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.
That probably surprises you, since I’m a teacher. I do love the freedom and relaxation of summer, and I definitely look forward to the break from work. But the temperature? I am completely over Texas summer heat.
In Austin, the high temps start averaging in the 90s in June. The rain tapers off and the highs steadily climb until, by mid-July, we’re regularly hitting 100 degrees. We average about 20-30 triple digit days a year, unless we have a bad year like 2011 when we hit 100 a total of 90 times. That is not a typo. We had 90 days of sweltering heat, and many of those were well over 100. That was the year we got our puppy, Uno. We had him three months before he saw rain. That was also the year we got a new fence installed in the backyard. It took twice as long as expected because the workers kept having to leave around 3pm for their own safety. The thermometer was reaching 110, 111, 112 degrees every afternoon. It was brutal.
Of course, Texas doesn’t have a monopoly on hot weather. Even in places like New York and Montana, they’ll see temperatures in the nineties during the summer. Also, when I complain about the Texas heat, people like to point out that at least people here have air conditioning everywhere. That’s true, and I’m eternally grateful for it.
Here’s the first problem: I like to be outside. Sitting inside in the AC is not the same thing as sitting outside in a fresh breeze. During the most stifling weeks of the year, even sitting in the shade is too much for me. My body just doesn’t handle the heat like it used to, and I sometimes feel physically ill from being out on Austin afternoons, regardless of shade and hydration. If I could escape it at all, ever, things would be different. But the other (and much larger) problem is this: THERE IS NO ESCAPE.
I’m a natural night owl. Before I was married, I’d often revert to vampire hours for a couple of weeks at the start of summer, but even that isn’t enough of a relief because in Austin, from about mid-July to mid-September, it NEVER COOLS DOWN. In the summer, Hubby and I walk the dog around 10pm because the pup doesn’t like the heat either, and that’s when the temperature will have finally dropped below 95. I could deal with the 110-degree heat during the day if I knew it would be in the 70’s by dawn. But it won’t. It’s the LOWS that kill my soul in the summer. 82, 84, 86… these are temperatures that will greet you if you go outside at 3am in August. That’s just ridiculous.
[Right now, you’re probably thinking, Did I read the title wrong? I thought this post was supposed to be about spring? It is. Sorry. Bear with me. I’m getting there. I didn’t plan on harping on hellish Texas summers for quite this long, but I obviously have a lot of feelings about them. Moving on.]
As much as I love having a couple of months off from teaching every year, I’ve wished for a long time that those months didn’t occur during the summer. If all I’m going to do is stay in the air conditioning anyway, I might as well do it in my classroom. Instead, why not let us out when it’s nice outside?
As bad as Austin summers are, our springs are amazing. We’ve got blue skies and butterflies and birds singing and sun shining, but the weather is never boring. There are plenty of good spring thunderstorms and cool fronts to mix things up. Plus, spring in Texas is bluebonnet season. I never tire of seeing that sea of blue along trails and highways. Every April, I stare out the windows of my classroom, wishing I could spend the day outside. Weekends of walks and hammocks and campfires just aren’t enough.
Well, this year, in a very weird way, I finally got my wish. I’ve been given the gift of spring.
Ever since March 13th, when schools were closed due to COVID-19, I’ve been spending so much time outside. I walk myself in the mornings, walk my dog in the afternoons, read in a lawn chair on my driveway in the evenings, and have campfires whenever I want. I’ve even been sleeping on my screened in porch a lot and sometimes participate in my online meetings while sitting on the grass in the front yard. Even when I’m stuck inside, I keep one eye on the squirrels at the window and take brain breaks by watching the birds.
I would never wish this pandemic on the world. If I could get the coronavirus to go away with a snap of my fingers, I’d do it in an instant. But, among the stresses and sadness and uncertainty of this situation, it’s nice to find something positive. This is my happy thing right now. I’ve been given the gift of springtime, and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.
What about you? What is your happy thing right now? What unexpected gifts have you been given by this experience?
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.]