After a rather difficult period living out in the Sulphur Springs Valley during a remarkably hot and dry early summer, I succumbed to a desire for a bit of civilized life. Hell, I’m sixty years old. I don’t have the stamina for such primitive conditions that I once had!
I rented an apartment in Bisbee, a canyon town one thousand feet higher in elevation, and I’m now indulging myself in such luxuries as plumbing, a kitchen, and wifi net access.
The house I’m staying in is nestled in a notch blasted from the steep canyon slope. High retaining walls surround the house and courtyard. A dozen or so steps lead down to the street, a loop up the slope from the main drag, Tombstone Canyon Road.
One morning last week I walked down the steps to the street. I encountered a man in his mid-sixties who was patching some bad spots in the asphalt. It turned out that he owns the house across the street and had become frustrated by the City of Bisbee’s lack of attention to the pitted street surface. He and some other residents are pooling their resources and fixing the street themselves. Many of these home-owners, including the man I was talking with, would like to sell their houses — but the market is bad right now.
Taking a break from his work, the man told me a tale of woe, a personal drama of a type not uncommon in this border region. It seems that seven years ago this man was 56 years old and had never been married. He was on a vacation in the town of Animas, a small resort town nestled at the base of the Sierra Madre, in the southern part of the Mexican state of Sonora. A Mexican waitress served him food in a restaurant and, mirabile dictu, he fell in love with her. The waitress had recently been abandoned by her husband and she had small children to raise. A factor which this newly-wed man didn’t consider all that important, but which would cause problems later, is that his new wife was twelve years younger than him.
Now the man and his family have a house in Animas, but after years of effort they have been unable to acquire residency, neither for her in the US nor him in Mexico. This guy has reduced his goals after so much frustration with government agencies, who collectively seem to be convinced that the marriage is a scam, a nefarious way to gain a green card for his wife. After seven years all that the man wants is for his Social Security check go to his family after he dies. Even that seems nearly impossible — the estimates the man has heard are daunting; it could cost upwards of seventy thousand bucks to achieve that goal, which seems to be reserved for the wealthy.
I sympathized with this man, but realized that there wasn’t much I could say. I’m no fan of the INS and the Border Patrol. This part of Arizona is crawling with green-and-white SUVs, a result of massive paranoia-induced funding in the years since 9/11. We have internal checkpoints here — did you know that? I can’t drive to Tucson without having to stop and be screened by the armed Border Patrol officers at one checkpoint or another. Instead of Checkpoint Charlie we have Checkpoint Carlos, so to speak.
After hearing this man’s tale I headed up the steps to my apartment, feeling a bit down. I was ready for some contact with non-human creatures which lead uncomplicated lives, or at least lives which are more patterned and predictable.
Lately I’ve been seeing a distinctive large bug, a true bug in the order Hemiptera, which has scarlet-tipped antennae and feet. I’d tried to photograph this species, but they kept trotting away and wouldn’t pause long enough to get a good focused shot. That morning, after my long conversation with the neighbor related above, I encountered yet another example of that large bug species. It was walking purposefully across the graveled courtyard. I found a plastic cottage cheese container in the kitchen and before the bug knew what was happening I had captured the hapless creature in the container and put it in the fridge in order to slow it down for a while.
Since I first encountered this bug I had determined its species; I’m reasonably sure that these bugs are Giant Agave Bugs (Acanthocephala thomasi), herbivores which feed upon agave and other desert plants. After a few minutes I took the container from the fridge and shook the chilled bug out onto the brick paving in the courtyard. It seemed confused and couldn’t control its legs very well, possibly thinking about the Cold Dark Place to which I had condemned it for a time.
Even partial sun here in Arizona is quite powerful. Dappled light under a mulberry tree was more than enough to get bug blood flowing!
This bug belongs to a group called the Leaf-footed Bugs. I assume the leafy vanes on the hind legs are a form of camouflage, but I wonder what the saw-tooth spikes are for? Maybe stridulation? A secure grip while mating?
The bug seemed to be regaining consciousness and I could see it surveying the scene. It’s not surprising that the bug was heading away from me, the monstrous creature that had imprisoned it in the Cold Dark Place. The bug spread its wings and wing-covers and flew up onto a green plastic watering can.
“Green! It must be an agave!”
No such luck, but the corrugated handle of the watering can made a nice backdrop for a photo;
The Giant Agave Bug flew away, possibly sensing a pheromone trail, but there is a postscript to this tale. This morning I was sitting out on the porch when I saw something small walking directly towards me across a graveled area in the courtyard. I first noticed this creature when it was about ten feet away; as it approached I realized that it was another Giant Agave Bug. Curious, I watched as it approached the concrete slab porch floor, which was elevated above the gravel a few inches. A fanciful thought occurred to me: what if this was the same bug I had photographed a few days earlier?
The bug climbed the vertical edge of the concrete porch floor and headed for my bare foot. Perhaps it was thinking:
“I hope that this enormous god-like being will put me back in the Cold Dark Place for a while. It’s just so hot out in the sun today!”
The bug climbed up onto my big toe and advanced across my instep. It certainly seemed determined! It found the cuff of my jeans and began to ascend my shin. It clambered up over the knob of my knee, then kept walking up my thigh. When it approached my crotch I had had enough. I gave it a light flick of my finger and it flew away. The idea of that bug crawling into my ear canal or nostril had occurred to me.
A day after I refrigerated the Giant Agave Bug I was once again sitting out on the porch. A fairly large Chinese Privet tree shades that side of the courtyard. Some motion on the tree’s trunk caught my eye. Some strange-looking gray insect was slowly climbing the tree. I looked closer; it was a large sphinx moth, but the wings looked shrunken and deformed:
I went back into the house and ate some lunch: leftover Basmati rice with tempeh. My curiosity was aroused, though — what was going on with that weird and monstrous moth. Half an hour had passed by the time I once again regarded my mothy visitor. The wings were bigger… it dawned on me that I was witnessing a biological transformation I’d read about but never witnessed. The moth had just emerged from an underground pupa, and its wings were being pumped full of a fluid which would gradually harden and enable flight.
I gently encouraged the insect to crawl onto my hand. I imagine it was distracted by its morphological changes, and begrudgingly acquiesced to my silent entreaty; perhaps it had heard of the Cold Dark Place and thought it would comply in order to avoid such exile.
Another few minutes passed after I let the moth crawl back onto the tree trunk. I left it alone for a while, thinking that if I had fluid stiffening in my veins I might not want company. I do have a modicum of empathy with my insect friends!
The next time I checked the moth was gone, most likely soaring along the canyon slopes in search of a mate.