Thursday, April 28, 2016


All news is local.  But then so is all life.  Ultimately, everything boils down to what’s going on within the couple of square miles where you live.  Yes, the National Media, Talk Radio, and the hysterical political class want us focused on everything at once and simultaneously on nothing at all.  Keep the public off track and unbalanced, their blood pressure up and their nerves frayed.  Weekenders show up from the city and all they talk about are the same things they’ve fixated on back in suburbia, which is mostly politics.

In the meantime things seem to go on as always and the only time our routines get changed is when, once again, city folks arrive with ideas on how everything should be modified to mirror their perception of how things ought to be.  A constant struggle between harmony and chaos.  My best bit of advice is to learn how to live your life without looking through the eyes of others.  Flick off the Tube; switch off the radio; and if you have to be bombarded by sound then listen to some sort of mellow music.  I occasionally listen to Pandora “ambient music” when I’m working on the keyboard.

Allow that two square mile radius to shrink to one mile and then to your private backyard or maybe a quiet corner at a nearby city park.  Find a wooded path somewhere and search out a hidden spot and set up your hammock or pup tent and make that your private world.  Learn to look at individual things and not just at the entire panorama.  You’ll spot an ant or beetle walking between blades of grass and you’ll wonder about the life of that ant or beetle, or perhaps a bee buzzing from flower to flower.  Realize that you, and only you, will ever know that ant, beetle or bee.  Examine the leaves on a shrub and take note of how they’re shaped.  Look to see if there is any variation between the leaves.  Often you’ll find that shrubs and trees have distinct leaf variations on each individual plant.  I take things a bit further and dissect hardwood branches to learn about fiber structure and color differences.  I’ll take note of fiber separations as the wood begins to dry.  In my world I’ve learned the most intimate things about our local hardwoods.  Show me a cross-section of a branch and I’ll tell you what species of plant it belongs to.  I do not need to see the leaves or flowers but instead just the wood.

Stressed out?  Then make your life smaller not bigger.  Rein things in.  Learn to concentrate on the minute and not the “grand picture.”  Now’s not the time to try to analyze the bedlam beyond your secret enclave.

In my world the hot news goes something like this: Tololo’s brown cow just delivered a cute bull calf.  The orioles are moving through so we’ve set out extra orange slices to keep them nourished: Bullocks, Baltimore, Altamira, Orchard, Hooded; Audubon.  We’ve had our share of rattlesnakes too this spring.  A few days ago my wife, Norma, and son, Matthew, had a close call with a rattlesnake in the front yard.  The snake almost bit Matthew.  I was outside pruning some branches when I heard that distinctive rattler buzz.  It sounds like air rushing out of a flat tire at a high rate.  I saw Matthew jump back and the rattler arched its head up threatening to bite.  So I ran inside, grabbed a 20 gauge, and then back on the porch handed the shotgun to Matthew.  That was just too damn close!  Don’t even think about preaching to me about catching snakes and then transferring them someplace else.  I’ll dub you as one more naïve slicker who comes to the woods now and then with all sorts of high falutin ideas stemming from a complete lack of woods experience other than an occasional two-hour “field trip.”  Note: We leave all rattlesnakes alone if they are beyond our yard.  We don’t collect rattlesnake skins to make belts or hatbands.  We loathe rattlesnake roundups; that’s a Chamber of Commerce thing.  By the way, we have just as much disregard for those who come out this way and don’t know one snake from any other and have to shoot every snake they see because, after all, “It’s a snake.”

Now on that same day that Matthew almost got bit and about an hour after sunset I walked out on the front porch and noticed that my blue-heeler, Oy, was acting kind of squirrely and hugging the front door.  You get to know your dogs—especially if they are indeed part of the family.  I checked around the front porch but saw nothing.  Walked inside and told my wife, “Something’s wrong.  Oy is acting strange.”  She took the flashlight and said, “Let me go check.”  A minute later, she called out, “Arturo! I found it.”  How she spotted that snake I have no idea other than she’s a country girl and having lived with a woods rat for thirty years, and having run into hundreds of rattlesnakes during that time, she’s learned a thing or two about the Brushlands.  So I grabbed a .22 revolver loaded with rat-shot and centered the milled sights on the snake that lay coiled between a molcajete and a small box.  Then two nights ago my wife stepped out on the front porch and as she approached the walk-around leading to the utility room she spotted a big rattlesnake slithering away from her.  “Arturo!  There’s a snake on the walk-around!”  I grabbed the Judge and a pair of ear protectors and faced a very angry snake.

