Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Recently, as I peered over the rock wall in my backyard, I spotted a roadrunner darting through a ravine.
It was a rare sighting. Even though my adobe abode backs up on the last little patch of desert wilderness in my neighborhood, traffic and housing developments are encroaching more than our dashing little paisanos seem to like.
For a week or so, I found myself spotting other roadrunners on my rounds.
I was about to go searching for Jessica Palmer’s book, “Animal Wisdom: Definitive Guide to Myth, Folklore and Medicine Power of Animals,” when, as fate and ubiquitous New Mexican synchronicity would have it, I got an email from the former Las Crucen.
“There’s another edition (the seventh) of ‘Animal Wisdom’ coming out. This time it’s a U.S. edition,” said Jessica, a longtime resident of the U.K. who now lives in Alamogordo. The new edition is from McFarland & Co. Inc., the same publisher who released her two recent historical volumes: “The Dakota Peoples” and the “Apache Peoples: A History of All Bands and Tribes Through the 1880s.”
“Sorry to say, roadrunner is not in ‘Animal Wisdom;’ but here’s what legends have to say,” Jessica wrote.
“In Southwestern myths, roadrunners are notable for their speed (despite their small size, roadrunners can run faster than humans), bravery (roadrunners kill and eat rattlesnakes), and endurance,” Jessica told me in an email.
“The Hopi and other Pueblo tribes believed that roadrunners were medicine birds and could protect against evil spirits,” she wrote.
“Items with their footprints were supposed to provide protection and confuse the enemy since their X-shape tracks in the dirt disguises the direction that they are going,” she wrote. “Roadrunner feathers were traditionally used to decorate Pueblo cradleboards to protect their babies. In some tribes, it was considered good luck to see a roadrunner. The bird was considered sacred and never killed. The Apache and the Maya both have myths about electing roadrunner as leader.”
Ever since, I’ve been thinking of Errol, and wondering if his descendents are still roaming the territory.
In my first years here, I had a pet paisano, who lived in the porch overhang when I was a tenant in the Picacho Hills home of Verlaine Davies.
I named him Errol, because something in his dashing demeanor reminded me of the handsome, swashbuckling movie star Errol Flynn.
Errol the roadrunner would hover like a puppy whenever I made albondigas (his fave) and leave rattles of snakes he’d killed on our front door stoop.
In those days, I was an earlier bird than our resident roadrunner, who would often grumble at me when I woke him, as I was leaving for the office before 5 a.m. Roadrunners make a unique range of sounds, and Errol’s crabby morning protests reminded me of the raspy vocals of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Most of the time, he was a pretty chipper fellow, darting and dancing around me during mountain walks and one year, showing off the wife and kids. My first story for the Sun-News was about roadrunners, and I knew male birds take a very active role in rearing their offspring. Errol seemed to be a good daddy, and the baby runners grew and flourished and went off to stake out their own territory.
So did I. I left Picacho Peak and eventually moved to a considerably more populated neighborhood in Las Cruces, where roadrunners seldom visit.
When grandson Alexander the Great was a small boy, we were strolling through my new neighborhood and having one of our philosophic chats. I was talking to him about the power of prayer before we played for a while in our local park and decided it was time to head on home.
“I pray to see a roadrunner,” Alex said, and when we got home, there was a handsome young roadrunner, perched and waiting patiently in my new driveway.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450.

No comments: