Category Archives: Animals! Animals! Animals!

Half-Wild Beach Cows

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When I was in middle school, my parents went on a camping kick.

I suspect it was my dad who decided the family should go camping. Why would my mom want to camp? It only made extra work for her: making sure everyone in the family had packed everything s/he needed for the weekend; packing every ingredient for every meal, as well as appropriate pots, pans, and utensils; listening to the children complain; gathering and packing necessary bedding and towels; washing sand out of everything when we returned from the beach.

It was to the beach we went on our first few camping trips. This beach was not a white-sand beach in Black White MosquitoFlorida or the ruggedly beautiful coast of Oregon. No, the beach we frequented was the nasty oil-slicked beach of the Louisiana Gulf Coast where the water was brown, trash washed up on the sand, and the mosquitoes were huge. This beach was ugly, but it wasn’t very far from home, and camping there was free.

Our first camping shelter was an old-school canvas tent. I suspect my dad got it, like so many items from my childhood (scratchy wool blankets, BAND-AID® brand adhesive bandages in bulk, Mercurochrome) from a discard pile of mythic proportion from his days in the National Guard.

After a few trips to the beach, my dad liked camping so much, he decided to buy a tiny camper to pull behind the family truck. He bought the camper from an old couple, and it was only after he got it home that he discovered the pressboard it was made from was mostly rotten. My father dismantled the camper down to the frame, then replaced every bit of wood and every scrap of insulation before putting it all back together again.

As far as I was concerned, he could have saved his energy. I had no desire to camp. There were no showers at the beach, no hairdryers, no flush toilets. To young teenage me, the beach was barbaric.

I can’t remember how many times my family went camping at the beach in our refurbished camper. I only remember the night of the half-wild beach cows.

A friend of the family had come with us. She was in her 60s, flamboyant, liked board games, and was patient with my sibling and me. I have not idea why she wanted to spend her weekend at the beach.

The family friend was supposed to sleep in the screen ten, but my dad built the campfire too close to it and melted the screen. No way could she sleep in a tent with a huge hole in it; the mosquitoes would have carried her away. Instead, she had to sleep in the camper with us.

It was already tight quarters in the camper at night. The kitchen table folded down into a double bed; that’s where my parents slept. My younger sibling slept in a bunk that folded down from above the table. (My mother was afraid my sibling–a tween at the time–would  roll out of bed and meet death on the camper’s floor, so she crocheted a huge net to stretch across the bunk.) I usually slept on the cushioned bench across the front of the trailer, but on this night I was relegated to a pile of blankets on the floor so our elderly guest could have what barely passed for a twin bed. If I was uncomfortable–and I was–I wonder how our rather large friend managed to stay on her narrow bed.

animal, black and white, cattleNo one was sleeping well when the commotion started outside, but we were soon wide awake. We heard animal noises and hooves hitting the ground, and it was all very close. It was so close, we began to hear and feel thumping on our camper. The camper swayed and rocked as one or more big somethings bumped it.  In the distance we heard humans yelling. What could possibly be going on out there?

My dad must have grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window in order to report: cows. They were half-wild beach cows, let loose to graze, I suppose, although there wasn’t much in the way of tasty grass where we were parked. It must have been open range out there, and the cows were allowed to move about freely on the beach.  We had come into their territory, and they seemed none too happy about it.

I don’t remember how long the attack lasted, but we couldn’t get back to sleep after the cows moved on. I don’t think any of us got much sleep that night.

In the early daylight of the next morning, when we emerged from our little trailer, we saw the aftermath of the visit from the cows. Tents and temporary clotheslines had been knocked down. People must have spent a long night in cars to escape mosquitoes and marauding bovines. What else can you do when half-wild animals knock your tent on top of you while you’re sleeping in it? My family had been lucky to have a sturdy camper to keep us safe.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-white-mosquito-86722/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-cattle-close-up-551618/.

Shelia

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When I was a toddler, before my sibling was born, my father worked for a pet supply company. Free stock photo of reptile, exotic, snake, constrictorSomehow his pet supply connections led him to bring home a boa constrictor named Shelia.

I don’t remember Shelia, but throughout my life both of my parents recounted the story of my love for her.

At the time, my parents and I lived in a farmhouse on my grandparents’ property. The farmhouse is part of my earliest memories, and I remember it as big, although it may have only seemed big because I was so little. In any case, the house was big enough for Shelia to have her own room.

