Thursday, December 31, 2015

A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT WILDLIFE

I saw an armadillo running blindly at the edge of the coulee a few hours ago. He appeared to be scurrying away from something, and I wondered if he had a family waiting for a breakfast of ants, mosquitoes or, God forbid, termites he’d found in some neighborhood structure. He was probably disturbed by the commotion the neighborhood has experienced this week – a new roof went up a few doors down, my neighbor on one side had tree-height hedges trimmed, and three mountains of mulch from the grinding of pine stumps in our yard were whittled down to lawn level. I had already renamed our property “Mount Mulch” and after digging into the mix, our lawn maintenance man gave the mounds a lesser name when he discovered numerous ant piles beneath the ground-up pine stumps. This morning, those crows I had lamented about not seeing were drawn to the noise and came out to talk while I was sweeping the patio. They may have been the villains that chased the armadillo into the coulee.

The armadillo is not exactly my idea of a pet, but I’m fascinated by them. When I lived in Graham, Texas, I remember visiting an oilfield site with my petroleum engineer husband and my daughter, then three, and glimpsing one for the first time. My oldest daughter, Stephanie, had seen all the Beatrix Potter books, but her favorite was the story of Appley Dapply, the mouse with “little sharp eyes.” That day, an armadillo rushed past our car, and she exclaimed “Look at the big mouse!” Stephanie wasn’t far off track with her labeling because armadillos can be as destructive as a pack of rats. They burrow under houses and disrupt utilities, and in bayou country and Texas they’ve been known to spread leprosy if a human touches them or eats their flesh (and some people do consume armadillo meat!). At one time, a center here in New Iberia housed armadillos for the study of leprosy carried out by Dr. Polly Burchfield, an eminent scientist who now resides in Florida and continues to pursue research on this armor-plated animal.

My father didn’t die of leprosy, but he once shot an armadillo and removed the shell to make a basket for my mother, then had her cook the meat. As far as I know, the dish of armadillo had no effect on his digestion. Although my parents lived in the small town of Franklinton, Louisiana, and not in a rural area, my father had this image of himself as a great hunter and shot or trapped animals on the two lots bordering our home – rabbits, squirrels, armadillo, and hawks – and cleaned them for my mother to cook in a black iron pot over an open fire in the living room fireplace. The hawk, by the way, became a hawk pie similar to chicken pot pie. This fare wasn’t served during the time I was growing up, but after I married, I was once treated to my mother’s version of rabbit stew. As far as I know, my father had no difficulty with his digestion and didn’t contract leprosy, but I have no desire to do a taste test on armadillo meat or any of the animals he killed or trapped while playing the great hunter in his backyard (which bordered the Roman Catholic Church and whose members never complained about his pursuit of this outdoor sport, even while Mass was in progress). My father also had beehives and harvested large quantities of honey, at times even allowing himself to be stung on the arm by his colony of bees because he claimed bee stings cured bursitis. In retrospect, I think he must have been caught up in a wilderness time warp.

I’ve written poems about armadillos that appeared in the backyard, but I think I’d have felt more frightened than poetic if I had seen the endangered pink fairy armadillo pass by my window. Talk about an ugly critter! This morning when I glimpsed what may have been a nine-band one running at the edge of the coulee, I didn’t feel very poetic – I only thought about further property destruction, having spent the greater part of our winter visit in New Iberia repairing house and yard.

In a few months I’ll be returning to The Mountain at Sewanee to prepare for the appearance of more wildlife – moles that have created a vast tunnel system in the backyard and have made it a wavering path to traverse, a family of skunks that loves to tear up insulation for nests and bed up under our cottage, and I’ve heard rumors about a black bear wandering around the campus this year. However, during the eight years we’ve lived on The Mountain, no armadillos.


Post a Comment