Call of the Wild

A pack of coyotes (note proper pronunciation in previous post) hosted a lunatics ball outside our RV the other night, and Dawny was their guest of honor.  We are back visiting our friends, Carol and John, at their ranch in north Texas.  These coyotes were emboldened because the ranch watchdog, Ashley, moved inside the house to hide from a line of severe thunderstorms that took its sweet time rolling through the neighborhood.

Ashley is boss.  Except during severe weather.  Then she is simply wise.  She takes cover by the couch, under her master and mistress’s feet, and won’t stir until her own internal radar gives the ok.

As this storm moved in, Carol and John were monitoring their weather apps and communications from the National Weather Service.  John has been a ham radio operator since he was a boy.  He is part of a network of ham operators across the country who are trained, certified, and equipped to help local and national authorities through all sorts of emergency events.  When other communication systems break down or are overloaded in times of disaster, ham radio can still get through.  Ahhh, the power of simplicity, ingenuity, and community!

We were lucky.  No hail or tornadoes assailed us directly, although there was lots of damage in the vicinity.  Fortunately there were no deaths like last week when five flamingos and a pelican were killed by hail at the Fort Worth Zoo.

Our biggest challenge of the night was managing Dawny and her incredibly neurotic behavior around other dogs.  The last time we visited, Dawny decided she owned the ranch.  She was aware of Ashley’s presence, but Ashley–being the low-key, confident, ranch-dog that she is–pretty much ignored my high-strung, alpha-obsessed poochie.

Well, giving wide berth across the yard while casting the evil eye and growling under one’s breath is one thing.  Now they were going to have to occupy the same house.  Things got off to a hard start when Ashley showed up at the back door upon the first rumble of thunder.  Dawny saw her through the glass, charged, and attacked.  Yikes!  Poor Ashley.  She probably wondered what she had done to deserve such a greeting.  Fortunately, the glass held.

When the weather devils outside made Ashley bold enough to return to face the devil inside, I held Dawny firmly in the next room so that she could see Ashley enter, settle down on her blanket at the foot of the couch, and go to sleep.  To her credit, Dawny didn’t bark her fool head off.  But listening to her cry and whine and swallow and strangle while suppressing her true feelings was excruciating.

Dawny simply could not calm down.  We took her for a short walk under the wicked skies and then put her in the garage, where she would be safe if the weather turned really ugly, and Ashley and the rest of us would be shielded from her incomprehensible angst.  The weather crisis passed, and Dawny and I went back to the RV.

Shortly after settling in, I heard insane yipping and yapping and howling just outside.  Coyotes.  Having a blast.  Tearing up the rug.  Singing and dancing around like maniacs.  If they had matches (and opposable thumbs), I imagined they would not hesitate to set us alight and sing around the bonfire like a bunch of wild indians.

This did not bother Dawny one bit.  In fact, I think their raucous song struck a familiar chord, harmonizing with those bass notes thrumming deep in her gut–the ones that her momma keeps trying to beat out of her (figuratively, of course).  For she is, at heart, a wild child.  Alpha girl.  Boss of the world.  An untrained, whirling dervish straining to break free from a civilizing leash.

Just watch out if you’re a flamingo standing in her path.

P.S.  Renaldo has returned.

(Photo is of the lovely ranch honcho, Ashley.)

Renaldo

When we left Tennessee last fall, dozens of stinkbugs hitched a ride out with us.  I’ve been scooping them up and tossing them out the windows and doors, from Tennessee to Virginia to Florida and now, five months later, in Texas as well.  I hope the Department of Agriculture or the Bug-Cops or whoever cares about transporting wildlife across state lines doesn’t read this post.

There was a man at the campground where we acquired our troop of stinkbugs who wandered around his rig all day with a fly swatter, smacking stinkin’ bug after stinkin’ bug.  They don’t release their stink unless they are smashed…  What a silly.  Meanwhile, he was totally oblivious to the beautiful river flowing just steps away and to the many neighbors open to friendly conversation beyond his constant complaint of those hateful critters crawling over his RV.  For each stinkbug he took out, another one or two simply stepped into its place, probably attracted in all innocence by death-odors from dearly departed fellows.  Talk about futility.

