Lawn mowing can be a pretty obnoxious enterprise. First, there is the noise of most lawnmowers, the fumes from gasoline, the violent spinning of the cutting instrument. I eradicated the first two when I started using my Neuton lawnmower ; I absolutely love it and enjoy mowing now, relieved that I am not adding greatly to noise and air pollution. It gets pretty toasty here in northern Texas in the summertime, so I decided to try early morning mowing inorder to beat the heat; with my mower, I didn’t have to be too concerned about disturbing the neighbors – or so I thought. I was wrong.
I listen to podcasts while I mow, so put on the iPod and started towards the street. To my amazement, there was a small lizard clear down by the curb near the street, streaking quickly through the grass. It was early enough, around 8:00 AM, that there was still moisture on the grass; I imagined he was looking for water and possibly bugs. Still, it startled me to find him so near the road. I am fortunate to live on a small greenbelt and thought that the greenbelt area is where the critters would survive. I had no desire to eviscerate this small neighbor, so I turned off the mower and headed towards the side yard in the front of the property.
I turned on the mower and began gently guiding it through the quickly growing green. I cut a couple of paths and began going back and forth, diminishing the height of the grass as I cut through the yielding blades. When I started getting near the bricks of the house, I was startled again to see a very tiny, very beautiful small frog, gently hopping to get away from my violent instrument of destruction. I am glad I saw him because he was probably not trucking at a high enough velocity to avoid my whirling blades. That did it! I turned off the mower and put it back in the garage. I do leave some high grass near the edge of the house for the little ones that live around me: the precious little geckos, lizards, frogs, snakes. But I had no idea that my lawn, regularly trimmed, was home to so many tiny creatures, even at the perimeters. In the morning, this is their world, and I had just violated it.
Now I mow in the evening. I walk around and pick up anything that might need to be tossed away before I bring out the mower. I hope that my tramping about gives fair warning to the critters that I am coming to cut down their cover and they had better get scooting while they can. Honestly, I have never seen any of them in the early evening hours. The very early morning usually sends squirrels and a variety or birds searching in the back near the green belt and the creek that runs through it. I have always enjoyed seeing signs of their life. Recently two squirrels were busy scavenging in my yard; one scurried off at sight of me, urging his buddy to come on. But the other one just stopped, as did I, and looked at me, both of us in awe at sight of The Other on our shared space. Last summer I planted canteloupes on a very small space of very poor soil. The melons that grew were always gnawed before I could pick them. I am continually amazed anything can live in the unhospitable climate here: always too hot or too cold, lots of violent storms and rain. Three trees in three years have been killed by lightning; I hope they know how to stay out of harm’s way. But given that I can make a run to the market, they are welcome to the occasional tomato or pepper that I grow. It is their property, really. Their families have been here much, much longer than I have.
Last winter, during a pleasant spring day, I opened my garage door and let the boys play with an old basketball in the driveway. The older of the two suddenly yelled that he had seen a long tail suddenly flip into the corner of the garage. I saw nothing, but investigated. There was a very large snake, about 4′ or 5′ long, curled up in the corner behind some boxes that I was going to send to the local Mission. I am not someone who hates snakes. Good thing, because when my youngest was small (we lived on the Russian River then) he once brought a snake home and let it loose in the house. I was in the bathroom when this visitor crawled under the door and across my feet. One learns to take things in stride with sons that like snakes and frogs, especially when they like to introduce you to their friends. We always had a rule that they could have visitors but not prisoners, so the critters would have to be returned to their rightful place. This situation was different – the snake chose the garage. When the boys finished playing, the snake was still nestled in the corner and it had started raining, so I let him be. I was hoping he would leave at the next opportunity — but he had other ideas.
My son did not want his boys to get hurt by the snake and thought the snake should be encouraged to go home. It was raining a quite a bit by then and I wondered where the snake normally lived, and what it ate, and why it had travelled so far from the greenbelt, through all the trimmed grass, clear up to the front of the property, and into the garage. I figured he had good reason for being there but had no idea what that reason was. If it wasn’t for the sharp eyes of Nicholas, I would never have known he was there. My son tried to get the snake in a box but that snake wanted to stay right where he was in that corner. He seemed determined to stay. I had no way to know what he was leaving behind or what he was trying to accomplish but felt the safest thing for him and the boys was to assist my son in getting him back to the greenbelt area. It was not an easy task. Between the two of us, we got him into a cardboard box, shut the top, and carried it to the greenbelt. The snake finally slithered away from the box and lived his life in his own way, on his own terms. I was sorry to see him go, but relieved that he had not been injured, nor had my son. It was a reminder, though, that I am an invader on this bit of land.
A few weeks ago, I kept hearing a very loud, very rhythmic sound reminiscent of a large fan of gigantic proportions. I looked around the neighborhood but saw nothing. In the greenbelt, it seemed like someone set up some kind of wind structure, it was so loud. It also sounded vaguely like we were living in a swamp. I finally asked my son and he said it was the cicadas. Being a relative newcomer to Texas, I had no idea that little creatures could make such sounds and make them so harmoniously. They are quieter now, but there was a time this summer that their presence was quite profound. It is part of learning to love the south; I even have a magnolia tree. Quite a change from the palm trees I once saw outside my window when I lived by the beach. I love palms, in all their many varieties, and I do miss the blue Pacific. But with such fine neighbors as those I have now, I also love Texas. My new neighbors are keeping me busy checking online to see what they are, who they are, and what their behavior means. They are good neighbors; I hope I am, too.