Thursday, May 25, 2006

more lizard musings

Is anyone besides my immediate family actually still reading my blog about lizards?

Two days this week we were out at the Beach ranch radio tracking horned lizards and searching for more horned subjects. Moose needs to track 20 Texas horned lizards for this field season. So far 3 adult horned lizards are wandering the property with tracking devices glued to their backs.

It’s unusually hot in Lubbock for this time a year. It’s been over 100 degrees and every time I bend over to pick up a rock I get dizzy. I’m sure if you’ve seen all my brothers pictures on Flickr, you might assume that Texas wildlife is not only diverse but crawlin’ all over the place.

You might think that a walk with Lisa and Jack through the Texas scrublands might lead to a venomous bite on the ankle. But really if you’re not looking really hard you could easily see nothing but some grass and some birds. Texas wildlife IS diverse but it is not abundant and most animals are hiding in their underground tunnels waiting for either the apocalypse or just the hot sun to go down. After I take a bite of this mushroom I think I’ll slide down that rabbit hole and join them.

The chances of getting bit by a snake are slim. They really don’t want to waste their venom on someone who is much too large to swallow. If his rattling doesn’t scare you off he’s going to try to leave the scene as quickly as possible because you IS scary as shit! In fact he might not even rattle so much at all since all his louder rattling amigos were rounded up by killer cowboys. They were never heard from again. This left the quieter rattlesnakes to live long and multiply providing science text books with an example of (un) natural selection.

While I was aimlessly walking around the brush scanning for lizards, I wondered what neurons were firing at the moment I realized out of the corner of my eye that an animal such as a Texas horned lizard was sunning himself nearby. How did I make sense of that breathing patch of lizard fabric so meticulously sown into the scrubby carpet of the Beach Ranch? I would scan the ground with full concentration and determination. It was tiring. I saw a lot of “stuff” but couldn’t catch shit.

Moose scans effortlessly, a skill highly developed over 20 years of training. In his words,

“ The animals just pop out, seeing them just comes second nature.”

For both of us, the eureka moment of noticing (and then catching if you can) the hidden animal is magical and exhilarating even if it’s the same species over and over again. But one never knows what waits around the bend. A couple days ago I spied two coach whip snakes entwined in cold-blooded copulation next to a prickly pear cactus. Catching two reptiles in the act was very exciting. It’s a fetish of mine…just kidding. But it sure is much easier to see animal if it is moving (and having sex) than if it is still!

While we were “road cruising”, (its also much easier to see an animal if its on the open road) Moose slammed on the breaks and I went flying forward for the 10th time the other day. I looked ahead. Nothing was in sight for miles. He jumped out of the car. In seconds he returned and the familiar Eau de’ Colubrid wafted into my nostrils. The million dollar lottery look of total and utter joy on his face told me that this wasn’t just another western diamondback rattlesnake but someone much more precious. It was the beautiful and fair Texas long nosed snake-a snake he had previously only seen in pictures; a reptile to write songs about.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Camp Bowie

Howdy y'all. Spent Tuesday-Fri at an isolated army base with my brother. The only people we saw were the soldiers that initially checked us in and the various waitresses who served us food when we left the base to fix ourselves some dinner. We were tv-less, phone-less and internet-less for 4 days but it didnt matter none. We had each others, the coyotes, jack rabbits, bob cats, rattlesnakes and collared lizards all to ourselves, and thats all that mattered.

Our mission at Camp Bowie, Brownwood, smack in the dead center of Texas, was to find ourselves a Texas horned lizard. But let me tell you, those Texas horned lizards were about as ubiquitous as a regular high fat yogurt in a Texan supermarket. In other words, we didnt find one stinkin' horned lizard on the property.

Moose is doing horned lizard surveys on 4 army bases for the Texas National Guard and for his PhD project. Unfortunately not much research has been done for the lizard which is now a Texas state threatened animal so there is not much baseline data. During the 60s and 70s the horned lizard was abundant in almost every county of Texas but has been in decline for reasons unknown since the 80s. It is now locally extinct in most of eastern Texas. In 1996 they still abundant at Camp Bowie but surveys taken in 2000 and 2004 yielded 0 and 2 juveniles respectively. So far none have been found there this year. Perhaps the lizards are occuring at such a low density that we cant find them.

