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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, July 11, 2008

Spiders invade looking for love

The spiders are coming, the spiders are coming. . , "Oh my gosh, look at 'em, they are everywhere. “Big, black, fuzzy things that make your skin crawl and scare dogs and those faint of heart who come across the arachnids.

That cry has been uttered many times since the big rain of last week here in the Trans Pecos. Groups of loose-running dogs have been seen crowded around one of the spiders barking with curiosity, at a respectful distance, of course.

Actually it’s not really a tarantula invasion or a migration because of the rain, it’s just a bunch of short-lived male tarantulas looking for love in a lot of the wrong places. They are driven by a natural, but very ancient desire to propagate the species, according to Mark Muegge, entomologist with the district extension service.

"And they don't have the aid of pheromones to aid them in their search—it's strictly a matter of sight to reveal the female to the prospective suitor," he added.

No surprise that Muegge should be so informed on the subject since entomology is the scientific study of insects.

Now technically spiders are not insects, but it would be difficult to function as an entomologist without knowing something about spiders.

Most of us tell the two apart simply by counting legs – the spiders have eight and insects have only six.

A scientist, however, would go much deeper including knowing that insects have three body regions and spiders have two, etc.

Female tarantulas live a long time, 20 or more years, and often in the same deep burrow where they start out. The male only lives a bit more than one year, and has little time to waste if he is going to be a daddy.

No, unlike the black widow, the female does not eat the male after breeding; he just isn’t tough enough to survive long. When his wild oats are successfully spread, he’s getting pretty close to cashing in his chips.

“This type of movement happens normally in the summer months, but can be triggered by the type of heavy rain that we had last week,” Muegge said. “But the amount of rain, really has very little to do with it.”

“Its just nature doing its thing,” he said.

Despite their frightening appearance, and a bunch of old wives tales to the contrary, the tarantula’s bite is not fatal, and often is no more severe than that of a wasp or a bee sting, Muegge said.

As most of us know, tarantulas are black in color with a body about an inch long here in West Texas, and its legs from front-to-back average four to five inches in length.

The same spider grows much larger in the tropics, and its bite is more serious, Muegge said.

The burrow that the female digs is quite large and pretty much her permanent home for a couple of decades.

“Like all spiders, tarantulas are predators and fit into nature’s scheme of things very neatly, taking out such victims as large insects, toads, frogs and mice,” Muegge said.

Of course that male spider just might be hunting for a bit of food at the same time if he’s a little bit hungry. Quite often tarantulas simply run down their prey, but females also have a tactic where they put out trip wires and rush out of their dens when a creature hits a wire and rings the dinner bell.

The only time a female builds a web across the doorway to her hole is in very cold weather, and during that period the female tarantula is dormant.

The tarantulas that we see (Lycosa Tarantula is its scientific name) belong to the Wolfe spider family.

The name is derived from the name of an Italian city – Taranto—in southern Italy.

During the period when the spider was acquiring its name, there was a story going around that its bite caused a disease known as tarnish, which caused a person to dance around wildly, and it was rumored that if you did not get an anecdote, you would die. No one died of that disease no matter what anecdote was proffered.

Of course we know now that if that “disease” had a cause it sure wasn’t the bite of the spider, but such are the ways of much of folklore.

Former Marine calling Pecos home for a while

Current Pecos resident William Gester is the walking embodiment of the catch phrase “Once a Marine, always a Marine” as he proudly goes about his business in this West Texas town of some 8,000 souls.

The slightly over six –foot tall retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant stands out in a crowd whether it is a rush at the local Wal Mart store or while he stands rigidly at attention when the national flag passes by in a parade.

Gester, who grew up in Connecticut just outside Hartford, devoted 20 years of his life to his Marine Corps career in aviation, and one can tell it without looking at his distinctive red ball cap with gold lettering announcing that he is a retired marine, or at his USMC belt buckle. His military stature gives it away.

A man learns a lot in 20 years of dedicated service and he often wears that treasure trove of experience totally in the essence of his being. Such is Will Gester. A man defined by what he calls “a wonderful life.”

