Texan Pligrimage

I am a Canadian from the Maritimes, staying for the fall in Waco, Texas, with my fiance, while I apply to grad school at Baylor University. Here you will find an account of my stay in a strange new land.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Birds and bugs

It is a common misconception that Texas is a desert. Actually, there are five distinct types of ecosystems in Texas, only one of which is full-on, tumbleweed, scrub-brush, cactus and blowing-sand desert. Waco, and anything east of Waco, is more a kind of dry woodland. In Waco, because the city is blessed with a river, albeit muddy and sluggish, there is even enough water to grow grass with the help of sprinklers. I've been frequently amazed by the lushness of plants and wildlife in this area ever since I arrived.

On one of the first days I was here, and panicking that I would never find anything worth doing in the wasteland of freeways and parking-lots where I thought I had landed, I decided to go exploring. At least I would know, one way or the other, whether the desolation truly was universal, or whether Waco had any saving graces. I found the river. Waco's waterfront is mostly park, including a walkway that runs right along the river. As I mentioned before, the Brazos is not the most scenic of rivers: its natural muddiness is compounded by pollution. The wildlife in and around it, though, is impressive. On that initial trip, I ran across a great colony of large, black and white mottled turkey-looking ducks, as well as an assortment of water-birds. All of these were approximately as shy as pigeons, so they are probably not a novelty to locals, but I was inspired to take copious pictures (which I will post as soon as I figure out how). Since then, on the river, I've seen a white heron (I think these are actually of the same species as blue herons?) and two dozen turtles.

My encounters with Waco wildlife have not all been as inspiring or benign as my observation of the riverside. On another day near the beginning of my stay, when I was again feeling blue, I decided to walk over to the Starbucks across the street to cheer myself up with a Chai Latte. I got lost in the adjoining parking garage, finally found the Starbucks, and then was mortified when I had to pay for my drink with my credit card (I needn't have worried: everyone does that around here). I stumbled home again sheepishly, half blinded by the afternoon sun beating down upon me, and was bitten on the foot by a rotten spider, in my own parking lot! This did not make my day. Just a few days ago, I came on a busy little colony of ants rushing around, who looked like someone had dug up a clump of sod and exposed the poor critters to the elements. The overturned sod was a few feet off. I thought I would help the little guys by replacing the sod, only to discover that the "sod" was actually another anthill. This time through my own fault, the creepy crawlies of Waco again attacked. Why, oh why am I such a chronic anthropomorphizer? Why do I assume that because I want a roof on my house that the ants must want one too? And on what basis did I think they would understand my good intentions? Really, though, the biting bugs of Texas so far have not been as bad in terms of sheer volume as a hungry swarm of mosquitoes. I hope to avoid the poisonous ones, but I now feel fully equipped to deal with the bugs I have so far encountered.

I am definitely playing the tourist in terms of the wildlife I have sighted so far. My photographing the river birds is probably analogous to someone going to Fredericton and photographing seagulls and squirrels. But since I aim to bring you Tales from a Strange Land, I hope they will sound as wierd to you as they looked to me.


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