If you are new to the Lone Star State, much of our springtime has probably confused you. Don’t worry; the state is confused too.Always has been. Frosty one minute, it’ll turn sweltering the next. And the humidity is stifling even in mild temperatures, but don’t worry. If you don’t like the weather in Texas, just wait a minute and it’ll change, or so we Texans have said since the first European explorers set foot on our coast some half a millennium ago.
Spring in Texas is heralded by the bluebonnets. You probably saw them pop out along about the first or second week in March. The bluebonnet is our state flower, by the way.
The season also is ushered in by a creepy blackbird many of us know as the grackle. There are three kinds of grackles in Texas: the common grackle, the boat-tailed grackle and the great-tailed grackle.
Grackles visit twice a year during migration, staying longer in the autumn than in the spring. You might have heard their strange, rattling, squeaking call reminiscent of the R2-D2 android in Star Wars. The birds flock in numbers that call to mind another film: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. They are unnerving to look at with those flat, yellow eyes. They’ll stare you down as they holler at you too. And considering the amount of guano they leave on cars, well…you’d think they really are just waiting for you to come out into the open so they can get to know you better and “leave an impression” on you.
The June bugs are coming, so prepare yourselves accordingly. If you have come home after dark and left your porch light on during the late spring of any given year, chances are good that you’ve been strafed by a squadron of the things trying to romance that incandescent bulb in your porch lamp.
My grandfather called them “Sunday-go-to-meetin’ bugs” because the insects liked to dive-bomb the congregations at brush arbor revivals. My grandfather (my father’s daddy) was a little boy when the brush arbor revivals were the fashion. He had more than one experience during which a June bug flew smack into his ear and stayed long enough to require a visit to the doctor to fish it out. He hated June bugs, and understandably so.
During my freshman year in high school, we studied June bugs briefly in our biology class. Coach Talkington asked the class, “What is the larval stage of a June bug?”
My classmate, Kyle Mayfield, raised his hand and responded gleefully, “APRIL!”
Rather clever, I thought.
Last spring, an errant June bug found a way into my house. My husband, Frank and I were on the couch watching television when the thing made itself known to us. It flew in concentric circles above us, trying to get cozy with one of our floor lamps before throwing itself into a moving ceiling fan blade and getting slammed into the wall.
That, my friends, was some high quality entertainment right there.
And that tell-tale odor that nigh knocks you over on a warm spring night is a skunk. My daughters call them “stunks” and I think that’s pretty accurate. My grandmother called them “pole cats.”
This year, we had a record number of skunks in our neighborhood. Coincidentally, I noticed that the owl we had roosting in the neighborhood had not left her usual castings of fur and bone underneath her roosts. Lots of skunks and no owl castings means the owl is no longer with us, either by death or by having found new territory. Owls (who have no sense of smell, obviously) keep the skunk population in check.
Spring is skunk mating season and May is the prime birthing season, so you might smell skunks a little more than usual now, since Mama is protecting her babies by spraying whatever comes near them. Considering that skunks do not see very well (no more than three feet in front of them), they’ll spray just about anything that spooks them. Neighborhood fire hydrants have been hit more than once.
If you get sprayed and weren’t prepared for the bombing, you can wash off in tomato juice. That’s the remedy my grandparents used when my grandfather would get hit. He’d take off to the barn at about 4 a.m. and come back at 4:10 a.m. reeking of skunk juice. It was a springtime ritual. His dogs would get hit nearly every day. I think it’s why my grandmother always had a tomato garden even after my grandfather died.
You should know that skunks carry rabies. Get your pets vaccinated and never try to pet a wild skunk. If one comes toddling up to you acting friendly and doesn’t turn it’s rump to you to spray, run.
Aside from the bugs, skunks, truckloads of bird poop and wacky weather, springtime in Texas is a little slice of heaven. It arrives earlier here than it does anywhere else and the wildflowers carry on a continual changing of the guard well into October. As for the June bugs, well...keep your ears covered, get a yellow “bug” bulb for your porch lights and keep those ceiling fans running so you can watch them demonstrate Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection as in “survival of the fittest”...or in this case, survival of the ones smart enough to dodge fan blades.