The pile of sand is about 25 feet high, 20 feet wide, and maybe a city block long. It’s been here for a while, as shown by the mature (not to say wizened) creosote bushes growing along one side/edge, and the 15-foot-high conifers along the other. Nothing in the desert grows quickly.
One side of the pile borders the walking path that runs through Queen Creek Wash; the other borders a farmer’s field — one of the many fields dotting Gilbert’s residential areas in defiance of any rational (i.e. Canadian-style) zoning.
On this day in early March, I’m doing my usual thing at this point in my walk: climbing up the pile, walking along it, going down the other end, and reversing course. It’s a small cardio boost at my turnaround point on an otherwise determinedly flat route. It’s also a spot where my heart rate has risen for happier reasons: a spot where I’ve had some luck spotting roadrunners. But there seem to be no roadrunners today. Just slightly disappointed, I turn to head for home.
As I trudge up the far end of the pile, though, I spot something moving at speed from the farmer’s field towards the pile of sand. Zooming up a slope steeper than I could handle except on hands and knees, a roadrunner stops about 30 feet ahead of me. I stop, too, hoping it will pause long enough for me to get an in-focus shot. It does, and I do, expecting that it will take off at any moment.
But it shows no sign of moving again; instead, it sits down in the dust and looks around. I snap off a few more shots, and then I sit down too. I watch it; it looks around idly and preens a bit.
After a few minutes I get up and move closer, cutting the distance separating us by about half. It still seems settled, so I kneel down and take more photos. Finally, I put the camera down and the roadrunner and I just sit there for another few minutes.
Then, in a single movement it leaps to its feet and turns 270 degrees. A half-breath later it’s on the road again, skimming the crest of the pile for 20 feet and then beating it back down the slope and into the field, leaving me to wonder what just happened. I mean, I know what I was doing: What was it doing?
In most other encounters I’ve found roadrunners to be cautious, even skittish, in my presence: ducking back under bushes or disappearing entirely into the brush. A few times they’ve seemed indifferent, continuing their almost non-stop hunting for beak-sized bits as I trail along at a respectful distance, trying for The Shot. But I’ve never had one approach me or even seem to do so. So what brought that roadrunner out of the field? And what kept it relatively close to me for five minutes or so?
Curiosity? Hopes of a handout? Some inscrutable hunting activity that had nothing to do with me? Simple chance? Dunno. I may not be bothered but I am bewildered.
But mostly, I’m bewitched.