Every year this comes up as a Facebook memory and every year Nick starts laughing hysterically and forcing me to relive this crazy time that we caught a chicken on a freeway:
Every year this comes up as a Facebook memory and every year Nick starts laughing hysterically and forcing me to relive this crazy time that we caught a chicken on a freeway:
Before anything, I need to share these two pictures with you. This used to be the peaceful, serene view from my home:
Now my view looks like this:
It is so large and obnoxious that one of my neighbors actually called to ask if they were building a Wal-Mart in the field next to me. This is important so we will come back to it.
I had a few friends and my husband say that I should write a blog about my copperhead bite. At first, I protested because honestly, I see no humor in the incident at all. However, after reconsideration I decided that my insight might prove valuable to someone else. After my encounter I tried to fill my head with information on bites, recovery times, and other people’s experiences. I soon realized with only 8,000 reported venomous snake bites a year in the US, that individual stories are not plentiful and even if they were each bite and process is different. After all, the amount of venom released differs and the toxin can be injected in muscles, tendons, nerves, etc, which makes each bite unique. With that said, I found the most reassurance and information reading about various copperhead experiences here. Plus, with less than 3,000 copperhead bites a year, that site helps you feel like a rock star.
In general I am not afraid of snakes. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t that long ago that a snake brazenly slithered right in front of me and into the lilies along my sidewalk. With only 20 minutes before I had to leave and get the children from school I refused to allow such an impudent creature to escape. I hunted it down just in time to see it creep behind the cement steps that led to my porch. Profanity flowed from my mouth like a river and angry adrenaline kicked in while righteous indignation took over towards a snake that had the audacity to not hide in the middle of the day. I pulled the heavy steps away and leaped onto the porch to get a better view. Underneath the hollow stairs were 2 heads staring straight up at me. I assessed the situation quickly. Clearly, 20 minutes should be plenty of time to grab a couple of snakes. I could drop them off on the way to get the children. I stuck a stick in the cavity and 4 more snakes lunged forward sending me flying backwards a few feet. I am not one to be deterred and as two of the snakes took off from their hiding spot, like an Olympian I managed to hurdle a 4 foot tall planter, dive in to the lilies and wrangle one of the snakes. I held it up, the snake was nearly as long as my 5 foot 7 inches. With that, I ran into the house to grab a garbage bag and without a single thought stopped before I reached the front door, dropped the snake in the bag, and started to twist the bag closed. Of course, immediately, the snake shot out of the bag and landed on my living room floor then started to make way towards my couch. Even nonvenomous snakes can bite so I have a safe amount of fear and respect of this fact. However, there just isn’t proper safety protocol that can be followed when a snake is trying to set itself up to be a permanent house guest and I could already hear the screams of my teenage daughter once she learned there was a snake loose somewhere in the house. So I stepped on the snake, grabbed it, threw it in the bag and went to retrieve whatever other snakes were stupid enough to still be under those steps. One extremely angry snake finally put itself in a position for me to pin its head and grab it. I threw it in a bag… while outside… with 4 minutes to spare. (It should be stated here that I have since learned that garbage bags are not the best choice for transporting snakes. I learned this lesson last month as I tossed one in the passenger seat of my car to relocate it. Right before I pulled on the road, I looked down to see a hole in the corner of an empty sack and a snake tail going over the back seats. Consider that my PSA if you consider moving snakes to a different location.)
When you move to the country you are well advised to educate yourself on the venomous snakes in your area and how to best avoid them. In my opinion, I was always careful. When I lifted objects I lifted limiting my exposure to whatever may be lurking underneath, I never walked through tall grass, I watched low hanging tree branches and I never went out at dark without a flashlight to illuminate my path. However, on September 8th, 2017 I made a mistake.
Which brings me back to those two pictures, I admit that I feel too strong of a sense of ownership to the view than I have a right to. We bought our property, in part, because of the extreme privacy we had on our five minuscule acres. I could see no neighbors and no neighbors could see me. I could hear no neighbors and never worried that neighbors could hear me. The tree line of the adjacent property served to mark the passing seasons for me and in my eight years here, I never missed watching intently as the trees went from barren to lush in the course of a spring week. Their bright green foliage brought joy to me as I witnessed the demarcation of winter’s end. I reveled in the process of the planting of that huge field and watched corn, soy beans, and hay grow during the summer… all from my trivial five acres. My neighbor’s property didn’t belong to me, obviously, but my eyes owned the view, or so I felt. So when I watched them stake out a rectangle next to my fence-line I was crushed. They own at least 50 acres. The driveway to their trailer home is on the other side of the field. It made absolutely no sense, in my mind, to build anything next to me. My privacy, my solitude, would be hugely interrupted. Panicked and crazed I handled the situation myself by… sending my husband over to see what they were doing.
