Roadrunners, two-foot long, toothpick skinny birds traverse the desert southwest on four-toed feet that leave X-marks in the sand to mark their passage. Made famous by their starring role in Wiley Coyote cartoons, these comical critters are faster than greased lightning and meaner than junk-yard dogs, but nobody gets everything in life, and roadrunners can’t stay aloft very long. Hence their propensity for running, like Olympic hopefuls, across whatever ground.
Pueblo and Hopi tribes, and probably those who came before them believed roadrunners to be “medicine birds”, protectors of the People. Seeing a roadrunner kept bad spirits from haunting one’s day. I feel privileged to share my turf with roadrunners, and I’m a firm believer in that old wisdom. Why? Roadrunners eat snakes. The bird can kill a coiled rattlesnake with a swift, whip-like snap of the tail followed by a brutal and repeated bashing of the snake’s head. I have an irrational fear of snakes, especially rattlers. Bad spirits. Herpetologists can argue the value of snakes all they want without convincing me. (I am totally irrational about this. I willingly took a B in a biology class my senior year at Texas Tech rather than attend lab the day we messed with snakes.) Roadrunners must eat something, so I say, whatever it takes. Bon appetit.
Jim and I have lived in the mountains long enough to qualify as mid-level amateur trackers, and seeing those X’s trailing across the ground always brings a smile to my lips. In Indian and Chihuahuan Desert Mexican lore, seeing a roadrunner brings good luck, and seeing one’s tracks is even better. Because of the symmetry of the roadrunner’s footprints, it’s hard to tell which way those X’s are headed. This misdirection throws those evil spirits for a loop, which means us good guys can go on about our day unmolested by the things that haunt us. (At the very least, seeing tracks implies the possibility of one less rattlesnake slinking around.)
Not knowing exactly which way the fierce, funny looking roadrunner went adds a little laughter to my day: Long as I’m hiking these lovely high desert mountains, does it really matter whether I’m going up-mountain or downhill?
May you track good fortune, wherever you are headed today. May you be protected from bad spirits by a disproportionally designed bird that stumbles through the air but moves like a racehorse. May you laugh out loud as you travel.
Need protection? ROAD WORK is available as a small matted reproduction or card in my online store. No cage necessary.