Some creatures I met this week

A pretty beetle.
A pretty beetle.

The bears are all around this year. Some say there’s not enough food. Others say they’ve had a very profligate couple of years and there are just a lot of them looking for food. Going into Portal is like hitting Costco. Food samples everywhere. Generous stores of bird food abound. There’s even a bunch of fruit trees. Word is five bears have been removed from town this year. Males get exterminated. Females get a second chance. It’s sad.

Many of this year’s Portal Irish Music Week staff and students reported sightings as they walked and drove from classroom to hike to session. SOme were shaken and others thrilled. I was jealous. Burt and I didn’t see any. We heard one in a neighbor’s yard and I found a large print in the sand between our gNash and the lodge. Then just a night or two ago we were walking home in the dark from a friend’s and there was mister bear. I suddenly had sympathy for our timid clients. In the dark, on foot, in brushy country was not the time to wake up a bear sleeping in the creek. I admit I was more than a bit excited and not in the all good way. Mr. Sleepyhead woke himself up and took in our proximity and headed away from us. He was a big boy and I appreciate he decided to give up his bed and let us by without a toll.

A shy black widow.
A shy black widow.
We met this prowling black bear after dark.
We met this prowling black bear after dark.

Green Lynx Spider

Rattlesnake in a cage.
Rattlesnake in a cage.
Lil' bit the sweet duckling.
Lil’ bit the sweet duckling.
A tarantula harassed by ants. I took him to safety.
A tarantula harassed by ants. I took him to safety.
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Spider: My spirit animal?

Spider. This photo was taken before my obsession.
Spider. This photo was taken before my obsession.

I am more than a third of the way through this 31 day writing challenge and I am wearing out. The hard work lies ahead. Stamina, courage, consistency…will I find them? Today’s suggestion (we are always at liberty to ignore the prompts) was to think of an animal we love or relate to and write about it. Draw it, photograph it, capture it in words.

I’ve written so much about my relationships with my cat and two dogs. I’ve tackled family dynamic issues and the great question of who domesticated whom. We’ve played and taken photo after photo of them all. They have brought so much to our lives I couldn’t bear to pick one. I decided to ignore them. In brief all are well. Mimi is ancient and dotty, Elvis is fit and trim senior, and Olive is in the prime of life.

I was looking through some past images to see what spoke to me as a writing subject. I thought about snakes. I was born under the Chinese sign of the snake and seem to attract them. I like them. They scare and mesmerize me. But snakes weren’t speaking to me. Then I saw some horse images. Until only a few years ago I had never given horses much thought. Then I woke from a dream with the desire to learn to ride. I have since been riding and do like horses but I have not become a horsewoman nor am I obsessed. I know the basics and can properly sit in the saddle. Horses to me are like other people’s children. I sure can love them and play with them but I never want one of my own.

Next I spotted a spider image from several years ago and I realized it was an harbinger of things to come. In the last few years I have transformed from a full on arachnophobe to arachnophile. I can remember not being able to look at pictures of spiders in National Geographic magazine a few years ago. I literally was reduced to tears and chest pain at the sight of close up spider faces.  Just think how upset I as about the real things. I used to have to send the man of the house into the bathroom to get them for me. Now I shower with them. They say desensitization requires knowledge and controlled exposure. I say that and a nice camera and some cutie-pie jumping spiders will do the trick. As ladybugs are to beetles, jumping spiders are to arachnids. Cute as bunnies.

I overcame my fear while working at the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center. It was fall. The snake display was gone and there were few visitors. I wandered around the place looking for lizards. I found spiders. Lots of spiders of many types. After weeks of wandering and looking I came to know who lived where and I learned their species names. I also learned they, mostly, make for easy photo subjects. With their completely alien morphology I can see why we fear them. They look nothing like humans. Eight legs, many eyes, fangs with venom, eggs laying. Some are medically significant (as in they can harm humans) but most are of tremendous help. They are like cats. Spiders are eating all the things that destroy our food crops and stores. They eat mosquitoes. Some have adapted alongside humans and require human shelter to survive. I have learned to love spiders. I still don’t enjoy being surprised by them but I do like to observe them. I’ve even thought of having one as a pet.

What I like more than spiders though is that I learned my brain can change. I learned that fear can be overcome. I knew this about other things but something about learning to love spiders when there was nothing in it for me, unlike, say riding a horse, brought it to another level.

 

 

 

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In the grips of la gripa

When others formerly afflicted with this nasty virus we have told us it would take 2 weeks or more to recover I thought I would prove them wrong. Well here we are on day 11 for Burt and day 9 for me and both of us are still deeply afflicted. Last night we went to dinner just to get out of the trailer. It was lovely but exhausting. My voice is froggy and I have coughing fits. Burt has ‘snakes’ of snot coming out of his sinuses and he’s just plain tired. We’re watching a lot of television. DVDs of Network, Fame of Thrones, The Killings, The 100, Dr. Who….

