In search of ponies: Yankee makes home in Southwest

Sharna Johnson

“Oh man, the flies are awful here!” my visiting family member exclaimed by way of a greeting when I arrived home from work.

“Actually they haven’t been bad this year at all,” I replied, a little confused as he guided me to my kitchen counter, turned-killing fields and proudly showed me the carnage.

Underneath a hanging fly trap that he had installed while I was gone, the counter appeared to be polka dotted with the success of his hunting and swatting — innovatively using my cell phone insurance brochure as his weapon.

“There’s ninety-six of them!” he exclaimed “And that’s not counting what’s stuck to the trap!”

Fighting the urge to laugh, I gently pointed out there hadn’t been that many flies before I left the house and that perhaps the fly trap had an attractant on it.

I again stifled my laughter as I watched the thought move across his face and end in a “Eureka” expression as it dawned on him and he quickly returned to swatting flies.

The next day when I called to check in, his breathless voice greeted me on the other end of the line.

“I just had the scare of my life!” he said.

He proceeded to tell me he was getting a plate when he heard something scurrying in the cabinet. Something flashed by, he said, so he reached out and grabbed it only to drop it when my son yelled a warning.

“It was long and flat and had hundreds of legs!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never seen anything like that before, it was HUGE!”

I had to cover my mouth with my hand so he couldn’t hear me laughing as he rambled on to explain he grabbed a kitchen knife and cut it in half, but it kept running at him.

“You did the right thing,” I said. “That was a centipede. Don’t pick up anymore of them. I don’t think it would kill you but I’m pretty sure you would be uncomfortable for a while.”

For good measure, I took the opportunity to caution him about standing still in one place too long without looking down at his feet while outside, operating on the assumption that his next discovery was likely to be fire ants.

“You got it, I won’t,” he assured me.

And then the next day as we were jacking up a trailer he suddenly jumped back and exclaimed, “What is that? It’s a snake with little arms!”

I looked down into the dry, cracked ground where he pointed and smiled.

“Nope, not a snake – it’s a skink,” I said and went back to turning the jack.

“What’s a skink?” he asked, staring down into the hole.

“It’s a lizard. It’s harmless,” I answered. He reluctantly returned to the jack but I noticed he kept checking the hole while we worked.

Most days I still feel like a Yankee, especially when I’m in the feed store or at the rodeo — environments where I try not to say a whole lot so I don’t stand out too much.

But it only takes a few minutes with someone who isn’t from around here to know I have adapted.

The Eastern Plains is pretty curious, and even a little scary, to Yankees.

I remember the first time I saw a tarantula hawk wasp — the official state insect in New Mexico — and thought some Jurassic Park monster was coming at me.

Or the first time I saw a rattle snake, or for that matter a parade of tarantulas crossing the road or a black widow spider.

Somehow it all grows on you if you stick around long enough, and after a while, you don’t even blink.

You can always go further west but I’m not sure it gets much wilder, and if you ask me, there’s no place like home.

Even if it means the relatives aren’t too keen on visiting anymore.