Archive for October, 2009

The Last Great Armadillo Watch

Monday, October 12th, 2009

I wanted to see an armadillo before I left Texas. There are all kinds, from a giant up to five feet long, to a Pink Fairy the size of your hand. The postcards I bought with their picture, called them the Texas cockroach. That was my determination, to get up close to one of these strange armored beasts and have a real look. I tried. Even on the frigid nights, I’d put on my coat after supper and walk the neighbourhood. The stars throbbed their white brilliance in a black fathomless sky. On the road the occasional light from the widely spaced lamp posts. But I knew there was no sneaking up on these nocturnal creatures. I created an uproar wherever I went. No matter how quietly I walked the streets the dogs that resided in every house just wouldn’t let up. Barking frantically long after I’d picked up my pace and turned the next corner.

The girls at The Tuesday Night Supper Club were amused by my interest in the pests that should be run off, hosed out, or shot. Every week they’d say, “Seen one yet?” and I’d have to say, “Nope.” Then one day Lonnie, Mary and I were stuffing our faces with doughnuts, sitting around the counter in the kitchen of the Inn. I was explaining about a hard chew, trying to get my point across with my mouth full of doughnut. That if you ate a hard vegetable or fruit (like a carrot or pear) two hours after eating breakfast, then you wouldn’t get late afternoon sugar cravings. It was about 5:00 and Jeannie burst through the door.

“Did you see an armadillo yet?”
“There’s one right now in the backyard of my church, rippin’ up the lawn.”

I ran across the street just in time to see a little leathery fatso scurry around the back of the building. There was a hole in the foundation and I saw him disappear. Okay! Location was now pinpointed. I went back for my tea and returned, settling down for the vigil. And so began my armadillo watch.

It didn’t look like a church. It was a small red brick house with rooms inside that I guess were used for administrative purposes. There was a concrete stoop at the back door. I’d sit and lean against the screen, all my supplies around me; my cup of tea, the camera, notebook and pen. I knew that armadillos have poor vision, and I wasn’t downwind of his home under the house.

The sky changed colour. The nights came on. I took pictures of the red gold slash through the bare winter branches of the trees in the yard. Risking the sound of the shutter for that beauty. It didn’t take patience. I was still, resting in the quiet. Then not one but two. There, working his way across the yard, was an armadillo, turfing up the dry yellowed grass with his sharp claws, and then using that snout of a nose. I heard the rustle of his mate beside me and up it came.

In 1974 I lived through a rainy Vancouver winter in a three story house with a bunch of friends, all of us displaced from Ontario. We left the arm up and played a Jerry Jeff Walker record full blast on the stereo. He’d wail, “I wanna’ go home with the armadillo, good country music from Amarillo and Abilene. The friendliest people and the purtiest women you ever seen.” We took turns rollicking my baby Jonah in our arms, round and round the room.

There are signs proclaiming that a particular city is a sister city to one in another country, although it feels like the whole world away. I walk these streets of Fort Langley and see the mounds of dirt that the moles leave behind, and smile at my parallel universes; Fort Langley in British Columbia and Archer City in Texas. The moles busy here in town being a nuisance to the gardeners and the lawn proud. The armadillos in Archer puncturing through the vegetation in their search for grubs, leaving behind a patchwork of shredded yards.

It was a very early airport run the morning we left. A bitterly cold north wind blew, hurling the chimes on the porch into a frenzy. We struggled to get the suitcases out the door of the Inn. The wind so strong it slammed the car doors shut over and over. Val had come down to stay with me and Mary for FIVE DAYS IN TEXAS, and she and I were travelling back to Canada together. I drove, the car buffeted along the wide open expanse on the road to Wichita Falls.

I saw it in my headlights, cutting diagonally across the road, heading straight for us. And I knew I wouldn’t drive us off the road to save it. All I could do was a sharp twist to the steering wheel and keep going. The back wheels of the car hit the heavy body of the possum, I can feel that sensation still. Leaving was hard enough, running over that possum was a sad thing. I know I love Mary, I know I love Val. I’m sorry about the possum. But if it’d been an armadillo, I don’t know what I woulda’ done.

Good Life

For Colette in Texas, on her fourth birthday.
“You’re a big girl now!”
Mo xo