Research can only be done at the base when it is empty of soldiers training and practicing target shooting for obvious reasons. Unlike soldiers who are prepared to die for their country, we are not prepared to die for our horned lizards. We slept in the empty barracks. The simple, spartan buildings were made of unpainted cinderblocks and alternately reminded me of a jail and a lego set. Luckily we didnt spend much time there. Morning, noon and night you could either find us (if you had some kind of GPS locator on us) half lost on some unmarked back road of the base's 10,000 acre property or eating a meal that would inevitably give me a stomach ache or make my brothers face puff up at some backwards restaurant in Brownwood Texas. Those deep fried pickle chips were damn good in our mouths...damn it!

In the few hours we had contact with civilization we had to make a concerted effort to leave the hillbilly/ jive/slapstick theatre we created....Just hang loose blood. Shes gonna catch you up on the rebound on the medside. What it is big mamma? My mamma dont raise no dummies, I dug her rap. Cut me some slack jack. Chump dont want the help chump dont get the help....
You have to see "Airplane" to appreciate this quote which I probably mangled, but this was our conversation over and over again all day of which we never tired of speaking. Moose can recite it and a million other quotes frightningly well. I cant remember shit and should never attempt to act.

I havent lived with my brother since we were teenager and I dont think I ever spent this much time with him in my life. I think we're pretty compatible and Im really enjoying myself here with him. Its amazing how playing a charater from "Good Times" can diffuse any potential tensions (as long as its the privacy of our own home or car!)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Canyons, Caverns and beautiful Guadalupe

Saturday we drove to the Caprock Canyons and went hiking for the day. Western diamondback rattlesnake, greatplains rat snake and coachwhip snakey crossed our path. I have a great video of my bro catching the coachwhip.

Sunday we made my dad's childhood dream a reality by visiting the Carlsbad Caverns 3 hours west in NM. Since my grandmother saves everything we discovered my dad's 4th grade scrapbook of caverns a few years ago. The 50 year old National Geographic photos are still accurate. I recognized several stalagtites and stalagmites. They haven't changed one bit!

In the evening we hiked in the Guadalupe mountains. A little while ago there was an inland sea here with a large coral reef. We hiked around the "sea bottom" and looked up to the layers of compressed coral reef on the tops of the mountains. Rocks are like, old. Its difficult to comprehend that like a lot of time passed before I was alive. How did it get to be now already?

link to my pics
check out awesome video of my bro catching a snake:

The Beach Ranch

My brother is a relentless searcher of herps (to herp, v. to search for reptiles/ amphibians, herps, n. reptiles/amph.). Discovering the lizard in the haystack, stalking it like prey and then lovingly talking to it to it when its in his hands never ceases to excite him day in and day out. He would make a really great hunter-gatherer…now my mind is wandering... In my atavistic Flintstones fantasy I’m decorating the cave with buffalo, my father (a psychiatrist) is shrinking heads and my mom is cooking a buffalo over the open fire…perhaps we are living in Crystal cave. (Cave in PA)

My parents flew out for a visit this weekend. Friday Moose took us to one of his hunting grounds, the Beach ranch. The Beaches have 8,000 acres of land they want used for conservation purposes. 98% of Texan land is privately owned, so my brother is happy to have permission to use the property. Accidentally wandering on someone else’s property here in Texas can get you shot. Some years back a grad student who had permission to use a private property got shot in the leg when the rancher mistook him for a trespasser. “Don’t mess with Texas,” an environmental sign used to express itself to would be litterers, has multiple meanings.

