Columns » Bob Lancaster

Behold the critters

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It come two foot of rain here at the house Thursday night a week ago. I never seen the like.

One point, around 2:30 a.m., the blacktop street out here in front of the house was a raging river. I got out there with a flashlight and witnessed a horrible scene of destruction, as the torrent had scoured the neighborhood of all our debris, including patio furniture and storage sheds, and also all of our fauna.

There were dogs and cats and squirrels and raccoons and possums and deer and polecats bobbing along, terrified, crimson-eyed in my light's beam, like they were on some Wild River ride. There was a utility pole coursing along, bumping along, with at least 50 turtles lined up on it, some of them with their mouths gaping open in what you could tell was a turtle version of a blood-curdling scream. I would've thought turtles too dim to know that kind of fear — and indeed some of these appeared merely bored, or only slightly or moderately put out — but there was no mistaking it in the truly frightened ones.

I saw what looked like a whole clan of moles. Flushed up, I guess, out of their burrows. Or geysered up into the torrent and then borne along with the rest. And snakes. If I'd had my .22 rigged up with the night-vision scope that I won in the PETA raffle last year, I could've plinked off a dozen or two of the poisonous ones, but it's hard in a 2:30 a.m. flood with just a flashlight and dodging hailstones and floating-by gazebos to tell the poisonous ones from the non-poisonous with any degree of certainty.

I never knew we had so many cats around here. There were lots of dogs, too, now, riding the flood — maybe a hundred dogs passed by before I got tired of the spectacle and went back inside, all manner of them, from little old yippy dogs of the kind that people like to carry around and disgustingly kiss on to pit bulls and Great Danes.

Pit bulls have been known to swim back and forth across floodwaters in order to put their death-bite on some unoffending fellow flood victim. It doesn't have to be another dog, either. They'll attack a nutria or a goat or a Promise Keeper. Even if it means their own death, both attacker and attacked going down together, like the scorpion and the fox of the fable.

But I was talking cats. In the few wee minutes I watched the roaring deluge from my front-yard hillock, there must've been 85 pussies pass before me, maybe 88 or 89. I suspect most of them survived, as cats are among the most advanced of animals in their ability to scramble to safety. They can snag a stationary object — a tree, say — and climb nimbly to the top of it if need be. While meantime a dog or a shoat will be slammed against the same tree and a projecting tree limb will knock it unconscious and it will sink from sight. The cat is ever calculating and opportunistic — for example the one that sluiced by me there in the darkness Thursday night a week ago. It had found and boarded an armadillo that had either drowned and was washing along at the crest of the flood or had extemporized itself into an ark by pulling in all the appendages and closing up all the portholes. In either case, the armadillo didn't have a worry in the world, and the cat, making use of the respite to groom, didn't even look wet.

There was scant evidence of all this carnage the following morning. That may be the only virtue of a flood — that it removes most of the evidence of its mischief on down the landscape slant so that the burden and mess of clean-up falls to innocent-bystander lower-landers. We escaped the 'naders so there wasn't the larger, heavier tear-up that no amount of runoff can flush. A flood will bear away to a secret place, yet undiscovered, just about all its critter harvest, though, the one exception, at least in my personal experience, being drowndt mules.

It was still raining that following day so I couldn't get out to inspect my agricultural losses. But I didn't really have to. I knew the cotton was gone, all five foot of both rows of it. And the even vaster vista of my soybeans. Both stalks of corn. The solitary turnip. The purple-hull pea.

I mailed in to the Crop Reporting Service the sad tiding that my entire butterbean crop was destroyed, and I imagine they just scoffed, the little clerk who opened the envelope muttering as if in rejoinder, “Well, yeah, but Jesus, Bobaloo, it was just one pole of them.” As if quantity ever had any bearing on the historic longsuffering of us sunburned sons of the soil.

There was additional jocular office banter, I'm guessing, that my one just-up sprig wasn't butterbean at all but some bully intruder weed, perhaps thistle or morning glory, and that I was obviously too rube or dandy a husbandman to recognize the fraud. But that's OK, too. Let the whorehoppers mock on, if they don't have anything better to do.

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