It’s summer time in Texas. It’s still early, and God hasn’t turned off the rain faucet or turned the oven to “broil” yet. The neighborhood children are out of school. It’s not so hot yet that they cannot play outside all day. The grass is growing, the corn is tall. The tomatoes are flowering, and there are little green tomatoes starting to ripen in the sun. It’s the time of year when everything has sprung to life…
…and all that life has determined to kill something else.
Along with the grass come the grasshoppers, and if it’s green, you can bet they’ll be chomping holes in it. They eat the silk off the ears of corn. Weird caterpillars show up inside the ears of the sweet corn. If we don’t harvest the corn soon, the whole crop will be gone. There are strange looking bugs crawling all over the squash plants, eating holes in the leaves. Stink bugs poke holes in everything. They’ll leave bad spots in all those tomatoes that are still green on the vines. The squirrel who lives in the tree next to the driveway will soon be up to his usual tricks. He likes to come into the tomato patch and take one bite out of each tomato he finds. He throws the rest on the ground to move on to the next. The birds peck holes in the peaches. Then there’s the chiggers…I’m pretty sure they’re trying to eat us. They may actually succeed in eating a couple of the smaller children! It’s summer, and it’s time for war.
If we move up the food chain a little, we’ll come to the lizards. Fortunately, they crawl along the sides of the house every night, eating the moths that lay all those eggs that turn into the caterpillars that destroy all the plants all summer long. Clearly, they ought to move from the house to the gardens.
Then come the snakes. Oh, the snakes! It rained last weekend, so they’re on the move. It’s humid and warm…perfect snake weather. The rat snakes are in the chicken coops, eating eggs instead of the rats that are eating the chickens’ food. They’re long and look fairly intimidating. These snakes are kind of cranky and do like to bite if their caught stealing eggs. They’re not venomous…but the copperheads are. Copperheads usually short and fat, but the ones we’ve run into this year they’ve been huge, and more the size of a really fat rat snake! I’m convinced that there are snakes lurking in every patch of grass that’s any taller than the tops of my shoes. There are water moccasins waiting to jump out should I decide to step off my front porch (some genius put a pond in the front yard!). There’s a pit of vipers in that hole the dogs made under the porch…and please don’t trouble me with your version of reality that says, “If the dogs lay in that hole every day, there can’t be snakes in it.”
Sometimes, if you shoot a snake, babies will explode out of it. Did you know that? They don’t all lay eggs, some of them have live born babies. If it meets my husband’s shotgun out by the barn in the dark, however, it’s all over for that snake…exploding babies and all! That’s just how it goes during summertime warfare.
I sure wish we had a Rikki Tikki Tavi. We do have 2 guineas. Well, they’re not actually ours…they belong to our neighbors. But they spend a lot of their time at our house! Andrew keeps saying he’s going to try to talk our neighbors into getting some more guineas so they’ll eat more snakes, but I don’t think he’s done it yet. I’ve been trying to talk Andrew into guineas for a couple of years now, but I suppose my arguments for guineas are just as effective as my arguments against chickens! At least the neighbors got some that like to hang out here! They just aren’t hungry enough, I guess.
That’s just how life is during the early summer here in Texas. I never really thought about how strange this all would seem to someone who wasn’t “from around these parts”.
Several years ago, I worked with a girl who was a student from Germany. One weekend, she had planned a trip with a friend to a rural property, where they would have a nice, relaxing weekend, and maybe float down the river a time or two. The following Monday, back at work, I made the mistake of asking her how her weekend was, since I knew how much she’d been looking forward to it. What followed was a rant of epic proportions!
“Texas is the craziest place I’ve ever seen! All the wildlife here, if it’s not trying to kill you, it’s just trying to sting you and make your life horribly uncomfortable!”
She may or may not have used more colorful language than I just did.
“There’s snakes everywhere. In the grass, in the water…everywhere! There’s mosquitoes, and they’re not normal. Some of them are like an inch long! Don’t get me started on fire ants,” she was getting agitated now, and she pulled up the legs of her jeans to reveal hundreds of fire ant stings all over her legs. “I found out about fire ants this weekend, I didn’t know about them before! What horrible little creatures! You have bees and wasps, too…”
“…and scorpions” I couldn’t help myself, I had to interrupt. I was a little amused. “We have scorpions too. Always check your shoes before you put them on every morning.” She looked at me like I’d grown a third head.
“See! Everything here is trying to kill me. And you’re all so proud of it! Why do people live here? It’s awful! You have hurricanes and tornadoes…even the weather tries to kill you.”
“Well,” I was laughing now, “I’d never really thought about all that before, but you’re kinda right. Texas is a pretty harsh place to live. But, it is home. I guess we are pretty proud of it, Texans are rather infamous for that. It’s just home, and it’s just how home is. I suppose if you make it through childhood here, you have something to be proud of!”
There’s lots of life out here right now, and the circle of life dictates that all of us have to eat. So, if you come visit, catch a few grasshoppers, caterpillars, and weird bugs to help us save our plants. Put them on the end of a fishing hook and catch us some dinner with them.
We’ll roast a few marshmallows over a fire in the front yard. After all, the smoke helps to keep mosquitoes at bay. Take a flashlight and a shovel if you go off by yourself (you can’t take the shotgun until you prove you know how to use it) so you won’t step on a snake in the dark. Use the shovel to smash its head before it can bite you…or take more eggs from the chicken coop.
Be sure to keep your flashlight with you when you go to bed. If you need to use the restroom during the night, you’ll need it to check for scorpions on your way…yes, even if you’re inside the house.
It’s early summer in Texas, a time full of life in our home. It’s a time of harvest…all the fresh produce we and the insects can eat. In another month, the oven will be on, the rain gauge will be empty, and all that life will wither and blow away. The dog days of summer will be oppressive. So, we’ll say a little prayer of thanks for this time of the year. Then, we’ll remind you to check your shoes before you put them on. Scorpions.