Begrudgingly, he walked across our property and jumped the fence, like the Bumbus hounds from A Christmas Story, their 20 dogs greeted him as he learned they were building a workshop for all of “their toys”. I think, had it been me that went over there, I would have discussed the lunacy of building anything so close to a neighbor’s property. I may have pointed out how I am constantly outside… watching, listening, being as nosy as Gladys Kravitz… in a futile attempt of projection. After all, certainly, they wouldn’t want us in their business anymore than I wanted them in ours. Instead, Nick took the opportunity to tell them that the bombs they set off every week were frightening our animals and rattling the windows in our 100 year-old house. He didn’t take the opportunity to inform them the tannerite explosions made one of our dogs run away. He didn’t tell them that their constant mowing of the front of our property destroyed the bushes we planted. He didn’t speak to them about their incessant need to spray MY fence with pesticide, subsequently killing the ivy and saplings that I tried to grow there. He didn’t even yell at them for flying drones over our house.
As I have mentioned many times, gossip in small towns doesn’t die, it is only replaced with newer, fresher gossip. I should feel proud that the gossip that I keep having rehashed about me is 7 years-old. So, when it traveled down through the gossip chain that our neighbors were calling us dog thieves, I wasn’t surprised. (You can read about that story here.) I did feel a smidgen guilty when I heard that they were ridiculing my poor husband for coming over to speak to them and a little bemused when they said he was complaining about fireworks on the 4th of July. HOWEVER, when the gossip started to spread through the high school and made my daughter cry, as any mother can relate, I was outraged.
All of this just to explain to you how much I hate my neighbors. How much I loathed seeing them every day for months, out gazing at the spot they plotted, mowing the patch weekly, visiting it constantly on bike, 4 wheeler, and truck, while waiting for their bank loan to finalize. How indignant I felt and how stubbornly I refused to let their monstrosity impact my life. So much so that on September 8th, 2017, after I went out to check on something, I conducted my usual silent, passive aggressive, protest by not going back inside just because they were standing, again, admiring their dumb quadrilateral. I stomped resentfully around my yard; it was only 7pm, but I should have known better. As I walked onto the path near my garden I felt something snap my right inside ankle. I turned to double check and saw a small copperhead lying there.
In my memory it was like looking through a pin hole. I see the outer circumference in darkness and a hazy center image. I see the pattern and little more. I probably stared at it for several seconds trying to convince myself that it wasn’t really a snake. Afterwards, I remained collected. I did not remain calm. I ran upstairs to change clothes. I did this because that seemed rational. (I was wearing shorts and no undies and heaven forbid that nurses were going to be down at my feet asking me to lift my leg!) I also grabbed an ice pack from the freezer. Out here there is a choice of two hospitals. The rural one is 10 minutes away. The other one, in a larger town, is 40 minutes away. Logically, to me, the rural hospital, out where the snakes are, would have anti-venom so we chose to go to that one. I would later learn that my running upstairs increased blood flow and the movement of the venom, ice packs are bad, and anti-venom is too expensive to be kept at a rural hospital.
Copperhead bites hurt. Half way to the hospital the pain started to set in. I knew to try and be calm but I was terrified. A copperhead bit me. I had never thought to research what to do or death rates for a copperhead bite. What lay in front of me was unknown and I am a planner. I asked the first nurse, in between screams of “It’s a 10! The pain is a 10!” and bits of profanity, “Will I die from this?” She replied thoughtfully with, “Umm, probably not.” When I was later transferred to the other hospital, I asked the ambulance paramedic if I would die from this to which he responded, “Umm, I think the fact that you got here so quickly is a good sign”. To the nurse at the second hospital I asked if I would die and she reassured me with, “Umm, we are going to do everything we can.” Do you see the pattern of vagueness? The correct answer, after plenty of research is, no, copperhead bites are rarely fatal (as in almost never). However, by the time I had questioned the second nurse about my impending demise I had already worked out in my head that amputating my foot at the ankle was okay, I probably didn’t want to lose the entire leg and death was not really optimal at this time. I had also gone through a checklist in my head of all of my reasons to live and all the embarrassing things I may have left lying around if I died. Rather than reassure me, the nurses seemed more interested in viewing the snake bite, hearing how it happened, and finding out if I killed the snake. As if somehow taking time to kill the snake took precedence over becoming hysterical and getting to the hospital. Truth be told, snake bites are an anomaly and I am sure the medical staff was not hugely well-versed on them. This was evident later as the attending doctor floundered for answers when I asked about future bites and allergic reactions to further treatments of anti-venom. In his defense, I later learned he is a plastic surgeon.
Being bit by a copperhead feels like being hit with a baseball bat by a MLB player. If you would have told me that the snake shattered every bone in my ankle and foot I would have believed you. I received 3 different types of intravenous pain medications and nothing helped. Only after anti-venom and Morphine could I relax.
