I stand on the patio wallowing in the morning’s cool temperatures with all the glee of a pig in mud. After the warmest summer ever recorded in the United States, one thing Texas deserves is a reprieve (and rain, but that isn’t in the cards), hence the recent cool spell is a welcome thing indeed.
The sound is quite evident. And approaching. Then along the sidewalk I see a rather large nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) approaching. The drought has caused a dearth of insects, so armadillos have spent a great deal of time doing significant damage to gardens and landscaping. I feel no surprise seeing this creature; they’ve been making regular appearances for months.
I watch as it leaves the sidewalk and begins its pillaging of the area around my patio, weaving through the shadows and bushes, stopping to dig with fervency, burying its head in search of morsels. It mostly stays on the outside of the bushes, so I see little more than snapshots of it as it goes about its hunt for breakfast.
“Oh my goodness!”
It’s a woman’s voice, thick with a German accent. One of my neighbors. Standing nearby, watching. I was so wrapped up with the armadillo that I missed her approach.
Her eyes are wide, her mouth agape. She watches the animal with the fascination of someone who has just discovered cold fusion.
She sees me.
She begins asking questions.
I begin answering them.
She’s never seen an armadillo before.
She didn’t realize how big they could get.
She didn’t realize they had such enormous claws. “On all four feet!” she adds.
She didn’t realize their tails were almost twice as long as their bodies and looked like armor-plated whips.
She didn’t realize they really were covered with bony armor, little tanks built by nature.
She didn’t realize they could dig so quickly and easily. “They can dig a burrow faster than most people can catch them,” I explain, “literally disappearing right before your eyes.”
She didn’t realize how little they care about humans so long as you don’t bother them.
She snaps a few pictures with her cell phone. She keeps glancing at her watch and murmuring about how she’s going to be late to work, but it’s obvious she doesn’t care about that, not really.
Her eyes remain large and interested. She’s having an experience, a moment, and I both recognize it and appreciate it.
“We have nothing like this back home,” she says, then she giggles like a schoolgirl being told an awesome secret.
After perhaps five or six minutes, the armadillo finishes its raid in this area and scampers off in another direction.
It waddles along a different sidewalk and the woman watches with undisguised wonder, an ear-to-ear smile brightening her face.
She thanks me, says she really must be getting to work, thanks me again, and never moves or takes her eyes off the retreating armadillo until it vanishes behind a neighbor’s bushes.
She thanks me again, then finally turns and goes to her car. It will take me some time to realize she walked almost a block following the armadillo—from a distance, of course—until she caught up to it outside my patio.
Her morning started with the joy of discovery. And it was so genuine that I couldn’t help but catch a little of that joy from her.
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The photo is from a trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in December 2009. Because I never had a clear view of the armadillo my neighbor and I watched, I didn’t get any photos of the critter.