The beach ranch is located 50 miles south east of Lubbock (,_Texas) on the Caprock escarpment. There is no comparing the rolling landscape of the Caprock escarpment and the even more spectacular nearby Caprock Canyons ( to Lubbock, which is on a plateau. I look out the window as we drive there and think, they don’t call this big sky country for nothing, there is not a mountain or a molehill in sight. There is an occasional dust devil, bail of hay, cow, random house and oil pump field. Playing I spy wouldn’t be much of a challenge here. I closed my eyes and thought it was raining, but soon realized it was only the sound of millions of bugs exploding on our windshield. This is the flatlands where 2 D people with “Jesus is the only” way written on their tee shirts drive in oversized staypuff trucks 10 miles below the speed limit into the sunset. In the car we listen an audiotape titled “The World is Flat” by Thomas Freidman. It sure looks flat from this vantage point. From here I can see into the offices of Beijing where the Chinese are beating us in the global technology race.

Driving off the plateau the landscape changes dramatically. Somehow in any context whether it be mood swings, the stock market or your EKG, peaks and valleys are always more interesting than simply flat. Once on the dirt roads of the ranch I have a new appreciation for oversized trucks with 4-wheel drive. Luckily I am in one although as I accidentally drench my shirt in an attempt to hydrate myself, it is not a smooth ride.

Its 95 degrees outside and even though everyone keeps telling me it’s a dry heat I fail to see the significance. I am melting, especially since I’m wearing a sweatshirt with a hood up so I wont get further sunburned. My mom agrees and we spend a lot of time between the shade of a tall mesquite bush and the air conditioned truck while my brother and my dad romp around the scrublands searching “for stuff”. They bring back collared lizards, racerunners, a baby ornate turtle, a ground snake and some pretty rocks to our nest, but unfortunately no horned lizards for a photo shoot. Moose and Dad’s latest digital SLR’s capture the creatures for all eternity (or until this latest technology becomes archaic). Ironically, the one family member with an MFA in photography (me) has only a point and shoot digital camera. So far I’ve taken a lot of blurry “expressionistic” photos of lizards. I think I can better capture their personality, the essence if you will of a Phrynosoma cornutum or Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis with just the right amount of camera shake.

Keep checking for great photos of Texan wildlife and landscapes.
Also here is the links to my pics

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why I am here

Last night I dreamed that there were crickets breeding and multiplying in my bedroom. In a panic I began stomping on the hordes of insects as they were crawling up my legs. I woke up in a sweat, opened my eyes, took a deep breath and breathed in the unpleasant woodsy aroma of crickets. Yes, they really are breeding and multiplying in my "bedroom". I wouldn't be surprised if one of the stray crickets I see roaming around the apartment crawled up my legs last night. I'm sleeping on my brother Moose's couch here in Lubbock Texas. There is a large tupperware container under his "dining room table" containing living, multiplying bite sized bearded dragon meals 6 feet from where I sleep. On top of the table are 2 aquariums home to a desert king snake and a bull snake my brother found in "the field".
In this large 2 bedroom apartment my brother rents for 400 smackers (can you believe it?) one bedroom door is always (thankfully) closed. What is behind door number 2? Only 14 adult breeding bearded dragons, 22 newly hatched babies, a tub full of crickets and a really really bad smell. In Moose's bedroom are 2 incubators housing a total of 75 bearded dragon eggs, some which are hatching. In one, a tiny head with large closed eyes is emerging from its white leathery pouch. Its super sweet. You can check out hatching pictures and totally awesome wildlife pictures at
I must add---although this is a very "familial" living situation coming from my Germanic, orderly bf, Jurij's apartment, its a bit of a shock! I myself like to keep my hypothetical apartment in a state somewhere (and Ill be very nebulous about where) between the two!
Anyway, Bearded dragons are desert lizards native to Australia. They are usually pale in color and grow no bigger than 2 feet. They have cute triangular heads, a sweet disposition and a flat body evolved perfectly for fitting into rock crevaces to escape their enemies. Because the light skin below their heads turns brown when they are upset or interested in the opposite sex they are aptly named, BD. Popular as pets and easy to breed, my brother makes some easy dough selling the lizards to pet stores.
Most of you know that the Goldfarbs are a reptile (and amphibian) family. We would have been an all other creatures gracing the earth as well family if it weren't for all the stuffy noses, watery eyes and shortness of breath, ect. suffered from close encounters of the furry kind.
Reptiles and amphibians have been walking the Goldfarb house since the beginning of my brothers time. Before him we had birds (which are reptiles).
Moose's unusual interest began as soon as he could walk and stuff small creatures into his pockets. His childhood was spent from sun up to sun down at the ponds catching frogs, salamanders, turtles and fish. Always extremely focused, by the time he was 8 he was already an expert herpetologist. (Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians excluding birds and is a test question).
20 years later, he is at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas catching Texas horned lizards for his PhD project. Not much has changed since then except his interest in girls. His thesis is on the geographic variation of Texas HL. Basically he is studying the differences in morphology, habitat selection and home range size between several Texas horned lizard populations. This is important for conservation and management. The THL is a Texas state threatened animal.
And I'm here to help!!!! Yay! I'm here in Texas because I wanted to chill out with my brother and he needs an extra assistant to help him catch lizards. Perfect!
Yesterday we drove out to the Beach Ranch, an 8,000 acre property owned by guess who, the Beaches! 5 hours of searching produced 3 THLs., one of which I found and am very proud. We also saw a couple spade foot toads, barn and burrowing owls, a bob white quail, extremely cute prairie dogs, and a Kansas glossy snake to name a few. If I was there by myself I would have said that I saw some birds, some frogs a snake and a 2 Texas horned lizards. At least I know what they (THLs) look like!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Texas..where am I??