The spider of a few nights ago is called a huntsman. They are famously fast and mighty hunters of bigger bugs. My friend Mayra told me they are great for keeping cockroaches at bay. I had to wonder which is more palatable a giant spider or a cockroach. Meanwhile Burt has been learning La Cucaracha (the roach). La Cucaracha originates in Spain and was a song sung while the Spanish were pushing out the Moors. There are hundreds of verses, many relevant today. So Burt’s picked out a few choice ones to share with the kids. It’s a catchy tune, too, and fun to play. SO. The stage is set. Here we are sick. Watching TV. Spending a ton of time on our backs in bed. Occasionally we manage to play a tune, clean the litter box, go out to eat. Mostly we avoid people and expending energy. Last night we were watching The Killing. It’s set in Seattle. I felt wet just watching. The lights are out and the laptop all aglow when large bug falls of the ceiling and land on my stomach. I suppress the urge to scream and flee. I calmly say to Burt, “There’s a roach on my belly.” Burt LAUNCHES out of bed leaving me to wonder where he’s going. One look at the bug from Burt and he realized this was no job for a naked hand. He was running for a paper towel to better defend himself. I start giggling but I am frozen in place. Above all I do not want to dislodge the cucaracha and lose it in our covers. The roach is staring at me. I am looking at it with peripheral vision because I cannot tolerate eye to eye contact with a massive beetle in my bed. Burt returns and dives on the beetle and says, “Wow! That’s fast!” He’d missed. I guess the fall from ceiling stunned the little bugger. Burt got him on the second jab just off the side of my now heaving gut.

The laughter and nausea almost killed me. I launched into a coughing fit so severe I had to take antacids to tamp down the stomach acid flooding my respiratory tract. Nose, trachea, sinuses, mouth all burning with digestive juices. And I could not stop laughing and coughing. All I could wonder was should I have left the spider in the trailer to control the cockroaches?

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Wobbly Internet

Panaderia de Pescadero
Panaderia de Pescadero

So I was in a feverish stupor today when I thought I felt something crawl across my head. I opted to pretend I imagined it. I prefer to think about our cute, hot pink bakery instead. Burt and I are very ill. Fevers, coughs, rivers of mucous, laryngitis. College of Baja classes are being skipped everyday. No Bridge, no tennis, no dinner dates. Lots of TV. Some naps. Gallons of soup with buttered rolls from the bakery a few blocks away. White four is still all the rage in Pescadero. There’s no finding a whole grain anything here, never mind gluten free. I miss whole wheat bread but I enjoy surrendering to the badness and, if you believe some people, pure evil of white wheat flour. So our blood sugar is going wild and our colon’s call for more fiber but we are enjoying what we can while we are miserable.

Inside this bakery are large rolls that make great arugala and tomato and cheese sandwiches. The rolls are made every day. Next to the rolls are racks of sweets. These cookies do not resemble any US cookies. Each time we buy rolls we try to buy a new cookie. Most are some combination of bread and sugar cookie. These combo cookies are a very old tradition from Spain. Ideally they are dipped in hot chocolate or coffee. Besides the bread/sugar cookies (there must be 15 styles of this alone) we’ve found a crispy coconut cookie and a cookie with a cheesy middle. Cheesy cookie is my favorite. It reminds me of a cheese danish even though they are not at all similar. The bakery is serve yourself. When you enter the store you grab a tray and some tongs. You grab the products you want from under the plastic sheeting. Take your tray to the counter and the kid there will bag it for you using the same tongs. Two rolls and a cookie are usually 12 pesos. That’s about 75 cents. Once I was charge 24 pesos. We’re not sure if it was a gringo tax or if I picked out some more expensive cookies.

On a less tasty note we found what crawled across my head. See the 3″ spider below. My new found love of spiders only carried me so far. Six months ago I might of had a panic attack if I had seen this thing on the ceiling above our bed. Today I just got a little excitable. Mostly I want to know how something so large got in here. Everyone says it’s a very valuable spider. The Huntsman is famous for clearing out unwanted bugs. I just wish it could do its job on the exterior of the trailer and stay out of my hair. I’m hoping he didn’t leave a girlfriend behind.

Lots of cookies to choose from every day.
Lots of cookies to choose from every day. Available products are under the plastic on the left. Cakes are in the refrigerator just barely visible on the right. The baker and cooling bread on racks are in the middle.
This has caused a problem.
This has caused a problem. He is very, very large and is on the ceiling above my head.
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Arachnophobia

Spiders and Their Kin
Spiders and Their Kin

My two days volunteering at the Cave Creek Visitor Information Center were passed practicing fiddle, reading the NY Times, advising visitors and inventorying the arachnids.

Friday was a complete bust. There was not a single visitor to the VIC. This lack of distraction resulted in my reading every last bit of NY Times I had with me so when Saturday came I was forced to read the on-site reference materials. I started with Venomous Animals of Arizona. This thirty year old publication is hilarious. I recommend it. Sexual habits of the dangerous creature amongst us are relayed with clarity and good humor. It explains the role of each potentially noxious or even deadly creature in our ecosystem and almost always advises to leave the creatures in peace. Bed bugs and black widows, excepting. In between my reading about bedbugs and rattlesnakes and kissing bugs I handled the visits of 23 persons. I was so inspired by the book I was able to wander around and take a closer look at the spiders living on the VIC. I discovered 7 species in just 20 minutes. I sought another reference volume to try and identify my VIC companions but found reading a book with page after page of spiders made me nauseous. I have not completely come to terms with arachnids.

So, probably you won’t find a copy of Venomous Animals of Arizona in your local library. Here’s a summary of the mating of bedbugs. The male takes his ‘scimitar’ shaped penis and lances the females abdomen. He completely ignores the fact that she has genitals. The male rips a hole in her belly and inserts his sperm into the abdominal cavity. The sperm travel to the reproductive organs of the female. She lays the fertilized eggs through the usual manner, they are deposited from her heretofore unused gentials. I presume the gaping wound in her belly heals.

Spider Anatomy
Spider Anatomy
Spider and egg sac
Spider and egg sac
more spider
more spider
Jumping Spider
Jumping Spider
Jumping Spider
Jumping Spider
Spider
Spider
Orb Weaver
Orb Weaver
Profile of Orb Weaver
Profile of Orb Weaver
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