All hail Lord Cockroach! (It’s only a matter of time.)

At my old job, if a cockroach was spotted in the front office or hallway, I was the one who dealt with it. It wasn’t in my job description but beings how I didn’t run off screaming at the sight of them, it fell to me.

I will now pause to discuss the two types of cockroaches of which I am most familiar. My plan was to add pictures of real live cockroaches, but I feared some of you might run off screaming. Therefore, I shall try my hand at drawing them.

The cockroaches of my youth, the little ones who regularly visited my childhood home, were these guys:

cockroach german

They are commonly called German roaches, though as a rule, cockroaches care little for ethnic labels.

They are about an inch long, have a dusty brown coloring and can be found most anywhere, such as in your kitchen right now.

They are looking for a snack and really wish you hadn’t tossed that rotting fruit as it’s one of their favorites. That was very wasteful of you.

They’d also prefer it if you’d stop cleaning so much. You’re wiping away all the good bits. And not to make too fine a point of it, but you’re cramping their social life. How do you expect them to find their friends if you keep wiping up their poop trails?

Honestly!

The other roach of my childhood was not as frequent a visitor, though he made quite an impression with my family nonetheless. My mom referred to him as a sewer roach, but he’s more commonly called (at least in the U.S.) the American cockroach.cockroach germanYou’ll note I used the same picture, just made it bigger. It’s not just that I’m lazy… okay, yeah, I was being lazy. But really, their bodies aren’t that different. It’s all about size and coloring.

He’s much bigger than his German counterpart and more of a shiny, reddish-brown.

Oh, and here’s an interesting fact: the American cockroach didn’t originate in America. He came from Africa. Wanna guess how he got here?

That’s right! It’s commonly believed they arrived on slave ships. So the next time you see one of these buggers, meditate on that.

The reason my mom called them sewer roaches (many in Phoenix do) is that they often come up through the drains. Plus, they’ve got that shiny thing going on, giving them a lovely sewer aesthetic.

Ah, the memories these fellas conjure up for me. I can still see Brother running out of the bathroom screaming, streaking down the hall because a roach came up the drain as he showered. Or my parents practically tearing apart our T.V. room because they spotted a particularly large one scurrying across the tile. “It’s as big as my foot!” my mom sputtered, somewhat known for exaggeration but in this case, she wasn’t far off.

Good times, good times…

It was the American cockroach I dealt with at my old job, back when I worked at a high school in Scottsdale, Arizona. Sometimes we’d find them in the hallways, but more often they hung out where we did, in the offices and our break room. One of the offices was very close to both the break room and janitor’s closet. Meaning it saw a lot of cockroach action. Sadly, the secretary who used this office really really really hated cockroaches.

She and I, we became friends. All she had to do was come to my desk and give me that look.Bonnie

I’d ask her where it was; she’d give me its last known whereabouts. I’d open my cabinet and withdraw my tools: a plastic cup and a stiff piece of paper. After locating the little fella – who was rarely little – I’d slip the cup over him and slide the paper underneath.

cockroach method

Live capture, folks. I only do live capture.

Once he was safely ensconced within his plastic dome, I’d take a walk outside. He and I, we’d make our way across the staff parking lot and over the rocky landscape, out to the tall chain-link fence that held us prisoner. There I would set him free.

cockroach leaving

You see, I wanted to give the guy some options. He could take his chance crossing the street to enter one of the nice Scottsdale homes on the other side, where they probably served premium cuts of meat and world-class wines. Or he could return to our break room for a stale donut and old coffee.

My method had its detractors.

It is amazing, is it not, how many people are in favor of capital punishment? “There’s a roach in the kitchen! Kill it!”

I never argued with them. Instead I would say, “I don’t like to hear the crunch.” Because, you know, there’s always a crunch.

And besides, I liked getting outside. Dawdling by the mesquite tree, breathing in the city air… ah, the smell of exhaust fumes on a hot afternoon. There’s nothing quite like it.

“They’re just gonna come back!” my detractors would say in a terribly condescending tone. (My detractors were always men.)

