Family

Leaving Lake Riverside, Chapter 5: Horny Toads

This is the next chapter of my book, entitled Leaving Lake Riverside. To read the previous chapter, CLICK THIS LINK. For the next chapter, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Horny Toads

Mr. Beaumont needed help to pull off the sales fete he was attempting. He was hustling land in cactus and sage country, way out in the middle of nowhere. Where you could walk for miles in any direction, without encountering another human being. And where the only night life anyone ever heard of was the sound of owls, coyotes, and crickets. So he had to put on one hell of a dog and pony show, to convince investors that this land would skyrocket in value.

And that’s where we came in. We would be running the pony part of Beaumont’s dog and pony show. Literally.

My introduction to Lake Riverside Estates came in May, 1970, about two months after Beaumont & Associates had acquired and subdivided this farm and ranch land. It was a warm, sunny day. Britt had driven us out from Oceanside, which was an expedition that consumed about an hour of time, and about 55 miles of California highway.

We didn’t see lakes very often, so the first thing my older brother Rowan and I did, was head down to Lake Riverside’s shore. That’s when we noticed the ground moving. We felt astonished to discover that everywhere we stepped, little creatures would scurry away from our feet. We finally realized that the shoreline was teeming with horny toads! We could hardly believe all the horned lizards scrambling out of our way as we passed through the grass and brush that encircled the small lake.

Somewhere, we located a cardboard box. Then we went horny toad hunting. Horny toads are pretty easy to catch, compared with any other lizard. They can’t run very fast or far, so it didn’t take long for us to round up about a dozen of these spiky-skinned critters. We left hundreds more behind, only because there wasn’t enough boxes or cargo space in Britt’s Dodge Dart to take all of them.

Horny toads always reminded me of the Triceratops dinosaur, so having all these lizards filled my young brain with fantasies of living back in the stone age. I felt very excited about this. It was like a dream come true for me. We brought them back to Oceanside to be our pets.

However, with pets come responsibilities. So every day my brother and I would have to embark upon a safari through open fields near our house, to hunt grasshoppers, which we would feed to our saurian guests. Or we’d catch moths under the porch light, or search for creepy crawlers under rocks. And all that insect hunting was tedious.

We didn’t have a terrarium, so we decided to keep the horny toads in a shoebox. Big mistake, as the edges of shoeboxes are rather low. One day I came home from school and all the lizards had escaped. There were horny toads everywhere, and I spent the better part of an hour rounding up all I could find and returning them to the shoebox. Which, after awhile, they escaped from again.

I would have used a regular cardboard box, but my mother was hoarding them all, while preparing us to move. That’s because we were in the process of being evicted. And also, we needed to move closer to Britt’s job site. We were all going to live near Lake Riverside Estates and pitch in, to help Britt and Tom Marcial make the riding stable a success.

By the next weekend it was time to go back to Lake Riverside Estates, to do more preparing of the horses and stable. And by that time my brother and I had reached the conclusion that these horny beasts were too much trouble to keep as pets. So we hunted down all we could find, put them back in the shoebox, and returned them to their desert home.

What greeted us at Lake Riverside was a sight that even today leaves me feeling about as horrified and disgusted as I felt then. The great land promoters who were setting up the big show for all their suckers, had decided that the lake needed to be expanded to 55 acres, and also needed a beach. So while we were away, they had unleashed an army of tractors upon the lakeshore.

These tractors had deracinated the land. They had extirpated all the grass and brush, and turned and plowed the soil, while destroying everything in their path. Including all those hundreds of marvelous horny toads that my brother and I had enjoyed chasing just a week before.

This was my first taste of the environmental destruction that modern-day progress can wreak, and it went down bitter. From that day on, I’ve never cared much for the idea of “improving” the land, or “development,” or “civilization.”

It’s true, I’m guilty as much as anyone else of benefiting from the destruction of our wild lands. But I’ve never felt completely comfortable with it. Since that time I’ve always received any message from boosterish developers, with a grain of salt. Civilization ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I believe that if our lives are going to have any magic in them, we must fill them with odd and unique things. Like horny toads.

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18 replies »

  1. I get complaints or statements about whatever wild animal that was seen in a neighborhood near ours as some kind of warning from the people around me. I just say “its nature, they live here too”.

    I’d be worried if I stopped seeing owls, coyotes, armadillos, etc. around.

    Liked by 3 people

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