Good night and good luck, Geronimo. (Desert tortoise update!)

Let’s talk about Geronimo one last time in 2018!

Geronimo has left the building. I mean, he’s gone into the building. He’s gone into his building. He’s gone into his burrow. He’s gone… for the rest of the year, and for the first few months of next year. Our beloved Sonoran desert tortoise has gone into hibernation. We won’t see him again until April or May.

The last time we saw him was November the 7th.

This is absolutely natural and expected, and it’s uneventful as such. However, I’m a new tortoise mom entering our first hibernation cycle, and as such, the next five months are going to go slowly. I’m not used to having animal babies who leave for five months. I miss him already! He’s spoiled us with his robust energy and affectionate personality, his always wanting to be with us and loving to be hand-fed and getting pets and scritches on his head and neck and under his chin and on the sides of his face and the tip of his nose. He loves human company and he loves to interact, so his absence is palpable.

It was interesting watching him progress to this point… to watch him gently fade away.

He ate with great appetite throughout the summer, growing more voracious as September gave way to October. Our yard – his yard – is a bottomless buffet of grasses, hibiscus flowers, hibiscus leaves, and weeds. He loves it all. He continued eating heartily throughout October, but with the last ten days of the month came cooler nights, and he slowed down with his eating. He hung out in his burrow more, even though daytime temperatures still registered in the 80’s. Sometimes he’d come out and bask in the sun for a little while before going back in.

Toward the end of the first week of November – last week – we’d look in and talk to him as he sat in his burrow. He wouldn’t come out. He sat just inside, toward the entrance, but not down at the bottom. Then we’d see him at the bottom with just his face visible. He’d take a few steps out toward us, then turn around and sit with his back to us.

On November 7, I looked in and saw his little face. He was looking at me. He blinked as I spoke to him, as he seems to do as a way of interacting with us. And that was it. He’s turned the corner at the bottom of his burrow to snuggle in for the winter, completely undetectable.

Here are some pics from mid-October:


Making his way up the path to his burrow…


Geronimo in the early fall


This guy will be so missed during hibernation!


It’s a relief that he’s been deemed healthy to hibernate and he can now do his natural thing, but of course I’m wringing my hands just a little. As I said, I’m not used to having animal babies who go away for five months out of the year.

See you next year, Geronimo!




The Geronimeter. (Desert tortoise updates!)

Now toward the end of summer, we’ve learned yet more about our Geronimo as we’ve continued to observe his patterns of behavior this first cycle of seasons with him. The main thing we’ve discovered recently is that we have a personal meteorologist who has a built-in Doppler Radar. Geronimo tells us when it’s going to rain. We have a Geronimeter.

Monsoon season began in July, as monsoon season does. We were in the backyard when the first dust storm rolled in and dropped the temperature along with it. We looked over from the patio and saw Geronimo’s little nose poking out of his burrow. The wind picked up as the sky darkened. A wealth of mesquite pods swirled into space and landed in our yard. (Thank you, neighbor.) The rich scent of creosote saturated the air… classic indication of imminent rain in the desert.

Geronimo readied himself at the entrance of his burrow as we stood on the patio in the blowing dust, all three of us watching the storm unfold. As soon as the rain began to fall, he came out and marched all over the yard, up and down along the back fence, patrolling his perimeter with a joie de vivre unlike any we’d seen in him before. He was clearly in his element.

He’s since settled into a routine of coming out at night to crawl into the mass of verbena along the side fence, walking his back-fence path when he wakes up in the early morning (eating any hibiscus flowers and buds he can find along the way), and retreating to his burrow to escape the daytime heat. He’s back in his burrow by around 8:30am. The storms usually move through at dusk or later, and he comes out to revel in the rain. That’s Geronimo, living his best monsoon life.

I wish I had pics of him in the rain to share here. Unfortunately, cell phones and rain don’t mix. Monsoon winds blow the rain onto the patio; nowhere remains dry. I have a few general pics of him, though (actually screenshots from video clips).

On a typical early-morning before the day heats itself into oblivion:


Hello, post-storm world.


We’ve stopped soaking him and instead have placed his bath/water dish on the ground in front of his fence. He has fresh water in the dish every day, and he knows where to find it. If he needs it, he clambers in. If he doesn’t, he goes around.

