I see a lot of things on my morning walks. Just this month alone, I’ve seen…
…an armadillo rooting for grubs…
…a cicada shedding its shell…
…a big toad sprawled belly-down on a wet sidewalk…
…a raccoon sneaking around a garbage can.
When I post the pictures of the critters I come across, people are often surprised. Several have replied that they’ve never seen a cicada emerging from its shell, and more than one friend has told me they never saw a live armadillo the whole time they lived in Texas.
Lately, I’m beginning to wonder if they ever LOOKED.
You don’t run across armadillos during your typical 8-5. You have to get up early and peer in the bushes. (I peer in all the bushes.) It’s easy to miss a fresh cicada drying its wings on a fence post. You have to keep an eye out for them. (I keep both eyes out for them.) If you want to see the bunny taking a dirt bath in your yard, you have to keep the blinds open, and if you want to hear the screech owl hoot at dusk, you have to stand outside and listen.
Sometimes if you want to see something, you have to look for it. So think about what you’re hoping to find, and put a little effort into discovering it. Get up early. Stay up late. Take a different route. Turn a different corner. Peer under some things and sneak up on others. Slow down. Wait. Look. The thing you’ve been hoping to see might reveal itself to you.
Nature gives us gifts every day. Today I’ve already had my share.
It’s summer, which means great bursts of laziness followed by great bursts of creativity, culminating in me keeping vampire hours. I’ve been staying up way too late the past week doing everything and nothing. It’s been great, but I’m determined to get back to a semi-normal schedule. So last night, I promised myself I’d be asleep by 11PM. I went to bed at 10:30. I read my book until 10:59 and turned the light out at 11:00 on the dot.
At 11:15 on the dot, my cat Sneakers began to serenade me.
Ah, nature’s gifts…
It was beautiful really, with low notes and high trills, unexpected breaks and tempo changes. I’m sure some flirty feline out there would have been swept off her paws. Unfortunately, I am not the target audience for this tune, and, sadly, our female cat is deaf, so his song went unanswered, except by me yelling, “Sneakers!!! Kitty kitty kitty! SHUT UP!”
Suffice to say, I was awake until midnight.
As I drifted, finally, into dreamland, I thought, “I hope I can still get up by 7AM. I have things to do…” Then I fell asleep.
Until 4:45AM. When I woke up for no reason whatsoever. Like, REALLY awake. Like, I-have-a-new-idea-for-a-story-and-I-just-remembered-where-I-put-that-thing-I-couldn’t-find-yesterday-and-I-should-clean-out-my-closet-this-summer awake. I tried to ignore it, but there was no ignoring this level of alertness, so I made a few pages of notes for the story (it has potential) and decided to go for a walk.
That’s when the real gifts began. While I can appreciate a good cat serenade and a random wake-up call, it was this unexpected morning hour outdoors that I am really grateful for.
I heard doves cooing and saw the shadow of something that might have been a chupacabra but was probably a possum. I saw a roadrunner. I petted dogs and chatted with neighbors about their dogs. I watched the sky lighten so gently that I didn’t see it happen. One moment it was dark; then I turned a corner, and it was light. It felt so delicate, so sudden, that I wondered if I could make the darkness reappear by retracing my steps.
Roadrunners and possums and dogs are common sites in my neighborhood. That doesn’t make them any less delightful, but they don’t cause surprise. What did surprise me was the last gift the morning had to offer. Just before I got home, a pair of bald eagles flew over, low and graceful and… shocking. I didn’t know we had bald eagles in Austin. I’ve certainly never seen any. Before I could doubt myself and wonder if my mind was playing tricks, one of them turned and swooped by again, its large black body, wide wing span, bright white head and white tail. It flew to the top of a big live oak tree and perched for a few moments, sending a squirrel running for cover, before taking off again toward my house. By the time I made the block, both were gone.
I wouldn’t have seen these beautiful creatures if I hadn’t been nudged awake before sunrise. Their presence definitely felt like a gift.