My mother didn’t care much for Shelia. Whether this was related to her own mother’s fear of snakes or just because snakes aren’t cute in a cuddly, mammalian way, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, my mother’s dislike for Shelia earned the reptile a place in a room with door that shut. My mother had nothing to do with her.

Little toddler me, on the other hand, loved Shelia. Whenever my dad went into the room to see Shelia, I wanted to go with him. I was particularly interested in Shelia’s feeding.

Shelia lived in an aquarium in the spare room. When it came time to feed her, my dad dropped a small rodent (hamster? gerbil?) into her aquarium home. The rodents, also procured through pet supply connections, would run over Shelia where she lay curled in her tank, practically frolicking over her coils until she slowly, slowly squeezed out their lives.

One day it was time to feed Shelia. My mom wanted nothing to do with the procedure, but I happily followed my dad around while he made preparations. We went into the room and Dad dropped the rodent in with Shelia. I don’t know if we stuck around to watch Shelia put the squeeze on it.

Some time passed after my father and I left Shelia’s room. My dad went about his business, then realized he hadn’t seen or heard me for a while. He casually checked with my mother to determine I wasn’t with her. He looked in my bedroom, but I wasn’t there either. He noticed the door to Shelia’s room was open just a crack. The open door got his attention because he was always careful to close the door completely and securely when he left the room.

He opened the door and saw me climbing into Shelia’s tank. Family lore has it that I had one fat little toddler leg in the tank when he found me, and I was just about to swing my whole self in. Apparently, I loved Shelia so much that I wanted to be right there in the tank with her.

(As an adult, I wonder why there was no cover on top of that aquarium, or if there was, why a toddler was able to remove it.)

My dad lifted me away from the tank. He told me to never go into the room without him again. When we left the room, he made certain he closed the door securely behind us. (Maybe some sort of lock would have been a good idea as well.)

My dad let some time pass (days? weeks? I don’t know) before he nonchalantly mentioned to my mother how he’s found me climbing into Shelia’s cage. My mother—of course—freaked out and demanded he find another home for the snake. My dad contended Shelia had been harmless because she’d just eaten. She was satiated and sluggish and uninterested in a toddler who might have been about to lie on top of her. My mother countered by asking what might have happened if Shelia hadn’t just been fed. My dad didn’t have much more to say. I suppose I was small enough and Shelia was big enough that she could have squeezed the life out of me had the conditions been right.

My dad used his pet supply connections to find Shelia a new home.

Image from https://www.pexels.com/search/boa%20constrictor%20imperator/.

Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?

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Click to viewLike Indian Jones, my grandmother hated snakes. She and Indy could have started a support group for snake haters, maybe Snake Haters Anonymous (SHA) or the Society Against Snakes (SAS).

Like most hatred, my grandmother’s came from fear. She was afraid of snakes, deathly afraid of snakes. Her fear might have been a phobia. Sometime in my grandmother’s life, her fear had grown to hatred, but the fear was still there too.

My grandmother was something of a pioneer woman. Born in the nineteen teens, she lived through the Great Depression. As a kid, I didn’t realize how cool the woman was, but looking back on her now—Wow! Every year until she was in her 60s, she planted and tended a huge vegetable garden. In the fall, she canned the produce for winter eating. She sewed her own clothes (always pants with matching tops—I don’t recall ever seeing her in a skirt or dress) and knew the way to kill a chicken for a gumbo (hang it upside down from a fence until it relaxed, then whack its head off with a sharp butcher knife). She was a fantastic cook; I’d give a toe to taste her aforementioned gumbo again, and every year for Christmas, she made the most luscious six (or was it eight?) layer coconut cakes. Once I watched her pluck a small game bird my uncle had shot; she submerged the carcass in boiling water, then pulled it out and removed the tiny feathers. She raised seven kids, then lived thirty years as a widow after my grandpa died.

MawMaw was a woman who knew how to prepare for tough times and live through them when they came. I wish my parents had packed me off to spend summer vacations with her so I could have learned her homesteading ways. Instead, I spent my summers in my family’s air conditioned mobile home, reading fiction and longing for a boyfriend.

I never asked my grandma what she was scared of. Maybe she had a whole list of fears. I knew she hated snakes because my mom knew and told me. It became a joke with me and my mom and my sibling. MawMaw is scared of snakes! Isn’t that funny? I’m sure MawMaw didn’t think so.