We’ve tried all sorts of “snake repellents” purchased at the hardware store but none of them work.  In other words, they're all just a waste of money.  I’m going to buy some geese and guineafowl because they make good rattlesnake watchdogs.

Lots of local news but let me tell you the story of the homeless.  The homeless wrens, that is.  The little wrens are the busiest and probably some of the best parents you’ll ever meet.  They’re absolutely devoted to their babies and both the daddy and the mommy work tirelessly to protect and feed their children.  Don’t you wish humans were all like that?  Anyway, the little wrens look for any small cubby they can find to build their nests.  The best cubby is at least four feet off the ground, nicely protected from predators with small openings big enough to let the parents fly in and out but too small for things like hawks and owls to enter.  The only problem is that the cubbies are sometimes not practical.  Take for example the wrens that try to make a nest every spring in the lock drum at the second gate about a mile and a half away.  The little wrens will work hard…as in manual work, as in by themselves, as in not hiring anyone else to do it…and then along will come some dude in his pickup truck and he’ll try to turn the knob to open the gate and he’ll find the nest in the way.  A sweep of the hand; a poke or two with a stick; perhaps even a curse word or three…and all that hard work gets tossed onto the ground.

The above photo was taken at the second gate.  Notice the half-moon opening on the bottom of the lock drum where the wrens had built a nest.  Cleaned out and now doused with axle grease.

The above photo is from the first gate where a bit of good luck saved daddy and mommy wren from losing their casita.  The gate shifted and the lock drum is temporarily disabled so we placed a chain around the gate to allow entry to our place and my cousin’s place on the other side of the private ranch road.  Country folks don’t mind this setup and will wait patiently until the babies are raised before fixing the gate.  Anyone who complains is looked at as immature and spoiled.  End of that story.

Now the old man who lives in the cabin surrounded by trees and who keeps mostly to himself and devotes a lot of his time to staying quiet and private, and who makes knives and an occasional bow, and who enjoys roaming the woods and bird watching and especially studying native plants…Well, he decided to help the homeless wrens.  So he’s been busy building bird boxes of all sorts but for right now the focus has been on wren boxes.  Plans are to set a couple of wren boxes near the second gate (nicely hidden so passersby won’t get curious) and to set a couple of boxes near the first gate for the same purpose.  The old man already made some wren boxes for the back porch and they were occupied this spring.  The parents will be back in a few weeks to raise another family.

There’s this fellow named Ken who lives in East Texas near Houston, I think, who loves to go off into the woods and “stealth camp.”  He finds a solitary spot and spends a few days hidden in the forest.  He’s never said so but I think that’s where he really lives.  When he’s back at his casa in the gated subdivision he just exists.  But when he’s resting in his hammock or tucked away in his secret tent then he’s living.  There’s a lot of symbolism associated with that if you’ll just bother to think on it a spell.


  1. I don't have a problem using snakeskins for leather, if I come across a fresh roadkilled snake or have to kill one in my own yard, but I don't hunt or kill snakes just to get skins. In your part of the country where the Western Diamondback is king, the skins are fairly drab and subdued in color, but on the Eastern Seaboard where the Eastern Diamondback is prevalent, the skins are quite bright and colorful, and often beautiful. I still have fond memories of trips to Silver Springs, Florida as a boy, and seeing herpetologist Ross Allen's reptile show there - - he would stride fearlessly into a pit full of Eastern Diamondbacks, and give milking demonstrations of venom extraction, all the while teaching the fascinated children about the snakes and their place in the environment. The high point of the show would be when Allen would bring out a harmless snake - - usually a rat snake or king snake - - and allow one lucky boy or girl to hold it, the fortunate one being given a certificate and a polaroid photo to commemorate the occasion. I suspect more than a few of those kids went on to become zoologists or herpetologists. Allen, who is mentioned in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's book Cross Creek, also did work as a stunt double for Johnny Weissmuller in the old Tarzan movies; the underwater scenes in those were often filmed at Silver Springs.

    1. Bob,
      I've read stories about Ross Allen but was unaware of his work as a stunt double for Johnny Weissmuller. Every Sunday when I was a kid they'd show a Tarzan movie. It was either Buck Rogers or Lash LaRue after school, but Tarzan on the weekends. You describe that time in your life perfectly. I've had two encounters with Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. Indeed, they are beautiful snakes and can grow larger than their Western cousin. Thanks for taking the time to write that wonderful note.