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.