Thursday, October 18, 2007

Remember The Javelina

Mars and I saw our third New Mexican Tarantula on our most recent trip to northern part of that state. (We saw a fourth one on an Elderhostel trip to central Arizona. But that one was in a glass container and presented to us by a lecturer on "Poisonous Animals of the Southwest" who no longer included venomous snakes in his educational talk because he was almost fatally bitten by one at another Elderhostel - he showed us the resulting photos. The tarantula was now the "Big Kahuna" of the show.)

This Theraphosidae Mygalomorphae was sunning himself on a rock in the Plaza Blanca area near the town of Abiquiu. We were hiking out there with our daughter-in-law Monica, son Bram, and traveling companion Sandy. It was the first "Big T" sighting for all three of them.

"In the [Rio Chama] valley below sits the natural wonder known as Plaza Blanca, also immortalized as 'The White Place' in a 1940 painting by O'Keeffe. The sandstone cliffs, spires, and oddly shaped rocks create an otherworldly, contemplative retreat that glows golden in the late-afternoon light. Allow yourself some time to linger as the spot gently embraces you with its ineffable sense of peace and timelessness." (New Mexico Tourism Department)

The land is owned by the Dar al-Islam Mosque that allows day hiking and (with permission) overnight stays. Mars and I heard about the spot a few years back while lolling in one of the public mineral spring baths at the "nearby" Ojo Caliente resort. The mosque and the mineral springs are about fifty miles apart - nearby by New Mexican standards. What initially caught our silently drifting attentions were the words "chocolate wine" (two of the five basic food groups combined in one convenient serving) but by the time we came conscious enough to be aware of the conversation it had shifted to Plaza Blanca. (We did later find out about the candied vino and have since purchased several bottles - the first ones after our initial trip to the white place.) The directions were somewhat vague, not because of any geographic lack in either the speaker or the listeners but due to the general indefiniteness of the New Mexican landscape once you are outside of a city - and a lot of New Mexico is definitely outside of a city. It still wasn't much easier to find on this our fourth trip there.

Bram accurately describes the geology of Plaza Blanca as "lunar" and the venue as somewhere that you don't so much hike in as wander around. He and Monica spotted the hairy arachnid after the other three of us had already meandered past the stark white rock on which (when pointed out to us) the fat dark body and eight legs so obviously rested. There is an old Stephen Wright comedy routine about a spider crouching down on a white tile shower wall and being convinced of its invisibility. Apparently sometimes it works.

Suddenly there were five people and four cameras all firing away. None of us were really sure whether the stories about tarantulas jumping at their victims were merely urban legends, or sound advice that we should have been heeding. (They don't)

We did however have our snakebite kit with us, something that we purchased early on in our fifteen year history of New Mexico trips. The venom-sucking syringe might not have done anything against a deadly spider bite ("where are those damn little bite marks?") But it was at least more than the above-mentioned Arizona poisonous animal expert carried with him. Perhaps because the venomous video victim was actually enjoying its "Brittany Spears Moment" there was no untoward movement on its part.

Mars and my initial tarantula encounter took place on our first trip to the Land of Enchantment in October of 1992. We were hiking on Devisadero Peak near Taos on what looks from our photos to be a cloudy day. One of us spotted the black, hairy monster hiding under some dried brush on a rock. At that time we did not yet have our snakebite kit and had heard the jumping tarantula rumors. To compound the problem our cameras at that time, both SLR film ones, had a close-up device called a "macro lens" that required the photographer to measure the distance from the subject with a short strap that was attached to the camera. That distance turned out to be closer than either of us wanted to get - even though a good case of venom poisoning would have gotten us first boarding on our return flight home. And probably special private seating since no one would want to be placed next to an over-inflated, blue-hued fellow traveler.

Mars had me take the picture with the conventional lens getting as close as I dared - crouched down, inching in closely as I focused and darting back to what I considered a safe distance as soon as the shutter snapped. We were both quite excited about our good luck and bravery.

We came across our second desert spider in a parking lot some years later after we had completed another hike. I'm certain that we photographed this one too but I have been unable to locate that print in our archives.

Mars and I have also seen a wild Javelina - something else that Monica, Bram and Sandy have never experienced. This sighting was on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation in Marfa (West) Texas. We had been told that these wild pig-like animals frequented the property in search of food and we actually laid in wait at times and places where others had observed them. But no luck.

On our last day there we went for a farewell walkabout. Having spent every waking moment since arrival looking at the area through our camera lenses we decided to leave both of them at home. At the farthest point out in the hike we turned a corner, heard some defensive snorting, and espied an eighty or so pound peccary attempting to see us - they are incredibly nearsighted. With no photographic device to be found we attempted to mentally fix the image in our brains for future telling to non-believing listeners.

Now, whenever we are about to go anywhere where a camera might be needed we "remember the Javelina".

That thought, combined with our newly acquired knowledge as to the lack of tarantula acrobatic capabilities and our ever-present snakebite kit, should guarantee even up-closer and more personal hairy spider photos

1 comment:

Bram said...

Yep. Still never seen one, never photographed one. Even that one time at the zoo at the javelina exhibit.