One time my mom told us that MawMaw was so scared of snakes, we shouldn’t even say the word. For years after, instead of saying the word “snake,”  we’d spell out “s-n-a-k-e.” Even when we weren’t with MawMaw, we would spell the word to each other. Don’t let MawMaw see this picture of an s-n-a-k-e. I hope MawMaw doesn’t find an s-n-a-k-e in the garden.  I was a child at the time and thought this spelling was great fun, but now I wonder what kind of passive-aggressive bullshit my mother was up to. It’s not kind for a grown kid to make fun of her mother’s phobia.

I wish I had known my grandmother better. I know she had a green thumb. I know she was a great cook. I know she was always kind to me, and I know she hated snakes.

Snake image from https://classroomclipart.com/clipart/page-18/Clipart/Animals/Reptile_Clipart/Snake_Clipart.htm.

Rattlesnake

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The Man has his own rattlesnake story.

We were in New Mexico, house sitting for a friend during the week leading up to Memorial Day.

Our friend lives way out in the sage, past the last of the power lines, at least a mile from the nearest neighbors. His place is three miles from the highway, down a dirt road, ten miles from the nearest convenience store. He uses solar power to run his television and his mini-fridge, and he shits in an outhouse. He’s way out there.

Our friend’s brother was dying, and our friend wanted to drive out to California for one last visit. He needed someone to watch his place and feed his big dog, goat, and donkey while he was gone. We were the only friends he trusted to actually care for his critters and his place, and he offered to pay us well if we would help him out. We agreed, because we wanted to be good friends, but also because we needed the dollars.

Using the outhouse wasn’t such a huge problem, but plumbing wasn’t the only amenity lacking. Our cell phones got no service out there, and our friend had no internet access. He did have a landline, but an unexplained and annoying hum on the line made even a short conversation virtually impossible. The Man and I were out there cut off from everyone but each other.

I spent a couple days writing blog posts by hand in a notebook, but when eight or ten were written, I needed to use the internet to schedule them. I drove about 15 miles to the public library in the village nearest to our friend’s home. The library had fast, reliable WiFi, and I enjoyed working there. I wished the library was open longer hours, but noon to 5pm five days a week was all the village government was paying for.

I went to the library several times during our house sitting engagement. Sometimes The Man came with me and sat in the van and used the internet on his phone. Sometimes I went alone and left The Man and Jerico the dog back on our friend’s land.

One day when I’d gone to the library alone, I returned to our friend’s place around 5:30. I found The Man in the sunroom lean-to built onto the side of the school bus living space.

How was your day? I asked him.

I took this photo of the rattlesnake The Man killed after it moved into the sunroom.

He led me outside and pointed to a headless carcass hanging on the fence.

I had to kill a rattlesnake, he said.

The Man had been working in the sunroom all day, making leather and stone bracelets to sell. He heard a buzzing and wondered if it was a rattlesnake, but then decided, no a rattlesnake would rattle not buzz. He looked around the room anyway, but didn’t find any snakes, rattle or otherwise.

About an hour and a half later, Jerico trotted into the room through the open door, and The Man heard the buzzing again. This time when he looked over toward the door, he saw a rattlesnake coiled up in the corner next to the door where Jerico had just entered.

The Man called Jerico to the back of the room and told him to Stay! Whether because of the serious tone of The Man’s voice or the smell of the snake, Jerico did as he was told.

The Man grabbed a metal pipe and used it to crush the snake’s head. He wasn’t happy about killing the snake. He hates to harm any living thing, but having a venomous snake in a room frequented by people and a dog was just too dangerous.

They shouldn’t call them rattlesnakes, The Man told me, shaking his head, because they don’t rattle, but I guess “buzz snake” just doesn’t sound as good.

Snake Bit

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My parking lot coworker quit his job before The Man and I arrived to work in the mercantile. He and his lady friend Donna stopped at the mercantile a couple of times to say hello when they were passing by, and one day The Man came out of the bargain grocery store in Babylon to say he’d seen my coworker inside. I ran in to say hello, and we chatted a few minutes before I went back out into the heat. We talked on the phone a few times, and early one afternoon The Man and I stopped in for a visit at my coworker’s house on the way back up the mountain. It was good to stay in touch.

One week, The Man and I stayed on the mountain on our days off. On Monday, we thought it would be nice to pay Donna and my coworker a visit. We were at the mercantile using the internet, so I decided to call my coworker and find out what he and Donna were up to.

Donna answered my call. I said hello and identified myself. I asked her if they were up for company.

Gil’s in the hospital!  she said of my coworker.

What?!?! I asked. What happened?

Click to viewShe said he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake while getting ready to go to a barbeque. The snake had come out from under the truck and struck Gil in the foot. She said Gil should be home from the hospital around one or two o’clock that afternoon. I know he’d love to see you, she told me.