I was swollen to my hip; it was impossible to move my toes or rotate my ankle. I screamed when any pressure was applied to the leg, it felt like it would burst. The pain was manageable with the foot elevated. It was practically unbearable if I tried to lower it. I was told that my recovery time could be anywhere from three weeks to three months. What I chose to hear was- “Because you are so awesome you will be back to normal in two weeks.” I abhor being sick and a stupid snake would not keep me down. Thus, I begged the doctor to leave the ICU/hospital that morning. I knew it was probably the wrong thing to do as my leg could bear no weight at all, my ankle had swollen into a contorted position and I was exhausted from the smallest movements. However, I wanted to go home to my kids, my husband, my pets, and my own bed (in no specific order).
The car drive was excruciating. To get into the house my husband literally threw me over his shoulders like a backpack and carried me, to which halfway through, I had the audacity to ask for a break so that I could rest and catch my breath. Getting up the stairs to bed required me to sit on my bottom and hoist myself up each step tirelessly. Nick propped my leg like a treasure on a pillow and lifted it as I elevated myself. This was miserable, but my bed felt delicious (if there was an order bed may have ranked first).
For six days straight I lay in bed except for bathroom breaks. After much thought, and a trip on his back to the bathroom, I remembered a wheeled table that he could use to transport me. He kindly indulged me when I asked that he do sound effects as he pushed me to the bathroom. Train sounds turned to plane sounds turned to car sounds that eventually turned to puttering and sputtering and creaking sounds. On the seventh day the pain to the leg, when standing, succumbed enough that I could tolerate short distances on crutches. I cried that night, when, with a lot of assistance, I was able to lower myself into a bath. Getting out of the bath probably took twice as long as the bath itself.
Each day the swelling improved and after twelve days I was able to limp slowly, without crutches. My husband felt that I if I could just swing my arms correctly that my hobble would look more like a strut. It did not. I was still exhausted at the smallest efforts and read that venom destroys red blood cells so I increased my iron and felt better.
I saw snakes everywhere. They were the cat’s tail slipping under a chair, the scarf the girl on TV was wearing, a belt on the floor, a dog’s toy, and everything in my peripheral. On the morning of my 16th day of recovery I decided to finally go into the yard. I missed the outdoors and wanted to help feed the goats and chickens. My youngest child was wonderful to help and be my support. When he guided me over to the spot where I was bit I was filled with trepidation. I couldn’t move and stared at the spot, afraid. As I stood there, I noticed a slight movement. The snake was so well camouflaged with the leaves, that I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise. I would like to say that I was brave during this encounter, but as my son ran to get his father, I started to hyperventilate. The nurses would be happy to know… we killed the snake. I do not know if I condone killing copperheads, I only know at that moment it felt semi-justified and I was filled with hope that it would relieve me of my prison of paranoia. That was not the case though and I didn’t feel safe until I got my snake-proof boots. Now I courageously stagger around my yard like a drunkard looking to start a fight.
I am now in week three and the improvements have slowed down. I can walk up the stairs, but walking down is tenuous. I tend to walk on the side of my foot because straightening my ankle is painful. I have to consciously force myself to walk heel to toe because I would rather not flex the ankle at all. Also, more than 10 minutes standing or sitting and my foot begins to swell and turn bright red. I think I was a little too optimistic about my recovery time. Even so, things like this can change a person. I have learned to be more grateful. If my recovery stops here I am grateful that I have made it this far. I am grateful for a person in my life to take care of me and employment that made it possible to take the time off to do so. I am thankful for my friends who supported me, checked on me, and/or donated money towards my doctor’s bills. I am also more appreciative of the struggles of others. I feel even more compassion toward the elderly, that walk so slowly or the ill that struggle to walk at all. I have even really tried to come to terms with the eyesore of a building next to me. After all, at least it isn’t an actual Wal-Mart. It wasn’t lost on me that my pettiness was the real cause of my injury. I have to admit though, yesterday when I saw him attempting to install gutters on his vastly too tall building, I laughed hysterically as he fell off the ladder and the ladder fell on him. If he hadn’t built it so close to us I would never have witnessed that… but I digress.
This month marks my eight year anniversary since leaving the city and taking up residence in rural Texas. It has been three years since I last wrote anything and resolved to amend that. To celebrate this fact I have decided to move my blog from Blogspot to WordPress. (To celebrate or because they kept messing up my posts, definitely one or the other.)
I am eight years older than when we first moved out here. I have grown. I have changed. I definitely feel I would fare better if there was a global catastrophe. I still very much miss the city despite that.
