Mountain Lions, Anacondas and Cupcakes Redux (aka Happy Birthday, you)

My cousin Keri will be celebrating her birthday tomorrow. I hope it’s filled with all of her favorite things. I was fortunate to be able to see her on Thanksgiving, and we spent a few good hours reminiscing and completely boring our partners. Keri and I started Chocolate Covered Xanax over two years ago when she came to spend a long weekend in Bear River. We wanted to use it as a way to keep in touch with each other. On Thanksgiving we talked about the adventures of that weekend (and about how things just may slow down for her soon, and she can start writing again. Crossing fingers.) So I thought I’d bore our partners…and anyone else who’s already heard this story…yet again. Because when I think back on it, I get that warm fuzzy feeling that only homemade limoncello and near-death experiences can give. And I get a little tear in my eye because I love and miss Keri and wish I was celebrating with her right now. And it’s our blog; we can be sappy and repeat ourselves if we want to, damn it. Happy Birthday, beautiful.

Mountain Lions, Anacondas and Cupcakes
June 21, 2007

It’s almost 1 a.m. on the longest day of the year. I should definitely be asleep by now, but the sudden realization that Keri and I could have died, or at the very least been made horribly unattractive yesterday, is keeping me awake. It could also be the amazing orgasm I just enjoyed or the late-in-the-day caffeine fix.

After spending most of yesterday drinking homemade limoncello while making Brady Bunch tiki talismans out of clothespins, Keri and I needed a break. I hadn’t shown her much of the valley yet, so we set out on a little late afternoon drive. First we headed to the toilet graveyard that sits about a quarter-mile away from my house. I have no idea what past lives these toilets have led, but every time I go by, the rancher who owns the property seems to have added more, and I am usually compelled to leave flowers.

Suitably impressed with the graveyard, Keri wanted to see more of this great land, so we headed up the mountain toward Southmayd Ranch. It’s an eerie drive – dark, wooded, steep – there is a patch of trees that seems to have been afflicted with a disease at one point as they appear black, dead and decidedly ominous. Once you reach the top of the mountain, the sky opens up, and there is an absolutely gasp-inducing view of the valley below. A small house sits at the top of this road with a deck that juts out over the side of the mountain. The house is very rustic – faded wood siding and a variety of different-sized windows. It looks like it was pieced together from parts of other houses abandoned long ago. There used to be a young couple that lived there, but on this day, there was no sign of life at all. The yard was overgrown, and from the little bit that we could see through the dusty windows, the place looked empty. We stopped the car, and Keri said to me with the persuasiveness of one skilled at peer pressure, “You know you want to break in and look inside.”


We opened the gate at the top of the driveway and began walking toward the house. As we got close, I stood on my tiptoes trying to get a look at the inside. Not being able to see much, I continued walking past the house to try to get a look in the side windows. Keri, on the other hand, opened the front gate and began heading down the hill toward the deck. She had decided that the best way to see the house would be to scale the deck and get in through the screen door.

I stood watching her, admiring the fact that her six-foot willowy legs could easily climb the wooden posts while my short and stout ones are chronically planted to the earth. She had just about reached the deck when suddenly a noise came bellowing from the shadows underneath. It sounded like the whoosh of a gas heater being turned on followed by the deepest, most resonant growl I have ever heard, and I got the distinct impression that it was a territorial warning. We both froze in place. My eyes darted around wildly looking for large rocks, sticks, super hero powers or a strapping ranch hand with a big gun, but there was no such luck. Keri turned to me and said with extreme calm, “Did you hear that?” And suddenly we both realized we were definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. She turned and got out of the yard as quickly as she could, and we both walked back to the car swinging our arms above our heads and talking very loudly, which is what I’ve always been told to do when accidentally crossing the path of a mountain lion. Of course, we’re not sure that it was a mountain lion……

We both slammed the doors of the car and sat shakily trying to breathe for several minutes. As soon as I could get a steady hand on the steering wheel, I turned the car around and began the descent back down the mountain. With the windows open and the smell of the evergreen needles wafting in, I could almost forget our narrow escape.

I was just about to turn on some roller-skating-in-the-driveway-in-my-Joan-Jett-headband music when a movement from the woods caught the corner of my eye, and I heard a rustling sound near the edge of the road. Choosing to ignore it, I remained looking straight ahead. And then I heard Keri say the words that every girl loathes to hear while in the dark forest,

“What the fuck was that?”

Apparently, we had disturbed a giant snake in his journey across the road. Keri said that it was about the diameter of a stop sign pole, although my boyfriend says that it got bigger every time she told the story. Boys. She watched it rise above the road in a writhing, angry snake dance and slither off into the trees. I looked at her incredulously. “How’d we get to Jurassic Park?”


Rolling up the windows and locking the doors, I continued down the hill and was ecstatic to see the open pasture and my cute little house – where only birds, deer, bats and the occasional mischievous raccoon or possum frolic nearby.

After our frightening adventures in the wilderness, Keri and I came to a quick conclusion that a little baking therapy was in order. And that it must, of course, include chocolate.

I’m a scratch baking kind of girl – organic butter, high-quality chocolate, real Mexican vanilla. I’d rather have an invasive medical procedure without anesthesia while being preached at by Pat Robertson than serve someone a cake topped with that nasty, tongue-coating frosting made from Crisco. But in this case, instant gratification was definitely more important than gourmet quality.

At our grandparents’ house in Samoa, there was always a crystal bowl filled with wrapped candy sitting on the coffee table. Keri’s favorite was the triple-layered coconut neapolitans, and mine was the chocolates filled with fruit cream – especially the ones with the delicious orange filling. It was just these candies that I thought of as I opened the cupboard and saw a box of Trader Joe’s chocolate orange cake mix. Perfect.

I mixed up the cupcakes while Keri whipped up a lovely orange juice glaze. In about a half-hour we were happily licking sweet chocolate crumbs and tart citrus icing off our fingers. That once-uncomfortable feeling of having narrowly escaped tragedy somehow mixed with the lusciousness in our stomachs and became something more akin to a fuzzy daydream.

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4 responses to “Mountain Lions, Anacondas and Cupcakes Redux (aka Happy Birthday, you)

  1. It sounds like you two have so much fun together. Happy birthday to Keri. Thanks for sharing this fun story again.

  2. Ahhh, thanks for the lovely bday present! I LOVE that story and like a fine wine it ages well (as do the both of us if I say so myself). I love you!K

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