The Desert Chuckwalas and Soap

There is something subtle and magical about the desert.

How can this be, you ask, when all there is are cactus, faded colors and dirt? That is what the casual observer will see. There is a deeper beauty.

Chuckwala Lizard
Chuckwala Lizard

I have lived in the southwest for 22 years. I first moved to Sedona, Arizona, an area with obvious beauty, tempered seasons, dramatic weather changes and majestic rock formations.

At first, after a trip to Estes Park, Colorado I was enamored with the emerald greens, abundant wildlife and rich smells of that area. I was moving.

I didn’t move to where I thought but to even lower desert, where rich greens are rare and the land doesn’t offer its fragrance until after the rain.

On a hike, standing on a small hill (a few hundred feet) I let my gaze settle on the landscape. At first it all looked washed out under the bright sun. The beginning of spring, all things are faded, beginning to wake. I looked more closely and saw the subtle bloom of purple flowers dusting the area, the brilliant crimson fruit and flowers of the cactus and heard the territorial clicking of hummingbirds. The more I looked, and softened myself, the more I heard and saw. Quiet bees going about their business, small chipmunks running from unseen predators and quail calling for a mate.

Eventually I made my way to my meditation rock. It’s not hidden so, it makes it a good practice when noisy hikers walk past. I looked over the landscape, saw more blooming plants, felt the soft warming wind, and was quiet. Looking down, I saw what looked like a carrot. Not a carrot, but a large blackish lizard with an orange carrot-like tail. This lizard, being about a foot long and as big around as my wrist, was a creature to watch. Eventually, Truman spotted the lizard too. We sat, still as rocks, watching. Truman, so very still he was drooling, which he only does for dinner. He’s an honorable being and would not attack this lizard but was as curious as I was. The lizard hid when it saw our shadows, but eventually grew brave to flick it tongue and eat invisible bugs. He moved from under his rock and ate the lower vegetation. Extraordinary!

A raucous group was making its way up the hill; a group of 7 young kids (about 8 years old) and two moms. When they arrived I looked at them, put my finger to my mouth and whispered, “want to see?” Mom’s agreed and they all cambered on the rock. Swarmed with little kids, they settled right away and studied the lizard along with us. The moms began taking photos. I turned around and asked if they were okay with Truman, and by then most of them had a hand on him and Truman was in his version of heaven, tail wagging and sniffing, being petted by kids.

They all sat quietly and watched the lizard. When the lizard darted off that was my moment to finish my hike. As I walked, I realized that is a version of humanity I enjoy. It brought it full circle, what I heard on the Mind of the Chef, “when you cook, you cook for other people. When you like the people you cook good.” 

I thought if these moms and kids received a bar of my soap… I imagined their curiosity and delight. This is why I make soap.


*Males on South Mountain in Phoenix have bright “carrot orange” tails.


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