Looking back, we were extremely lucky to land in Whitewright. There just couldn’t be a better school district, in my eyes. We moved out here, in part, because I wanted the children to attend a small school. I felt that being a big fish in a small sea would be better for their self esteems growing up than being a small fish in a big sea and I must boast that I think I was right. The cartoons in the elementary cafeteria were removed years ago when the previous principal retired. The new principal is wonderful, he writes letters to the parents telling them not to overly concern themselves with state test scores and says some students are born to be artists and not scientists. It is reassuring and compassionate. The middle school principal greets each child by name and seems well versed on each one’s scholastic performances. He has an open door policy on bullying and zero tolerance for such. The high school principal is new but when my husband met with him about our son’s autism and ADHD issues, he was understanding and said all of the right things. He jokes with the children and loves Star Wars (that has to count for something).
My children have liked all of their teachers; that is foreign to my experiences as a child. I used to find it odd how so many of the children’s teachers were related… a kindergarten teacher is married to the high school geometry teacher, a superintendent is married to a kindergarten teacher and are parents to the middle school English teacher, the elementary principal is married to the middle school English teacher. Substitute teachers are always related to someone in the school …. no, never mind, I guess I still find this odd.
If it wasn’t for our love for the schools and what they do for our children’s self confidence, I would have moved by now. I feel stuck between two worlds, I don’t feel like I fit in here and I don’t feel like I fit in in the city either. We moved here just after Obama was elected and without having a clue about Facebook. Before all of that I had lived my entire life without knowing my closest friends’ political or religious affiliations. That was before the The Great War on Women and the equally hostile conflict, The War on Religion/ Christmas. It was before we had to choose, for importance, black or blue lives and never comprehending why the lives were not congruent but somehow diametrically opposed. Before people supported charity but then judged and picked apart people who partook in it. Before all of that I feel like we (collective) spent more time focusing on our similarities to each other instead of staring at our differences. It is difficult being a democrat in rural, Texas these days which must speak volumes about how much I feel the children are flourishing with their schools.
With that said, Here are a list of some of the things I have learned in my eight years out here…
1. Companies trim trees around electric lines and then grind them into mulch. You can get free mulch and firewood if you are nice to the people doing the work.
2. Everything, except food and underwear but really even underwear (though I don’t recommend it) can be found secondhand. You never have to buy new unless under a time crunch.
3. Free range chickens will hide eggs and make unwanted babies.
4. The male to female ratio of baby chicks is 50/50.
5. People in small towns probably gossip the same amount as everywhere else… but in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, the affects can be greater.
6. Gossip never dies, it is just replaced with newer gossip.
7. You can make big changes, with minimal effort, in small towns.
8. It really is all about who you know.
9. Scrapping metal is complicated.
10. An old dryer will get you about $20 in scrap.
11. Everything is reusable or can be resold.
12. Moving out to the country is probably NOT more tranquil and/ or less expensive.
11. Historic buildings are gravely endangered.
12. Repairing a fence is easiest in the winter. You don’t have to contend with snakes, thorny vines, or poison ivy.
13. You can pay a person $150 to come pick up a large dead animal from your property.
14. Cows will walk in to a pond to get a drink, get stuck and die. It’s true.
Here is a list of opportunities we were granted by moving out here that likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise :
1. I ran an art gallery.
2. I ran a small resale shop.
3. Out here there are plenty of farm finds for shabby chic interiors. You can check out some of those on my ebay store Green Acres Vintage or you can check out some of my collections on my instagram Green Acres Vintage.
4. I later joined the Denison Arts Council and became The Council’s President. I, an extreme introvert, led and organized a group of people to produce festivals and introduce art within the community during 2015 and 2016.
5. My husband learned electric, plumbing, and construction.
6. He is also a YouTube expert and has been known to repair small and large appliances with little more than a five minute video as reference.
7. He learned stained glass from a renowned local artist, I am learning to use a potter’s wheel from an artist friend.
8. 3 out of the 5 family members are black belts.
9. I have this blog about the insanity of country living and the idiotic exploits that derive from being inept.
Eight years is a very long time. I like to think I am older and wiser but I still do stupid things all of the time. My husband is a fairly cool guy. He saunters through life like Ichabod Crane managing to dodge obstacles without a second glance. While I on the other hand always, always, manage to land a foot in or on something. Which is a great segue for my next post…
I could see through the kitchen window that one of our roosters was struggling out in the winter weather. Because we have so many roosters this guy doesn’t really have his own place. Feeling badly for him I bundled up to brave the subarctic temperatures outside. My coat did little to protect me, from the 18° temperatures, as I fumbled around looking for a large crate. My hat did little to shelter my ears, from the 43mph winds, as I walked through the field to find hay for the crate. And I had absolutely nothing screening my vision when all that hay blew in my face and one small piece lodged itself securely in my right eye. After managing to remove the particle from eyeball I found a blanket and covered the crate (in an effort to offer even more protection from this horrid wind). Two female chickens immediately ran in and I thought surely Willis, the rooster, would be excited about the party potential of the crate. I leaned down to pick him up and he immediately flew at my face, bashing my nose and blooding it.
