The sound of silence

If I hadn’t been buck naked, I would’ve run screaming when I saw it.

After peeling off my sweaty shorts and sports bra and flinging them into the corner, I’d lifted the bath mat to straighten it before stepping in to the shower. I’d seen something skitter in the mat’s shadow. A beetle, perhaps, upset that I’d shifted the roof of its clammy encampment.

I yanked up the mat and looked closer. It was a goddamn SCORPION.

Horrified. Or fascinated. I wasn’t sure which I was. My adrenaline-fueled bare legs hopped around the small bathroom as I looked for a cup or something with which to trap the thing (which, blessedly, was only about an inch-and-a-half long) on the tile.

I mean, I don’t typically see scorpions in my bathroom in midtown Atlanta.

Someone else needed to see this. It was kind of cool, and made me feel like I was truly in the Wild Wild West.

Unfortunately, as I scrambled for a makeshift trap, the tiny arthropod took refuge in the gap between the wall and the vanity, thereby haunting everyone who used that particular commode for the rest of our week in Texas.

Yep, Texas. Seven days, nine people, one log-framed cabin smack in the center of Texas. That is how I spent my Christmas vacation.

I know it seems random. I am from Washington. My husband is from Illinois. We live in Georgia. But my in-laws have a house in the Texas Hill Country now, so that’s where we spent our holidays this year.

It was an unbelievably relaxing week. We sprawled on sofas and paged through novels. We played lazy rounds of Gin Rummy. We snacked endlessly on popcorn and crackers and clementines. We sipped wine and watched through large paned windows as the wind turned the wiry desert oak trees into spastic ballerinas, swaying unpredictably and startling the squirrels that scampered on their branches.

Occasionally, someone would peer over the top of his or her magazine and say something that, in the course of our normal urban/suburban lives, would seem preposterous. Such as: “Anyone want to go out to the main road and look at that dead armadillo?”

(For the record, a dead armadillo looks exactly how you’d expect it to look.)

All week, I did exactly zero running. Zilch. Three weeks into this Pfitzinger plan and I’ve already blown it. Oh well. I guess this is why I don’t do training plans. I certainly hope you weren’t hoping for inspiration here. (Although maybe I’ll get back on track.) Running blogger fail.

Honestly, I would’ve been happy to spend an hour or two of my (very unscheduled) vacation days running, but there was nowhere to run. Literally. This was straight-up desert country. No regular streets. No gym within an hour’s drive. No treadmills. No running…not unless I wanted to do strides up and down the short, dusty, cactus-lined driveway. Or brave the main ranch road, which specialized in large pickups driving 80 MPH and featured no shoulder whatsoever, and, well…I didn’t want to end up like that armadillo.

It wasn’t a fitness fail, though. My sister-in-law brought her Insanity DVD set. Much to the amusement of the older generations who sipped coffee and watched from those big-paned windows, we spent an hour each morning under the dancing oak trees putting on our own show, directed (from a laptop perched on a rock) by Shaun T. (And that Insanity stuff is no joke. My calves and obliques are still cursing me.)

Until last week, I’d never been to Texas. Which is sort of strange. I’d traveled to (or lived in) just about every other state/region in this country. Texas was a glaring omission in my personal domestic travelogue.

Every place has unique sights and sounds and smells and memories, which I enjoy mentally cataloging and then recalling reflexively. Like:

You say ARIZONA and I smell chalk and sweat on dry granite, picking my way up a rock face with my hair in a matted bun.

You say OHIO and I see thunderheads rolling in from the western shores of Lake Erie, bearing (depending on the season) a deluge of mayflies or a refreshing summer storm or an unwelcome dose of lake-effect snow.

You say LOUISIANA and I feel a sweet mildewy basement-dampness seep into my flesh, mixing with the liquor from a Pat O’s hurricane which is still coursing through my bloodstream.

You say MAINE and I taste saltwater spray coming off the side of the speedboat that I am riding across Casco Bay in the dark, trying to make my way from a bar in Portland to a friend’s house on the islands in the middle of the night. (Have I ever told you guys that story? That’s a good story for another post.)

And so forth.

Well, now I have a TEXAS to add to that collection, and that makes me happy.