I’d say, “probably,” and return to my desk.

The truth is, I kind of knew they were returning. I figured that was why they became so easy to catch. I think they recognized me.cockroach waving

“Oh, it’s the blonde – no need to worry. Field trip!”

What I didn’t realize was that they were returning for a reason and that reason was not stale donuts.

It happened during my last summer at the school. Our bookstore manager was trying to track down a package and was concerned it had gotten mixed in with some other boxes headed to storage. “I really don’t want to go in that room,” she told me, “but I think I have to.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“It’s the Roach Room.”

Gasp!

I’d heard tales of this room but I’d never actually been there. Now was my chance! I quickly offered my assistance. She said yes!

We made our way down the empty hallway. The room was at the end of the Social Studies department, where students learn history, political science, and how we got into this mess.

The bookstore manager got out her keys, unlocked the door and shivered a little. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked me.

“Yeahyeahyeah,” I said.

She opened the door and flipped on the light. I expected to hear scurrying… there was none. We stepped in. No roaches. None!

I was indignant. “I thought you said—“

She turned to face me and her eyes got wide. She pointed behind me. I turned toward the wall…

Holy hell!cockroach wall

It was just like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland where all those bugs are crawling up the cave wall!

It. Was. So. Cool.

She did not share my enthusiasm.

Anyway, here’s the thing: there were no drains in this room! No sink, nothing containing water or food. Nothing! Just boxes and boxes of books and old files. That’s it.

So what were the roaches doing there?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? They’re educating themselves. Reading up, studying our history. No doubt making notes of our failures and weaknesses.

Make no mistake about it, my friends. They will one day rule us all. They were here long before us and they will remain long after. We have to come to terms with this. There’s little sense in fighting it.

And when they finally rise to power, who do you think they spare but the one who showed mercy?

So the next time you smush one under your shoe and hear that crunch, remember there’s another one nearby. They’re always nearby.

They’re watching you.

They know what you’ve done.Cockroach mad

Springtime is for the birds

Spring has officially arrived to our Minnesota home:crabapple

Yeah, I know according to the calendar Spring has been here awhile, but it’s only really felt like Spring for the past week or so. And it’s not that a flowering crabapple is an official start, but it sounds good to me.

Speaking of trees, we had to remove a maple that was too close to the house. The tree man did the deed last week. Underneath the maple were a whole lotta hostas.

hostas

With the maple gone, so was the shade for the hostas. I transplanted them to our far more shady backyard.

Wanna know how many I transplanted? Sixty-five! Crazy, right?

But they sure look nice in my pretty little woodland corner, so it was worth it.backyard hostas As I worked, the neighborhood birds entertained me. (You knew birds had to come into the conversation eventually, right?)

The chickadees were being their typical adorable selves, ‘natch, and our downy woodpecker is ever the charmer.

 

By the way, all the bird photos you’ll be seeing here have been shamelessly pilfered from the site WhatBird.com.

Please don’t tell.

Have you ever been to that site? Their search feature is pretty cool. By giving them beak size, approximate body size, primary & secondary colors, or any other features you might notice, they will give you a pretty good guess as to what the bird is. Or at least a list of birds that you can narrow down yourself.

That’s how I found out who our newest visitor to the bird feeder is: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose breasted grosbeak

And the bird that was with him was his mate, though I never would have guessed it.

Rose breasted grosbeak female

Another site I use is allaboutbirds.org. It’s a great spot for learning cool facts, such as while the Grosbeak won’t be winning any awards for their nest-building – “so flimsy you can sometimes see the eggs from underneath” – their song has been described as “a Robin who’s had opera training.”

I haven’t seen a lot of this couple. (Too busy with their voice lessons, I assume.) Mostly it’s Chickadees and my Downy Woodpecker. Oh — and the Goldfinches! Let’s not forget them.gold finchHe might be tiny, but I sure wouldn’t want to be alone in a room with him. Just look into those eyes! He means business.