I came back inside, ate the last of Nick’s zucchini bread and watched, guilt free, as the rooster struggled out in the winter weather.
Most chickens don’t fly. The ones that do seldom remember that they can unless pressed. This evening when I went out to put up all the birds I noticed one of our chickens, Davey, on the other side of the fence that runs along the creek. I sat for awhile deliberating on how to handle the situation. When, finally, the realization that she couldn’t just fathom to fly back over the fence set in, I knew I would have to go over and get her. I hesitated because I would almost have rather let the nocturnal predators have her than have to deal with the dense foliage on that side of the fence and all of the snakes that are currently waking from their winter slumber. However, as any compassionate chicken owner would do… I went to hurdle the fence.
A tree fell on part of our fence and so I thought that it would be easy to climb the tree and make my way to the other side. Unfortunately, I forgot that we added another 100 tree limbs to the area to prevent Lola and the goats from escaping. I weaved my body through the branches, heaved myself on top of the toppled tree, and… the tree shifted and I flew off in to the thorny vines. Now on the other side of the fence, I realized that I would not be able to go back the way I came and thus, I either made my way through the bramble or I died trying. I climbed, I crawled, I cussed and when I thought that was bad I fell, thorns drove through my shoes, a two inch thorn lodged itself in my arm. I fell again. My back ached, I wrenched a muscle in my arm. I hurt. When I finally made it to the chicken she ran back the way I had come and I knew I would never be able to reach her. I sat, defeated, the dirt was soft there… if I needed to dig my own grave I knew it would be possible. I looked down at the 6 foot drop in to the creek. It was muddy but at least there were no more vines to entangle and entrap me. I tried to hold on to a tree to lower myself down but the tree was dead and broke with my weight; I plunged down in to the creek. Limping I tracked through the creek, up the other side and along the road to my drive way. Humbled. Hurting. I saw Nick and told him that the chicken was still on the other side of the fence, and he immediately asked if I would like for him to run over there and get her. Of course, I explained that if hell had foliage that it would look like the other side of our fence. I told him the dangers and perils that I encountered in the hours (it felt like) I had been gone. To which he responded, with genuine eagerness to help, “It’s no big deal, I go over there all of the time.” Angrily I went to finish putting up the chickens for the night and Davey was standing there, eating with the other birds.
In the four years we have been here we have had some problems with “the demons that inhabit the world beyond our fences.” For instance, after finally completing the chicken coop we had a raccoon tear through the chicken wire and kill a chicken, a turkey, and take off with our pet rabbit, Bunny Foofer Doo. Which had us, as recent transplants in to the country, angrily scratching our heads and pondering what the point of chicken wire is if it isn’t strong enough to keep predators away from the damn chickens. (A question that I still don’t have an answer to.) The next year, during a huge drought, we had something jump the fence in the middle of the day and take off with a duck and 2 chickens. The locals were kind enough to narrow this animal down to a bobcat or coyote… they were also kind enough to give an unsolicited recipe for how to kill the animal painfully and illegally. I’ll spare you the details. Also, on a regular basis (spring through fall), we carefully and methodically remove and relocate snakes from our property.
All in all though… until now, that has been the extent of our wildlife problems. For some reason,though,this spring and summer has amplified the issue. This entry to my blog has been months and months in the making. As soon as I thought I was done with wildlife problems something else would wreak havoc on our lives and I would feel compelled to document and record that interaction for the masses. First lets start with a mouse…
Like Sherlock Holmes my investigation skills were unearthly. “I swear I didn’t leave a mess of pecan shells in the pantry.” “Is that poop or is that just some lentil, rice, or legume thing?” “I have cats, there couldn’t be a mouse.” “Is it coming in from the top?” “Is it coming in from the bottom? ” “Certainly it can’t squeeze through that hole.” Yet, it did squeeze through that hole and it managed to squeeze through some other hole that I couldn’t find once that original hole was sealed up. Unable to stop this 2 inch menace from making it’s way through my food supply I resigned to continuously feed it pecans in hopes that it would leave all the other food alone until I could devise a plan. The thing was, I had tried metal live traps before and had never been successful, actually, at one point, witnessing the creature release itself from its forced imprisonment. The most “humane” death would seem to be poison. A choice I hated but compared to my husband’s suggestion of sticky paper, a choice I preferred.
Once I finally succumbed to the idea that killing it would be the only way to rid ourselves of this vermin we set out poison… but the mouse didn’t eat the bait. We mixed it in the pecans; the mouse still didn’t eat the bait. We wrapped the bait in bread; the mouse refused to eat the bait. Nick finally coated the bread with icky, sticky, gooey, yummy icing; the mouse stuck up a cute hand drawn sign that read, “I know better than to eat that bait.” At approximately the same moment that I concluded that we should just name the mouse Fred and consider him a pet I found a teeny tiny plastic live trap and caught the rodent. He now resides a mere 50 miles away. We weren’t taking any chances.