Gil was bitten by a rattlesnake! I told The Man after I hung up with Donna. He should be home in a few hours. Do you still want to go?

We decided to go over. Donna said Gill would want to see us despite his injuries, and I knew this was sure to be a good story.

We arrived at 2pm, and Gil wasn’t home yet. He didn’t get back until nearly five o’clock. In the hours in between, we visited with Donna (and hopefully distracted her from her worries) and learned the details of the story.

It all began on Friday. Gil and Donna were preparing to go to a barbeque at a neighbor’s house, and Gill was next to his truck, either putting things in or taking things out. He was wearing sandals, and when he turned from the truck, he felt a sharp pain in his left foot. I’ve been stung! was the first thought through his mind, and he turned, looked down, and saw the snake. It was a timber rattler, and it had just struck him.

I’m not sure if their neighbor and good friend Joe randomly stopped by or if Gil called him, but Joe was pressed into service to drive Gil the 40+ miles to the nearest hospital. The emergency room may have been the destination, but the fellows never quite made it there.

Although Gil and Joe are mature men, they are also party animals. Before going to the hospital, they decided to stop at a bar where a friend was celebrating her birthday. After a few beers, Gil decided he was capable of toughing out this whole snakebite thing (and what a good story that would make!), so he told Joe just to drive him back home. Apparently, the guys decided to stop for a nightcap at the last bar before the climb up the mountain. After a shot of tequila, Gil felt his pain intensify, but for some reason I cannot begin to understand, Gil had Joe drive him up the mountain instead of back to town and medical assistance.

When Gil returned home, he found Donna incapacitated by the three vodka drinks she’d had at the barbeque. His foot continued to swell, and Donna said Gil screamed in pain all night.

Despite the increased screaming and swelling, Gil still thought he’d ride out the injury. However, when Joe dropped by to check on Gil around nine o’clock on Saturday morning, Joe was quite concerned about the size of the snake bit foot. He convinced Gil he really should get medical attention, so they headed back down the mountain to the emergency room again.

Gil was admitted to the hospital where he received antivenin and morphine (!) for the pain. He was required to stay in the hospital for observation for 24 hours after the last dose of antivenin, which meant he should have been released early Monday afternoon.

Gil and Joe were a long time coming up the mountain, but Donna and The Man and I had a nice visit while waiting for them to show. When they finally arrived, they said they’d been slowed down at the pharmacy. The prescription for the painkillers couldn’t be phoned in, so they’d had to wait for it to be filled after Gil handed the paper over to the pharmacist. Also? The guys had stopped for one more beer before they started up the mountain.

Once home, Gil filled us in on some of the pieces that had been missing from the story.

The snake, he thought, had been molting. Molting snakes are apparently blind and grumpy, and the rattler must have used its infrared senses to strike out at Gil. One fang went into Gil’s foot pretty good, but the other bounced off the boney ankle knob on the side of his foot. That fang probably didn’t release much venom into Gil’s bloodstream, which is probably why Gil got away with delaying treatment.

The good-that-came-out-of-it part of the story is that while in the hospital, Gil was diagnosed with high blood pressure and prescribed medication to control it. Maybe this whole ordeal was a blessing in disguise, Gil thought.

Gil walked into his house using crutches, but ditched them as soon as he arrived. He was hobbling around the house unaided before we left. He took off his hospital-issued sock too, and we gasped over his swollen, discolored foot and the one visible fang mark.

As I had suspected, it sure was a good story, but only because my coworker lived to tell it. If he had died, it would have been a tragedy.

Image of rattlesnake from https://classroomclipart.com/clipart/page-9/Clipart/Animals/Reptile_Clipart/Snake_Clipart.htm.

Ophidiophobia

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According to Wikipedia, ophidiophobia

Click to view is a particular type of specific phobia, the abnormal fear of snakes. It is sometimes called by a more general term, herpetophobia, fear of reptiles and/or amphibians. The word comes from the Greek words “ophis” (ὄφις) which refers to snake, and “phobia” (φοβία) meaning fear.[1]

An ophidiophobe not only fears them [snakes] when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them in video or still pictures.[2]

About a third of adult humans are ophidiophobic, making this the most common reported phobia.[3]

This post is a heads up to my readers (ophidiophobic or otherwise), the next four posts on this blog are going to be true snake stories. Consider yourself warned!

The image of the snake is from https://classroomclipart.com/clipart/Clipart/Animals/Reptile_Clipart/Snake_Clipart.htm.