When I moved back to Jamaica, I was overjoyed to once more be able to cuddle my dogs. Having lived an extremely nomadic life, I felt it was irresponsible to have a pet, but I had grown up surrounded by cats, dogs, a turtle, a parrot, fish, and, well, any animal you could call pet and attempt to cuddle (yes, I used to try and pet my fish).
After years and years away, it was lovely to be able to interact daily with animals once again back on my rock, but the first month or so was rough trying to go to sleep with the endless barking of all the neighborhood dogs. In my time off-island, I had grown used to the quiet. However, as we all know, humans are incredibly adaptable creatures; I soon became used to all of the island’s noises. Morning, noon, and night, certain familiar sounds became reassuring aspects of my island life: the charming thumbnail-sized whistling frogs that begin to sing as the sun goes down, the doves and pigeons who start cooing in the cool morning dawn, and the owls that hoot at night as they became active and begin hunting for their supper.
However, what most people who move to an island aren’t mentally prepared for are all of the unwanted and uninvited roommates who choose to move in and refuse to leave. Many have already been squatting at your place before you showed up – to them, you’re the interloper. In coming to terms with the fact that I have no choice in the matter, I’ve decided to refer to these creatures as the pets who have chosen me. Though I will admit that this accepting attitude only goes so far… I still do battle during certain seasons of the year with the mice and cockroaches.
I’ll start with those particular island “pets” of mine, as they were the biggest adjustment for me. The mice (and the occasional bush rat, depending on where you live) will of course seek you out. They are true survivalists and, well, you have food – it’s that simple. Plus, they consider your newspapers and books to be great fodder for nests which allows them to moved forward with their goals to bring forth a million more babies. They find places you can’t get to and reproduce faster than anything I’ve ever seen. We’ve all heard the phrase, breed like rabbits, but on an island, it should really be changed to breed like mice. Or cockroaches.
Speaking of… the cockroaches and I are now locked in battle, and I have spent a lot of time and money on crafting the perfect defense. All the holes in the house where pipes come through from the outside world are sprayed rigorously, as are all garbage cans. Food is only disposed of in the kitchen with the lockable lid bin. I have also learned that, no matter how lazy I feel or how tired I may be, I am to never, ever leave food out, including gravy on a dirty dish.
This helps a lot with the mice. I attempt to starve them, so they seek refuge elsewhere. My thinking is “no food, no curb appeal.” As the real estate gurus say, it’s all “location, location, location.” And I’ve shut down the conveniently located mouse supermarket in my neighborhood. To do this, I invested in durable Tupperware and containers of all sizes with lockable lids. Rice, sugar, soup packages, and basically anything their little teeth can nibble through gets locked down. Even if they can smell it through the overwhelming scent (for them) of chemicals that come with plastic bins, if they can’t get to it, they eventually give up and move away. I have been happy to notice a decline in their presence lately, but perhaps it’s just that Mummy and Daddy Mouse are having a spat and haven’t birthed any babies at the moment. Or, maybe the babies are all finally off to college. Either way, good riddance.
Beyond those two most unwanted “pets,” there are the island creatures who have adopted me with whom I have an uneasy truce. These are the croaking lizards. These transparent little members of the gecko family have a few good looking relatives, but the majority are so transparent you can see their little hearts beating through their skin and the backs of their little black eyeballs in their little heads. I can’t bring myself to kill them. It’s not their fault they were born a lizard, right? Or that they crap on the walls and leave disgusting stains, or that their mating call is loud enough to wake the dead? And no, it’s not a delicate, high-pitched chirp. It is why they are called croakers, as they rival the bullfrog in their non-melodious cry.
I admit though, I almost never hear them anymore as they just blend into the island’s night sounds. The one behind the air-conditioning unit in my bedroom is probably asexual, as I have never heard a peep. The two in my bathroom cause me to enter cautiously at night, as I almost sat on one once when sleepily going to the bathroom. The other dropped on my shoulder in fright and luckily jumped off before my brain could formulate a plan of an appropriate response. One monster lives out by my generator, and another giant lives in the vent way up in the roof of my kitchen. I dropped my bread the first time I saw him/her. I was completely in awe of how it somehow managed to get its bulk to stay adhered to the wall. Most of these buggers can’t do it anymore once they get too fat. I have too much respect to shoo it out. That, or maybe I’m just terrified. I’m not sure what I’m ready to admit to myself yet. I most certainly haven’t named them, as they don’t feel as if they would recognize a master or owner in any way, shape, or form.