Now it’s 8:30AM, and I’m yawning in front of my keyboard. I’ve had less than five hours of sleep, but it’s too late to go back to bed. Besides, I’m afraid of what other gifts I might miss.
[UPDATE: After doing a little research and talking to some friends, I think the birds I saw might have been caracaras, which look similar to bald eagles and are more common here. However, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife, we do have some bald eagles in Texas. Either way, they were really cool.]
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is an “internationally recognized botanic garden dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants in natural and designed landscapes” located in Austin, Texas.* In other words, it’s a pretty, outdoor-y, nature-y place where you can take walks, learn about flowers, swing in swings, watch turtles and owls, look at art, climb a tower, listen to giant wind chimes, eat a snack, and generally enjoy the outdoorsiness and leafiness and buzziness of life with your friends, your family, or yourself.** And I am incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of it. I love visiting the center and have always wished they were open longer hours, especially in these warm summer months.*** Well, I must have wished loud enough because they now stay open until 8PM on Tuesdays and open at 7:30AM on Thursdays and Saturdays. Hooray! Thank you, whoever made that decision!
* From the Wildflower Center’s website
** For some reason, the Wildflower Center did not ask me to write the text for their website. ???
*** It’s only June and already our nightly low is 77 degrees. Did you get that, northerners? Our LOW temperatures are almost 80. Yeah.
So last Thursday morning, in an effort to adhere to my summer goal of making exercise a habit, I got up at 7:30 and walked to the Wildflower Center. I was looking forward to seeing the place at a new time of day, to see what was awake at this early hour and maybe catch a glimpse of a new bird or cute critter. As soon as I got there, I hit the trails. I’d passed a couple of employees on the way in, but I didn’t see or hear any other guests. It was just me and the blue sky and the bugs. I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. No distractions. I didn’t even bring my cell phone. I smiled.
Then I came around a bend in the path and saw a giant snake skin hanging from a tree. It was at least four feet long, and it hung from a branch at least ten feet above the ground.
Now, let’s get something straight. I am not afraid of snakes. I respect snakes and am appropriately cautious of them, especially the dangerous ones, but I like snakes and enjoy seeing them in nature from a safe distance. However, there is one thing that I just do not agree with about snakes, and that is their ability to climb trees. No. No, no, no, no, no. Just no. Snakes should stay on the ground, as the universe intended.
Also, I had just read an article the day before about a man in Corpus Christi who cut the head off a four foot rattlesnake and then got BIT BY THE SEVERED HEAD. The man survived but was in really bad shape. So, I’d just come up with a new rule that dead snakes should stay dead and not bite people.
Furthermore, I was not actually looking at a snake in its natural habitat. I was looking at a large snake SKIN. In a TREE. Which meant there was a EXTRA-large (too large to fit in that skin), fresh, tree-climbing snake somewhere nearby.
I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. I DIDN’T EVEN BRING MY CELL PHONE!
Despite coming down with a severe case of the willies, I did not turn back. No, not this determined trail-walker. I forged ahead, staying on the path and keeping an eye out for fresh snakes above, below, beside, and all around me. Once, when I got too close to the edge of the path and a piece of spear grass brushed my ankle, I let out a high-pitched squeak that a person sitting on their porch in my neighborhood probably mistook for a coyote bark. But all was well. I made it out of the Wildflower Center alive.
My Good Deed for the Day
When I left, more morning guests were arriving, which made me happy because I want them to keep these new hours. In the busy parking lot, I saw one of my favorite critters: a large, brown, Texas tarantula. She was on the move, scurrying quickly, obviously with places to go. Unfortunately, the places she needed to go were on the other side of the driveway, and a car was coming. I couldn’t bear to see her get squished, so I stepped in front of the car, pointed at my little friend, and mimed for them to please wait until she had safely crossed. They did.
I recently learned that while male tarantulas often don’t live more than a few months, females can live up to 40 years. I don’t actually know the gender of the one I met, but I like to think that I helped a little old lady cross the street.
I survived my morning walk. I got some exercise. I saw some sights. I plan to go back this week. I think maybe this time I’ll take my cell phone with me.