So Ive been in Germany for 3 months but after less than 24 hours in Texas I feel compelled to start a blog! It was a long ride-Munich-Chicago-Dallas-Lubbock. And of course I was seated in the netherregions of each plane and with each change had to run with my heavy bags to the farthest gate in each airport. I knew I was in a foriegn country when I landed in Chicago. I was running for my next flight but I was really more motivated to escape from the sickening odors of the various fast food joints and hordes of massively obese people I was passing. I never saw so many fat people in one place than in the airports of Chicago and Dallas. I mean every 4th person looked like a BLOATED Stay Puff M.Man. Every other person looked like they were in the various stages of Stay Puff Metamorphosis. Pop pop pop...pop pop pop. I was hoping to at least see some beautiful butterflies emerge, but I think its really an alien take over.

Moose picked me up at the airport and then we went to the supermarket. I wanted to get some yogurts for breakfast but in this giant supermarket with 50 choices of each product, there was a limited supply of yogurts in the dairy section and all were FAT FREE!!! Not one regular yogurt to be found nor one thin Texan in the market.

But I must say the people here are really friendly...perhaps TOO friendly. I did enjoy my conversations with the talkative crowds on my domestic flights. I even enjoyed my 4 hour religious debate with my born again Christian seat mate even though when I asked him if he felt sorry for me because I was Jewish and didnt except Christ, he said yes. He said he felt sorry because my life could be so much better....but he didnt judge me (even though Im going to hell)

I didnt enjoy the friendly bagger. First to contrast, in Germany they dont have baggers, they dont even have bags! And the bookbag I would bring was not allowed in the store. All the fattening foods Germans buy and eat in the store are burned off in the check out. First you run an obstacle course to the front of the store to pick up your bag, then you try to pay for your food while you are feverishly stuffing canned kraut and a large ham over soft fruit and camembert into your small bookbag because the next customers food is barrelling down the conveybelt and is mixing up with yours. Questions are spoken to you in German and in a moment of panic you cant even remember English.
In Texas they have baggers. They give you a choice of paper or plastic bags. And then, THEY COMMENT ON YOUR PRODUCT CHOICE. "Hey do you use that Colgate hydrogen peroxide because you have sores in your mouth or for another reason. Do you use it as a regular mouthwash?". Shocked, I just stared quietly at her...but telepathically, I said to her, listen fugly bitch, Im going to commit murder by breathing on you right now". She said, "I dont mean to get personal but Im going to school for dentistry".
Then she procedes to walk with us to our car pushing our wagon and then loading up our car (parked in a sea of oversized monster vehicles) while making chit chat.