It is not yet midday and already the hot wind coming off the desert feels like it is emanating from a blast furnace.
Jake removed his battered hat and wiped his face and neck with a blue bandana. He gazed across the parched land to the far-off mountains and considered how blessed he was that his land was watered by a stream flowing from the hills to the north. Still, the sunflowers do not grow as big as they did on his home place in Alabama.
This farm near the edge of the desert has been his home for forty-two years. He settled in the Southwest after his tour of duty at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. His wife had asthma and needed to live in a dry climate. It is very different from his boyhood town of Huntsville.
The love of his life has been gone some twenty years now. Although he is growing old, he loves to piddle in his garden. The land is too dry - without constant irrigation - to grow many of the plants he knew as a boy in the South. Of course, he grows corn, and has adapted to the land. He learned to eat the prickly pear cactus - a staple of the Mexican and Central American diet for thousands of years. When he harvests the cactus, he is always mindful of the Mojave Rattlesnake. This is probably the most dangerous snake in North America. It is aggressive, fairly large-bodied, and has a complex venom. Over the years, he has lost several dogs to those snakes.
Moving through his plants, he is pleased at the progress of the several varieties. He adjusted the water system and, before leaving his garden, picked a couple of the sunflowers for 'Cracker'.
As Jake opened the back door, he heard a familiar voice. "Hello, Hello! Come in."
The voice came from his parrot called Cracker. The bird had belonged to his late wife. She taught him to talk.
"Cracker wants a Polly. Cracker wants a Polly. Cracker is a good bird - Hello - Hello - Good bird ....."
By William C. Highsmith - December 6, 2011