Encounters With Southern Fauna
Fireflies are flitting around yards here in suburban Chicago. A sure sign of high summer. Pretty little lights, but nothing like the streaky volume of light at Acadiana Park in Lafayette, Louisiana, last month, where a lot of fireflies lit up the dusk. Acadiana is a municipal park, 100 or more acres, and some of it is a campground, but more of it is as wilderness as you're going to get in the middle of a small city. I was practically the only camper there, certainly the only one at my end of the campground.
While I was pitching my tent, a raccoon emerged from the bushes. Not the fat raccoons I’ve seen near my house, but a wiry creature who spent a few moments on his hind legs – never seen a raccoon do that – probably assessing food opportunities from this new camper. I threw a stick at him. He didn’t return during my stay that I could see.
Otherwise I shared the place with aforementioned fireflies, hungry mosquitoes and countless more noisy bugs. After dark, inside the tent, I was treated to a bug symphony, turned up loud, rising from the lush Louisiana undergrowth. Illinois bug symphonies seem reedy and weak by comparison.
Throaty frogs, or some kind of amphibians, were part of a similar aural mix while camping in extreme northeastern Mississippi later in the trip, at Tishomingo State Park. (One of my favorite place names on the whole trip; let Tishomingo trip off the tongue.) In my part of the campground, there were no other people. Just insects and their burrs and chirps and buzzes, amphibians crying for their mates, and the occasional swish of larger animals out in the brush beyond the light.
I spent a fair amount of time driving the Natchez Trace Parkway on this trip, encountering some animal life there as well. Not far out of Natchez, I saw what I took to be a castoff tire tread on the road. Then it moved. Even inside a moving car, I started a little when I realized it was a large black snake. I don’t think I hit it. Elsewhere on the Trace, a sizable dark tortoise came into view on the road, inching across. The Trace doesn’t have tremendously heavy traffic, but it still seemed like dangerous business for him. I didn’t hit him, either.
At Shiloh, animals were fairly much in the background of my thoughts until suddenly at a turn in a road, a pair of wild turkeys darted by. Well, sure. Wild Turkey. No, that's Kentucky whiskey. Still, wild turkeys in Tennessee, except for the fact that they ran pretty close by, were no surprise.
But several places in Mississippi, on US highways or state roads, I saw armadillos. I didn’t know they ranged that far east, but I am ignorant in these matters. I suppose they've been expanding their habitat because their only natural enemies are vehicles. I didn't see any smashed ones, though, which are common enough in Texas. The ones I saw were all alive and scuttering across the roads.