There it sat in the adobe clay, like a shiny white egg. What the...? What was a golf ball doing out on this dry sage hillside?
I could understand it if we lived in a subdivision that backed up to BLM land, say, where one of the neighbors could get excited about his new Big Bertha and spank a few practice balls out of the back yard. But we don’t live in a subdivision; the nearest neighbor is more than a quarter mile away; and the hillside in back is not BLM, it’s a private 400 acres owned by people we know, people who do not golf.
When we bought our parcel from them a dozen years ago, they encouraged us to walk on the hill. The landscape looks parched, but it is actually richly diverse, full of wildflowers that come in waves through the spring, moss gardens in the shade of the juniper trees, lichen-covered rocks at every turn. That was one of the selling points. We were welcome to walk anywhere on the hill, which is what I was doing when I practically stepped on the golf ball.
My first thought was that a crow or a raven had dropped it. But crows are smart; no crow would mistake a golf ball for an egg. And besides, we were a good nine miles from the nearest golf course at Cobble Creek. On the other hand, crows are famously fond of bright shiny things.
Then I thought of the neighbors to the west. No golfer alive, not Tiger Woods, not anybody, could drive a golf ball from their place this far up the hill. Then again, they were bird shooters. They love nothing more of a summer evening than setting up their portable trap thrower and blasting clay pigeons for a few hours. Maybe the trap machine could sling a golf ball this far? Nah. Maybe they had some kind of blunderbuss that once fired iron balls, and they were now launching golf balls into space, like kids with a potato cannon?
I put the ball in my pocket and stuck it in a drawer at home.
The next golf ball was neon yellow, and it was way out on the hill, way too far for an accidental duck hook. This was earlier this summer, when the cows had been off the property for a few weeks. The owners lease their 400 acres to a nearby rancher for grazing in May. The rancher gets some cheap grass for his five dozen cows and calves, and our friends get to keep their ag tax status.
Anyway, the cows were gone, and the first thing that crossed my mind was that one of the stupid bovines had eaten a golf ball somewhere and shat it out here on the hill. But there was no cow plop anywhere near. And besides, it was a ridiculous idea. How would a golf ball get onto the cow’s home pasture, or into a bale of winter hay, let alone through the four chambers of the beast’s stomach?
I began to think that some human trickster was involved. Other people walk the hill, though not often. I see tracks but rarely. (There is lots of evidence of historic use: rusted tin cans, bits of leather strapping, deeply weathered juniper trunks sawed off for firewood.) Was someone peppering the landscape with golf balls in a sort of “Kilroy Was Here” joke?
Then, a couple of days ago, I was out for a hike and stopped to take a drink from my CamelBak. And there, coming right at me, flying a straight line upriver from Cobble Creek, was a crow with a golf ball in its beak. It flapped overhead just a few feet above the piñons and disappeared.
So there it was – proof, without any hint as to why. Yet another mysterious behavior on the part of these frighteningly intelligent birds.
A half hour later, I was focused on the last steep scramble to the hilltop. I was breathing hard, head down, picking careful footfalls in the loose rock. When, there, right where I was about to place my right shoe, was another golf ball. It looked as if it had been wedged in place by the last monsoon rain. So it couldn’t have been dropped just now by the crow I had caught in the act. It was, however, a Top-Flite.