Saturday Single No. 11

Originally posted May 12, 2007

I’ve traveled with the Texas Gal to her home state four times now. The first two journeys – in 2001 and 2004 – were wintertime trips to celebrate Christmas. The family time we spent was fine, and she showed me a lot of interesting things around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But the traveling itself was tedious, as winter had left the land between Minnesota and Texas drear and bare.

Our third trip, in the spring of 2005, was for a less happy reason – her father was ill. Even so, the Texas Gal was pleased that I was going to see her home state, as well as the path to it, in a different season, and she chuckled a bit at the prospect of my learning what Texas heat was really like. Both of those things happened, along with a third that she hadn’t anticipated: I learned about dead armadillos.

I suppose I might have seen a live one in a zoo somewhere, but I don’t recall. Somewhere south of Oklahoma City, however, as the second day of the trip wound on, I perked up. There on the shoulder, on its back with all four feet in the air, lay one of the odd, shelled creatures, quite dead. “Armadillo!” I said, and the Texas Gal – who’d thought I was sleeping – jumped in her seat and almost slid the car into the freeway’s left lane. (This was Oklahoma; there was not enough traffic around to make that dangerous.)

Once I told her that I didn’t know if I’d ever seen an armadillo before, she told me that the rather dim-witted animals are frequent sights by the roadsides in southern states. When they are surprised by traffic as they cross the road, they don’t run. They instead roll up into a ball, inside their shells. If the armadillo is killed by a vehicle, its muscles relax, and it untucks itself, almost always on its back, its nose and all four legs pointing straight to the sky.

We spotted several more dead ’dillos in the next few hours, as we crossed into Texas and made our way to Gainesville, where we stopped for gas. I wandered into the small convenience store and bought a Coke. Behind the counter was a gal who must have been, in Dan Rather’s evocative phrase “rode hard and put away wet.” She had brittle blonde hair teased large, dark leathery skin, a pack of Marlboros close at hand and a thick Texas accent.

When she heard me speak, she asked where I was from and then if I’d ever been to Texas before. As we chatted, the Texas Gal came up to the register and told the clerk, “He saw his first armadillo today.”

The clerk grinned. She bent her arms at the elbows, bringing her hands to her shoulders, and pointed her nose at the ceiling, giving more display to her already prominent buckteeth, and asked, “Did he look like this?”

We laughed and said, yes, he did. Back inside the car, we roared as we headed out of Gainesville toward Dallas, and the tale of the Gainesville clerk has become one of our favorite stories to tell.

This most recent trip – from which we returned a week ago – we chuckled as we talked about how many armadillos we might see once we got into the southern states. As we headed out of St. Cloud on the morning of April 26, we saw a raccoon by the side of the road, dead. I asked her, “Are we gonna count coons, too?”

“Write it down,” she said.

And so began our roadkill log.

Here is what we saw by the side of the road on a trip that went from St. Cloud to Dallas to San Antonio to Dallas to Texarkana to Eureka Springs to St. Cloud:

Unidentifiable roadkill (quickly abbreviated to “goosh”): 39
Raccoon: 31
Armadillo: 22
Squirrel: 20
Skunk: 19
Opossum: 14
Deer: 11
Bird: 5 (plus 2 wounded)
Cat: 3
Rabbit: 2
Antelope: 1
Badger: 1
Bat: 1
Beaver: 1
Dog: 1
Llama (!): 1
Porcupine: 1
Turtle: 1

Oddly enough, we saw very few ’dillos – only four – in Texas. Almost all of our sightings came in the Ozarks as we followed the winding road to Eureka Springs. The Texas Gal said she’d expected to see at least twenty in Texas alone, and wondered if we weren’t following along in the tracks of the Texas roadkill crew.

Anyway, seeing as I’ve saved this tale for Saturday, what else could I post but the 1973 hit – it reached No. 16 on the pop charts — by Loudon Wainwright III? So here is “Dead Skunk,” today’s Saturday Single.

Loudon Wainwright III – “Dead Skunk” [Columbia 45726, 1973]


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