello name is My name is Nonie Franklin and I live in MS. My Mom, Nancy Grouse, recently wrote you via snail mail. She doesn’t have a computer or smart phone. She shared her own experiences having both hips replaced. She called two days ago and requested that I contact you. I recently turned 61 and had my right hip replaced a few months ago. I spent 21 days in a physical therapy unit, and 2 months doing outpatient therapy. I no longer experience severe pain. I lived in Bakers, CAN when I was a toddler, and all over the US after that. Godspeed, Winona “Nonie” Franklin

  10. Nanci Waters says

    Amen. And that’s why we have memories! (and may we be blessed to hang on to those) 🙂 Love you both!

  11. And she shall find beauty wherever she goes, for beauty she is! Thank you Sharon.

  12. Kate Sciacca says

    It seems God creates each part of His world to have a particular beauty- mountains, deserts, oceans and plains. Took us a while to see the beauty in south Louisiana, but it came…. not so much the topography, as the incredible power and strength that came in summer thunderstorms. There’s always something to love in His nature.

    Sounds like Papa Mark is recovering well! Hooray for that… but I’d still hire movers 😉

  13. Jeanie Anton says

    Right now in PG we have the harbor seals pups … so many of them this year! The moms give birth near Hopkins Marine Station and also on a small beach at the foot of 5th Street. That’s my favorite watching place because we are so close to them. And of course the purple ice plant is just starting to be in full bloom. PG awaits your return. 🙂 Jeanie

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