Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dangers of the Night

Two worlds exist side by side in the deep woods: The day world and the night world.  The worlds meet at dawn and dusk and in those brief moments send messages back and forth.  Like early morning and late night news broadcasts, each world tells the other of what transpired as one slept and the other worked.  We, for the most part, are members of the day world.  At night we can only imagine what goes on around us.  A dog’s incessant bark might say a raccoon or bobcat or perhaps a wild hog roams nearby.  A fervent growl speaks of other things and we know that night is the time for the uncommon and sometimes sinister.  A helicopter’s drone filters in from afar and grows louder and we look up and see nothing but know the craft is flying overhead.  In a minute the sound fades and sometimes we’ll see a brilliant spotlight flare downward following the line of a remote paved road a few miles to the north.  A dangerous road at night where smugglers and their ilk traverse the pavement and then crisscross the rough ranch roads: Always heading north sometimes armed but forever dangerous.

A few months ago three men showed up at the cottage about 10:30 in the morning.  One did all the talking and the other two stood quietly alongside.  One of the men was carrying a backpack and I ordered him to set it down and for the three of them to move a ways from the pack and to sit and wait.  They wanted water and the talker said they’d been involved in a chase at dawn.  He said the Border Patrol had pursued them along the paved road to the north and that their vehicle had flipped sending its occupants scrambling into the woods.  I’ve seen as many as 20 people crammed into a Suburban.  That might sound like an exaggeration but ask any Border Patrol agent and they’ll tell you they’ve seen the same many times.  Some months back we were driving into the city that’s about 50 miles south of us and we had to stop because an emergency medical helicopter was blocking the road.  There were a dozen Texas DPS trooper and Border Patrol vehicles parked alongside the road and another helicopter belonging to the DPS or Border Patrol was skirting the brush near the fenceline.  Then we saw a large pickup smashed against a mesquite tree on the other side of the fence.  Several people were being lifted into both the medevac helicopter and three ambulances and a bunch of other folks were being held by the Border Patrol.

I’ve witnessed a number of chases and all of them are extremely dangerous.  Some of us question the wisdom of the DPS, the Border Patrol and the local sheriff departments that engage in these hazardous vehicle pursuits.  Our concern is for the innocent people who might be driving down the road only to encounter a chase coming their way.  Some years back a prominent South Texas businessman and his wife were both killed instantly when a vehicle that was being chased struck them head on.  You would think the police would have more sense than to endanger innocent lives in these chases.  But in the recent past four border-county South Texas sheriffs have been sent to prison for corruption along with a number of federal agents and state cops.  So I guess wisdom is not their strong suit.

The three fellows who showed up at the cottage were given water and sandwiches.  I did not want trouble.  I told them to get going and never return this way again.  The talker said, No problema.  And then they disappeared into the brush.  The talker had said they were on their way back to a safe house about four miles south.  But he was too slick and rambled too much and I knew he was lying.  After they walked into the brush I cut their sign and—as I had expected—they simply turned north and headed back in the direction from which they had come.

Last night my grandson and I decided to go walking along the little road leading to our place.  We took flashlights and water and a few other things.  I assume you’ve gathered I am a nature person and that I am an odd combination of nerd and woodsman.  So I wanted to see what herps (reptiles) were out and, of course, that’s the best time to do a rudimentary census.  Not two hundred yards from the cottage and the common sight of a Border Patrol helicopter made its appearance.  As always, we heard it a full minute before we saw it.  And as always, it was heading north towards that lonely paved road a few miles away.  We kept walking.  I taught my grandson how to find the North Star and continued with my instructions on how to walk safely in the Brushlands.  We heard a screech owl yodeling to the east and then another screech owl farther out.  We heard coyotes singing sweet songs in the distance.  We saw pauraques and poor wills.  We saw The Milky Way.  Two nights ago we watched the International Space Station fly right over us.  It was a brilliant sight.  Last night we stopped at one of the gates and drank water and checked on two of my blue heelers that accompanied us.  But we saw no herps.  Yesterday afternoon I saw a six foot corn snake, Elaphe guttuta,  slithering into a hole at the base of a mesquite tree next to the cottage.  “Those are good snakes,” I told my grandson.

As we walked I told my grandson we needed to be on the alert because the night is the most dangerous time in the woods.  Those of you who keep track of this blog know I’ve had rattlesnake troubles this year.  Night before last I was tinkering around in my workshop trying to make a PVC bow (not very primitive but I just had to try it) and the surge protector shut down when I turned on my heat gun.  I reached for my flashlight and just as I flicked the switch I heard the high-pitched rattling I’ve lived through thousands of times in my life.  I shined the flashlight down the caliche driveway leading to the cottage and directly behind my pickup was a monster rattlesnake.  For an instant I feared it might have bitten one of my dogs.  I grabbed a pistol and put two .410 rounds into the snake’s head.  My grandson ran out of the cottage and we quickly checked the dogs but they were okay.

Tonight we will go out again to check for herps.  Like last night we’ll be on alert.  We’ll carry water and take flashlights.  A couple of my blue heelers will walk with us.  I can always count on them to let me know if something evil is nearby.  As I write this post the afternoon sun is beginning its daily plunge in the west.  The bobwhite coveys in my “front yard” will seek cover as will the ghost doves and other birds that frequent my feeders and watering stations.  And then the deer will make their appearances….as will the hogs and coyotes and snakes and, maybe the Border Patrol helicopter flying north and all around things will be happening.  Just like every night in the South Texas Brushlands.  It gets interesting.

This is the rattlesnake that was in my driveway night before last.  It measured 5 feet 10 1/2 inches.  Like I've said in previous posts, I don't relish shooting rattlesnakes.  But when they are in my yard I have no choice.

I had to take this one last week.  My grandson is visiting and the first time I took him walking in the woods behind the cottage we ran smack dab into this monster.  It measured 6 feet 4 1/2 inches.