Just as quickly as that problem resolved itself a new one came on to the radar… Bees.
I like gardening. I think I will subject you to current pictures of my garden-
A few months ago, as I was planting something or pulling something up, I heard a hum reverberating in the air. I looked up as a cloud of bees engulfed me. They had found a nickel sized gap in the boards of my house and were proceeding to move their gazillion bee bodies in an orderly fashion through said hole. Had I only known then what I know now, I could have just disrupted the bees at that point and I wouldn’t have to be telling you the rest of this story. However, I didn’t and currently I have a hive of thousands and thousands of bees buzzing away happily under the floorboards of my daughters room. I do have a plan for this though. It is long and technical and involved actually buying a hive of bees from one of the members of the local beekeepers club out here. The other week, Nick drove over an hour to his house to purchase the beehive. Upon exiting the vehicle the beekeeper guy told him to, “Get your bee suit on”. Nick quickly informed him that he didn’t own a bee suit. At that point the beekeeper looked him from head to foot and said, “bees don’t like black shirts and you shouldn’t be wearing shorts.” After those words of wisdom he paused and then asked very point blank, “Are you sure you’ve thought this out?” To which, my husband smiled and responded, “We never do.”
(Side note: I take umbrage with that comment. I very much consider myself a planner. I planned, very well up to step 1 of this adventure…. and now that step 1 is complete I am working fervently to figure out and organize a step 2.)
*** This bee story is to beeee continued…
In the midst of the excitement of tackling the world of beekeeping I was raising 2 baby ducks that I had rescued from a local duck pond. They were orphans that had fallen over an embankment and were trapped. I took them home and babied them. Their names were Cheeto and Dorito. When they were finally big enough to go out with our older ducks I released them and they sat out with the others, happily. Happily until one night, during a storm, Cheeto was taken and dismembered and Dorito was mauled. Of course, I was completely heartbroken and vowed vengeance on whichever of God’s creatures had committed this heinous act. Immediately I donned my best Sacajawea type tracking skills and set off in to the creek to look for tracks.
(Side note: If you are planning to buy a new or used home NEVER get one with a creek that runs through it. This creek will be used as a selling technique… peaceful and tranquil… adding diversity to your landscape… but in actuality a creek is nature’s highway for predators. Consider yourself warned!)
Immediately I spotted the raccoon tracks and set up a trap to catch the four legged assassin. Faster than I could yell, “Towanda” I had caught the criminal and celebrated by telling my husband how we should just take him out to the pond and drown him; plotting his soon to be demise blow by carefully constructed blow. With a methodical laugh we strapped the cage doors down with zip ties, heaven forbid it make an escape before I could enact my retribution.
Here is a picture of the raccoon that I soon named Toast:
However, my friend, Michelle, had it right when she responded to my murder plot with, “And when have you ever hurt an animal?” So, I stashed the beast in a shed because… it was chilly out that night and I didn’t want it to get cold.
The next morning I ran out and snapped this cute picture of the poor thing. It’s big brown eyes staring at me in a mock plea having only heard my side of the conversation with Michelle where I muttered something about it needing to atone for its sins.
It’s sweet and demure demeanor was only a ruse and by the time Nick was up and ready to drive the creature the required 50 miles away it had turned in to a rabid beast. It lunged at the cage walls, snarling and growling while Nick hoisted it up in to the bed of the truck. Not wanting to handle the animal further he quickly threw him next to the tailgate of the truck and in doing so made him extremely visible from the rear view mirror as they departed.
I am now going to retell the story as Nick told it to me, exactly 3 minutes AFTER leaving with the raccoon:
He eased out of the driveway and Toast was clearly agitated in the back. As he drove down the road in front of our house he could see, in the rear view mirror, that the animal was thrashing around. By the time he started to round the corner the cage was flipping in circles. Without much concern (because after all, we had zip tied those doors) he accelerated. As he reached 50mph he looked in the mirror to see that Toast had stuck his arms out of the cage and was proceeding to drag himself, like a legless zombie, up to the cab of the truck. Nick then said, almost simultaneously the cage disappeared from his view and the raccoon appeared standing up looking in to the window, screaming angrily like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park. At that point Toast looked over the edge of the truck, jumped, rolled, and took off running. Seems that, even with the zip ties in place, the door could be pushed up about two inches. Don’t ask me, I don’t understand it either. It was either divine intervention or Houdini came back reincarnated in the form of a raccoon.
I haven’t had any other tracks appear in my creek. Apparently, torturing an animal and letting it go down the road from the house has a similar effect as driving it 50 miles away. I haven’t had any mice again either.
