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Seattle girl's harrowing move to Southeast Texas

From trauma to triumph in a world of creepy critters








It was early May, and we had just arrived at our new home in a rural Houston suburb after an 11-day cross-country move from Seattle. Still emotionally raw from weeks of sad goodbyes to long-standing friends, my husband and I were in a strange state of homesickness mixed in a blender with the excitement and adventure of starting a new life in Texas. We were happy with our neighborhood and planned to stay in an Airbnb for the first two weeks. Thrilled to escape the perpetual Seattle chill for a hot climate, we were shocked that moving day began with a downpour more powerful than I had ever seen. Like a misplaced tourist, I took videos of the sheets of rain pouring off the edges of our roof in disbelief, nervously searching my phone for a weather alert as a hurricane rookie. There were so many steps involved in the complex move that I had neglected to research Houston weather to understand that we had moved to a “monsoon climate.” A vocal abhorrer of any kind of precipitation, I had submitted to the grey and rain of Seattle for twenty-three years and was mistakenly hopeful that I might never see a raindrop again in Texas (queue the laughter). The flash flood level gully washer of rain we experienced on moving day foreshadowed my complete and utter cluelessness as a West coast transplant way out of her league.


I stood bewildered amid moving boxes piled from floor to ceiling and on every available horizontal surface, but I was exhilarated by the chaos of it all. As the sun went down and exhaustion set in, we packed our day bag and our beloved dog into the truck, dodging continuous lightning bolts and sheets of pummeling rain. Without clean clothes or toiletries, we were determined to get back to the comfort of the Airbnb and some much-needed sleep. We found ourselves soaked and out of breath in the false sense of security of the truck cab. As we made our way to the end of the street, the windshield wipers were rendered helpless by buckets of water pounding the dash over and over. The sound of the thunder and rain was so intense we had to yell to hear each other, and without streetlights blackness engulfed the truck, interrupted by angry and ethereal lightening. Driving slowly, the flooding culverts as our only road indicators, we found our way to the front of the neighborhood by brail, soon realizing that turning around was the only safe option. We would spend our first night in our new Texas home in camping mode.


Thankfully our movers had set up the bed frames, and I looked through boxes to find sheets and towels, making up our bed just as the power went out. Dan set up a flashlight at each end of the house, and we used our cell phone flashlights to navigate. Rummaging for personal care products, I looked in boxes stacked by the living room table, and as I slid them out of the way, an unfamiliar primitive instinct alerted me that something near my feet wasn’t right. Directing my flashlight along the wall, the distinctive outline of a scorpion lit up like a Christmas tree, and an involuntary gurgle flooded my throat, piercing the air with a high pitched scream. I had never seen a scorpion aside from the symbol on a zodiac sign for a Scorpio, but my body instantly knew what to do: jump back, scream, and look for a weapon with which to defend myself from the small but creepy critter that likely came in with the moving boxes. As my husband tried to kill it with a straight edge, the screaming morphed into crying. Powerful thunder startled me, shaking the windows along the back of the house, the lightening lighting up my silhouette where I stood sobbing like a little girl, declaring to Dan and to the world, “I want to go home.” Neither of us slept that night, as the lightening continuously lit up our house with an eerie white glow, and our walls shuddered with endless, violent crashes of thunder. There was no way I could do this Texas thing. Our first night had dramatically served up two of my three greatest fears: creepy crawlers and thunder.



So, what’s the third thing that terrifies me? Snakes. I never knew I was afraid of snakes until on our drive to Texas, the Houston Facebook pages we had joined began to regale us with daily posts of venomous snakes in the area we’d soon call home. In my defense, you must know that Western Washington from which we came doesn’t offer much in the way of venomous spiders and snakes. Sitting in the dirt while gardening was a regular pastime for me, and twice a year when a small Seattle house spider accidentally came inside, if you listened closely, it could be heard saying, “Sorry. Excuse me. I didn’t mean to come into your home unannounced.” In two decades of life in the Pacific Northwest I had only seen a small and rather cute garter snake one time as it passively crawled away. In contrast, every day of our first year in Texas included the best and most epic stories every friend, neighbor, and acquaintance could tell us about Copperheads, hognose and coral snakes. Snakes that wound through people’s shoes, took shelter in the corners of garages, and were rumored to come into homes through openings commonly found in brick and stone houses called a “weep hole,” which for me loosely translated means “portal from hell.” Sleep became impossible for me, as a snake and scorpion virgin I immediately bought a black light on Amazon to inspect every inch of our bedding, night after night searching for scorpions and other silver dollar-sized spiders. It took hours to fall asleep, as I combatted the battlefield of my mind each time I felt the slightest twitch on my foot, arm, or leg.



