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Big Bend & Bayous

Bayou-Diversity (3 March 2019) As I write this Bayou-Diversity essay I am overlooking the muddy, roiling Rio Grande nearly 1,000 miles southwest of my Louisiana home on the edge of the Bayou D’Arbonne Swamp. There is little that can be called civilization for 500 miles to the south. Indeed, much of the looming Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico has never been mapped. To the north the small village of Marathon, Texas lies across a hundred miles of Chihuahuan desert. Between here and there a road is closed because three mountain lions have recently behaved in a manner bolder than the comfort level of patrolling rangers. Two days ago as we hiked along a remote trail a limb snapped fifteen feet overhead and revealed a black bear casually dining on fruit of a madrone tree. It is autumn; the thermometer only reached 98 degrees today. There was a fluorescent scorpion in a cook pot in the bunkhouse the first night and a nest of baby desert mice in the oven – the kind whose picture adorns the hantavirus warning poster on the back of the door.

For several days we have tramped across the desert and mountains with a hand-held, space age gizmo that uses orbiting satellites to help us locate random points. At each site we gather detailed measurements of vegetation as part of a larger study to better understand birds of this region. Most plants have thorns, needles or spines. I have been vaccinated from head to toe. Lechuguilla and cholla are the worst.

Though it’s hot, there is no humidity, and I’ve been much less comfortable in Louisiana. The terrain is moonscape-rugged but no more impassable than an overflow swamp. Cacti abound but poison ivy is rare. Scorpions and diamondback rattlesnakes demand caution but so do red wasps and cottonmouths at home. I’ve not been bitten by a mosquito here either. It’s different, and it’s the same. There is no bayou here; the parallel is diversity. (photo by NPS/Ann Wildermuth)


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