Bloganuary: What makes you feel strong

This one is a bit tough for me. What makes me feel strong? As in, spiritually? Emotionally? Physically?

I don’t feel particularly strong spiritually or emotionally. I’m kind of a wimp in those areas. But then I remembered the other day, how I physically conquered an obstacle. And boy, did it make me feel strong and empowered.

Out here in Arizona, there is this terrible thistle thing. I don’t know what it’s called, but it smells like a corpse and it grows about three feet tall and … infinite … wide. I’ve found mats of them that were six or eight feet across. If they keep getting water, they keep spreading. Their roots go down about two feet, and they’re just about impossible to get rid of.

I don’t know what this stuff is, but it’s horrible

We have a concrete slab in our back yard for parking a trailer on. The kids use it for riding bikes and playing games, kind of an impromptu patio. Anyway, one of those terrible thistle things had taken root under the edge of the concrete slab and had spread to about three feet wide. The only way I’ve successfully killed one of these things was when I poured an entire container of ice cream salt brine on it right before a rain, and the salt soaked into the ground. Nothing else touches these. I have not yet tried Round Up because I hate the smell.

Anyway, it had rained and softened the ground a bit, so I decided that that plant had to go. I got my shovel and clippers and a T-post. First I hacked the plant to the ground, then I went after it with my shovel. Once I had excavated a few feet of soil, I started levering the roots out of the ground with the T-post. The plant came out in sections, like it had just grown copies of itself to construct the root mat. I tore out pieces of it for a solid hour. Fortunately it hadn’t grown as deep under the concrete as I’d feared, and I tore out the last section of roots with a triumphant laugh.

So there you go. Pulling weeds makes me feel strong. Really big, invasive, horrible weeds that smell like a dead animal. Just one more step on the road to reclaiming our yard from the wilderness. I swear, nobody has touched this yard in 30 years.

Bloganuary: Something mysterious: chupacabras

I recently saw one of these mysterious canines as it ran across the road in front of my car in broad daylight. I had to go back and find this post I made about them in 2015 when I did a ton of research on them. Here’s what I saw:

He was a smallish dog, probably not more than 40 pounds. He was in the median, and dashed across the road so close that I had to slow down or hit him. He had a huge, boxy head, like a pit bull, and at first I thought he was somebody’s pet that had gotten out. But he was too small for a pit bull, and his color was blue merle, like an Australian shepherd. And he had very short hair. Actually, I think in my drawing here, I still drew the head too small. He was weird looking. And I was way out in the Tucson Mountain Park with no houses around.

I went back and looked at this old blog post, and the Texas Blue Dogs are very close to what I saw. Except with an even bigger, pit bull kind of head. That’s all I can think to compare it to.

The animals below look much closer to a coyote-dog hybrid than the dog I saw. I’m still not sure what he was, but I do know that I don’t want it getting into the yard with any chickens.

From 2015:


Mention the word “chupacabra” anywhere online, and you get two reactions:

The wide-eyed nod of the believer, and

The frothing, spluttering, teeth-gnashing of researchers and scientists.

I’ve heard about the strange, bald dog people have seen running around killing livestock, and how it seems to prefer drinking the blood of its victims. I personally don’t see anything too weird about this–there’s stories of sheep-killing dogs that only kill to drink the blood (see the novel Bob, son of Battle, for example). Heck, foxes will butcher an entire coop full of chickens just for the fun and flavor.

So here’s the results of my research.

The first place I ended up was the family in Texas who trapped a weird hairless animal that was eating corn. But if you look at its little hands, and the remnants of silvery hairs all over it, it’s totally a sick little raccoon. And it doesn’t have the jughead that the bigger dog chupacabras do. This theory is talked about here:

Another clue about the animal’s origins can be found in where it was discovered: in a tree. This is a typical place to find a raccoon, but unlikely for a dog or coyote. Furthermore, in a video of the animal, the Ratcliffe chupacabra picks up food with its paws to eat. This behavior is also typical of raccoons. The mysterious critter is currently being fed a diet of corn and cat food, but if the creature truly is a chupacabra, that theory can be easily tested: Put it in a pen with a goat or chicken, and see if it attacks them and sucks out its blood.

The reason that the Ratcliffe chupacabra has been called a chupacabra is not that the mysterious animal’s characteristics match those of the legendary vampire — because they don’t — but instead because those who found it didn’t know what else to call it.

But that still leaves the big nasty dog-thing.

Bluedog-chupacabra

This is the taxidermized dog that Phylis Canion dealt with–it killed a bunch of her chickens, then she found it dead and had it mounted.

Here’s another one that taxidermist in Blanco mounted, and it caused quite a stir:

Bluedog-chupacabra2

Phylis Canion sent her specimen around to have its DNA tested.