Today Gester spends his days traveling around the county in his recreational vehicle, visiting historical sites around the country, former battlefields, museums and beautiful parts of the country.

His RV has been parked in Pecos for the last three years while he and his wife range widely around the West Texas and New Mexico area in their Ford pickup truck.

Why did he come to Pecos?

“Simple,” he says,” this is our second stop here; we came here some years ago and spent two years here that time. Pecos is one of our favorite stops.”

Gester is a man with two obsessions—his beloved corps and aviation. “If it flies, or if it at one time flew, I am crazy about it,” the former aviation specialist admits.

His experience with airplanes was varied, as you would expect, but Gester comes from a military family background. His brother is a retired Air Force Lt. Col.; his father served in two world wars – once in the German army and once in the American army, and his wife, Kim, a native Brit, served in WWII as a radio operator in the Royal Air Force (RAF). And just how did he find the love of his life that happened to have an aviation background too?

“My brother and I are brothers married to sisters,” he explained. “He married his wife while serving in the Air Force in England and then brought the sister over and the rest—as they say—is history.”

“Oddly, I have a picture of my father learning against a light pole in a train station in a little town in Germany in a German uniform in World War I, he said. “I have an identical picture of my father learning against that same light pole in that same German town, but this time, it was taken in WWII and he is wearing his American uniform.”

Gester’s dad retired from the U.S. Army after 23 years of service (1923-46) as a Commissioned Warrant Officer (CWO2).

After retiring from the army at Ft. Hood here in Texas his dad worked for Pratt & Whitney, one of the aviation pioneering companies on the East coast.

In 1956 this native Texan enlisted in his beloved corps and spent the next two decades climbing the ranks in the field of aviation maintenance, serving at points all over the Pacific Rim-Asiatic area, including a couple of tours at the Marine Corps air station at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, and numerous air stations and air force bases here and overseas.

“I feel right at home here in Pecos, with a rifle range and an airport right out the backdoor of my RV,” he said. Gester is still an avid shooter and keeps his skills honed by shooting every chance he gets. “And that is no easy task when you are a snow bird wandering from place to place, “he said.

He hung up his stripes and his marine green uniform in 1976 just after the winding down of the war in Vietnam. His Nam tour was in the period of 66-67.

After leaving the corps, he moved to Spokane, Wash, and worked for a number of years in the maintenance field, before retiring for good, buying the RV, and hitting the trail to learn more of the fascinating history of his native country.

The Gesters still maintain that permanent residence with the house in Spokane.

Oddly, he got hurt worse working at this civilian job than he ever did in the Marines.

“I’ve had two major back surgeries,” he admitted, but it would be difficult to tell when he is standing tall at a parade.

Recently at the 4th of July patriotic parade in Pecos, he snapped to and rendered a crisp hand salute as the colors passed by, and a couple of young boys asked him “Mister, why do you do that.”

He looked down with those piercing blue eyes with a tear slipping down his cheek and replied, “When you are older, you guys will understand.”

At the age of 69, he still fixes you sternly with those blue eyes, which hide behind serious looking bifocals, and although he still has a great shock of hair, it belies his age because it is no longer dark brown.

For Gester and his wife, traveling provides them the outlet they need to stay sharp and crisp as they bleed life for all the good things it offers.

Special day for special kids

Children with special needs enjoyed a variety of activities at Maxey Park recently; an event that organizers hope will become a yearly occurrence.

“I would like to have a fun day for these kids, once a year,” said organizer Juanita Hannah.

Hannah and her family planned the Fun Day for children in the community with special needs.

This year’s event was held Saturday, May 31, at Maxey Park and all the children in the community were invited.

“The school always has a fun day for the kids, but sometimes the ones with special needs are unable to attend, for various reasons,” said Hannah. “That’s why I thought a fun day just for them would be a good idea,” she said.

Hannah said that she enjoyed seeing the kids and their parents enjoying themselves.

“We had pools, the jumping balloon and music provided by a D.J.,” said Hannah.

