Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dispatch from the Desert

Recent rains remind me to catch up on giving a little ink to the various creatures who surround us.

We've a healthy population of vinegaroons. (I know folks who grew up here and have never seen one.) They're ugly, but mean no harm to us. Conveniently, they eat scorpions.

We hadn't seen a baby vinegaroon until one showed up the other night with his parents, then alone two days later. He showed no fear, striding around as if he were master of his world. Even strolled into the house for a look.

We've seen a fair number of scorpions this season. We place an upside-down glass on top of 'em and slide a postcard underneath, carry them out to the front gate, and toss 'em over. Sometimes they immediately raise their tails in anger. Others, like the fellow last night, remain relaxed and just enjoy the ride.

A few weeks ago we had a first: a banded desert centipede in the living room. He seemed as big and fast as an NFL running back. I killed him. No time to trap him – and really didn't want to see him again. Their bites ain't fatal; but they ain't fun, and there's something discomfiting about a centipede lurking under the couch.

It's been a quiet year for rattlesnakes.
We used to treat 'em like the scorpions. A neighbor made a tool out of flexible wire and a hollow tube, and I'd catch the rattlers in the noose, drop 'em into a garbage can, and drive them somewhere.

Then we tried just letting them be; but when you're outdoors a lot, day and night, it gets a little old, nearly stepping on a rattler or wondering if the cat has sense enough to stare from a safe distance.

I killed the final one we saw last fall. It was dusk, so I hacked straight through to make sure he was dead. As they will, the severed parts writhed for a while.

An hour later the two severed ends of the snake had reattached themselves – so closely that in a photo it's hard to see where the snake was severed. In the morning, when my wife carried the snake down to the arroyo, the two ends stuck together as if they'd never been separated.

Nature not only provides us with rattlers and scorpions, but with faux rattlers and scorpions who aren't dangerous to us but perhaps gain some security from looking like their more famous cousins. Kind of like a western gunman or 1930's gangster talking the talk and sporting a gat, but secretly hoping you won't test him.

The bullsnake resembles the rattler, but doesn't harm humans. Some even become pets. They eat rattlers. Perhaps they evolved to match the rattler's appearance as a defense mechanism; but maybe they started as poisonous as rattlers and then got religion.

The solpugid looks startlingly like a scorpion, but with two oversized arms that look as though they were in casts. He rarely harms humans. He has no poison, but may bite if handled. Again, you wonder: it's clever of him to look like a scorpion to scare us; but mightn't it get him killed?

We also notice how often the same plants and animals do the same things around the same date each year.

Right now the bees are all over the purple blossoms of the Texas Sage, though in smaller numbers than in recent years. The rain has the vinegaroons out and about. The barrel cactus is blooming. The rufous hummingbird showed up recently – same time as usual.

All's right with the world – out here, anyway.

[The column above appears in today's Las Cruces Sun-News -- Sunday, 27 July 2014.]
[I'd intended to add a couple of pictures of the snake that reattached itself.  I'd been meaning to put that wonder up on the blog since last fall.  But last night when I looked, I got to the closer picture of the dead snake and had a very strong feeling that it would somehow offend the dead snake's spirit, and that I'd best omit that.  Sorry!]

1 comment:

  1. Nice change of pace from investigative reporting. The muck can bring you down. (I know from experience.)

    Until recently my home included a tiny apartment outside the front door, occupied by a very beautiful black widow spider. Every morning when I'd open the door to walk the dogs at 5 a.m. I'd spot her lounging in her web; she'd spot me, and in a heartbeat she'd scurry to the safety of her apartment, not to be seen again until the next morning.

    I haven't seen her in a week now. I just want her to know that her species inspired me to write a poem titled Black Widow Shine (tonight you're mine).