However, quickly it became clear that the animal was not a dog when a genetic marker identified it as a coyote. Forstner notes, “We got the sequences back, uniquely within coyote there’s an area of the D-loop, which is the area of mitochondrial DNA… it gives us data on things that are closely related… Uniquely in coyotes there’s a deletion of several bases in one section, and another deletion in another area of an additional seven-base block. Turns out that the sequences that came back had those two unique deletions, and did not match any dogs or wolf. It came back with 97 percent confidence that it was Canis latrans, which is the coyote.”

Canion was not happy with the results, so she commissioned a second DNA test at a genetics lab st the University of California at Davis. Essentially, the new test confirmed the findings from the University of Texas.

However, with a slight twist: Canion’s animal turned out to be a hybrid.

A comment on the article pointed me to the Mexican breed Xolo. Otherwise known as the Mexican Hairless dog. And what do you know:

xolodogs
XoloJune1Gather29

They look suspiciously like the dead animals above, don’t they?

So, probably, what we’re seeing is a strain of hybrid coyote/Mexican hairless dogs, running around killing things the way coyotes do–except they look so weird, nobody knows what they are. And boy, do the experts get MAD when you call them chupacabras. But if they fit the description … why not?

Wildflowers in the desert

With all the rain we had through July and August, the Arizona desert is lush and blooming. It was slightly cooler than usual this morning, so I went for a walk with my husband and took pictures.

Morning glories

We have morning glories everywhere. I didn’t know what they were and I’ve been ripping them out. Now I feel bad!

Moonflowers/desert thorn and morning glories

Little gardens have sprung up in every corner of every yard.

Arizona poppies
Barrel cactus?

The desert was so clear and pretty, I was able to get some long views.

Kitt Peak with the observatory

The desert here is mainly creosote bush and coyote bush, with the occasional cactus or mesquite. The distant desert sloping up the mountains is very green.

The butterflies are amazing. Driving up the mountain, I thought there were leaves blowing out of the back of the car ahead of me. Then I realized it was butterflies. They are yellow, white, orange, black, and green. The air is just full of them. It’s like those pictures you see of a monarch migration, except these are just native species.

I’ve lived in Arizona eight years, but I always lived in the city and never got to experience the desert like this before. I’m constantly in awe.

Moonflowers in the desert

We’ve had a ton of rain this summer in Arizona. I’ve been frantically chopping weeds, but I let some of them grow to see what they would do. Particularly these broad-leafed things that I hoped would be flowers. They’re starting to bloom, and here’s what they look like:

According to PlantNet, the app I use to identify plants, these are either moonflower, or desert thorn flower, which are in the same family. They look identical to me! These flowers only open in the evening, after sunset, and close up again in the morning when the sun touches them.

We have an abundance of insects right now, especially butterflies. Last month, I noticed that there were caterpillars everywhere, and figured that by August, it would be butterfly city. And it is! Bright yellow butterflies. My husband was driving down the road and one got stuck in his windshield wipers. The thing is, the stupid butterfly was still crawling out of its chrysalis! In fact, the chrysalis was what got stuck on the car. The butterfly was already flying around. It eventually freed itself and flew away, despite the moving car. Desert bugs are tough.

Of all the things I expected to find in the desert, butterflies and moonflowers were not one of them. 🙂

A stroll down the arroyo

An arroyo is a stream bed that only fills up during a flash flood, when the desert gets more rain than the ground can absorb. We’ve had so much rain this year that our little arroyo has deepened by at least a foot. Let’s check it out.

Here is the entrance to the wash, where the water crosses the road and flows between the yards.

To an apartment-dweller these past 15 years, this a magical place. The trees on either side are mesquite, acacia, and Palo Verde.

My daughters join me as we enter a green tunnel. They’re telling me how mosquitoes sound when they buzz around your ears.

Some variety of cholla cactus, these suckers are nasty.

This acacia is so green and fluffy! It hide the thorns that lie in wait on every single twig.

Thornless prickly pear. These are worse than regular prickly pear, because each of those dots are fine hairs that stick in you by the hundreds. A flamethrower is pretty much the only way to deal with them.

Thanks for coming with me for our little walk down the wash! One more weather pic:

Jumping cholla flowers

A walk around the wilderness yard

We’ve now lived in our new house almost six weeks. Due to hot weather and persistent rain, we haven’t been able to do much with our blank slate of a yard. The wilderness has decided that it needs to reclaim the whole thing. Each morning, I go out and do battle with it.

Unchopped broad leaf weeds of unknown species

I don’t know what these weeds will become. Probably they will grow ten feet high and have obnoxious allergy-laden flowers.

Baby mesquite

This is a mesquite tree. I have about 5000 of these coming up. They send down a taproot that is impossible to dig out, so I’m chopping them as fast as I can. I already have multiple mesquites that I’m grooming to be shade trees, and I don’t need 5000 more.

Jumping cholla flower buds
Sweet acacia beginning to bloom
Silky mesquite beginning to bloom
Mud holes where mom tried fruitlessly to dig out a mesquite make for fun places to play.
A horned toad who visited to eat our 10.3 billion ants

Our wilderness yard has no end of things to look at and blog about. Look forward to plenty more updates as we try to tame the wilds of Arizona.