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Life Among the Wild Ones

Like a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar, the young buck stared back at me through my bedroom window. Startled by my raising the pleated window blind, he paused for a moment as if to say, “What? I wasn’t doing anything!”, before executing a short leap over my two-foot tall fence that serves only as decoration. (So far, it hasn’t kept any critter out that was intent on exploring my back yard.) From the other side of the fence, he continued to stare at me as if to say, “Really. I didn’t eat a thing.” He was so close I could see the gray-brown fuzz of his budding antlers.

In my peripheral vision, I noticed movement off to my right. Turning in that direction, I saw another young buck in my neighbor’s yard, munching green leaves. Surely Ken next door doesn’t have anything planted for the deer to eat. Once the boys moved on, I peeked over the low concrete block wall and couldn’t see anything that looked good enough to eat. But what do I know; I’m not a deer … or hungry.

The critters that live in SaddleBrooke have been sharing their territory with humans since the mid-1980s. Human residents respect the critters right to be here, learning to coexist, and, in fact, the critters are part of the reason everyone enjoys living here. As a result, my back yard has become a mini movie theater of sorts.

On the Fourth of July, Mom and I watched a spectacular fireworks display from our patio. It was quite a show, lasting about thirty minutes. Halfway through the display of red, green, yellow, and blue flares lighting up the sky, complete with pops and whistles, we heard rustling in the brush across the fence. Earlier in the day, we’d spotted a herd of seven deer grazing in the grove of trees in the middle of the golf course. We assumed the rustle of brush was the deer heading for higher ground, having been startled by the noise that sounded like gunshot.

The next morning my other neighbor, Fred, asked if I’d seen the javelina running along the fence line during the firework’s display. Fearing hunters, the javelina family of three adults and five babies were scurrying out of harm’s way. Thank goodness they didn’t jump the fence, as I’m told they can. Mom would have been ready to pack her bags, I’m certain.

Two weeks ago, I stepped out on the back patio to sweep the bean pods that had fallen from the mesquite tree to discover a HUGE tarantula resting next to the wall. Holy S…..! I slammed the door and called Robert, my pest control guy and definitely one of my new best friends.

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“Robert! There’s a tarantula on my patio,” I yelled into the phone. “What do I do?”

“Oh, they’re one of the good guys,” Robert replied.

Tarantulas? Good guys? Those man-eating, creatures-on-steroids in the horror movies? Yep. Robert said they eat scorpions and other bugs we don’t want in the yard. In some circles, they’re considered an “exotic pet.”

Robert says he/she was probably half-dead from the pesticide he’d sprayed along the foundation of the house and to just sweep the tarantula into the cactus. Following his instructions, I grabbed the broom with a very long handle and pushed him/her into the rock. I kept flipping it until it was next to a barrel cactus. The tarantula didn’t put up much of a fight. However, when he/she got up on all eight legs, the span looked to be more than four inches, with a walnut-sized body. Yikes!

Mom, who suffers from arachnophobia, wasn’t buying any of it. She watched it all from the safety of the family room.

And then there was the night the desert toad showed up for dinner. Desert toads aren’t just a cute little toad. These buggers grow to the size of a football, or so Larry the Electrician tells me. You do not want to run over one at night (I guess they sit in the road) because it will smell terrible and make a nasty mess on the underbelly of your car. Furthermore, if your dog or cat licks one, they can die within seconds of ingesting the toxins released from the toad’s slimy body.

Fortunately, the toad that showed up for dinner was only about the size of a baseball. He plopped himself down in front of one of the accent lights in the back yard. Flicking his tongue in and out, he ate the insects attracted to the light until his belly was full. I could almost hear him belch when he was finished.

Desert toads lie burrowed in the desert landscape and only come out during the monsoon season, which we are now experiencing. After the monsoon is over, sometime in September, they will go back underground until next year. While quite ugly in appearance, the Sonoran Desert Toads are interesting. However, I will not be kissing those toads looking for my prince in disguise!

As in Palm Desert, there are many roadrunners here, though they look to be a bit larger in size. I often have one sitting on my back fence or in the mesquite tree where he chases off the doves that like to perch on one particular branch. The doves can handle themselves and give him a wide berth, so I don’t bother to go outside and flap my arms to shoo him away.

However, one day around noon, a roadrunner was hoping along the fence, scanning the ground. All of a sudden he pounced on a lizard and proceeded to get all but two inches of wiggling tail into his beak. Gulp! Gulp! Gulp! Gulp! The roadrunner kept choking, trying to get the entire lizard down his gullet. OMG! I could see it traveling down his throat! I could not bring myself to eat lunch that day.

And finally, we have moths, lots of moths, especially at this time of year. Robert, my pest control guy, told me to put moth balls in my closet because the moths like to hang out there and lay their eggs in the clothing. The larvae that hatch proceed to eat your clothes.

Well, I refuse to smell like one of those little old ladies you meet on occasion who appears to have bathed in eau-de-moth-ball. You know what I’m talking about. Someone told me that cedar blocks work just as well so I bought a couple, along with some cedar balls. I would much rather smell like cedar than moth balls. But one morning on the patio I discovered a moth that was on his last leg, or wing I guess, having suffered the same fate as the tarantula. This wasn’t a little moth. This bugger had a four-inch wing span. If the size of the moth dictates the size of the larvae, my entire wardrobe would be gone in hours, had it come to rest in my closet. Please tell me cedar works as well as moth balls!

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Despite my city-girl-squeamish stomach, I feel at home here, swaddled in contentment. I’ve finished redoing the courtyard where Mom, Dakota, Chianne, Reilly, and I have morning coffee together. My cactus is in bloom with fragrant flowers. I will adjust as others have done, learning to live amongst the wild ones that inhabited this landscape before man moved in, cluttering this colorful desert canvas with his buildings, golf courses, and swimming pools.