I recall watching two or three kids play with an adult-sized Gila monster clamped by its powerful
jaws to a long stick, probably the most iconic memory of my childhood. I’m not sure what made the biggest impression
on me, the big orange and black lizard or that the boys were hanging out in an arroyo during the early summer monsoon
season. My girl cousins said not only could these rascals be bitten by the poisonous lizard, they could also be swept away
under the cloudless sky if a heavy rain had fallen in the Sandia Mountains, looming with innocent beauty above the Albuquerque
neighborhood. They described in vivid detail how water snaked down this wash in a powerful torrent, sweeping away everything
in its path.
Being from Iowa—a state with roads and farms cutting the no longer pristine rolling
prairie landscape into even squares and rectangles—I could think of nothing more virulent at home than hordes of mosquitoes,
or an occasional angry bull or sow with piglets inside a fenced meadow. I didn’t think of Iowa’s impossibly placid-looking green-brown rivers at full flood, sisters to the
desert arroyo and also specters of sudden, watery death. I was more impressed with the powerful cachet of the Southwestern
landscape and her exotic wild creatures. I had no idea how rare a Gila monster sighting was and neither did I think too much
about the creature until a decade later. Then I noticed Gila monsters didn’t pop up here and there in the Sonora Desert like
coyote, javelina, rattlesnakes, and horned lizards.