We’ve seen him squirting water through his nose more often than usual, maybe to hydrate his nasal passages.




This dish is actually a large plant saucer (I can’t remember whether I’d mentioned this in previous posts).


Things to do, places to go…


That’s all I’ve got for this update! Next month, Geronimo’s vet will notify us to bring him in for their annual pre-hibernation clinic and screening. It’s unreal that the summer’s almost over.


Geronimo’s hot summer. (Desert tortoise updates!)

A quick Geronimo update is in order! We’re in the swing of summer now, and Geronimo has gotten with the program.

Geronimo’s daily summer pattern is to chill in the dark depth of the cave he’s dug out for himself, and…

well, that’s his pattern.

But he does come out to bask in the sun for a little while at least every other day (usually in the late morning), just for a quarter of an hour or so. Then he goes right back into his burrow and disappears in his cave.

Every once in a while, we’ll see him cruise around the yard eating grasses and low-hanging hibiscus flowers.

He’ll sometimes emerge from his cave to sit in the patio part of his burrow, facing out. He likes it when he does this and we sit with him on the outside. He enjoys our company, even if he’s out of reach. How do I know this? He told me. A mother knows.


Geronimo in the summer


Once a week, usually on the weekend, Geronimo comes out and we’ll soak him for as long as he’ll lets us, which is pretty much just as long as he needs to drink water.

He has a drinking routine; it involves sticking his whole head below the surface. He blinks his eyes underwater a few times and squirts water through his nostrils when he comes up for air. It’s like he’s rinsing out his eyes and nose, which is probably exactly what he’s doing.

Have I ever mentioned that his favorite part of soaking day is the Romaine lettuce he gets for his after-bath treat? And then we’ll pull some hibiscus flowers from the top branches of the hibiscus bushes and hand-feed them to him. His favorite!

Geronimo and his flowers.

Geronimo Shovelhands. (Sonoran Desert Tortoise update!)

All has been business as usual around here, and then one day I saw dirt flying out of Geronimo’s burrow. Next thing I knew, Geronimo was gone.

(Spoiler alert: he didn’t stay gone.)

For being such slow creatures, tortoises have a way of making things happen fast. Ours does, at least. I don’t know why this surprises me anymore. I just… when Geronimo started digging out the back corner of his burrow, I didn’t know he was going to dig until he was out of sight! He dug deep enough to get under the cinder block walls, and then he dug straight ahead, still at a diagonal, carving out a tunnel. I suppose that’s the definition of an actual tortoise burrow. Duh.

In my moment of alarm, though, I went to Facebook to freak out, because that’s what Facebook is for. Also, I have tortoise parent friends who would possibly offer comments or insights (and they did – thanks guys)! My freak-out went something like: 1). Where is Geronimo going? How far will he go? Where will he end up? Will we ever see him again? and in the comments and a few DMs: 2). Isn’t it dangerous that he’s dug beneath the cinder block structure of his burrow? Now there’s a mountain of packed dirt on top of cinder blocks supported by nothing! How is this possible? What if the blocks cave in? Will they crush Geronimo? Will they trap and smother him? GAHHHHHHHH

When we built the burrow, we thought that Geronimo would just chill at the back of it, and he did, for a while. When the days started heating up, he built his real burrow. Turns out that all we built was a semi-enclosed porch… which is fine. We’re pleased that Geronimo loves his burrow enough to feel that it’s a good entrance to the lair he’s digging out for himself.

Meanwhile, Callaghan started the process of securing the burrow’s cinder block walls to its plywood ceiling with construction-grade metal brackets, performing the necessary contortions in defying the laws of spatial limitation. I, myself, can barely fit my upper body into the burrow. Callaghan has to reach in and maneuver a drill in the far-back upper corner!

I don’t know how Callaghan does it, exactly, but he does. I know that his process involves lying on a couple of large tiles. Consequently, each time he finishes fastening a bracket and clears out for the day – only one bracket can be done at a time – Geronimo goes back to his burrow and gets mad because the dirt inside had been flattened out; he has to dig at the burrow floor in order to fluff it up again.

This guy!


Geronimo digging. You can just see his little back elephant leg behind the spray of dirt.


Long update short: Geronimo spends his nights (and most of his days) deep in his new digs (literally). Also, he’s adorable. Nothing new there!


