Category Archives: Animals! Animals! Animals!

Animal Collages

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The Crafter's Complete Guide to Collage
My friend sent me a copy of The Crafter’s Complete Guide to Collage by Amanda Pearce. I felt like I’ve already mastered many of the techniques included in the book, such as the use of found objects and basic composition. However, I was fascinated by the chapter on paper collage, especially the section dealing with the grain of papers, mixing textures, and ripping versus cutting edges. The chapter made me think in new ways about using paper.

Then I was in a thrift store and found a stack of those wildlife cards marketed to kids on the 1970s and 80s. I was rummaging through them, considering the collage posibilities when I saw a naked mole rat! A naked mole rat! The Lady of the House had recently told me the naked mole rat is the favorite animal of The Man of the House becasue the critter seems to have to ability to live forever–or at least they don’t appear to “go through the gradual (and eventually rapid) process of self-destruction that we think of as aging.” The odds of finding a good photo of a naked mole rat in a thrift store seemed slim, and I felt like maybe the universe was prompting me to create some art for The Man of the House.

Will you humor me while I talk about my process?

Of course, first I cut out the photo of the naked mole rat. Then I went through my papers and found some colors I thought would go together nicely. I tore the edges of the papers for added visual interest, then glued the papers onto a piece of canvas panal board I’d picked up at a different thrift shop. I glued the photo of the rodent onto a button then glued the button onto the board to lift the photo slightly off the surface.

The words in the talk bubble are in reference to the lyrics to the song “Fame” (from the movie Fame). In the song, lyricist Irene Cara writes, “(Fame) I’m gonna live forever.” I thought it would be funny if a creature that doesn’t age (in the way most of the world understands aging)  was singing about living forever.

The stars were the last addition to the piece, necessary, I thought to perk it up and pull all of the elements together. I knew The Man of the House wouldn’t like glitter, but maybe shiny stars weren’t going too far.

After I finished this gift for The Man of the House, I wanted to make something for the Lady of the House too. She is a big fan of the blue-footed booby, and I just so happened to have a photo of two of them I’d cut out from a magazine some time ago.

Again, I tore the edges of the papers and glued them to the canvas board. I cut as close as possible around the edges of the birds, then glued them down next. Blue stars added a little bit of dazzle, as did the sparkly blue squares on the bottom corners. The blue “sun” is a button, and I glued a light blue bit of bling to a white heart. Of course, the little song the birds are singing to each other is a takeoff of the old standard “Tea for Two.”

By the time you read this post, The Man and Lady of the House will have received these gifts. I hope they go over well.

 

 

Strays

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Dog on Concrete RoadI was on my way home from a festival where I’d sold my handicrafts and shiny rocks. I’d just turned my van into my neighborhood when I saw a dog racing down the street ahead of me.

The people where I live take the county leash law very seriously, and I never see dogs running loose around here. As I drove very slowly behind the dog, I looked around for its person. There were no humans in sight.

I stopped the van and got out. Hey dog! I called. The dog whirled around and looked at me.

Here doggie! I called calmly, and it ran right up to me and let me pet her. What a sweetie!

She wore a collar, so I checked for a tag. She had a county registration tag, but nothing wih a name or phone number on it. She was obviously somebody’s dog and I didn’t want her to get hit by a car on the nearby highway or be torn up by the neighborhood pack of coyotes, so I decided to try to help her find her people.

I opened the van’s side door and moved some things around. As soon as there was space, the dog jumped right in.

I called the office of the place where I live. The manager answered the phone, and I asked her if she knew of anyone whose dog was missing. She said the dog had been running around for a while and other folks had called to notify her.

I’ve got the dog in my van, I told her, then asked if there was a nearby animal shelter where I should take it.

She gave me a phone number, which I called. I talked to a woman whose position I still don’t know. Was she an animal control officer? Was she a local pet rescue volunteer? I still have no idea.

I told the woman on the phone my location and described the dog I’d just ushered into my van. She said other people had called about the dog, whose name was Milly. Her person hadn’t answered his phone earlier, but the woman knew where he lived. (I suppose this information was found via the county registration on the dog’s tag.) The women on the phone gave me the dog’s address, and I said I’d drive Milly home.

