Nature likes to nudge us with little surprises, just when we least expect them. Or maybe when we need them most.

I try to pay attention, lest I miss something I don’t want to miss. But sometimes I get a bit distracted. Lucky for me, I can always count on my husband to point things out. What else are husbands for?

One morning last week, I watched him as he ventured out on the patio and stood studying the mountains in the distance.

I was sitting on the sofa drinking coffee, trying to recall what I needed to do that day and why exactly I cared.

Suddenly, I saw him whirl around and come trotting toward the door. It was by far the fastest move he had made in the entire month since he had hip replacement surgery. So I knew it had to be important.

He slid open the door, stuck his head inside and whispered the magic word: “Chicks!”

Quail chicks, to be precise.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

We live on a hillside in the Mojave Desert overlooking the neon spectacle known around the world as Sin City. Most folks call it Las Vegas, or Vegas for short. We just call it home.

We moved here as newlyweds 12 years ago for my husband’s job and stayed because we like it. Talk about a surprise. I grew up in the blue mountains of the Carolinas, raised my children on the rocky coast of California. I never wanted to live in a desert.

But here’s a funny thing I’ve learned about life: It likes to make us fall in love with things we thought we didn’t want.

I fell in love with the desert. Not with the Strip and all its neon glories. But with the desert itself – with its dryness and heat, its sunsets and mountains, its coyotes and jackrabbits and, oh my, the quail.

We see adult quail every day in our yard and on the fence. They nest in the mock orange bushes around our house. Every spring in late April we start watching for the chicks. Fuzzy and tiny – about the size of your thumb – they dotter along on toothpick legs chasing after their mama, who’s forever fussing about something, God bless her, and I, for one, don’t blame her a bit.

I never tire of watching them. They grow up fast. There can be a dozen eggs in a single clutch. But their numbers tend to dwindle for reasons I don’t like to think about. Some years we’ve watched a series of broods grow up, furry little bands of birds parading back and forth across our patio. There are worse ways to pass a summer.

I can’t say it was love at first sight with the cactus by the back fence. (I’m wary of things that can cause me pain and make me lose my religion.) But this morning that cactus is in full bloom, if only for a few days, and I am over the moon in love.

“Look!” I said to my husband. “The cactus looks like a bride holding a bouquet of white peonies (like the one I carried for our wedding) and she’s surrounded by a bridesmaid and four little flower girls and all of their peony bouquets are red!”

He gave me one of his mildly worried looks and said, “Hmm.”

That cactus has bloomed in the past but never like today. Why do things often seem the most beautiful just before you have to tell them goodbye?

We are moving soon, back to California, to watch our own “chicks” (our combined kids and six grandkids) bloom and grow.

But we’ll take with us our memories of the desert. The dazzling sunsets that defy description. The crescent moon that sits like a candle on the mountain. The coyotes that serenade us late at night. The jackrabbits that graze on our lawn. The quail chicks that parade across our lives. And the blooming cactus bridal party.

There will be new surprises, new things to fall in love with, and old things to love again, in our new life in California.

But I will remember falling in love with the desert, with all its beauty, all the gifts it gave me and all the lessons it taught me.

If I forget, I’ll count on my husband to point them out.

– Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077 or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.