A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sometimes You Have to Kill Your Own Snakes. Or Not.

I didn't grow up in the country. I lived in a small town until I was 14 and we moved to Houston. My dad was an outdoorsman and we went fishing and to alligator infested swamps and lakes growing up. (Photo - me, David, Kathy) For a few years after I was grown I lived in a rural area on a couple of acres. We had horses and I learned to ride and care for them. But I never lived in an actual country setting. Most of my life was spent in big cities.

All that changed a few years ago when I retired and moved here full time on our 54 acres. Most of the time I am by myself and I have had to adapt and learn new skills. If Rick was not gone so much with his job I would never have done some of the things I have had to do, including confronting some deep-seated fears. 

These last couple of years have been the times that try people's soul for me; the best of times, the worst of times.

It all started with the bad drought summer before last and the fear of wildfires. This was a new fear for me. I've always been near a fire truck; in fact, when I was a child we lived across the street from one (in the photo). I've always had one within a mile of me. Out here there is no back way to escape on our street unless you take off on foot. Several times at night and in the morning I have walked outside and smelled smoke from fires. Our neighbors saw lightning start a fire a couple of times. Once I worried so about the smoke I called the Sheriff's department to see if anyone had reported a fire near me. They sent a deputy out to be sure and we walked the property and determined it was smoke from a fire elsewhere in the county. 

Last summer I had a close encounter with a rattlesnake. I was putting birdseed out and stepped right a'straddle one. He came out from between my feet and coiled. He went one way and I went the other. I was lucky he didn't bite me; I can only assume he was as startled as I was! If Rick was here I would have yelled for him. But I was alone so I got the shotgun, even though I was shaking, and killed him and put him in the pasture for the buzzards. I was shook up and my friend Lois said the whiskey manual says one finger of whiskey for each foot of rattlesnake. So I had 3 fingers of whiskey.

Then the least dangerous but the biggest of my fears confronted me. What I call the Invasion of the Wolf Spiders. I am afraid of spiders beyond all reason. Even pictures of spiders, toy spiders, dead spiders, little spiders, big spiders, poisonous spiders, non-poisonous spiders, even Charlotte. I normally don't mention this phobia because I have found that people are cruel and will hide toy ones, etc thinking it is funny to scare me. It is not funny. It is a horrendous handicap to have to live with and I wish I didn't have this phobia but I do.

This past fall we were invaded by these giant, palm-size, furry spiders. They were at eye level on the hay barn inches from my face, on the porch, on the steps, in the sheds (even on top of the drill bits I needed though I seldom use them), in the wheelbarrow, and worst of all, in the cabin. We have had them in the sheds before. We spray for bugs there so usually there were only dead ones and then only a couple. Rick would always try to get rid of them before I saw them. Even the dead ones send my heart racing and fear paralyzing me. My cabin is one room plus bathroom and porch. So I have no place to run. First there was one in the fireplace. I called Rick crying with fear. He said I must have brought it in with the wood, which freaked me out more to think it was so close. Then there was one in the middle of the floor when I returned from town. Again, paralyzed with fear, I called Rick. He said be strong, kill it, throw the wood out, be brave, you can do it, it must have come in the door.

I finally got the book out with photos of the cabin during construction and determined they were getting in from the corners of the fire surround. I plugged these with steel wool. I had the electric company turn the outside light off as we thought that might be drawing them in in large numbers, even though I have another fear, a fear of the dark. Before it was over, I had encountered 21. I imagined another 10,000 living under the house.

But I was as brave as I could be and I got through it, although I was damaged by it and have nightmares still.

Then this week as I was mowing the yard I came upon a 5 foot rattlesnake. I use the walk behind mower instead of the riding mower because I like the exercise. I saw him just as I went to turn around. There was no one to call on for help but myself, so I got the shotgun, killed him, cut his rattles off, threw him in the pasture for the ravens and buzzards, and got the bottle of Garrison Bros bourbon out. 

In addition to these fears and phobias I have come to face, are the usual country chores to learn of caring for the longhorns in rain and snow, covering the garden for the late freezes, water line problems, mice in the pumphouse, and the usual assorted problems of country living. Rick and I were discussing this today and my transformation into a country girl and I was feeling pretty proud of myself. These are all part of the things I endure to live in the country and I figure it's a trade-off I am willing to make.

And then......