Speaking of little birds – I witnessed a bunch of sparrows taking on a crow!

 

Here’s how it happened: Our neighbor has this platform feeder where he puts fruit, nuts, cracked corn, etc. So here I am plugging another hosta in the ground — think it was number 54 — when I hear a crow making an awful racket. Cawing away something awful. I look over to see what’s pissing him off.

There he is in a tree near the feeder, flapping his wings and bobbing his head in a threatening manner. I follow his gaze and there they were, a group of sparrows.

Sparrows!

Every time that crow tried to wing on over to the feeder, the sparrows dive bombed him! They swooped down all together, right at that old crow.

Whoosh!

How do you suppose sparrows work together like that? Do they draw up a battle plan ahead of time?

Gosh, I wonder if they have a squad leader?  “Sparrow One to Sparrow Two, come in from the right… Sparrow Four, wait for my call… steady… steady….move, move, move!”

Sparrows got moxie.

Oh, and here’s the best part: As I’m watching this battle raging, along comes a blue jay who just flew in and took whatever was on the feeder.

Which just goes to show: there’s no sense in fighting. The Blue Jay will win, every time.blue jay

I know a lot of people don’t like Blue Jays, but you gotta admit, with that sassy crest and stylish coloring? They cut a fine figure.

Some positive characteristics I’ve learned about jays: They mate for life, are very good parents, are highly intelligent and can make mincemeat of wasp nests in no time flat.

Oh, and here’s an interesting tidbit from the site:

The Blue Jay’s coloration is not derived by pigments, but is the result of light refraction due to the internal structure of the feathers; if a Blue Jay feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed.

This is indeed true. I once found a pretty Blue Jay feather while walking Dog and brought it inside where she promptly decided to eat it. When she spit it out, it was no longer blue.

It was also covered in dog spit so I didn’t take a picture. Sorry.

And that wraps up our bird discussion for today. In review, please remember: even the most ordinary birds can be interesting if you just give them a chance.

Also, don’t mess with sparrows.

My little chickadee friends

What with one thing and another, mostly another, I find that the post I had planned for this week is not quite up to snuff.

Meaning I haven’t started writing it yet.

Instead, I’m going to show you one of the little chickadees who’s been visiting my bird feeder:

chickadee 2

Yeah, I know, it’s a lousy photo. But hey, considering it was with my phone and he was on the other side of my window — which could do with a cleaning — it’ll have to do. At the very least, you can see what dapper little birdies they are and will now understand why I’m so smitten with them.

I’m told they can get quite tame around humans. A woman from church told me that every morning as she fills her bird feeder, several come along and sit on a fence just a few feet away from her, waiting. Which I find rather charming, don’t you?

Also, here’s a YouTube video of my backyard bird sounds (gosh I hope this works):

Did it work?

If it did, you should be able to hear a two-note call over and over again (along with some geese and robins and I think at one point some ducks). That call is from the chickadees’ repertoire. Birders call it “fee-bee” and I’m told it roughly translates to “hey, sweetie.” Or as I like to think of it, “how you doin’?”

It’s a call you hear primarily in Springtime, as they’re looking for a mate to settle down and have kids together.

Admittedly, when I first heard these two notes over and over and over again, it was driving me nuts. But then I found out it was just a little chickadee looking for love and my heart went out to them. I hope they find it.

Before I go, I want to show you something I found in my quest for chickadee info. This came from a site run by a Dr. Laurie Bloomfield, who studies songbirds:

Chickadees use both songs and calls to communicate with conspecifics, and possibly heterospecifics. Songs are typically regarded as more complex signals than calls, however with only one song type (fee bee), several calls produced by chickadees may in fact be considered more complex. The vocalization made for which the birds are named is the chick-a-dee call. This call contains four notes types (in black-capped chickadees): termed A, B, C and D notes. Although the note types are almost always found in order from A through D, the number of notes in a call may vary and individual calls may not contain all note types.  For example, a call may be as followed: AAACDDD. The chick-a-dee call shows that chickadees may have an extremely complex communication system. For this reason, research continues in an attempt to identify the information that the chick-a-dee call is able to convey to conspecifics (and possibly heterospecifics). Another type of call produced by most chickadee species is the gargle call, which is used during antagonistic encounters with conspecifics.  Chickadees are well studied compared to many other species of birds; however there is still a lot that can be learned about their complex communication system. Each call variant by the birds needs to be analyzed further to elucidate the potential “message” attempting to be conveyed.