As I pulled out onto the main highway, I saw a most unusual sight. Two travelers were walking on the side of the road. The guy had long salt and pepper hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and the woman had dread locks in a neat bun on the top of her head. Each carried a big backpack and held a leash hooked to a big dog. Both wore clothes made drab by long wear and road dirt. These were traveling kids, although I could see in their faces that these folks were well out of their 20s.

Seeing them there was strange because my winter home is truly in the middle of nowhere. It’s 10 miles from the nearest small town, 50 miles from the next small town, and ninety miles from the nearest Wal-Mart. These folks were over 100 miles from the next city in the direction they were headed, with practically nothing but tribal land between their current location and the city. Of course, they could have been headed somewhere on the tribal land; surely there are Native American traveling kids on the highways and backroads of the U.S. Maybe these two were almost home.

In any case, I didn’t have time to stop for them. I was trying to get the stray dog home, and the travelers and I were headed in opposite directions. I decided I’d look for them upon my return and continued on my dog rescue mission.

I found the street where Milly supposedly lived and a mailbox with the correct house number. I had a leash in my van, so I hooked it to Holly’s collar, and we went together to find her people. The houses were laid out in an odd configuration, and I had trouble finding the right one. I knocked on a door without a number and an elderly woman with thin hair and unfortunate eyeliner answered. I politely asked her if this dog was hers. She said it was not. I told her the address I was looking for. She was unsure of the location, but told me where she thought it was.

From inside the house, an unseen man hollered, She’s looking for Marv!

Marve doesn’t have a dog! she called back impatiently.

I thanked her for her help, and Milly and I were on our way.

I drove just a little ways down the street and found the number I was looking for. It was Marv’s house, if the painted rock labeled Marv and Betty was to be believed. Maybe Marv had gotten a dog without alerting the neighbors.

I leashed Milly again, and we walked up to the door. I knocked. The door was opened by an elderly woman I presume was Betty. Like the woman I’d just spoken to, she wore jeans and a sweatshirt, but Betty’s hair was a perfectly white frizzy poof surrounding her head like the nimbus of a saint in a Renaissance painting.

I politely asked her if this was her dog. She said it was not. She said she currently didn’t have any dogs. I explained I’d been given her address as the home of the dog, but she firmly maintained that Milly did not live there. I thanked her and took Milly back to the van.

I called the woman who’d given me the (mis)information about where Milly lived and told her the dog’s person didn’t live where she thought he did. She asked me if I could meet her ten miles away at the animal shelter. I agreed.

When I arrived at the county complex housing the shelter, I leashed Holly yet again and walked over to the entrance. The woman I’d been talking to was waiting for us. She was middle age, blonde, and dressed Saturday afternoon casual. She told me she’d called Milly’s person again, and he’d answered this time.

He’d been drinking, and I woke him up, she told me.

Apparently, when she asked for his address, he couldn’t tell her. Get up and wash your face, she’d told him, and figure out where you live!

I felt bad about leaving Milly in the dark concrete kennel, but she did have the company of a fuzzy white dog named Buddy.

I don’t want anything bad to happen to her here, I told the woman, meaning please don’t euthenize this sweet dog just because her person is a dumbass and lets her run around.

Nothing bad’s going to happen to her here, the woman said. If you leave her running around out there, she might run onto the highway…The woman shuddered and didn’t spell out what might happen if Milly were to run onto the highway. She didn’t need to spell it out; I know cars and animals can be a dangerous combination.

I left Milly, trusting the woman to get her home. I suspected the woman would also give Milly’s person a stern lecture on the dangers of letting her run free.

Gray Concrete Road Beside Brown Mountain during Golden HourI was almost home when I thought about the traveling couple again. I wonder what happened to them, I thought moments before I saw them sitting on the side of the road just past my turn. I purposefully missed the turn and stopped my van near them.

Where in the world are y’all going? I asked as I approached them on foot.

As I suspected he would, the guy named the city 100+ miles away, then asked hopefully, Where are you going?

I live over there, I pointed. I could tell they were disappointed.

We heard there’s a truckstop about a mile down the road, the woman said hopefully. Do you think you could drive us there?

I don’t think it’s a truckstop, I told them. I think it’s just a gas station. But yes, I can drive you there.

They loaded in their packs and their dogs, all the while tickeld that a Grateful Dead rendition of “Scarlet Begonias” was coming through the speaker attached to my phone.

What are y’all doing out here? I asked as soon as the van was rolling.

