Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Maytime Migas

Creturs: I've always loved the way Davy Crockett spelled this word, which gives a clue as to how he pronounced it, most likely. (It's also a reminder that, as a semi-literate backwoodsman serving in the Tennessee Legislature, he was most likely more intelligent than most of the creturs currently serving there).

But I've always been aware that with living in Texas comes creturs. Some are vertebrates, some aren't, some are pests, some aren't. All of 'em have to be dealt with. The largest one I was ever near was one I didn't see. My old house here had a porch screened-in on two sides, a sleeping room that I used for its intended purpose. One morning about 6 my dog leapt up off the floor and started growling oddly. Then he puffed out his fur and started walking on tiptoe, still growling and hyperventilating. I heard something crashing around outside and figured it was another dog, although this was peculiar behavior. No problem. It went away and I went back to sleep. Later, I was walking the dog on some land at the end of my street and there were two men on horseback with rifles. A couple of little Hispanic kids were hanging around near them, and one of them, a girl, came running up to me. "Did you see it, mister?" she asked. What? I asked. "La pantera!" And sure enough, a circus train on the nearby railroad tracks had had a breakout. No, I told her, I hadn't seen it, but I'd heard it a few hours ago. The men confirmed that they thought it was long gone, but it had left a trail over here and their dogs were investigating.

And although the next-biggest would have been the armadillo the lady next door swore was digging up her garden, the actual next-biggest mammal would have been squirrels. I have them here, too, brown ones that I don't encourage, since with luck there will be a modest garden happening here before long. More on that in a minute.

Further down the scale of vertebrates are amphibians and reptiles, and with the proliferation of neighbors' cats, these are rarer and rarer. Which, since it's currently rattlesnake mating season, doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise caution outdoors. In my old neighborhood, that patch of land at the end of the street was part woods and part UT student housing, brick cubes baking in the heat and parking lots. These were beloved of a cretur I had heard called the Texas Racing Lizard, dark green with lighter green stripes on its side, and the ability to really haul ass when it was time to leave where it was. It would start to run and then, to run faster, raise up on its hind legs when shelter was in sight. Honestly, it was as close to seeing a dinosaur as I've ever come. But most of the lizards have been anoles, probably America's most common lizard.

Photo: Wikipedia
The pink sac means it's looking for a mate, and its other mating behavior is doing pushups with its front legs. I once sat on my porch and watched a female watching a male. He was on a tree limb some ten feet above her and he'd do his pushups and then blow out his sac, then walk a little further out, do it again, and...finally, one set of pushups caused the tree to flip him into the air. The female watched the arc as the male soared up, then down. Time to look for another boyfriend. From that same couch on the porch during a cleansing summer rainstorm, I heard a creaking sound very near me, becoming more and more urgent. I looked around and it was coming from a crack in the concrete. Something brown was stuck there and, as I watched, a large toad pushed itself out of the crack, stood there for a moment, and then ambled off. I later learned he could have been down there for 50 years or more.

I've seen a couple of tiny anoles around here -- it's kind of early for them -- but the star reptile so far has been a complete surprise. I walked into the bathroom with the bathtub (yes, I have two bathrooms) and a motion in the corner of my eye made me look into the bathtub where a very odd being was wriggling. It was about two inches long, had no legs, and had a body made up of alternating rings of black and gold. At the end was a black bead. Had to be a worm, I thought, and turned on the shower just long enough to get it down the drain. Then, the other night, it was back -- or one of its cousins. At that point it occurred to me that its motion, making S's, was that of a snake, not of a worm, which undulates its belly and moves in a straight line. This time the cretur was wriggling towards the hall closet, and I picked up a piece of paper, caught it, and flipped it out the front door. Casting around on the web made me realize it was a Texas Blindsnake, identical except for markings with the one in this account. They're also known as Flower Pot Snakes, because they're frequently dormant in commercially-sold plants. And they eat ants, which is fine by me, as well as by my flipped visitor, who should have landed near a couple of anthills. Every specimen ever examined has been female, incidentally, which means they reproduce by parthogenesis.

Birds, of course, are vertebrates, and here's where I'd like pictures, because one very noisy daily visitor is a woodpecker. He's pecked a hole in one of the backyard trees that looks like it's been there forever. He stops by to peck it out a bit, so that the moisture from the tree trunk attracts insects, but he's also canny about visiting at times when the light is bad, so I haven't taken a picture. I *think* it's a Ladderback Woopecker:

Wikipedia again: obviously I don't have cacti in the back yard.
Austin is on two major migratory flight-paths, and yet the birds I've seen have all been locals: cardinals, jays, mockingbirds, grackles, grey doves, and the odd cowbird. Beats the city pigeons I had to stare at in France.

It's the invertebrates you have to worry about, though. Until the last year I lived there, my last place had an awful lot of cockroaches. Then a couple of those transparent geckos moved in and ate themselves silly. I didn't even see another cockroach that whole year. And (knock on wood) I haven't seen many here, and the ones I have seen have been either logy with the cold or dead. Mostly, though, I've had pill bugs (which turn out to be wood lice), who all seem to have an appointment with one of two spiders who hang out in dark places with a litter of pill bug corpses around them. Oh, and just recently, as the sun goes down, waves of fireflies in the back yard. I hadn't seen fireflies in decades: I don't think they even exist in Europe. I have a ceiling fan with lights under it in my office, and that seems to be flickering at a frequency they like, since they keep flying past the window and lighting up. And yet, in all the years I've been seeing fireflies, I've never yet seen the earthbound female glow-worms they're signalling to. Weird.

* * *

And yes, I'm going to try gardening, at least on a small scale. I have a huge deck out back which a friend calls the "mosquito feeding station," which explains why, even if another friend gives me his dad's old grill, I'll be eating indoors. I have some jalapeno and New Mexico Sandia chile seeds planted, and although it's been weeks, it's only today that I spotted a touch of green in the planters. I was pretty impatient with them, but then I realized that in New Mexico, where these seeds came from (thanks, Carol!), the Hatch Chile Festival is held on Labor Day weekend and that's only the start of the harvest. Plenty of time, which is good since I don't have planters and enough soil yet. 

A friend who drives to Dallas a lot stopped in at a nursery and got four tomatillo plants which I'm going to have to re-pot, along with some cilantro, which has bolted, meaning it's time for me to dig it up and harvest what leaves are there plus the all-important roots, which figure in some Thai recipes I've got here. Funny: the whole time I lived in Germany, cilantro plants came with roots, which I threw out. Now that I live in a place with a huge East Asian supermarket and have at long last bought what I'm told is the definitive Thai cookbook, all the cilantro is rootless. Nor have I seen the roots being sold separately. But the bolting indicates that it's already getting hot, that it may be too late to plant or repot basil, and that I'd better rely on the farmer's market (if I can afford it: these people are very weak on the concept, I think) or the supermarket for tomatoes. Anyone with big pots they're not using, get in touch. 

* * *

Same for shelving: I need to get these books out of their boxes and organize my CD library. Yes, some of the crisis is over, and I'll be here a while. Not too long: I won't want to live in Austin more than a couple of years, the way things look now. Where next? Who knows? One fun at a time, please. 


  1. Crockett was also a US congressman, BTW.

  2. Statement still stands, obviously!


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