We are adding a deck to the bunkhouse and went to the shed to inventory materials me might need. Coming back we walk right past a 5 foot bull snake. He takes off for the canoe and makes himself at home there. Now, I don't have a phobia about snakes. I learned from my dad not to kill a "good" snake and I follow that. I find them beautiful and fascinating. But as my brother Andy says about electric fences "they won't hurt you, but they'll make you hurt yourself". I figure it I run into this fella in one of the sheds, I will harm myself getting out! He's hiding in the canoe still and I hope he wanders off soon but I'm sure he will be my neighbor because it's a nice place to live.

So, just when I think I can relax into my experienced country girl role, one more encounter to see if I'm made of the "right stuff". I'm not sure if I am made of the "right stuff". But I'm sure I'll carry on, battle my fears even though I won't leave them behind, and pay the cost to live the good life. 

Now, let's see, 5 feet of bull snake equals 5 fingers of whiskey.............


  1. My mom (who grew up in Louisiana and live her last 48 years in West Texas) taught us that spiders are in our homes because other bugs are there. If we don't have other bugs we won't have spiders. Spiders also like things untidy and crowded. They don't have to spin as much web to make a trap for bugs if everything is close together. Teaching my kids this really reminded them to make their beds daily. As for the snakes... your aim will only improve. Get you a revolver with some rat shot, and a holster. You won't have to run back to the house for the shot gun. I love that 'one finger for each foot'!

    1. I do spray the cabins, inside and out, and the outbuildings also. We usually only see them dead, and never in the cabin, but last year we had gotten a different kind of concentrate and it didn't work very well at all. We are kind of fanatics about spraying; I'm sure we spray more than is good for us! :P
      These wolf spiders do some kind of migration in the fall, every October. I guess they do some form of hibernation. We never see them the rest of the year and they aren't around the buildings we have. I'm sure they are out there somewhere but they have the kindness not to show themselves! I've been told tarantulas do this in Big Bend. Yikes, be still my heart!
      There was a woman rancher in Big Bend, Hallie Stillwell. She passed away a few years ago in her 90's, I believe. She wrote a couple of books about her life there and I tell you, she was a tough lady! She said they kept a pistol in a holster hanging over the door and the kids were not allowed to go to the outhouse by themselves. They had to tell an adult, who took the pistol to shoot any rattlesnakes there!
      Those were hardy folks!

  2. You're a good woman...Gunga-Dina!
    You're also my hero. I'm just not sure I could face, daily, my phobias as you have/are doing. I have a good friend who also hates multi-legged critters and religiously sprays the perimeter of her home/outbuildings with a "green" pest-deterrent. She says that it's not 100% effective but it has helped.
    I'd love to plan a visit to sit-n-sip awhile and compare how we've learned to do some of the things we do in our retirement.

    1. We always spray too and that usually helps. In fact, I'm sure we will die from chemical poisoning from all the spraying we do! ha! But last year we got a different concentrate and it wasn't very effective. Previously we would have them but they would be dead usually when I saw them and never so many as this year. The wolf spiders do some kind of migration in October; I suppose they are doing their form of hibernation. I've heard of the tarantulas doing this in Big Bend. Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!
      I asked my neighbor if they had an unusually large number this year and they only had a very few, like 3 or 4. That's why we thought maybe the outside security light was possibly luring the bugs in and them with it.I kept thinking the ones in the house were coming in somewhere connected to the fireplace. They seemed to be getting into the outside surround that covers the fireplace insert. This is covered with cedar and has foam insulation boards beneath the cedar siding but they found a way in. When we built the cabin and put plywood inside to cover the opening around the insert we inadvertently left a hole at each top corner. The stonemason didn't cover this although you couldn't see it unless you got on the floor and looked up. When I looked at the photos of our construction I saw the holes and then checked and they were still there. I plugged them.
      The critters seem to be drawn to people who are most afraid of them. I have a small drill/driver I use all the time and I keep it in the cabin. But every once in awhile I need to use the bigger drill and it and the drill bits are kept in the wood shed. Of all the places one of the critters could be in there it was on top of the box of drill bits. Like scaring me on purpose! Sometimes I do the Harry Potter thing and call them "those who must not be named" hoping not to draw them to me :P
      I would love to get together, Lois! You are always welcome here, I would love that, and you can spend the night in the bunkhouse if you ever want to. And I am always up for a trip that way to meet up!
      Thank you for the kind words on my hardiness, but you would do the same thing!

  3. That's the way we do when we're at my brother's ranch near Sweetwater. Not that we have to go to an out house... We just take a gun when we go out walking or fishing. Remember the 5 foot snake my sister shot a few years ago? That day she used her pistol that she carries in her Tahoe when she goes on long trips. I wonder if the late Spring is going to make a difference in the snakes this year. I'm about to head to New Braunfels on Wednesday and I just remembered that Jeff took my pistol to his place to clean.... snap!