Every day for the next two weeks I checked Doritos’s wounds from the raccoon attack. Toast had bitten her neck, ripped at her right leg, and damaged her eye but by the end of the two weeks you could hardly see where the injury had been. As a special treat I walked out to the pond to feed my ducks vegetable scraps and noticed 5 turtles jumping in to the water as I approached. (If you have read my blog you know that I don’t much care for turtles. Not because they aren’t lovely, fascinating creatures but because they tend to migrate and get trapped in the confines of my fencing and perish. Hence, I try to monitor the pond for these amphibians.) When I didn’t see Dorito immediately I became concerned. She is my social diva and will come running if she senses the opportunity for food. After a brief search I saw her standing, solemnly, next to a tree. Warning bells went off…. something had to be wrong. I walked out to find that her chest and neck were ripped open, she stood in shock, blood dripping to the ground. I snatched her up and ran to find Nick, knowing immediately what had done this to her. A snapping turtle.
A snapper is like a regular turtle but on steroids and with severe anger management issues. They pretty much look like this:
After quickly wrapping Dorito’s wounds and giving her an injection of antibiotics; we corralled the other ducks and penned them away from the pond. I left them there for several days while researching and pondering how to humanely catch a snapping turtle. The options for catching one are extremely limited. Traps, fishing, and shooting. Each had their benefits and risks. We started with the least lethal.
Nick spent a few hours constructing and reconstructing the perfect trap. It was nothing more than a box, really, with a screen on the bottom to allow for water flow. The ramp, which was bated with some sort of chicken entrails, ended with a teeter-totter mechanism. The idea being that the turtle would crawl up to eat the bait and would be dropped in to the water within the trap.
We spent two months bungling the capture of the turtle. The trap seemed to attract fire ants immediately and even, if I pretended, that the turtles would have really enjoyed the hike up the steep incline and plummet in to the trap, nothing would ever make a willing choice to tangle with fire ants. Thus Nick’s hard work and brilliant construction was for not.
Baiting proved to be more lucrative but after spending $25 on various fishing supplies we could only go so far as to boast hooking the turtle twice but not so far as to say we actually caught it. In hindsight, the fact that the turtle managed to evade us for so long was probably best for Dorito. She wouldn’t have healed as well had she been allowed to swim in the pond and being segregated from the flock would have alienated her further. At least, that is what I choose to focus on. As anticlimactic as it is, all of the turtles just seemed to get up one day and leave. Perhaps the snapping turtle died (it had eaten two fishing hooks) and sunk to the bottom of our pond. OR maybe they just all migrated. They like to do that, after all.
Sometimes (usually) the problems we find ourselves in are self inflicted.
Immediately following The Great Snapping Turtle Incident of 2013, one of our chickens sneaked off and laid eggs in a pot. She was always around when we were feeding or giving treats and so I never noticed her disappearance. However, one day, Nick found her, sitting diligently on her eggs. My casual, initial reaction was to gather up the eggs and throw them away but seconds later the realization came that I didn’t know how long she had been sitting and… after only three days the babies were born.
I tried to bear witness to every single one of their births… mostly because I had a hard time really fathoming how a chicken can be contained in something so small and/or how they manage to break out of an egg without inertia to assist them.
8 babies were born and I was very conscientious of where I housed them. At night, because of the threat of snakes, I placed them in a cage with grates that were 3 inches long and half an inch wide. Even with my precautions a snake still managed to get in to the cage one night. It killed and consumed two of my babies. In some sense, I am sure you can feel my conflicting emotions as I stood there, compassionate to a snake who was only trying to exist, and angry at a snake who was now too fat to be able to squeeze back through the bars that it had somehow originally fit through. I quickly grabbed the snake screaming. Nick was inside so I drug that snake (Literally, because even held high his tail touched the ground) through my house searching for him. “It ate my babies,” I yelled out. Two lumps clearly visible in his body. Nick’s response? “We could cut the snake open and get the babies out.” This comment led to a long “discussion” about if rat snakes are constrictors. Which is usually how it goes between Nick and I. Clearly, other things were pressing but right then seemed like a reasonable time to debate it and then ultimately whip out the smart phone and Google it. I was right. They are.
As if this wasn’t enough… a few days later, as I was doing my morning chores, the sea of chickens parted to reveal a snake right where I was about to step. Now, I am bragging here- just to show you how much I have grown in the past four years. When I jumped and screamed like a lunatic.. I didn’t think, “AHHH, snake!” I thought, “AHHH, copperhead!” I feel that is some real progress and shows just how effectively I have acclimated to country life.
