My birthday falls a few days after I leave The Lone Star State, so a day is set aside for an early surrogate birthday. We set off to a surprise destination. Accordingly, I don’t know where we are destined, but Lanette’s vague instruction to bring clothes I “can exercise in and maybe get a bit sweaty and dirty” makes me worry I might be being packed off to a health farm or something. With all the food I’ve been non-stop eating over the past week or so, this might be quite prudent. But still.
I needn’t have worried; she knows me better than that. We arrive at the Canyon of the Eagles, about 15 miles from the little town of Burnet. The drive took a few hours – and we had drawn funny looks when during a stop at a Gas Station, in order to keep our destination secret, Lanette had hissed “Get away from me” so she could ask for directions, no doubt making it seem like the funny foreign looking man was trying to abduct her – and as we neared our goal the sun was setting over the vast Buchanan Lake beautifully.
The next day, we hike. A display at the beginning of the trail informs us of all the different venomous snakes we have the dubious pleasure of potentially seeing. I proceed along the trail, masking my caution with a seemingly gameful stride. As much as I think it would be quite cool to see a rattlesnake, I have no particular desire to that having occurred as a result of wondering what that strange biting-like sensation on my calf is.
A rustle from the bushes a foot to our left catches our attention, and I stifle a moan of terror as my eyes catch a glimpse of some browny-yellow scales in all too glorious technicolour. It transforms into a coo of curiosity however, as I begin to realise that in actual fact I’m looking at an armadillo. My first ever experience of seeing an armadillo is quickly followed by my first ever experience of having a cactus needle imbed itself in my kneecap as I lean closer to take a photo. It is ripping at something fleshy and bloody, and I strain to see what poor creature this carnivorous brute is devouring.
“He’s sure enjoying that cactus flower,” Lanette astutely observes. I nod knowingly.
We resume our hike, with me chattering excitedly about having seen an armadillo at such close proximity; any hope I had of concealing my wildlife-nerd streak from Lanette seem dashed as I recount what she has just seen herself moments before. What I hadn’t counted on though was just how abundant armadillos would be on this trail. Within moments we were hearing a rustle from the scrub which was due to become very familiar, and there was another. Lanette’s brother-in-law Robb later informs me that armadillos are pretty much blind, which explains their tendency to emerge unabashed from bushes next to us and trundle alongside us. In a period of an hour, we perhaps see as many as 15 separate armadillos (although we like to at least entertain the idea that the original one is stalking us). It was enough to make me almost want to see a rattlesnake.
A week later, I am idly talking to Whitfud, and for some unascertained reason he drops into conversation that when he was researching an article on the rise of leprosy in the United States, he encountered a school of thought which blamed armadillos for the spread of the disease.
No weeping sores here as of yet. Finger crossed. Whilst I still can.