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At daybreak on July 10th a mountain lion limped toward a Papago Indian hut, a small structure of grass and sticks on the bank of a dry river in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. Behind it rose Mount Scorpion, a dark-red mountain. In all directions from the mountain stretched the gray-green desert. It was dry, hot and still.
The cactus wrens began. to sing. The Gila woodpeckers squawked to each other across the hot air, arguing over their property lines. The kit foxes who had been hunting all night retreated into underground dens. The bats flew into caves on the mountain and hung upside down for the day.
The lion was hungry and desperately thirsty. A poacher's bullet had torn into the flesh of his paw, and for two weeks he had lain in his den halfway up the mountain nursing his feverish wound. As the sun arose this day, he got to his feet. He must eat and drink.
The desert stretched below him. He paused and looked down upon the dry river called an arroyo. It was empty of water, but could be a raging torrent in the rainy season after a storm. He twisted his ears forward. A Papago Indian girl, Bird Wing, and her mother were walking along the bank of the dry river. They entered the hut.
The lion smelled their scent on the air and limped toward them. He was afraid of people, but this morning he was desperate.
Six feet (1.8 meters) in length, he stood almost 3 feet (a meter) tall. His fur was reddish brown above and white beneath. A black mustache marked his face. The backs of his ears and the tip of his tail were also black.
He growled as he came down the mountain, which was a huge clinker thrown up from the basement of theearth by an ancient volcano. Near its summit were pools where beaver and fish lived in the desert and which the mountain lion normally visited to hunt and drink. But today he went down, for it took less energy than going up.
The rising sun burned down from space, heating the rocks and the soil until they were hot even through the well-padded feet of the lion. He stood in the shade of a rock at 8 A.M. when the temperature reached 80' Fahrenheit (26.6° Celsius).
This day would be memorable. Bird Wing, her mother, the lion and many of the animals below Mount Scorpion would be affected by July 10th. Some would survive and some would not, for the desert is ruthless.One Day in the Desert. Copyright © by Jean George. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.