Hiring a “bug guy,” also known as a licensed pest remediation professional, was the first residential contract I gleefully signed on our third day at the new house. “We recommend coming out every 90 days, ma’am.” To which I asked, “can you come out every 60 days?” When neighbors looked at me sideways about the frequency of our bug contractor visits, I was honest and said, “cancer be damned, get the bug spray out here.” As a cancer survivor, I don’t take this statement lightly, but I also don’t take my mental health lightly. One of the first home improvements we made was to screen in our back porch. My husband is a smart man and knew that if he ever hoped to see me outside, unless we constructed a life-sized hamster ball for me to roll around in or purchased a bee suit and snake boots, I would never set foot in the yard.


As the weeks turned into months, we busied ourselves with a swimming pool project, fixing sprinklers, making friends and settling in. The sheer volume of photos and videos on my camera began to crash my phone, forcing me to delete some of the countless clips of spiders the size of a human hand, giant cicadas, flying cockroaches, biting horse flies the size of golf balls, every species of stinging wasps and hornets, larger than life dragon flies, fire ants that leave necrotic welts on the skin, swarming red ants, love bugs, june bugs, and every manner of bug in your wildest imagination! Late in the season, dainty orange lady bird beetles arrive, often covering the entire side of a house. Did I mention that they bite? Even the butterflies here dive bomb your head, flying in random patterns to avoid being eaten by the next creature up the food chain. My early video creations were entitled “Texas Creature Features,” which later became known as "The Bug of the Week Club.” The cycle of life here begins and ends with the siren call of a lone cicada who directs the cacophonic symphony of the insect choir. Once the first Spring cicada calls, I know it’s time to put on my armor of hyper-vigilance and to welcome the arrival of thousands of species of creatures who wear their spooky skeletons on the outside. It’s easiest to summarize by saying, “if it exists in the Amazon, it exists in Southeast Texas.”



One night while Dan was on a business trip, I innocently went outside to let the dog out. Something huge and dark jumped at my face, and I was sure it was a bat which I violently swatted away. I went inside to finish watching a movie, and for 45 minutes I tinkered with the plastic clip in my hair. Still wheezing from COVID, I padded off to my bedroom closet to pull off my tank top and find pajama pants. Pulling the shirt over my head dislodged the teetering hair clip, and as I reached up to fix it, something felt unnatural in my hands. What I felt was hard like my clip, but unfamiliar, that is until it moved! Realizing it was some kind of huge bug with a hard exoskeleton, my panicked screams broke through my laryngitis, as I attempted to untangle the giant creature from my hair. Tipping my head upside down, something finally fell to the carpet, revealing a nearly six-inch brown locust-like insect with antennas and disproportionately long jointed legs. Shirtless and vulnerable, I grabbed my heavy jewelry box and slammed it down on the disoriented bug, frantically pulling on a clean shirt. My bare feet remained vulnerable to attack, and all I could find were my cowboy boots that I felt would afford greater protection to my calves. I stomped out into the garage, weeks of built up COVID isolation driving a nearly hysterical rage, and I grabbed the first tool I could find—my husband’s yellow-handled hammer. A weeping, snot bubble-blowing maniacal lunatic, dressed only in a tee shirt and cowboy boots, I sheepishly reentered my closet determined to face my fear. I slowly slid back my jewelry box to reveal a partially flattened but still alive, stunned and wriggling creature who I finished off with several homicidal flashes of the hammer. A true sufferer of entomophobia, the adrenaline took longer than usual to course through my system, as I sat on the floor trying to regain my oxygen sats, literally. Had anyone found me they would have assumed I had just shot an intruder during a burglary. It was in that moment that I realized I was going to need to move back to Seattle, get on some kind of medication for a super-sized Southern bug adjustment disorder, or stand up, blow my nose, and grow a pair of Texas-sized courage.


TO BE CONTINUED...




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Ina Fournier
Ina Fournier
Aug 03, 2023

I Love it Jenny. Now you know why I left Kansas. Love you lots Ina

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Jenny Foster
Jenny Foster
Aug 03, 2023
Replying to

Thanks! Oh, girl - now I do!

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