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Survival in the desert

May 29, 2013  By Ian Robinson

Where I live, lakes are few and far between.

So are rivers. As are cricks, creeks, streams, torrents, rivulets, and large mud puddles.

I live in the big dry.



When I first moved to Calgary, I went on a hike to the north and east of the city. It’s where they keep finding all the dinosaur bones. The landscape looks like they shot the early scenes of Star Wars there.

At any moment, you sort of half expect the Sand People to turn up to trade for ’droid parts.


And when scrambling up the wall of this little canyon, I put my hand down and screamed.

I don’t normally spend a lot of time screaming.

In fact, I once reduced a previously pristine ankle joint to component parts without screaming. I had my entire head set on fire when an incinerator exploded in my face and I didn’t scream then, either.

I did, however, utter every obscenity I knew or thought I knew. Not just the English ones. French. Finnish. Russian. Spanish.

Although I think I got confused there towards the end, and may have referred to the incinerator as a “mother-loving-taco-doorway.”

Spanish ain’t easy.

This time, however, I screamed. Not just from pain, but shock.

Because I had not expected to discover, while hiking in Canada, that I had put my hand on a variety of cactus known as a prickly pear.

A prickly pear has roughly 11,487 stickers per square foot. I’m pretty sure they’re poisonous. Basically, it’s like a porcupine that just stays in one place.

Now, porcupines are as Canadian as maple syrup, Don Cherry complaining Europeans play hockey like prom queens and the fact that every now and then, Quebec talks about breaking up with the rest of us. (However, just like a crazy girlfriend, never actually makes it out the door. But the rest of Canada doesn’t really mind. The sex is good and she makes poutine and the accent is super cute.)

But cactuses?


Spending an afternoon using the pliers of my Leatherman multi-tool to pull cactus stickers out of the palm of my hand is how I figured out that where I lived was the northern end of what’s known as the Sonoran desert.

In the spring, the few water courses we have spill over their banks and then it’s back to being a near-desert again.

All of which means that I am considered lucky among my peers in this fine city because I live in what’s called a “lake community.”

Back in the day, some bright real estate developer looked around Calgary and said, “You know what this place could use? A lake.”

And built one.

He dug out a not-a-bad-sized hole, piled the dirt next to the hole to make a not-a-bad-sized toboggan hill, and ran a fence around the whole thing to keep the riff-raff out.

Well. Until I moved here.

So I am considered a lucky man because during our brief summers, I have a beach to go to.

Except … except … I don’t want to go to the beach anymore.

For one thing, it’s Alberta.

So the water? Not warm.

The only people who really like going in the water are small children who, after a half hour or so, look like they’re auditioning for Smurfs: The Musical.

Only they’re not dancing.

They’re shivering.

There’s a reason that right after oil and gas, the primary driver of the Alberta economy is the travel industry.

Every Albertan loves Alberta … and can’t wait to get on an airplane to go somewhere warm.

When I was 18, I loved the beach because that’s where the girls were.

There are still girls at our local beach … but now I remember them as friends of my daughter. I coached them at soccer. Drove them to the mall in large groups.

I can’t ogle them because I basically helped raise them.

Plus, the days are long gone when women would ogle me, so going to the beach today is basically a reminder that I’m pretty much just running out my string.

I mean, I’m now officially old enough to qualify for the old-person’s discount at Denny’s.

Only now, my digestion can no longer handle Denny’s.

Chicken fried steak basically kicks my ass. Cause, you know. Cholesterol and grease and stuff. So my only option is to get a discount on a fruit plate with cottage cheese.

I don’t think so. I want to eat cottage cheese, I can be miserable at home for free.

Here’s a list of things I’d rather do than go to the beach:

a) Watch the Barbra Streisand/Bea Arthur sex tape. (I know, I know. There is no such thing. But imagine if there were. And how little you’d like to see it.)

b) Eat a fruit plate with cottage cheese.

c) Put my hand on a prickly pear.

OK. Maybe not that last one.

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