One of the camp hosts took care of the stinkbug population in the office by popping them into a water bottle.  They aren’t good swimmers.  Enough said.

Beyond the fact that their smush-stink really does stink, I’ve never been comfortable killing these little guys.  It is one of the few bugs that I can easily scoop up in my hand with no creepy-crawly hesitation.  They are almost cute.  Brimming with a tenacious gentility, they are harmless until smushed, and then they simply turn mildly offensive.

Just look at the picture of Renaldo at the top of this post.  A delicately patterned shield armors his back as he toodles around my walls and ceiling, occasionally taking awkward flight, but usually polite enough not to buzz me as he passes by.

I miss him.

Dawny tells me, “Seriously, Mom, it’s time to get a bigger, better, more time-consuming hobby…  Are you really mourning a stinkbug???  A stinkbug that you’ve named???”

Yes, I am.

For some time now, our stinkbug stowaway population has been dwindling.  The last few weeks, we’ve been down to just Renaldo–or at least that’s the way it seems.  I would toss him out, and a few hours later, or maybe the next day, he would reappear.  I began delaying his eviction, fearing that he might not come back, and then what would I do?  I was becoming strangely attached to the little fella.

Renaldo’s company was particularly appreciated last week during our harrowing drive out of the flood-ravaged border area along I-10 from Louisiana to Texas.  Normally, we would be long off the road by sunset, and I certainly would never choose to drive with the sun setting right into my eyes.  Well, there we were, trying to navigate around Beaumont, Texas with a giant orange ball of fire drifting back and forth across my windshield, up and down between my visor and my dashboard, while traffic buzzed all around us.

Enter Renaldo.  Sweet, simple, calm as can be.  Renaldo.  There he was, walking across the face of the sun.  Not a care in the world.  Enjoying the view, sensing the warmth on his belly, on his way to who knows where.  No concerns other than whatever task he had on his little mind.  Walking across the sun.

It calmed me right down.  Reminded me to breathe.  Deeply, normally.  Allowed me to loosen my grip on the steering wheel just a tad, the tension now counterbalanced with the gift of a smile.

Two days ago, annoyed to find him walking on my bedspread–really more afraid that I’d squish him in the middle of the night–I tossed Renaldo out the door.  And he hasn’t come back.  Sad face.

Maybe he will return before we leave in a couple of days to work our way back north.  If not, then I hope he finds a little community of Texan stinkbugs to hang with.  He can impress them with his worldly ways–having traveled across ten states and one star in his tiny lifetime–and they can impress him with their cow-wrangling abilities.

Speaking of cows…  Just remember, Renaldo, if you want to fit in here, you’ll have to learn to talk like a Texan.  Coyote is not a three syllable word.  Do not, I repeat, do not say Ki-oh-tee.  You’ll be laughed outta the tree.  It’s cow-oat.  Slurred together into one slow-rolling, muddy syllable.  Cowww-oat.

Toodle-oo, toodle-on Renaldo.  Travel safely, be content, and watch out for rising waters.

On Hummingbird Wings

We arrived in Texas today on hummingbird wings and are camping at Walmart.

Woooooo Boy!  I have had to focus mightily on the hummingbird sticker that is mounted on the lower left corner of my windshield quite a bit lately.  We crossed the Mississippi River on I-10 at Baton Rouge yesterday morning.  That is one tall bridge.  Thankfully, the wind was manageable and the bridge didn’t feel too rickety.  In fact, it has a beautiful steel superstructure that I was able to semi-appreciate out of the corner of my eye that was glued to the pavement flashing by under my left front bumper (my emergency focal point–thank you hummingbird).

On the way to Baton Rouge the day before, I was amazed at how close the muddied waters were to I-10 and I-12 north of New Orleans.  The misery index from those record-breaking rains of late last week continues to climb as resulting floodwaters roll southward to the Gulf.  These weren’t just lazy brown waters, either.  No, indeed, there was quite a current flowing along the side of the highway.  At one point, I passed a whirlpool that was in the process of gobbling up all sorts of roadside garbage.  I counted three plastic water bottles disappear before training my eyes back onto my hummingbird.

