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Tales from The Real Desert: The Crickets of La Casa del Zorro...

09/05/2013 08:30AM ● Published by Steve

The view through the Palo Verde, floating on my back in the casita pool at La Casa del Zorro.

By Steve Brown
It was on Labor Day weekend, 2013, when we were on a shoot in Borrego Springs for The Real Desert, our new PBS TV series, when I came to know the crickets of La Casa del Zorro.
Though filming a show about the deserts of the Southwest is a daunting (but exciting) task, our crew had consistently been blessed with truly magical moments and wonderful guests. It began to feel more like we were wandering around the desert making friends instead of anything else.
We had planned to shoot our Borrego Springs episode earlier, but a forecast for thunderstorms and flash flooding led to postponing our trip to the first of September - coinciding with the "soft" grand re-opening of La Casa del Zorro, a classic desert resort with history and style that sets it apart from most of the big corporate operations.
The resort's roots go back to 1937 and enjoyed great success under the Copleys' ownership (think San Diego Union-Tribune), from 1960 to 2007. But the owners who purchased La Casa del Zorro from the Copleys didn't seem to understand how to operate a historic desert resort, alienating both longtime clientele and the local community, while spending nearly $10 million on the resort.
La Casa del Zorro (the name comes from the Copleys who loved to entertain here), now re-named Borrego Springs Ranch, closed little over a year after the new owners took it over. Employees who had worked there for decades were let go and the small community of Borrego Springs took a hit it could ill afford. The 42 acre resort grounds and more than two dozen pools sat neglected for the next three years.
Then early in 2013, La Casa del Zorro was purchased for $2.4 million by new owners who appear to have an appreciation for the resort's history and tradition. The 44 room, 19 casita property, with its own fine dining restaurant and amenities ranging from a rock climbing wall to a yoga studio, came back to life (a process that is ongoing with a historic property like this one), and I found myself residing in the Desert Star casita this past Labor Day weekend during our shoot.
I know. So what does this have to do with crickets?
Patience. We'll get there. Everything in the desert happens in its own time. If you want to live life like you're permanently ADHD, then you need some of this to settle you down a bit.
The crew rolled into Borrego Springs and began our (unfortunately) hectic schedule of shooting. I spent the day with (honorary) Mayor Martha Deichler, who is also the superintendent of the local school district, and has so much energy and drive her staff gave her a Wonder Woman costume for Halloween - and Martha wore it to the meetings she had scheduled that day.
Mayor Martha and I visited some of the incredible artists of Borrego Springs in her VW bug from the 1950s that has been transformed into a Baja Bug off-road vehicle. Our day ended with food, drink, and music at Carlee's in "downtown" Borrego.
Our film crew includes Mike and Larry Pedersen who play in an all-original country band, R Buckle Road. So for our live music that evening, Mike and Larry joined Greg Vincent from R Buckle Road, and I sat in on drums. It was like R Buckle Lite or something.
We had so much fun playing their songs that we went long into the evening, and while folks joke about 9 p.m. being "midnight in Borrego," we didn't get back to La Casa del Zorro until much later.
Tired from the day's events, I peered out my casita window at my own private pool, softly glowing under the dark Borrego skies (Borrego Springs is an International Dark Skies Community). I decided a relaxing dip in the pool under the stars would be just the thing to end my busy day.
I wandered out to the pool and prepared to hop in, when I noticed there was an awful lot of activity already taking place in the pool. Several dozen crickets were energetically doing laps in the pool, rapidly paddling back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
I became struck by their plight, knowing that if I did not take action, the crickets, some of whom began to drift, exhausted, would all die before morning.
Suddenly, I couldn't face the thought of a pool - my pool - full of dead, drowned crickets, greeting me in the morning. I began scooping them up, one by one, and tossing them to safety. Some tried to avoid my hands, but eventually, every single cricket had been saved.
I spoke into the night, "I got you out once, but it's past midnight now, and I'm going to bed. If you jump back in, I can't help you."
I was too tired to swim, so I turned in for the night, waking once around 4 a.m. to the enthusiastic pursuit of some poor cottontail by a couple of local coyotes looking for a snack.
The next day we continued our Borrego Springs shoot. We visited the Copleys' home, "Happy Days," toured the grounds of La Casa del Zorro with the resort's Patrick Sampson, one of the best, most hospitable general managers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting; spent the afternoon with metal artist Ricardo Breceda and author Diana Lindsay, then came back to La Casa del Zorro for my interview with Sally Wong Avery, the wife of Dennis Avery, the visionary philanthropist who died in 2012, leaving this community, and many others, in shock. Sally is a most remarkable individual warranting her own story, so we all had a most excellent dinner, prepared by Chef Kurt Hauser, and after a nightcap with my new friends in the mostly darkened dining room where I could swear you could still hear the Copleys' guests laughing and playing cards, I strolled back to my Desert Star casita and slept the pure deep sleep of contentment, dreaming tumultuous and momentous dreams without waking until dawn.
I know you, the reader, are getting weary of this rambling, but that next morning, the dawn light was so divine, so radiant and welcoming that I got it into my head I would go for a swim in the casita pool before leaving Borrego Springs. As I went out onto the patio, I braced myself for a pool filled with the drowned carcasses of crickets, but as I looked out across the pool, there was not one cricket or insect of any species, dead or alive, in the pool.
The pale blue coolness of the pool combined with the early dawn sunlight filtered through the Palo Verde and palm trees made the lure of the pool irresistible. After all, any body of water is a novelty for us desert dwellers, and this one, well, it lured me in like a late afternoon mirage on a dry lakebed would a dry, dying prospector. I hopped in and began swimming.
Now, I know it may be difficult to believe, but I hadn't been paddling and splashing about for more than a minute before a cricket appeared on the edge of the pool. He very purposefully hopped right into the water and paddled over to me and began to do his best to pull me to safety. He tugged and tugged, but the task was too much for him. One little cricket stood no chance at towing me to shore.
I looked at him and he looked at me, and I stood up. The water was only four feet deep, after all.
"Little fellow, I appreciate you trying to save me," I addressed this valiant cricket, with a slight bow of acknowledgement and respect. "But it's OK. I can stand up here. I'll be fine. Really."
He looked at me standing up and half out of the pool, and I swear he looked a little embarrassed at his bold attempt to rescue me as I scooped him up and tossed him back out of the pool, thanking him again as he hopped off quickly into the bushes.
As I floated about on my back with the early desert sunlight streaming like ribbons of heaven through the green Palo Verde, I reflected on just how similar we all are. Crickets are just like people, after all, jumping about in life with no real idea on where they're going to wind up (usually, anyway), and we all get ourselves into some pretty bad situations sometime and need a little rescuing.
Even La Casa del Zorro wound up needing to be rescued, and thankfully, someone stepped up and dove in. It may not be all the way back to shore yet, but it can stand up just fine where it is right now, and the smiles of the folks who returned to work here upon its reopening, and the real friendliness with which they greet guests, gives me confidence the best days here are on their way.
But I will never think about a cricket, especially a La Casa del Zorro cricket, as just a "bug" any more. I have always enjoyed the noisy commotion they create, and now that I have had personal proof of their generous and altruistic spirit and their desire to repay good deeds in kind, I think the world of them, and count them among the many friends I made on this last trip to Borrego Springs.
Hop on in happiness little fellow! I hope to see you soon!
Culture, Travel, Today sun runner steve brown borrego springs anza-borrego anza-borrego state park california tv pbs kvcr hotel resort copleys real desert la casa del zorro crickets cricket desert star casita zorro pool copley cricket rescue magazine cv studios entertainment patrick sampson
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