It was your typical father-son conversation.
MY SON: Dad, I’m stuck.
ME: Can you reach the armadillo?
MY SON: Not quite.
It all started the other night at my parents’ house as we were sitting on the back deck enjoying the evening. Behind my parents’ house are some woods that admittedly may not seem large now, but seemed huge when we moved there when I was four. They are at least big enough for me to have gotten lost in them as a child, a fact that my family still finds funny to this day.
But they are also big enough to have the occasional wildlife venture through, from possums to raccoons and even the occasional deer.
That evening, Murphy the Excitable Dachshund began to get very agitated at the corner of the porch. This usually means something is actually happening, as Murphy’s favorite pastime is being a big blog sitting around doing nothing, so when he gets moving something is afoot, as Murphy does come from a proud lineage of noble badger hunters, and his instinct takes over from time to time, overruling his default instinct of doing nothing.
As he began sniffing and snorting and scratching at the screen, I flipped on the flashlight on my phone.
There, inches from Murphy on the other side of the screen, was an armadillo, rooting around in the leaves.
I turned and noticed that the kids were not on the porch, and this was something they would certainly want to see. I knew the one who would be most excited to see the armadillo was my son, who is probably closer in domesticity to your average armadillo than he is to most humans.
I turned to my brother-in-law Ron, who has now been part of the family long enough to know when it’s time to spring into action for such occasions. “RON! ARMADILLO!” I said. Not missing a beat, Ron sprinted inside, shouted, “COME OUTSIDE! ARMADILLO?” and wisely stepped back to avoid the flood of children sprinting outside.
Parker was the first outside. In retrospect, I should have just made the grab myself, as I am a seasoned armadillo wrangler, having caught one more armadillo than most people. That particular catch was done years ago in a grocery store parking lot, where I snagged a little fella. I relocated that one to some nearby woods, which most biologists agree is a better armadillo habitat than a slab of asphalt.
But Parker’s excitement got the best of him and he lunged for it. The armadillo sensed him and sprinted underneath the deck about 15 away. The space between the ground and the deck was roughly armadillo-height, so I was not going to go in after them. Parker, on the other hand…
Now some of you may think it is bad parenting to let my son shimmy under a deck to catch an armadillo. But you must keep in mind two important facts: (a) armadillos are pretty harmless if you know how to handle them and (b) there was no chance that armadillo was going to get caught under there. They are quick, wily and elusive, and pretty much your best bet to catch one involves factors that include it being exhausted in a parking lot.
About halfway under the deck, Parker found his stopping point. My first response would have been to grab him by the ankles and just drag him out. However, he was well under the deck at this point, and as previously stated, I had no intention of crawling under there.
Parker didn’t want to give up on his armadillo quest, but there was really no other option. “Can you get me a shovel?” he asked. I informed him that he was not going to dig his way to prosperity and to start wiggling backward. The armadillo won this round, fair and square.
Eventually, he got his now-filthy self unstuck and opted to try and wait out the armadillo. Fun fact: armadillos have more patience than 11-year-olds. Oh, and there is an easy answer to your inevitable question of, “What were you going to do if you caught it?” Answer: “Look at it, I guess. And then, you know, let it go.”
Hopefully, we will one day have round two with the armadillo and can even the score. Should we have the chance to nab it, I should probably make the initial grab attempt. After all, I am a seasoned armadillo wrangler.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.