Continuing west after Baton Rouge, I was reminded just how low Louisiana is while traveling a 20 mile stretch of I-10 that is on stilts.  Cement stilts, yes.  But stilts.  Looking off to either side, all that could be seen was water with trees sticking up out of it.  In a few spots, the road arches up into a bridge formation to allow the passage of watercraft in sections that could perhaps be defined as rivers, identifiable simply by the lack of treetops sticking up out of their channels.

It started out to be a short travel day–Dawny is always grateful for those–as we pulled into our next stop just 30 miles away from the Texas border, Sam Houston Jones State Park.  The park sits in a bend of the Calcasieu River and has a beautiful lagoon with some great walking paths throughout.

Dawny and I saw our first alligator since setting out 20 months ago (I’ve seen them before when I lived in north Florida and was young and stupid and would swim in the same waters they swam in).  We watched as a delightfully young and stupid fellow waded into the water to try to coax the alligator closer to shore.  The gator was at least five or six feet long.  In the picture at the start of this post, note the turtle in the bottom left corner.  That turtle is bigger than my head.

We had a couple of great afternoon walks.  It is a lovely park, although the campground is a bit rough–lots of potholes, poorly marked, small sites, and they charge a “service” fee on top of the nightly camping fee that bumps the rate up 30 percent, from $18 to $24 a night.

So here we are relaxing after our second walk, and I’m getting ready to prepare dinner.  I have the local news on, and I hear them talking about the possibility of closing I-10 at the Louisiana-Texas border.  Apparently this little town just north of us, Deweyville, was totally under water and the Sabine River, which traces the border as it runs to the Gulf, hadn’t even crested yet.  Then they mentioned the rising waters of the Calcasieu River.  And showed pictures of all the poor people who were losing their homes and businesses.

Mandatory evacuations were spreading, and they were spreading in our direction.  The icing on the cake was the mention of more rain on the way.  Not right away.  In a few days.  But all I could picture was being trapped in southwest Louisiana with rising floodwaters filled with snakes and alligators…  It wasn’t too hard to make a decision.

I quickly fed the girl, packed up the house, and unhooked the electric (I never hook up water and sewer, so it doesn’t take long to pack up to leave).  I wolfed down a few spoonfuls of cold pasta and beans, poured myself a nice cup of Poor Man’s Starbuckles, and we hit the road, waving bye-bye to our $24.  Oh well, it was a pretty break.

Holy cow.  As we crossed the Sabine River into Texas, I figured we’d pull into the Welcome Center to stretch our legs.  Not going to happen.  It was under water.  The bottom two legs of the giant Texas star that sits out front was in water up to its knees.

We continued onward towards Beaumont.  By this time the sun was low in the western sky, glaring at us with its gigantic orange eye.  I didn’t want to go blind from looking at it, but where else am I supposed to look?  How about at the cement barriers that are inches away on the right side of my lane… or maybe the painted lane markers that don’t track at all with the reflectors that are supposed to tell you where the lane is?  Holy crap.  I guess I’ll just look at the hummingbird as traffic roars past my left ear at 80 miles an hour… this is Texas, after all.

I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (“White Knuckles, Yellow Lines, and Hummingbirds,” August 7, 2014) that no state claims the hummingbird as its state bird.  I shall claim it now as my own state-of-the-mind bird, and for any fellow travelers who would like to share claim to its blessed flexibility, you are welcome to do so.  Should we hover or zip away?  Feed or flee?  Focus on those sweet lifelines as if our survival, or our delight, depends upon it?  I’m grateful for its steadfast, guiding wings.

Off to bed now.  Grateful also for Walmart’s RV-friendly policy that allows RV’ers to spend a night in the parking lot of many of their stores.  Nice, level site.  Good lighting.  Security cameras.  Groceries just steps away.  Lines marking parking spots quite logical and clear.  Speed limit 5 mph.  Floodwaters far behind us.  And all for free.