“With the Lord’s help we are thinking about having another one next year, but probably in March or April,” said Hannah. “This year it was very hot weather,” she said.

Blaine Hannah, Juanita’s husband, said that they had a small group attend this year, but is hoping for a bigger crowd next year.

“We hope to advertise it a little bit more and have more people attend, even if they don’t have special needs children,” he said.

Dewayne Belaire and his biker group were on hand, giving the children rides and spending time with them.

“We had several people around town who donated items and helped,” said Blaine Hannah. “We hope to encourage other families to come out and join us next year,” he said.

Juanita’s grandson is one of the special children who attended this year’s event. “He had a great time, as did all the other kids who were able to go,” she said.

Hannah said that she would like to give special thanks to Pablo Gonzales, the bus driver. “He is so good with our kids and we know they are safe with him when they ride the bus,” said Hannah.

Hannah presented Gonzales with a special plaque with an inscription and a picture of a bus. “He was so happy, he went and hung up his plaque, but it’s just that we’re so grateful to him. He is so good to the kids,” she said.

“Thank you everyone and thanks to the parents for their help,” said Hannah. “Especially, thanks to the Lord, for giving me the idea for the kids to have a good time,” she said.

“These children are here on this earth for a reason an we need to see and hear them,” said Hannah.

West of the Pecos Museum features special exhibit

A display with the special artwork by Betty Sue Rose is now on display at the West of the Pecos Museum and will be there for the next few weeks.

Community members are encouraged to go see the exhibit set up in the museum featuring a number of items by Rose.

Living close to the land and being a sensitive observer of life, Rose is an artist of exceptional awareness.

She gained a perspective of the working cowboy and his heritage from her childhood. As a young girl, she helped her dad with ranch chores when he was a ranch foreman. With God’s nature as her teacher, Rose studied as she worked with the stock and horses. Applying this to her over forty years of being an artist has enabled her to obtain renowned acceptance and demand for her work.

While in high school, she began showing her paintings at the University of Texas. Soon afterwards, she studied with artist sculptor Ronald Thomason. With his encouragement she intensified her drive to develop her artistic ability.

Since then, she has furthered her education privately and through workshops. She has had the privilege of having been selected to study under as many as 15 of the Cowboy Artist of America, at Kerrville. In one of these workshops, headed by Grand Speed, Rose turned her skills to sculpting. Finding great joy in this medium, she now adds bronze to her list of achievements.

Rose is an accomplished oil painter and watercolorist. Moving in to other mediums she also creates with pastels and colored pencils.

Although preparing for, and attending, shows in the South and Southwest takes up most of her time, she also teaches adult painting and sculpture workshops on the weekly basis because of a following of interested students. Continuing to participate in competitive shows and accepting commissions, she frequently donates her work to community projects and charities. Prints of her work are also available.

Her painting of “Tomorrow’s Promise” was published by The Quarter Horse Journal in May, 1978 and is now hanging in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ford Chapman of Midland. Her 1986 magazine covers include those for Paint Horse Journal, The Quarter Horse Journal and Cattleman’s.

“A Drink for All,” her depiction of longhorns, toured the South and Southwest in the Tandy Leather Company traveling exhibit for a year. Horse portraits are a major part of her paintings and are included in the private collections of Ford Chapman of Midland, W.D. Blissard, Hoot Leonard, Danny Thomas, Doris and E. Jones, Lyn and Tom McGinnis and Elmer Kelton, the western writer.

She was also accepted for a Cowboy Artist of America Ten Workshop in 1986. She teaches oil painting workshops on a weekly basis because of a following of interested students.

Although she continues to participate in competitive shows and accepts commissions, she frequently donates her work to community projects and charities. With wide acceptance and demand, prints of her work are also available.

Today, she works from her home and studio in Midland.

Name released in drowning case

Autopsy and toxicology reports are not yet in on a 14-year-old drowning victim killed in an accident that occurred on Friday, June 27, at the Athletic Pool.

“We haven’t received the toxicology report or the autopsy report yet, but we have notified the next of kin,” said Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney.