Desert tortoises and laundry don’t mix. (Geronimo update!)

Geronimo is so ridiculously cute and sweet. That’s good for him, because he raised hell in the laundry room on Sunday. I’m not exaggerating. I wish I’d taken pics. Just when you thought that a tortoise is the most placid creature to walk the earth, you get one. Our little “dinosaur of the desert” went Jurassic up in that laundry room.


So innocent.


We don’t usually allow Geronimo into the laundry room because there’s a lot of stuff he can get into in there, but I was running in and out trying to get through the laundry in a hurry because I was also writing… so I thought, why not. As long as I’m here, he can’t get into trouble.

Everything was fine, except that he kept getting between my feet as he tried to push his way between me and the washing machine, causing me to stumble and almost trip as I wanted to avoid stepping on him. When he wasn’t between my feet, he was repeatedly folding the large rug back from the corner – or, more accurately, he was bulldozing it back – because he wanted to sit on the tile beneath it.

The next time I went out to the laundry room, he came with me again and fitted himself into the corner of the bottom shelf of the bookcase we have in there. I turned my back for one minute when I went to the side yard to shake the dust from the dryer’s lint trap. When I got back to the laundry room, Geronimo had ripped the shelf’s contact paper lining to jagged shreds.

Because I live my life in the hindsight zone, I decided to leave him in the laundry room when I went back into the house that time. It’ll only take 10-15 minutes to put away this load of clean clothes, I thought, and then I’ll come back to check on him. He just seems so happy in the laundry room! If the worst thing he can do is tear up some contact paper, I can live with that.

I was in the bedroom folding the clean laundry when I heard a clanging commotion outside. It sounded like someone had thrown a T.V. into a metal dumpster. It sounded like it might have come from behind our back fence, as our “alley” is an apartment complex parking lot, and we sometimes hear people throwing heavy things into the dumpster back there. I resisted the urge to run to the laundry room to make sure it wasn’t Geronimo. It can’t be him, I thought. How could he make such a racket? He’s a tortoise. Someone threw an appliance or an armful of pots and pans into the metal dumpster, that’s all.  

When I went back to the laundry room, I found that hurricane Geronimo had struck. The laundry room was trashed. The narrow, spindly metal shelving rack we used to hold rags and garden tools and cables had fallen. On the way down, it caught onto the metal post of the table next to it. The half-fallen rack obstructed the middle of the room; not only was it too tall to land flat on the floor, but it was dangling from the metal table post. It hovered above the floor at an angle, festooned with towels and one of its shelves swinging free.

After some searching, I identified Geronimo sitting in the middle of the havoc he’d wreaked, directly, to my horror, beneath the gigantic pair of gardening shears (with long, pointy Edward Scissorhands blades) that balanced precariously from the juncture of the rack and the table post. The shears were tangled up with coils of cables and cords, a loaded tool-belt, a length of extension cord, and whateverthehell else we had hanging up there. Oblivious to the danger he was in, Geronimo held down his spot, which was, no doubt, exactly the spot he wanted to be in. He’d achieved his goal. All he had to do was simulate a catastrophic natural disaster.

All I wanted to do was get Geronimo out of harm’s way and make sure that he was okay.

To achieve my goal, I had to perform a Cirque du Soleil contortion sequence in order to carefully extricate the Edward Scissorhands shears from the table and the rack so I could remove the rack without the shears falling onto Geronimo, who was still sitting in his spot, not moving, probably because he was plotting his next big move.

With the metal rack balanced on my right shoulder and my feet planted in a leaning horse stance, my right foot braced against the door’s threshold, I managed to grasp the shears with my left hand, twisting my upper body to settle the contraption of metal shelving more on my back so I could transfer the shears to my right hand and toss them out the door. Then I had to remove the whole rack, which was also a feat because it’s so tall, and it was jammed across the width of the room between the wall and the shelving on the opposite side. Geronimo had pushed himself up against the rack’s forward-most back feet. I had to extricate the rack without hitting him. I managed to lift and maneuver the rack backwards out of the room, carry it to the side of the yard that he can’t reach, and throw the whole thing over the cinder-block barrier, towels, cables, tool belt, and all.

