Animals and Plants in My Desert Home

Well, I really want to talk about the fact that there is a horned toad living in the lilac bushes in the front of my house.  It is about 4-5 inches long, and it is quite orange in color, and happily props itself up against a black rock that is there, or just sits among the lilac leaves, or sometimes is out even farther towards the road and scoots back under cover when we walk by.  Then it freezes, apparently its survival tactic, and we take all sorts of pictures of it, and exclaim over our incredible good luck.  Actually, the first horned toad we saw there was only an inch and a half long, I would guess the baby of the other one.  It was gray colored, and almost impossible to see, but my partner has eagle eyes, and she spotted it.  I took pictures with my camera, but it is all but invisible.  Our neighbor has a great camera and got pictures of it where you can really see it.  It is absolutely adorable.

Oh, I love horned toads, which are really horned lizards, and are called horny toads around here.  I remember seeing them, probably picking them up and marveling at them when I was a kid on field trips with my family “out west.”  We used to pick up wandering box turtles, and even had an armadillo once, and then horned toads were the other really special animal (that is, other than the crickets, katydids and cicadas that my dad collected for his research).  So I consider it the best of luck to have one that hangs out in front of my house enough to actually see almost every day.  Now I am careful to walk a ways away from the lilacs to be sure I don’t accidentally step on either the big or the tiny one.  But I always keep my eyes open, and keep the dogs away from the area.

Our other wonderful sighting was a huge moth, the biggest and most colorful one I’ve ever seen, which landed on our back door screen.  Its wings were orange-ish and it just sat for the longest time.  I guess orange is the color of the day around here.

We have a family of little sparrows that live in the garage, but the way they get into it is through the eaves, where there must be a just-right opening.  When I go into the garage I can hear the babies, but I can’t see them.  My little dogs, however, have seen where they go in and out of the garage, and are constantly running over there and making their little squealing barks as they look up intently.  I am worried for when the babies come out and may fall to the ground.  I am almost ready to construct some sort of hammock to catch them so that the dogs don’t get them.  We’ll see.  I love watching them flitter across the tin roof over to the little tree at the back of the garage, taunting the dogs and checking out the area.

Sometimes we have a whole flock of mourning doves in the back yard, they descend on a certain area back there and must be finding some sort of food, because they stay a while, pecking at the ground intently.  Interestingly enough, the dogs ignore them, actually pretend they don’t even see them — I think their size and perhaps their numbers make them a more formidable foe.

Our other living creatures that really make themselves known, are the huge ants that have a nest in the back yard.  There are millions of them in a sizable hole, and I didn’t really worry about them until they stung my pups last summer.  The hurt lasted a long time and the pups were really miserable, and my partner even got stung.  We decided we had to get rid of them, so put something horrible all around their nest when we went away for a couple of days, noticing just in time that there was another nest in the driveway, that was undoubtedly connected, so we doused that as well.  It seemed to take care of them for the rest of the time we were here, but the next time we came back, we noticed a big concrete blob in the middle of where their nest had been, and decided they must have come back, and our handyman thought he would get rid of them by concreting them out.  Unfortunately, they are back now, as many as ever, as active as ever, and I suppose as “dangerous” as ever.  The dogs have not gotten stung however, they seem to keep away from the nest, even though it is in an extremely inconvenient place, a few steps from the back porch.  I guess there is really no way to get rid of them, I just hope they don’t take over the whole back yard.  There are certainly enough of them.  Maybe we can learn to live together.  I know they have a good purpose for the soil, and I’ll try to remember that when I’m feeling frustrated by both their ever-so-present presence, as well as by the concrete blob that shows me where they live (as if I ever had any problem figuring that out).

Plants-wise, we have one prevalent plant, our nemesis, and then we have a few friendly plants in our yard as well.  The “bad” one is called goatshead, and when you get one in your foot it feels like the most painful injection you can imagine.  They are small and deadly, and the dogs are constantly running into them.  I just don’t understand why they’re not constantly screaming.  I do, when I step on one.  But the dogs are good about limping over to me on three feet and letting me pull it out.  They know I’ll help them out sympathetically, especially our big dog, who runs in the back yard with abandon, as she is constantly chasing the ball thrown by my partner and her chucker.  The little ones seem to be better about getting them out pretty quickly with their teeth, then spitting the goathead out to the side.  Their paws aren’t as deep and furry as the big dog’s, so I guess it’s easier to find and extract those little devils.  If none of the above methods work however, they just rub their feet on the rug at the back door, and deposit their goatheads that way.  I know, because I like to go barefoot in the house, which I know is risky, but makes me feel happily like summer, and I step on them all the time.  So you hear lots of “ouch” -es in our house, both day and night.

Then we discovered we have a lovely little plant called a Desert Globe Mallow, and it has little apricot flowers and is very hardy.  Even edible, apparently.  It pops up all over the yard.  Apricot is my favorite color for a flower besides purple, and red and pink, I guess.  Okay, I like the colors of flowers whatever they may be.  We also had a little purple one in the way back, very fragile looking, connected to some berries, but we found out it was extremely poisonous, so my partner pulled it up, because all our dogs have taken to being cows for their summer desert experience.  Truthfully, we’ve never seen all of them eat so much grass as they do here.  I’m not sure what it satisfies, but luckily they seem to find the grass that is actually grass and not going to hurt them.  However, we don’t really want to take any chances, as we know how expensive at least one of them is because of his eating habits.

Speaking of which, we have really happy dogs here.  They run around the yard after the birds or whatever they see, they bark when they spot another dog or a person through the fence, they investigate all corners of the yard, they just look incredibly joyful and content all of the time.  Of course the big one, Kallie, prefers to be chasing a ball, and will hide behind the barbeque pit until it is thrown, at which time she will dash out and catch it with a horrible sounding thud as it hits her teeth, or chase after it crazily, crashing into the aluminum fence at the back, or the telephone pole which sticks up in the middle of the back part of the yard,  or whatever it takes. I seriously worry about a TBI for that dog. Then there is the particular path she takes back to the house, it is worn in the grass now…along the fence, between the tree and fence, over the flagstones, and often she deposits the ball in the bowl of water while she takes a drink.  The little ones chase her,  aware that they don’t want to get too close, but just want to give her good chase for about 20 feet, yelps and all.  It is a joy to watch them all outside here, which I do from my lounge chair under one of the scraggly trees next to the house.  I sit and watch the clouds darken over the mountains, feel the air change as the storm comes, and then when the first lightning shows and the thunder rumbles through the air and drops start to fall, the game is over, and the dogs escape to the safety of inside corners of the house protected by desks, beds or couches, where the bad weather and noises won’t get them.  I retreat with them, and watch it all out the window, or from the front porch if the rain isn’t coming on to it.  I can hear frogs of all things (after rain every day for a couple of weeks) and can see the hills turn greener, and know that the horned toad is protected by the thick lilacs, but has a good drink of water when he wants it.


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