Friday, April 27, 2012

In Memory of Chucha

Lest I give the impression that life in the woods is idyllic then let me make it clear that is not always the case.  When things go wrong they do so in powerful and sinister ways.  The goblins that dwell here look for any advantage to pounce and a moment of absentmindedness can, and often does lead to catastrophic events.  I look in wonder at those who set their campsites on bare ground with nary a thought, or those who hike the woods dressed in shorts, or the clan that gives little thought to bringing water since that resource is abundantly available where they live.  But here in the South Texas Brushlands we watch our steps and listen intently for those malevolent aberrations that appear as if from nowhere.

And so it was this evening when one of my six blue heelers went missing.  I had seen Chucha this morning when I went out on the porch for my dog’s morning treats.  A little ritual I go through where each dog must sit before given a biscuit, I noticed that Chucha looked lethargic and didn’t sit like she usually does.  Perhaps she was just being a bit lazy I thought; and to be honest I don’t even know if she ate the treat.  I had things to do and so I left the dogs to their biscuits.

But this evening when it was feeding time, Chucha did not appear.  The dogs were acting skittish and refused to get off the porch to go eat.  That’s when the abrasive rattling began.  What happened in the next few minutes is irrelevant in the sense that Chucha was by that time already gone.  I grabbed my .410 break-open shotgun, loaded it and peered under the porch.  The snake was only a few feet away and it was about 5 ½ feet long.  Now, I’ve taken hundreds of rattlesnakes in my life and it’s nothing I’m proud of or anything anyone should glorify.  If you want to read about rattlesnakes then read my book, Adios to the Brushlands, from Texas A&M University Press.  But I’m not writing here about snakes but instead about Chucha.  After the snake was killed I took a flashlight and shined the light under the porch—and I saw Chucha’s lifeless body.  How long she had been gone is hard to say, and at that moment it’s also hard to explain how I felt.  You see, this was Chucha’s second bout with a rattler.  A few years back a small rattlesnake bit her in the face.  She survived because the snake only managed to get one fang into her check.  My cousin Dora Ines rushed her to the veterinarian’s office and thus saved her life.  The snake today was another story: This was a good-sized rattler with enough venom to complete the job.

So here I am still in shock.  I love my dogs, and those of you who have pets will surely understand.  Chucha was a good and loyal blue heeler, and she always stayed close to me when we walked.  I loved the two nearly identical spots surrounding each eye, and the way she would look at me as if to say, “Let’s journey a little farther.”  Today her journey ended.  We are sad.  We’ll miss her.

The Gift of Silence

Two weeks on the road visiting family and attending to business and now back in the woods where last night I walked out on the porch and watched the International Space Station clear the horizon to the west then skirt the edges of our atmosphere along the northern sky.  When it disappeared in the east I noticed a passenger plane riding the winds somewhere in between and wondered about the people in both the plane and the space station and how they had no idea that far below and many miles away a man sat at his cabin looking up into the heavens.  It’s like that at night.  For the only things I usually see are the stars and the only sounds I hear are those of coyotes wailing at the moon and pauraques whistling in the dark and the ever present fiddling of crickets.  Now and then, as if a reminder of the world beyond this tiny enclave, comes the droning of a US Border Patrol helicopter.  The space station, the passenger plane and the helicopter but glimpses of a world driven by other needs and desires; for here there is simply the woods and the silence.  As I write these notes I hear mourning doves cooing in the trees next to the cabin and at one of my feeders I see that a pair of curved-billed thrashers has stopped to snack.  There’s not an hour that goes by that I don’t peer out at the birdfeeders to see who has come to visit.  Indigo and painted buntings, ruddy doves and Inca doves, white-winged doves, and my favorite dove, the ghost dove.  You birders out there are asking: “What’s a ghost dove?”  That’s what I call the white-tipped dove—a moniker used by most without any semblance of romance or creative thought.  So I’ll continue calling it the ghost dove and listening to its haunting coos as I have done since childhood, and I’ll revel in the silence that fills the gap between each melancholy note.  For me silence and nature far outweigh other needs.  Not but a few miles south trucks race along the little paved highway en route to distant markets.  A man who comes out this way tells me he visits in order to get away from the noise.  And yet, for most people noise is so endemic that they seem, or at least think they are, immune to its presence.  Some people won’t come over here because they claim it’s too quiet.  Then there is that odd batch that seem both uninspired and perhaps even incensed that anyone would prefer the silence of nature.  They have other problems as well.

For example, I know a man who asks, “Why would anyone want to walk in the woods?”  As if his desire to drive from place to place (sometimes one place is no more than a hundred yards from the other) is superior to those who choose to walk.  But then I read an article recently saying that the act of walking has been denigrated in our modern society.  We are a generally obese population.  I wonder why?

Perhaps it might be nice to devote a number of posts to the understanding of silence, the meditative powers of woods roaming, and the quest for a lifestyle removed from what has become known as modern society.  So let’s work on that for a while.