“Sam, are you awake?” Nan reaches for the flashlight inside the wall pouch and flicks it on. She shines it on the sleeping bag beside her then slowly around the rest of the tent. Her friend Sam has disappeared.

Nan turns to her smart phone. It’s 2AM. She checks the temperature. “Brrr. Am I ever glad I doubled-up on the socks.” Her breath paints smoke puffs in the night. She sits there wondering where Sam could have possibly gone off to. A bathroom break perhaps? She takes the flashlight on another tour through the tent and discovers that Sam’s coat is balled-up in the corner along with her hat but her shoes are gone.

The thought of heading out in the middle of the night into the cold Coachella Desert brings images of scorpions to Nan’s mind— little armies of stingers marching in unison looking for water. The scene is the stuff nightmares are made of, more specifically, it’s the stuff her own nightmares are made of.  Ever since the Colorado river dried up and the water pipeline from the Great Lakes was shut down, the entire valley has returned to its desert state.

Gone are the days of lush green fields artificially sustained by irrigation. Gone are the days where her childhood home was filled with the morning harvest of delicious berries. Gone are the county fairs where farmers brought all their produce and inspired recipes. The homestead has become a desolate place.

Nan Watson was born into a long-standing farming family. Ever since the wonders of irrigation came to the region in 1949 there have been Watsons tilling the land. While most of the large growers have boarded up their homes and moved further north to become employees of new mega-farms in what used to be national parks, her parents have chosen to stay behind with the crusty arid soil and the scorpions.

For now, the family can still afford to import water for their personal use and a small makeshift garden greenhouse but there are no luxuries. The Watsons have gone full circle and returned to the pioneering days of their forefathers with one simple missing ingredient— water.

While the desert grows year by year as more farms succumb to the droughts and the economic pressures of doubling water prices every few months, the pace of change has proven to be too aggressive for most. Yet for some the shock has created a change in perception, perhaps out of necessity. Whatever the underlying reasons for the paradigm shift, the desertification crisis has indeed been a zap in the butt.

Complacency has never been part of the Watson vocabulary but foresight has.

Through various publications and scientific journals, Mrs. Watson  has kept her antennas up with an avid interest in the anthropological effects on local and global ecosystems. She has researched various local, national, and international sustainable farming practices and over a decade ago she foresaw the imminent agricultural collapse of the Coachella Valley.

Her keen intellect is the main reason why the Watsons are able to survive the new farming economy. Without her years of study and experimentation with polyculture, the family would not have a greenhouse from which to feed themselves and trade their surplus for livestock. She has created the Watsons’ very own abundant and sustainable ecosystem right here in the desert. The next phase is to implement a sustainable farming solution outdoors, but it’s not a conventional approach.

The light in the tent is on the move. It approaches the canvas and the zipper slides open to reveal Nan’s face poking out into the deserted landscape. She squeezes the flashlight through the crack. Her eyes shift from side to side in harmony with the beam of light scouring the ground directly in front of her. Just in case, she has a clear jar ready to trap anything that crawls.

As much as Nan is afraid of the curly tailed beasts, she realizes their importance as a species and would rather capture and release than squash. Besides, she remembers the Scorpion King from the old movie The Mummy. Anything that avoids any ill-feelings from that arachnid on steroids is good with her.

The coast is clear. Nan quickly unzips the rest of the flap, piles out with her survival kit, and zips everything back up tight. So far so good.

She takes a deep breath, checks her pocket for an extra battery pack, turns on her UV wand, and turns around to face the pitch black. “One step at a time,” she coaxes herself.

But one step is all she took as she came face to face with wall of fluorescent pincers.

…to be continued in Ghost Scorpion Army.