I picked up the beast and escorted him to the edge of my property, across a turnrow, and into a cotton field. It’s an odd sensation picking up a live-and-kicking armadillo by the tail — kinda like holding onto a jackhammer. The hard plates and muscle packed within made for quite a vibrating jolt up and down my arm. The king of all roadkill scampered off, clueless to his good fortune.
He’d been an unwelcome guest in my yard; a most unusual guest as well. My house is surrounded by cotton fields, the level land broken by a few pecan trees — and that’s about it. No coons, no possums, no squirrels and until now, no armadillos.
For anyone reading who feels a loss at the lack of wildlife — don’t worry — there’s an abundance of cottonmouths. The cottonmouths use the surrounding irrigation ditches like a highway system and consistently bite my three dogs — two mongrels and an insane feist named Maggie. So far they’ve survived each bite with aspirin and heavy doses of bacon grease. Nothing on the Discovery Channel (and I mean nothing) is quite so raw as seeing Maggie pluck a snake out of a weed patch and violently shake it until you’d swear the bones were rattling. The twists are so vicious that as she snaps the snake back and forth, the motion is audible and sounds like rapid thigh-slaps. Last year, Maggie snagged a 4-foot racer in some high grass, shook the life out of it, and then let go, flinging snake and blood spray onto my horror-stricken wife. Her screams were curdling — like piercing jungle shrieks at midnight.
Back to the armadillo. My visitor arrived on a Saturday morning, a few weeks back, with spot-on weather. Maybe the sort of day where I stumble around the yard and pretend to be working all afternoon, but am really looking for any excuse to build a fire and get dirty. With the industry of a worker bee, I gather wood scraps, small bits of plastic, old rags, some books — absolutely anything that might be remotely flammable. I’d burn dirt if it would light. Building a fire is a primal call for all men no matter their age. If the Lord grants me the years, I will be 80 years old and still building fires, poking the coals, and standing around telling massive lies.
Again, back to the armadillo. That Saturday morning, I woke up to the baying of my mongrel hounds. Rapid-fire barks were coming from the side of the house. I rolled about for a few minutes, hoping against hope that my wife would go check on them first, or maybe they’d hush after shredding a snake or torturing a turtle. But these were the hopes of a condemned man — I knew they weren’t going to shut up and my dear wife was practically snoring. (I absolutely believe she was faking.) Staggering out of the house with the coordination of a drunk, adorned in just my drawers and boots, I could see all three dogs at the corner of the house doing the bump-and-run with a half-buried armadillo. They were darting in, giving the armadillo the cold-nose, and then leaping back a few feet, fighting with each other, then gearing up for another tepid charge.
I got the three lunatics put up inside and then pulled out the scales of justice: Shoot him or not? One crack with a .22, and he’d hop into the air, careen around the yard like a tank out of control, and then keel over — or I could use a shotgun, end of story.
But the idiot in me won out. It usually does. I felt the urge to pick him up. I couldn’t help myself. Bee to honey. Moth to flame. I was fully aware that armadillos carry leprosy and other apocalyptic afflictions. No matter; not even the possibility of living in a leper colony or walking around ringing a bell for the rest of my days was going to stop me. The tapered tail was jutting out, beckoning to me as I grabbed, pulled, and stood up with him. It was the ignorant grasp of a three-year-old; the sort that results in burnt hands atop an oven. The armadillo hissed, grunted, made all sorts of guttural noises and then exploded in vibration. Yes, I was suddenly at one with nature, holding up a 15-pound armadillo — and I was shaking with tsunami ferocity. Absurd scene: me holding a live armadillo by the tail, while standing in my underwear and convulsing like I’d been tagged with a Taser gun.
Anyhow, I made a hobbling sprint to the unplanted cotton field and dropped him in a furrow. Then I ran back inside, grabbed a camera, and got a single memento shot before he rumbled off.
I’ve been checking my skin each day; no more itchy than usual so far. (I haven’t got around to mentioning the relation between armadillos and leprosy to my wife.) Rest assured, if I wind up a leper, I will find and kill that armadillo — and oh yes, oh yes, I’ll mount the tail.