I returned to the laundry room. Geronimo was still sitting in his spot, camouflaged in the rubble, surrounded by towels, bottles of laundry detergent, the heavy box of motar, an empty metal bucket and a metal wastepaper basket (so much metal!), the tools and the cords and the so on and so forth. I checked him thoroughly and found no damage to his shell, which is probably made of Kevlar. “That’s it,” I said. “You’re done in here.” Even though it was my fault for leaving him unattended. Who knew that our gentle little Stegosaurus was going to pull a T-Rex and storm the laundry room? I picked him up and carried him out. He huffed and puffed in annoyance at being evicted, and when I set him down on the patio, he literally stomped off to his burrow, as if I’d sent him to his room without dinner.

I left the laundry room exactly as it was, so Callaghan could see what our prehistoric child of the desert did while he was gone.

Seriously, guys. I’ve had various combinations of dogs and cats most of my life, and I’ve never seen dogs or cats cause this sort of destruction.

Geronimo loves the laundry room. When we couldn’t find him yesterday afternoon, we split up and combed the entire yard, and then we noticed that the laundry room door was open. It’d been closed, though! We went in and found Geronimo sound asleep, tucked away behind a tall 30-roll pack of jumbo Charmin toilet paper rolls. The door had been closed, but I must have neglected to pull it all the way until it clicked. He’d pushed it open. I can’t get over his strength!

I think my next minimalism project is going to be the laundry room.

A week in the life of Geronimo. (Sonoran Desert Tortoise updates!)

A lot of you have been asking for a Geronimo update, and we’re happy to provide! These pics range from mid-February up to today, but as a whole, they capture a sort of “day in the life” snapshot of our little guy. We can call this post a “month in the life,” if we’re being specific.

Geronimo (aka Mr. Personality) still spends the night in his wooden pen indoors; night temperatures continue to be unpredictable, which is typical of March. He sleeps late into the morning and starts to wake up at around noon. I’ll bring him outside so he can spend the day wandering around, chomping on grass, sunbathing on his burrow, napping inside his burrow, etc.

Geronimo’s burrow, by the way, is a spectacular work of landscape architecture lovingly crafted by Callaghan. We went by the specs provided by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, but Callaghan built up the top to create a sun-deck accessible by winding hiking trail, complete with a guard rail! Callaghan has a few more embellishments in mind before he’ll call it finished. I’ll post pics of those details in the future.

I’ll start with a proud mom close-up of Geronimo’s eye, since our vet commented on his “beautiful green eyes.” It’s true. Geronimo’s green eyes are gorgeous:


Geronimo sees you.


Now for some pics of Geronimo doing Geronimo things!

Geronimo walking off the patio onto the gravel:




Trundling along. The patio is behind him and to the right.



Geronimo enjoys the fresh spring growth of our lawn, the different grasses and dandelions and what have you. Our vet said that he should be eating this, primarily. Romaine lettuce will always be good for him, and he can have it once or twice a week, but he needs to be eating more of the live stuff right now.




Romaine lettuce is his preference, though, and his favorite thing is to be fed by hand. I’m actually having a hard time weaning him off of this habit. It’s kind of heartbreaking when I set him down on the lawn and tell him to help himself to the magnificent all-you-can-eat buffet, and he just sits there in the middle of it looking at me like MOMMY FEED ME PLEASE.

So I give in every other day or so. I know. I’m a push-over Mom, and he knows it. He’ll sometimes refrain from eating at all if I don’t feed him, or if I’m not right there with him on the grass. He eats the grass more if I’m with him.

He had Romaine for lunch today:




He also loves to be petted after he eats! Not spoiled at all. Nope.


This guy, though!




He likes to be petted on his neck, too. He loves cuddles.

Here he’s heading toward his burrow:




He’s so dedicated to whatever path he’s on!




We had a few overcast days in the middle of February, and Geronimo wanted to sunbathe, so he climbed up to the sun-deck Callaghan built on top of his burrow:




But when he got to the top, there was no sun there, either.

It looks like he’s yodeling.




When it IS sunny, he’ll often retreat into his burrow for a nap.




He loves his burrow!




