There’s No Place Like Home

Judged only by color, the small, snuffling creature making its way along the roadside east of Alamo Springs might have been taken for just another limestone rock. But rocks don’t have ears, or pointed snouts, and they certainly don’t dig into the dirt with the energy of a hyperactive toddler.

When the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is foraging, there isn’t much that distracts it, partly because of its poor eyesight. The animal relies on its ears and nose to detect food or predators, and it’s easier than you might think to walk up on one from behind. When it finally senses your presence, it often raises up on its haunches to evaluate the situation.

I was surprised that this one seemed content to keep foraging even after spotting me, rather than scurrying away into the brush. I was especially pleased to be able to see some of the hairs around its sides; they function much like whiskers on a cat, helping the poorly-sighted creature to find its way around.

For nearly twenty minutes it wandered the roadside, stopping occasionally to sniff or to dig.

Eventually, it stopped sniffing and crossed the road, moving so quickly I had a hard time keeping up.

All was well until it came to the fence. For nearly five minutes, it walked back and forth along the wire, stopping occasionally as though considering whether it would be worth digging its way to the other side.

Apparently, it decided digging would be too much trouble. In a flash, the athletic armadillo jumped straight into the air, propelling itself onto the fence wire.

Then, as gracefully as you please, it pushed off the wire and landed on the ground.

With what might have been a grin of self-satisfaction on its face, it trotted down the fence line until it came to a patch of clean, soft dirt.

Claws flying, it began creating and enlarging a hole until, finally, it slipped beneath the fence, and out of sight.

It seemed our beloved Texas icon — the state’s official small mammal and well-known Muse — had arrived safely at home, just like Gary P. Nunn at the end of his London trip. Whether it celebrated by writing a song, I can’t say.

 

“London Homesick Blues”  aka “Home With the Armadillo”

 

Comments always are welcome.
For some interesting Texas armadillo history, visit “Armadillo Whispers” at The Task at Hand.

Off Broadway

The Evergreen Cemetery on Broadway Street, Galveston

Few first-time visitors to Galveston realize the cemetery they pass on their way to the beach is a collection of seven cemeteries. Built over the span of nearly two centuries, four are city-owned, and three are private; known collectively as the Broadway Cemeteries, they’re rich in history, and a magnet for photographers and artists during the spring wildflower bloom.

Only some of the cemeteries allow flowers to flourish, but where they do, Coreopsis tinctoria runs rampant, mixing primarily with firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) and lazy daisy (Aphanostephus skirrhobasis).

Given the cemeteries’ location, it can be hard to photograph the flowers without including the surrounding homes, tire shops, fast food restaurants, and skateboarding teenagers, but every year I enjoy giving it a try.

One of my favorite images from this spring made use of elevation differences between the sidewalks and the burial plots to allow framing the Coreopsis against the sky.

On a cloudy, gray day, the contrast between the flowers and some of the older graves pleased me.

Visible graves at some of the cemeteries represent only the most recent layer of burials. Stones occasionally were lost during three grade raisings, so plots were resold and new graves placed above the old. Occasionally, only the top of a gravestone is visible, while the rest of the structure remains buried.

Not a fire hydrant, but a finial belonging to a buried marker

Unfortunately, vandalism isn’t unknown. In November of last year, many historic stones were broken and otherwise damaged. The perpetrator was caught, and some markers have been repaired, but many history lovers still grieve the losses. Here, a stone knocked from its base leans against a tree.

In some cases, nature seems to be consoling the broken markers.

While my favorite angels weren’t significantly damaged, they now stand closer to one another.

Unwilling to close the cemeteries to the public, the city did install new fencing and lighting. There are rumors that concerned citizens occasionally patrol the property as unofficial guards.

 

A different and more pleasant kind of history abounds in the cemeteries. Here, the Willis family mausoleum in the Episcopal cemetery remains stately and attractive.  Peter James Willis, born in Maryland in 1815, moved to Texas and established a dry goods store at Washington-on-the-Brazos; eventually,  P. J. Willis and Brother became one of the largest mercantile establishments west of the Mississippi.

A daughter, Magnolia, married George Sealy, one of her father’s business associates, on May 12, 1875; Galveston’s John Sealy Hospital is perhaps the best-known reminder of the family’s influence.

Their luxurious home, Open Gates, became a center of Galveston business and social life. Magnolia engaged the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to build the mansion, thought to be the only building in the South designed by Stanford White, and the home’s elaborate carriage house was designed by preeminent Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton.

As you’d expect, the mausoleum is equally tasteful. The lock on the doors isn’t to keep members of the Willis family from leaving, but to prevent passers-by from spending the night there.

Galveston’s ethnic heritage is rich and complex. Italians, Germans, English, Swedish, and Dutch share space in the cemeteries. Here, a reminder of the Celtic tradition stands tall.

As for the pace of life in a cemetery, it might best be represented by the snails I discovered on several graves. I’d not noticed them in the past, but when I read that snails will climb rocks to obtain minerals needed for shell-building, their presence on stone markers made perfect sense.

Beyond that, it occured to me: even when life moves slowly, it’s still life.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Landmark

 

Seemingly plucked from the hills of Santorini before being plunked down on the edge of Trinity Bay, the white-washed compound glistens in early autumn light. Not everyone fishing or sailing the waters off Anahuac knows the name of the property owner, but as a fisherman cleaning his catch pointed out, “It makes for a great landmark. It’s sure enough better than the water tower.”

The compound, a weekend retreat for Houston general contractor George Pontikes Jr. and his wife Laura, includes a similarly-styled great house, a guest house, and various amenities, in addition to the chapel pictured above.

The similarity to houses on the Greek islands is understandable, given that the owner is the son of George Pontikes Sr. and the grandson of Angelos Konstantine Pontikes, who emigrated from Nauplion, Greece. Angelos K. Pontikes began as a home builder; both his son and grandson George Jr. followed in his footsteps.

While exploring the area on a Sunday afternoon, a friend and I mistook the private chapel for a public church and drove through the open gate. With parts of the compound still under construction, we realized our mistake fairly quickly, but I captured this image of the chapel before we left: as simple and beautiful as any white flower blossoming against the sky.