McKinney said he expects to see the reports next week.

Ivan Pallares, 14, of Oklahoma, drowned Friday night at the Town of Pecos City’s Athletic Pool at Maxey Park, McKinney revealed after receiving an open records request from The Enterprise.

“We have more interviews to do and we are expecting the report to come in this week,” said McKinney.

According to witness reports, the 14-year-old was with two cousins on Friday night, when he was dropped of at a private party being held at the pool by Elena Vasquez for her family.

The party was scheduled to end at 11 p.m., but at 10 p.m. the pool lifeguards cleared the pool because of lighting in the area.

The teen was in town staying with relatives at the time of the drowning, while his family was visiting Mexico.

“He was here visiting an uncle,” said McKinney.

“The lifeguard pulled him out and started doing CPR,” City Parks Department Director Adolfo Ruiz said. Pecos EMS crews were called and continued performing CPR at the site, and continued to work on the victim in the ambulance, but were unable to get a pulse. He was transported to the emergency room at Reeves County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.

“The case is still under investigation and we will be interviewing more people and trying to piece this together,” said McKinney.

Methodist Church VBS next week

Children ages 4 through 6th grade are invited to Vacation Bible School at First United Methodist Church every night next week, July 14-18.

Supper will be served to children attending from 6-6:30 p.m., and VBS will continue until 8:30 p.m. For closing services on Friday, parents are also invited for supper at 6 p.m. Children may come early on Monday to register.

This year’s VBS theme is “Mountains of Moses.” Activities will include music, crafts, Bible stories and recreation.

First United Methodist Church is located at Third and Elm Streets.

PEDC hosts housing shortage meeting

Robert Tobias, the executive director for the Pecos Economic Development Corporation hosted a meeting Wednesday night to address the housing shortage in Pecos.

Attending the meeting were representatives from real estate, banking, local employers, bureaucrats and elected officials.

“There is a severe lack of housing options in Pecos,” Tobias said. “There have been few housing starts in the past 20 years – no new apartments. If Pecos is going to attract and retain workers we have got to have housing options.”

The problem, he said, is that builders are hesitant to come to Pecos.

“The economies of scale do not exist,” he said. “If a builder has a choice between building in Midland/Odessa or coming to a lesser populated area like Pecos he’s probably going to chose Midland/Odessa. There is more money to be made.”

“We have got to find a way to encourage and facilitate builders to come here,” he said.

According to RCDC Warden Martin McDaniel all three units of RCDC are understaffed and the main problem is lack of housing. McDaniel said that prison management group GEO is recruiting outside of the area, but that workers cannot find housing.

Other employers echoed McDaniel’s thoughts.

Another problem addressed was the price of new housing.

According to Pecos Century 21 agent Glenna Miller, “We need a lot of 3 bedroom 2 bath houses. We could sell a lot of them in the $60,000 to $80,000 range. Unfortunately, the builders cannot build new 3/2 homes for that price.”

In the end, that is problem in a nutshell – new homes cost more than people in Pecos will pay, or at least that is the perception. The cost batted around the meeting for a new 3/2 home of 1,200 square feet was $100,000 or a little more.

“The purpose of this meeting was to try and bring all the potential partners together to get a better understanding of the housing opportunities and challenges we face and come up with implementable solutions, ” Tobias said.

“What I learned tonight is that there really is a need for more communication. Not enough people know we are trying to fix this situation and that progress is being made,” he said.

During the meeting Tobias said that builders are planning on starting some houses in the area behind Gibsons where the Town of Pecos tried and failed to attract a builder after then City Manager Carlos Yrena obtained a grant for the water and sewer infrastructure.

“I expect to see progress behind Gibsons by August,” he said.

Tobias said he also hopes to see progress on some new apartments by September and hopes to see some loft-type housing develop downtown as well.

“The PEDC has existing properties downtown. When the exterior of a building is already in place it is possible to finish out the interior fairly quickly,” he said.

Tobias said he hopes to make a proposal to move forward with idea at the next PEDC meeting scheduled for July 21.

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