USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘desert’
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

Arizona Desert Metaphor

Subject: Folk expression.

Collection: “It’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.”

Background Info: K. Cowdery is 21 years old and a junior Narrative Studies major at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and now resides in Los Angeles where she attends school.

Context: My friend shared this piece of folklore while joking about odd things the generation over than us say. She heard this from her father’s friend (who is in his late 50’s) and is a cattle rancher. Essentially, in the desert after it rains, the cars and wagons make deep ruts in the road that then harden and crack once the weather gets warm again. Since the ruts get hotter than the surrounding area, snakes like to lay down in the rut to get warm. Since a snake’s butt is located on their stomach is, they are absorbing the heat from the rut and surrounding dessert through their butt.

Analysis: This metaphor capitalizes on a knowledge of and interaction with desert weather and the fauna that calls it home. While someone not from the desert can understand that the simile is used to communicate that it is hot outside, only people who have experienced and forced to live in this kind of heat can call upon a sense memory of Arizona summers where temperatures have been recorded about 110 degrees, giving it extra meaning to those from this specific place. It is logical that the expression is used by cattle ranchers because their occupation requires them to spend a lot of time outside in the elements, encountering both heat and snakes. For those most familiar with these elements of the desert landscape, this phrase allows them to relate about the oppressive conditions of their home, strengthening a sense of belonging to the place and defining what it means to be of that place. Lastly, the metaphor includes an element of humor for the teller and the listener, using the amusing nature of the metaphor to help appease the weight of the oppressive heat.

general
Protection

Upside-down Boots

My informant is one of my father’s friends, he is a long-time ranch owner in the high deserts of Arizona. I was with him on a trip home this spring at a baseball game and he was recounting a night he was camping out in the desert and forgot to turn his boots upside-down one night.

PL: “It was very early in the morning, a little past dawn and we were up and breaking camp, and making breakfast and feeding the horses and whatnot. I sit on my cot and pull my boots over to me, but I forgot to turn them upside-down the night before so I gave them a good shake out. The first one came out clean, so I put it on, but I go and shake out the next one and what do’ya know a dang-ass scorpion falls out! Big guy, scurried away before I could squish it. Dang critter slept in my boot all night.”

Me: “It this something you have always done?

PL: “For sure, it’s something I was taught at a very young age. Scorpions like to sleep in dark, warm places like the toe of a boot, so you keep them turned upside-down at night to prevent the things from getting too cozy in your boot when you’re sleeping out in the desert, and not just outside too, it’s good to do in cabins or in horse stalls or wherever there may be scorpions.”

Me: “Who taught you this?”

PL: “My father taught me this. He lived out here his whole life and had only been stung once. I’ve never been stung so you do it out of caution you know? Those things can hurt you, you grow up fearing them and getting stung in the foot would be the worse.”

Analysis:

This is traditional knowledge known amongst campers, ranchers or anyone who spends time in the desert. Since scorpions are rather regional, at least in the United States, to the southwest region and so this sort of knowledge is a part of the identity of those from the southwest. Only those who have lived with scorpions or encountered them would know to avoid them or have feared them since they were kids and have reason for such precautions. Additionally, the majority of people from the Southwest and Arizona have a deep appreciation for the desert and often undergo “desert safety” days in school, so they spend quite a bit of time in the desert whether hiking, camping or horseback riding. Therefore, this sort of traditional know-how would be passed down from parents to kids or teacher to students, etc. It is simply one of many tidbits of desert wisdom that is passed on, so as to avoid run-ins with scorpions which are hazardous and can be deadly.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Seven Sisters

Once there were seven sisters and when it came time for marriage, the proposed sister decided to runaway for she did not want to be married. When her sisters saw her escaping, they followed her one-by-one and when the first runaway fell in a well, the other six followed. The constellation therefore shows the seven sisters in the well (cluster)

Indian stories, these were collected from a nomad camel driver named Haleh in the Thar desert in Rajasthan (he was Muslim, his village was near the Pakistani border). Haleh spoke only Marwari and his words were translated and related by Mayuri Bhandari. This story relates the creation of the star constellation known in North America as “the Big Dipper”. In this story, the well is the four star, square cluster (occupied by four of the sisters) and the tail is the line of the remaining three sisters waiting to throw themselves in it.

Humor

Trapped in the Desert.

 Q:  There is a man stranded in the middle of a desert with no resources nowhere to go, no one to ask for help.  All he has with him is a water bottle with a small ping pong ball inside.  How does he get the ping pong ball out?

A:  He pees in the water bottle.

The informant first heard this at his work, where his coworkers like to tell each other jokes during their break times.  He was 42 when he first heard it, and retold it to his family that night.  The informant asked his family the question.  They came up with a variety of answers from “stomp on the bottle until it cracks, then rip it open,” to “suck it out with his mouth.”  However, none of these were the right answer.  When he finally told the answer to his family, they all groaned but then laughed for almost half an hour after because it was so original and pervertedly funny.  The joke was a great way to end the family dinner before they all had to return to their work, be it school homework, or things around the house to finish.  The joke had worked to bring the family a little bit closer together.

A joke like this would be inappropriate anywhere unless the people participating in the joke either knew each other or were in an atmosphere where talking about “peeing” would be appropriate.  However, it is a great tension breaker and would most likely cause a few chuckles at the least.  I think the informant retold this joke because he thought it was funny and that other people might enjoy it as he did when he first heard it.  He enjoys bringing laughter and happiness into others’ lives.   The American obsession with perverted ideas is an underlying idea in this joke as well, as with private things like going to the bathroom. Normally people don’t want to talk about things like that because it is uncomfortable, but jokes allow people to talk about these things without feeling awkward.

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