California was still alarmingly far way but New Mexico had chores to take our minds off the distance. It was 7 or 8 in the morning – who knows or cares when it’s that early – and a good portion of us were trying to figure out how to repack our sleeping bags and inflatable mattress into that advertisement-tight-roll that it came in before we opened it so that it would fit back on the bus.
For breakfast we had muffins or Poptarts or fruit, or if you’re a clever man you stashed pocketfuls of miscellaneous assortments to last you until lunch. The purpose of our journey to California was community service. I think our university was attempting to keep a handful of college students from playing One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor.
I’m sure we all had our separate reasons for coming on this little trip; maybe a friend convinced us to come with them on this Alternative Spring Break? maybe we wanted to see California and this was a relatively affordable way to do it? maybe some of us were criminals and needed community service hours? One may never know, but regardless of the reason we were there to serve the people like true God-fearing Americans.
Thus, we set out to Wildlife West Nature Park. That was an experience that I’m not entirely sure I understand? Let me explain.
They gave us a quick tour of the place and my first impression was that it reminded me of a derelict Chuck E. Cheese’s that I had been to once; yes, it was still open — but should it have been?
But whatever, who was I to judge? I’m no expert in zoo’s or nature parks and it was actually a pretty chill place once we got into it. First, some expert on trees, I think, talked us through how a desert is really hot and when it’s really hot the water tends to disappear and trees need water. New Mexico has a lot of desert, which means New Mexico is really hot which means that water is a problem for New Mexico. Review, trees don’t do well without water, so New Mexico’s tree game is baby lotion soft.
Anyway this tree expert guy had a plan: sponges. Long story short, we tore up a bunch of books and buried them in the ground so that when it rained all the water wouldn’t burn out of the soil, as is often the case in a desert I guess. Would his plan work? No one knew, actually, but we tore up those books and forced them into the planet (with the planets consent of course) and hoped for the best.
Not all of us got to jam books into the planet though. No, the group I was in had a much more grim task.
Apparently the nature park we were at had once been a happy home for a cute little village of prairie dogs. They had schools and villages and homes and lives. They were born into this world and lived happy full lives. That was before the plague.
Yes, honest to God, the staff told us that some plague had killed all the prairie dogs on the nature park grounds and now all was left was the holes they had dug before they died. Our job? To collapse these once-homes and rid the nature park of any trace that prairie dogs had ever existed there. So we went around with giant nails and shovels, jamming them into the ground to collapse these holes where the prairie dogs had presumably died from the plague.
The whole operation screamed sketch; but when a village of prairie dogs disappears, you don’t ask questions lest you end up sleeping with the fishes. Or more appropriately, buried with the prairie dogs.
After we had completed the day’s work, we got to walk around and see all the animals that were still living. It was a lot like visiting your local zoo, only a lot closer to the animals. I can honestly say, I’ve never seen a bear so near; there was not but a humble chain link fence between us and the bear. The guide chose this moment to share that a bear could rip off a car door if driven to purpose.
But in the end, we survived our stay at Wildlife West Nature Park and loaded back onto the bus to begin our drive to Arizona. I won’t say that it was an exhausting day because I’m sure we’ve all had harder days, but something about waking up at 5 in the morning to shower, having to pack your belongings and then load them onto a bus, and finally digging holes in the ground for trees or collapsing holes in the ground for burials – those poor prairie dogs – will take it out of you. So a lot of us actually did rest on the bus this time as shaved more time off of the 22 hours that was our peregrination across the country.
By this point, we were getting to know each other a little better; so riddles and bus games and small talk and general conversation began to open up on the bus as we rode along. Legs were being stretched across the aisle of the bus into the neighbors lap; there were DVD’s being played that I’m sure most of us had seen before; and I have to say, the bus was starting to become a pretty cool little hang out pad despite the shortcomings of being stuck there, so help you God.
Our shared time in each other’s company was making us get used to each other; we were developing a shared sense of humor, forming inside jokes and common ground; the awkwardness of shimmying past each other to get to the bathroom at the back of the bus was pretty much gone now. I imagine that true friendship comes when the silence between people is comfortable.
Whatever the reason we were there individually, I think it had developed into a good time.
To be continued.