That’s a long story, the guy said. I’ll let you tell it, he said to the woman.

She kept it short. They were looking to settle down, she said, and they had friends in the nearby small town. They’d come to stay with the friends who had immediately started acting weird, so now they were heading back to the city.

I pulled int the gas station’s parking lot and handed the woman a few bucks. She was very thankful, as was her guy, who lifted his shirt to show me the word “LOVE” amateurishly tattoed high on his stomch. (Yes, that part of the encounter was as awkward as it sounds.)

I briefly toyed with the idea of offering to drive them to the city, but I really didn’t want to make a 200+ mile round trip that overcast afternoon, especially the part where I’d have to come back alone. Besides, they were old enough to have been around the block a time or two. I think they’d been on the road a while and (hopefully) knew how to handle themselves.

They unloaded their packs and their dogs, and they thanked me again before I drove off.

I hope all the strays I picked up that day eventually made it home safely.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/dog-on-concrete-road-688835/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-concrete-road-beside-brown-mountain-during-golden-hour-163848/.

Madame

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Madame was a very small dog, although not the smallest I’ve ever met. While she was extremely cute, I didn’t immediately realize she was the traffic-stopping kind of adorable.

The job hadn’t originally involved a dog. The job had started out as a favor, or, more accurately, a mutually beneficial situation. My friend and her family were going away for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I was welcome to stay at their house while they were gone. I was welcome to luxuriate in their heat and their running water and their WiFi and their multitude of television options. In exchange, I’d make sure their cat had food and water and a tolerable litter pan. I wouldn’t have to leave the house for days at a time if I didn’t want to.

I was sitting on my friend’s couch when she got the email that brought Madame into my life. I was working on my blog and my friend was doing her paying job even though it was supposed to be her day off.

What does this woman want? she asked aloud in exasperation.

The woman in question was a former co-worker. My friend said the woman only contacts her when she wants something. This time she wanted my friend to care for her dog while she was out of the country for the holidays.

My friend said her family had kept the dog once years before. She was an old dog, my friend said, and not much trouble.

I’ll be here anyway, I told my friend. If you don’t mind the dog being at your house, I can take care of her. But tell your friend I want $10 a day.

Caring for a dog meant taking it for walks, which meant I couldn’t stay in the house for days at a time. I wanted a little monetary compensation for my trouble.

My friend said the dog had no teeth and ate wet food. I definitely want $10 a day if I have to feed her wet food, I told my friend. Picking up dog feces is bad enough, but a combination of feces and wet food is a lot of grossness to deal with. Yes, if wet food was involved, I definitely wanted monetary compensation.

The dog’s person was a little desperate. No one else she asked had been able to care for the dog, so she contacted my friend. I don’t know what she would have done if I hadn’t been available. I suspect she would have paid a kennel more than $10 a day. I suspect Madame would have been miserable all alone in a tiny cage.

I said I would care for Madame.

I met her on the morning of Christmas Eve. I arrived at my friend’s house early, while she and her family were still packing and preparing for their trip. Finally, they headed off to the airport, and Madame and I were alone.

Madame was a tiny chihuahua, black, although I’d imagined her as tan and looking more like a pug. I don’t know how old she was, but her muzzle was quite grey. She had big chihuahua eyes and big chihuahua ears, and her mouth was a little twisted due to her lack of teeth. She had stick-thin legs and a large pink bow on her collar.

When it came time for our walk, I found her comically thin leash and hooked it to the metal ring on her collar. She walked well on the leash, didn’t pull, altough I’m not sure if I would have noticed if she did. Like most dogs, Madame liked to stop and sniff. Sometimes if I was ready to move on and she wasn’t, she’d plant her feet and give me an ugly look. I could have easily picked her up and whisked her away, but instead I tugged gently on the leash and talked sweetly to her until she came along.

We were almost back to my friend’s house, walking on the sidewalk, when the car stopped in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a busy street, which is probably why the driver felt it was safe to stop, but still. Most people don’t stop their cars in the middle of the street.

That’s the smallest dog I’ve ever seen! the driver called out to me.

She’s pretty small, I agreed.

The driver and the passenger, both women with grey hair, both women who looked quite a bit older than I am, were gushing over Madame’s cuteness.

Is she full grown? the driver asked me.

Oh yes, I said. She’s actually quite elderly.