I don’t know about you, but I find the fact there are people in this world studying songbirds and analyzing their calls very reassuring. Whatever crap might be going on in the world, whatever garbage you hear in the news, somewhere else in the world there is a person looking up a tree with a mighty fine pair of binoculars, jotting down notes and probably wearing cargo pants.

I mean, just the idea that someone would write a paragraph about chickadees that includes the words “conspecifics” and “heterospecifics” fills me with joy. I must pursue this further.

Which is why I signed up for a birding class this summer in Storm Lake, Iowa. It’s part of a week-long “synod school” Husband and I are attending in late July. They have both fun and serious classes, and since he couldn’t do the ballroom dance class with me, I opted for the one called “Robins, Raptors and Ducks: The Basics of Bird Watching.”

According to the course description, two class periods will be spent at different “Northwest Iowa Watchable Wildlife areas.” Also, it says I’m to bring a good pair of binoculars, so if you have any suggestions for me, I’d appreciate it.

five birders with equipment
I will soon look like one of these people. (Gah, I need to get a hat!)

Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?

treeA three day weekend before me, I had one plan and one plan only: to move a tree.

To be specific, a volunteer tree that was growing in a small shaded area between our home and the back fence. Far too close to both home and fence.

After some careful research, I determined it was a silk tree – Albizia julibrissin – and that it would make a pretty little shade tree near our front entrance.

My dad was a great one for transplanting volunteer plants, and I think of him whenever I follow his practice. Although my success rate is nowhere near as good as his, I like to think I’m improving.

I also tend to think it will go much faster than it actually does, because I forget I live in Phoenix. Digging a hole in Phoenix is not for the faint of heart.

After 20 minutes, this is what I accomplished:

Continue reading “Birds: Helpful Neighbors or Ruthless Overlords?”

Meditating on a Desert Hike

There’s a mountain preserve near our home – actually, I’m not sure if it’s a real preserve. parkThe real estate agent who sold us our home said it was a preserve. If it is, it’s the first one I’ve seen with a housing development and gravel company on it.

Even so, it’s a nice park with a Frisbee golf course, playground & picnic area, softball fields and basketball courts, plus lots of places to hike.

Including, to our great surprise, a labyrinth.

No, not that kind of labyrinth. You won’t run into a Goblin King here. It’s one of thoseWP_20160223_16_48_19_Pro[1] meditative labyrinths. Husband came back from a long hike, where he was trying to gain more steps for his Fitbit, and announced his discovery.

The next day, Dog and I set off to find it.

Continue reading “Meditating on a Desert Hike”

The Tragic Tale of a Beetle in Love

sad
Photo credit: Volkan Olmez, Unsplash

Typically on a Saturday, I try to post something happy. Something to make us smile. But this tale came to me recently and I can’t get it out of my head. It’s the tale — the tragic tale — of the Death Watch Beetle.

Cool name, isn’t it? It comes from a time when people died at home. (Sorry. I told you this wouldn’t be happy.) As the person was lying in bed ill, clinging to their last thread of life, the family members would be very, very quiet. Out of respect. This period was called “the death watch.”

And in those times of absolute silence, during the death watch, they would hear a light tapping. Almost like fingers drumming on a table, very faint and rhythmic. Legend had it that it was Death, drumming his bony fingers, waiting for the person to die.

As it turns out, it was actually the mating call of a little beetle. Hereafter called the death watch beetle. Scientific name: Xestobium rufovillosum.

This is the life cycle of the death watch beetle (you might want to grab a tissue):

Continue reading “The Tragic Tale of a Beetle in Love”