You say TEXAS and I hear…nothing. Near total silence. Wide, brilliantly blue skies that gape at the edges of the horizon and seem to somehow enhance the lack of sound. Almost imperceptibly, trees rustle and the pages of a paperback novel turn. The backs of my hands crackle, dry from the desert air. Someone discreetly crunches a handful of popcorn. From time to time, you can barely hear a beefy pickup barreling down the narrow ranch road, crushing the occasional unlucky armadillo.

It was so the opposite of what I’ve become used to here in Atlanta, with our front yard full of high-rises and foot traffic and an eight-lane interstate.

It was wonderful.

And in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t run screaming when I saw that tiny scorpion. That shit would’ve echoed for miles.

20 responses to “The sound of silence

  1. First, whoa! That’s crazy–a scorpion?!? Eeeeek!

    Second, this post is beautifully written. I really enjoyed your reflections on being in different states and what resonated with you. Very cool.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Texas hill country is one of my favorite places in the world! Pretty much exactly because what you said. I have never been anywhere more relaxing or quiet or where you can just sit and reflect on how beautiful the world is or how crazy that armadillo looks.

    When I went there I finally knew what people meant when they said “big as the texas sky”. Anyways, glad you had a good vacation and don’t sweat the week off. Happy Holidays and New Year!

  3. FWIW – Live armadillos look a lot like the dead ones, too. Not the most exciting critter, the armadillo.

  4. I hate those tiny little desert scorpions! I saw one at my parents’ place in NM once. It was about an inch long and blended almost perfectly with the carpet. At least with those gigantic African emperor scorpions, you see them coming.

    The hill country is about the only place you’d wanna go in Texas, so good job on that. Panhandle: crammed full of fundamentalists. West: smells like cow shit. South: belongs to the cartels and the spring breakers. Plano: named 1997 heroin capital of the world!

    • I have heard Austin is pretty cool. We were only a couple of hours away and talked about heading there a couple of times, but laziness won.

  5. First, OMG I would have flipped out! Second I love your writing. Did you ever finish the book you were writing(I think)?? And third, in my “first week” of actual “training” I ran only three days. Yea…

  6. My husband wants to get a pet scorpion someday. I keep trying to come up with excuses why that’s not a good idea, but I will probably run out of them when we finally buy our own place.

    • OMG WHY. It’s not like you could touch or pet it? Does he just want to look at it? *shudder* And I say that as someone who kept pet lizards (that I touched and “snuggled”) as a kid.

  7. Oh, yes, I will never forget how unconsolable you were when Zak & Julia bit the dust…..

  8. Oh, yay! I’m glad you enjoyed yourself despite the appearance of a scorpion. Fwiw, I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and have seen maybe 6 scorpions. Then again, I am an urbanite. :)

    If you’re around Austin the next time you visit, I’ll take you on a town lake run! :)

  9. Imagine the stories your in-laws would’ve been telling if you had run out of the bathroom when you saw the scorpion.

    Happy new year!

  10. It seems appropriate to mention, the armadillo is the TX small mammal. Huh? {I’m clearly not from this place}. I’d never seen {or heard of} the thing until I drove past a dead one.

    Also worth noting, there are many places here that are not running friendly. I often point out to the natives the missing sidewalks.

  11. I spent a few months in Austin for work and it was such a great city. You would love it. Also, Insanity? Super hard. I did it to lose the last of the baby weight, usually while Avery was in a vibrating baby seat (immobile days, I miss you!) and I was starting to worry her first words would be “DIG DEEPER!”

    • Haha. Or perhaps “GREAT FORM, TANYA!”

      • My trainer told me Tanya is (or was at the time Insanity was taped) Shaun T’s girlfriend. Which explains why she had the best spot in class!

        • LOL — He did highlight Tanya a lot — so much so, I eventually googled, “Is Tanya Shaun T’s girlfriend?” No! She’s actually the wife of his best friend — or something like that. But more importantly, Shaun T recently wed his longtime boyfriend. Waaaaay too invested in INSANITY.

          • I just Googled it too. I didn’t know he used to be a backup dancer for Mariah Carey either. Sixty days cursing that man and I knew so little….

  12. Welcome to my neck of the woods!! Where in the Hill Country were you? I’m glad you enjoyed it :)