On a more pleasant note, the bright, light-footed, sleek anole lizards also pepper my yard. And yes, each one has a name and we have a lopsided friendship. (Meaning, I gaze at them with fondness while shooing them out of my car while they look at me like a giant life hazard to be navigated.) Only one of these guys is brave enough to hang out indoors (my dog’s favorite game is Lizard Annihilation). They are green or green and purple and bob up and down when you whistle to them and cock their heads sideways as if they understand what you’re saying. (I delude myself while they are probably simply wondering about the crazy creature making noises at them). Some are basic brown but still pretty when compared to the croakers. Then there is my family of ground lizards. Sleek, big, fast as lightning, and brilliantly coloured as if made of green and spotted jewels. The family used to be much bigger but, as I mentioned before, my dog likes to play a pretty harsh game. Although I don’t want to kill them, they also seem somewhat reluctant to the idea of my wanting to pet them and have been known to react to me by either running away or running at me in attack mode. I need to learn the phrase “please be my friend” in Lizardese and hope I find one looking for a bestie.
The garden is also dotted with hummingbirds sipping from the Japanese lantern and Poor Man’s Orchid bushes and trees, crows picking seeds out of the grass, and a few pigeons stopping by on occasion. It’s a very zen activity sitting either on my roof or on the verandah being completely lazy while watching them actively go about their lives. I used to have cats, but without them around the bird population has grown a lot.
The last of the pets I have that chose me are incredibly useful. These are the fluffy balls of fur that hang upside down my bedroom window at night underneath the awning chirping away to one another. I find it quite a soothing sound to go to sleep by. These fruit bats have become my favourites, providing a sleep soundtrack (people pay money for machines to do this) along with a marked drop in mosquito activity anywhere near my bedroom. In a country with Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya, all of which I have had the displeasure of suffering through at one point or another, this natural barrier against mosquitos is most welcome. Between them and the croakers, my moth and mosquito population is quite low. They still don’t take care of the crickets (I’ve had one hop in my ear), the stink bugs (seriously, never squash one of these pretty little green bugs no matter how annoyingly loud their flying is – they earned their name), and the large flying cockroaches (they will survive the Apocalypse and Armageddon put together), but I will count my blessings.
I am lucky that Jamaica has nothing lethally poisonous to worry about however annoying most things are. A small scorpion crawled into my brother’s jeans in the mountains, but they aren’t lethal and I haven’t seen one since and that was over thirty years ago. Stray mongrel dogs can be vicious, but are more heartbreaking a sight than one that strikes fear into your heart. We have small harmless grass snakes that look like giant worms, and crocodiles rarely show up in swimming pools here. There are no alligators here in spite of Jamaican place names like Alligator Head and Alligator Pond. Yes, you are saying, both move fast and have teeth and that’s all you really care about. Not to worry, they rarely leave their habitat and in Jamaica there is more of a worry these days of the danger humans pose to the species than the other way around. We have wild boar as well but very far up into the mountains and way off the beaten track. All kidding aside, the mosquito borne illnesses need to be taken seriously, and are probably the aspect of animal life to pay attention to most here. Even our sharks are harmless nurse sharks mostly. Yes, we have hammerheads on occasion, but there is a pretty big reef between you and them on most beaches.
Back on land, however, in my cozy little home, I sometimes comfort myself by believing that I am playing my own role in a mini ecosystem. Mostly though we all just leave each other alone, although I admit, on particularly hot summer days, I put out water and whoever wants to can go for it, be it dog, hummingbird, or lizard. Just like a watering hole in the midst of Africa in the great circle of life.
Or not… Oh dear, I think my dog just killed another lizard. Maybe no more watering hole…
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