When we weren’t exploring with one of the pile bucks, we boys constantly explored our immediate environs around Heise Station, an area that fairly teemed with life, most of it much smaller than we were.
In the desert around Westmorland, and I guess everywhere in the Imperial Valley, lived big red ants. They got into everything, and Uncle Ernie waged a constant battle against them in the café. Sometimes, when their forays got particularly pestiferous, he would fill a five-gallon can with gasoline and take me and Rick and Wayne–Bob was still too little–hunting for their nests. When we found one–they were big mounds and pretty easy to spot–Uncle Ernie would pour gasoline down into the hole and set it afire. The flames would whoosh out of the hole pretty high in the air. We thought it was great fun, but I did feel kind of sorry for the ants, and burning them never did stop them completely. They always came back.
Besides ants, there were plenty of other desert creatures around our house, including big black tarantulas. One particularly aggressive tarantula actually chased me up a tree once. I swear this is a true story and one that my grandkids love to hear. Maybe I was bothering the spider. Being six years old, you tend to do those kinds of things. When the spider came after me, I headed for one of the low, bendy tamarisks and scrambled up the trunk as fast as I could, screaming for Uncle Ernie all the way. I quickly learned that tarantulas can climb trees too; it followed me right up the tree. By that time, my dad had arrived from Detroit, and both he and Uncle Ernie came running to see what I had gotten into this time. There I was, treed by a spider and yelling my head off. With a broken branch, Dad finally shooed it off the tree and rescued me. After that, I tended to avoid the tarantulas when I could.
(NEXT WEEK: At home and some Soap Opera in the desert.)