The vet said to soak him in warm water every few days to once a week. We fill up a large plant plate thing and put him in it for a late-afternoon bath. He enjoys a good bath! He gets a gentle scrubbing all over with a soft toothbrush while we’re soaking him. It’s a good thing he loves it, because he’s a messy eater, and we need to wash away the dried green slime around his mouth somehow.




Afterward, we set him on a towel and loosely wrap him, patting him dry so he won’t be dripping wet when we bring him in and put him in his pen.




Then we tuck him in. He snuggles into his hay and up against his towel pillow and crashes immediately.




Nothing wakes him up! In the morning, he’ll get up slowly, sometimes stretching out his neck and resting his head on his towel pillow.




Geronimo seems to be happy with us. He’s certainly been pampered, though, having arrived during hibernation season as a non-hibernating tortoise… we’ve had to dote on him because of the special needs of his circumstances. We’ll soon make the adjustment to full-time outdoor life!

Meet Geronimo, our new kid. (Sonoran Desert Tortoise!)

Blog-related announcement first: This is my last Friday blog post! For writing-related reasons, I’ve decided to move my second blog post day from Friday to Thursday. Starting next week, I’ll post on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the late-morning to early-afternoon range (MST).

Now for our family news! We’ve had an addition to our family. I recently mentioned that I’ve been distracted by a tortoise, and I wasn’t kidding. 9 days ago (after a couple of days of deliberation and phone calls), an orphaned Sonoran Desert Tortoise came to live with us.

After a few false starts with names, we finally realized that his name is “Geronimo.”

We’ve been working with the proper agency to get him legally registered to us. Adoptions don’t usually take place until April 1st (end of hibernation), but Geronimo didn’t go into hibernation this cycle. We’re doing a backwards adoption process due to the fact that this is a rescue situation. Desert tortoises in Arizona belong to the state of Arizona, as they’re native wildlife in captivity… you have to be an Arizona resident in order to adopt. We consider it an honor to be one of many Arizona families to adopt a tortoise. We love having Geronimo in our family!

What can I tell you… we fell in love with Geronimo the instant he got home. He’s a funny, sweet, and clever little boy, very active and just full of personality. He’s a character, in fact.


Hello, my name is Geronimo.


We love his little face! Here he is in that same corner of our backyard:



We call Geronimo a “kid” because that’s what the vet calls him, but she said that he’s at least 20. He’ll more than likely outlive us.


Geronimo looking enormous. (He’s not.)


Callaghan took the above pic from ground-level, which made Geronimo in the foreground look huge compared to me. (Sidenote: if my arms weren’t exposed to the elements all the time, they’d be as pale as my legs. I don’t use self-tanner. Haha.)


This is better.


This is how Geronimo really looks compared to me! I’ll get some pics of Geronimo with Callaghan, too.


Geronimo gravitating to the site of his burrow.


Last weekend, we prepared the ground – the highest ground in our backyard – for Geronimo’s burrow. We’ll spend this weekend building the burrow. Geronimo made it clear that he approves of the site.


Geronimo pretending he’s emerging from his future burrow.


We bring Geronimo inside when the temps drop below 70 degrees; we have a pen for him in his own room in the house. He needs to be kept warm during the winter!


Geronimo making his rounds along the gravel.


Geronimo is great on guard duty… he continuously patrols the perimeter of our yard. He also walks through it. He leaves not an inch uncovered. He stops to rest for a minute every once in a while, and then he gets right back to his rounds!

Nenette sometimes watches him from our bedroom window sill. She has no idea what he is. He’s not like any cat she’s ever seen.


He likes to eat the lawn.


We have diverse terrain for Geronimo in our large backyard: gravel, grass, sandy dirt, and clay dirt. We have citrus and desert trees, hibiscus and other flowery bushes, bougainvillea, and a variety of cactuses and succulents. He also likes to walk around on our concrete patio.

The vet declared Geronimo to be in good health when we took him to the avian and exotic animal clinic for a well-check earlier this week.

We also talked about his diet. Geronimo is vegan. He loves to eat our Bermuda grass and the dandelions that grow in it (dandelions are his favorite)! He enjoys leafy greens… we can give him romaine lettuce, says the vet, but not spinach or collard greens, as they’re too high in protein for him.


Geronimo at the vet!


Geronimo. [**happy sigh**]

Happy Friday to you all. I’ll see you next week on Tuesday (as usual) and Thursday!