Thankfully the snake was dead and, probably, for about 15 minutes I stood there poking at it, staring at it and concocting a story for what happened to it. Finally, I decided a hawk had killed it and dropped it. I have seen them fly over numerous times with snakes. The thought of one flying overhead and dropping another copperhead on me still haunts me, however, the idea of something dropping a kitten never occurred to me until…
My daughter and I came back from an auction late one night. We slowly walked from the driveway and into the house. My husband stood and talked with us for a bit until he said he heard something outside and disappeared. He came back moments later holding a screaming, four week old, orange, kitten.
That kitten was not there when I had walked by minutes earlier. My house is not near the road in order for someone to have dumped her. My property is fenced and surrounded by trees and open fields all of which, clearly, harbor predators. The only feasible conclusion I could reach was that a bird, flying over head, lost what was going to be their dinner and it fell on my driveway, screaming noisily. A later visit to the vet confirmed that she had sustained injuries that would support my theory.
I admit, this year has been wacky. Moving back to the urban sprawl of my hometown doesn’t seem unappetizing. There my worst wildlife dilemma was ants in the kitchen. My mind is tired of trying to outsmart the wildlife… primarily because I really believe, that regardless of my wholehearted attempts, they are actually winning… and laughing about it at their monthly meet and greets (where that damn snapping turtle is probably the guest speaker). Perhaps I am overreacting; it has been a rough several months. I am just not sure there is any end in sight. Yesterday I noticed a mess of pecan shells in the pantry again.
(Here is a picture of Dorrito, whom we have renamed Princess Lucky Pants. Renaming happens often around here… mostly with chickens. For instance Chica became Chico when we realized she was a he and Romeo became Mona when we realize he was a she. We also renamed Battle Bird to Octomom when she had 8 chicks and Nicki to Blind Bird when she caught Bird Flu and her eyes sealed shut for a few weeks.)
One night, as I meandered through the darkness along our long driveway, with the intention of closing the front gate, I noticed a shadow. My driveway is covered in gravel, which in the moonlight sets off shadows normally but this shadow seemed ill shaped in comparison to what I was accustom to. I immediately ran back to the house to get both my husband and a flashlight. This was our first encounter with a snake, at the new house. It was early spring, and so he had come out to warm himself on the rocks, in the safety of darkness. Little did he know that I would have a gate to close and his presence hindered that action from happening. As a matter of fact, if I hadn’t been nearly as observant in my task, I would have stepped directly on him. or worse yet, rolled the gate over him. With a stick, we gingerly prodded him on.
I quickly found a man on the internet who volunteered to identify my snake pictures. This helped both the snakes and I out considerably. I grew quite brazen with the knowledge that never did I take a picture of an actual venomous snake.
At first, I used to take pictures of all of our snake encounters. Most of which happened once we got chickens. Apparently, chicken snakes feel that a few effort free eggs are well worth the risk taken by being located sitting idle in a nest box. This is our first chicken snake… I felt confident, when he shook a “rattle free” tail, that it couldn’t be venomous if it needed to mimic a deadly snake.
At first we picked up various yard instruments to remove said snakes and place them in a trash bags for relocation (and once a purse that had to be thrown away after it got pooped in). Now, Nick just reaches in, fearlessly and grabs the snakes. ONCE, when we had two snakes in the chicken coop, I stood as guard for the remaining snake while he went to find a trash bag to put the first in. When it ate the first egg, as I was watching, I felt giving a donation of an egg before sending him off in to the country abyss was fair. As it ate a second egg before swallowing the first, I tried to calmly justify that as well. However, as he had his mouth wrapped around the third egg, enough was enough and I grabbed him up and carried him out. Here is a picture of a snake with an egg in it’s stomach. What is interesting is you can delicately squeeze and break the egg.
This is a picture of a non-venomous water snake on our pond. He never actually managed to swallow the fish. You have to admire his ambition though.
We don’t just relocate snakes. I forced Nick to catch a black widow last week, instead of killing it. Amusingly, he never questions why it is- that if I want to save the creatures he is the one being put at risk to do the actual saving.
Living with snakes has become extremely mundane. They usually choose to run and hide rather than stand their ground. I appreciate this about them. And Nick, he has become an excellent snake catcher. He is fearless in his efforts now. No longer are yard instruments required, no longer does he run to grab a pair of thick gloves. Nope, now days, you say the word snake and he jumps up immediately and just goes in to grab the creature by it’s neck with the pizazz of Steve Irwin. As a matter of fact, last month, our son was moving some old stacks of wood from under our car port and found a sweet, pretty little snake curled up in a ball between the two by fours. Caden, who has been instructed to not mess with snakes, came in immediately to get his snake wrangler father. Who, jumped up and with ease grabbed up the juvenille reptile and shoved it in a bag to drive a couple of miles down the road.
I, of course, photographed it for posterity; then emailed the picture to our snake identifier.
It was a Southern Copperhead. Interestingly, the juvenille is far more deadly than the adult because they haven’t learned to regulate their venom yet. Pretty though, isn’t it?