Friday, December 31, 2010


Today, while I was sitting at my computer overlooking the backyard, I began listing my New Year’s resolutions and right smack in the middle of the process, an armadillo appeared beside the upside-down bird bath. It was 9 a.m., and he should have been asleep in the coulee, but appeared to be fully alert, rooting in the mound of leaves by the Spirea bush. He was fat and seemed to be tanking up for another month, as February frequently brings Spring to Teche country.

I tapped on the window, but he was undeterred and kept on tunneling in the leaves.

“He can’t hear,” a friend told me.

“You have his faculties confused,” I said. “Actually, he has poor eyesight and relies on his hearing and smell to help him find food.”

“Oh,” she said, “that’s right, it’s YOU who can’t hear anymore.”

Actually, I can hear many things, including a constant buzzing sound like that of locusts (which indicates some loss). “But I can also swim well like armadillos,” I defended.

She shrugged and went back to surfing The Net for more interesting activity, like how to develop “MAC apps,” whatever that means.

According to an article about Native American lore, written by Jill Stefko, armadillos symbolize boundaries. The three-banded ones are very adept at rolling into a tight ball to protect themselves. They carry their protection at all times and use it to keep their well-being intact. Rudyard Kipling immortalized the armadillo in one of his children’s stories, relating that the “little armored one” was born out of an agreement between a turtle and a hedgehog. In order to escape from a hungry Jaguar, the hedgehog taught the turtle how to curl up into a ball to protect himself, and the turtle taught the hedgehog how to act like it was more armored. So the first two armadillos that appeared on earth caused a predatory big cat to become awfully confused.

According to the article I read about armadillos, they symbolize empathy, discrimination, and groundedness. Also, when an armadillo enters your backyard, it’s time to define your space. I guess that the appearance of this animal in the New Year means it’s time for me to define my own space, especially since I have difficulty saying no.

The best story I’ve read about the armadillo concerns The Great Depression when the little animals were renamed “Hoover Hogs” because starving people hunted and ate them. During the Depression, my former father-in-law hunted these creatures from an old Model T. He saved gasoline, not to make highway trips, but to speed through the woods, car motor roaring, the noise rooting out rabbits and armadillos. The nickname, “Hoover Hog” was a criticism of President Hoover who had promised that everyone would have a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. However, a sizable portion of the U.S. population suffered starvation and poverty instead.

Around here during the 70’s, if a person sighted an armadillo in the yard, he’d call an organization called Gulf South Research, about a mile away from my home, because scientists were using them as guinea pigs for leprosy research. Two lab technicians came and took away one in my backyard during that period, but now I just leave the big rats to their boundaries and write poetry about their activities when they appear.

Happy New Year. May an armadillo protect you during the coming year!

P.S. I purchased the facsimile of the armadillo above in Oaxaca City, Mexico. It was carved by native Zapotecans.

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