There were more declarations of cuteness, and I was polite, but I was ready to move on and get back to my limited-time house life.

She’s just so small, the driver said again. And she’s full grown? The driver was having a difficult time believing Madame wasn’t a puppy.

Oh yes, I said. She’s an old lady dog!

I’ve walked cute dogs before, but none of my other charges have ever brought traffic to a halt.

Is this dog cute enough to stop traffic? I took this photo.

Eek!

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I knew I was behaving like a stereotype, but I couldn’t help myself.

I was standing on the living room couch, shrieking at the top of my lungs after seeing a mouse skitter across the floor.

animal, apodemus sylvaticus, brownI don’t know how it happened, but at some time during my 16 years of life, I’d developed a fear of all things rodent. I didn’t think hamsters and gerbils were cute (although for some reason I could tolerate guinea pigs). I didn’t think mice were cute either, and rats were straight-up deplorable.

Once when I was about twelve, my family was leaving my grandmother’s house late in the afternoon. My grandmother lived on the outskirts of a small town surrounded by crop fields. She had a huge front yard, and I don’t know how many acres in the back. There was plenty of room for wild critters to live all around her.

On this particular day, as my family was about to walk out onto the back porch to say our lingering good-byes, we saw a horrible site. In the utility room accessible only from the porch, rats come pouring out of a metal trash can close to the door. I’m not exaggerating when I say “rats.” These animals were not mice. These were pointy-nosed, long tailed rats. There was not one thing cute about them as far as I was concerned.

I may be exaggerating when I say rats were pouring out of the trash can. In my first recollection, there were at least a dozen rats jumping one after another from the trashcan and running around helter-skelter as if they were trying to desert the proverbial sinking ship. But could there have really been twelve rats in my grandmother’s utility room? I know there was more than one rat, more than two, definitely more than three. I know I must be correct if I say there were between three and twelve rats running willy-nilly in the utility room and on the porch.

My grandmother kept a clean house, but she said she’d been having problems with the rats in the utility room. I think my uncle hadn’t been around to burn the trash, so the rats had taken over the trash can. My grandma moved the trash can into the utility room thinking the rats wouldn’t venture in there to get the garbage. WRONG! The rats had no problem going into the utility room to get to the trash. They must have made their move into the can while we were in the house visiting. When they heard us near the back door, they rushed out of the can in search of better hiding places.

I had never seen a live wild rat in real life, but I was certainly terrified by these. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was terrified. I was not just uncomfortable, not just bothered, not just scared. I was losing my shit. I was acting bat-shit-crazy. I was unreasonably, illogically terrified. I was immediately screaming, sobbing, bawling. I refused to leave the house and walk five steps across the porch, down the concrete steps, and across the carport to the family car. I simply refused.  My father had to carry me—still sobbing—to the car. I was too old—and certainly too big—to be carried, and my dad was not accustomed to indulging such foolishness, but he must have known I wasn’t going to leave if I had to rely on my own two feet.

The fear I felt was primal and deep. I was not just a little scared. I had moved into the realm of phobia.

(More than three decades later, a friend said maybe my fear of rodents was some sort of ancestral memory left in my DNA by people who had avoided the Black Death by avoiding rats due to a fear of them. This theory makes as much sense as any other reason I’ve come up with.)

On the day the mouse was in the house, I felt the same primal fear. I was afraid, and I wanted to be as far away from the mouse as possible. I didn’t weigh my options, consider my choices, then decide the sofa was the place to be. No, there was no careful thought process. I simply jumped up on the couch and began shrieking.

What was I afraid of? The only concrete fear I can name is the concern that the mouse was going to run up my leg. Is that even a thing outside of slapstick comedy? Has any mouse anywhere ever run up a human’s leg? Does flight ever bring a wild animal into closer proximity to the flailing, screaming bigger creature? Doesn’t the concept of “flight” necessitate movement away from danger?

In any case, there was no good reason for my fright.

It’s just a little mouse, said my annoyed mother.

It’s so cute, said my animal-loving sibling.

I’ll set a tramp, said my practical father.

I stood on the couch long after I stopped shrieking, long after the mouse had hid itself somewhere safe. My family didn’t understand, but to our reptile brains, sometimes the tiniest thing is really the biggest and most important.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-cute-little-mouse-301448/.

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

Standard

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.