Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Writers and Snakes

Elbow and I went walking today and this is her first walk as a grandmother. The grandchild, the grandson now, I had no idea what gender the child would be up until the birth, is the reason for Elbow beginning to try to get into better shape, and I’m more or less her trainer. When I call today she tells me it’s too hot and I brush her objections aside. It really isn’t that hot, after all, and with no small amount of reluctance, she agrees to mush on.
The woman dithers, did I mention that? Sometimes she had her walking boots on, and sometimes she has her utility belt on, and sometimes she even has her spiffy walking visor on, but rarely does she have all three on and ready to go. Not infrequently she’s still writing but I can forgive writing. Today I arrived and she’s doing the dishes in an Act Of Epic Dithering. It’s not really dithering but an intentional act of delay. Elbow doesn’t like the heat. When it comes to comfort that is where you will find her. She tells me a man once told her that her hands had never seen any work harder than turning the page of a book, and she agrees there is some truth to that.
I can write about writing to anyone but to speak to another person about writing takes some doing. It’s personal to me. It’s something that I don’t share with just anyone. There are a few women I’ve know that I’ve slept with that didn’t know I wrote. Only one person at works knows. Yet Elbow and I can walk and talk about writing, and she tells me that I must be more careful when speaking to writers who have been writing for a while. I have a tendency to not have the assumed knowledge that writers have once they reach a certain level in their work, and because I know so few writers, I have no experience in this. In other words, I should listen more and question less. I think about this and come up with what Elbow thinks is a good analogy. When I tell someone a certain snake is of a certain species and they wonder aloud if I’m right, then I should explain why I’m right, but once I’ve done that, in detail, then unless they know more about snakes than I do, which is rare, they ought to just assume I’m right, or go look it up for themselves. Find commonality in this analogy, and we both like it. Elbow tells me about the time she and a few others were walking out here and they came upon a large snake. The snake was very dark, coiled but not cocked to strike, and they stood and debated what species the snake might be. Theo, the ancient Black Lab and something les mix went nose to nose with the snake and the snake never moved. I was going to ask how she discovered it was a Cottonmouth, when out of the corner of my eye I was a rattlesnake, and we had three dogs with us.
In cases like these you make the decisions you can live with, and you live with them. Izzy is part Jack Russell and part meth lab. I cannot catch him on my good days and he will not come to me when I call, if he rather not. I can catch Lucy, the Great Pyrenees, and she will come to me. She offers no resistance when I grab her collar and none of the three dogs show any sign they’ve seen the snake. Elbow grabs Theo, the huge Back Lab. We herd the two dogs forward and Izzy follows. None of the dogs show the slightest sign they’ve seen the snake, but Elbow has, and she is distressed.
There wasn’t a question of me going after the snake. This is a four foot long Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, thick and lethal. Alone, without the dogs in tow, and possibly in the way, I could have, with the right equipment, caught this snake, but I’m at an age now where I don’t catch a snake like this without a damn good reason. This is more than enough to kill Izzy before we can get him to a vet. A snake like this can end a small dog’s life far more quickly than you might think. The large dogs stand some chance, but this isn’t something I want to test, and Elbow wants to be in another time zone. I count seven rattles on the tail as we leave.
Snakebite is very rarely fatal but it is nearly always nasty. You will not die, but for about two days you’re gonna wanna. It is painful and it is ugly. Swollen flesh splits and rots. Bad things happen when snake venom, which is a form of digestive juice, starts dissolving living tissue; the smaller the victim the worse the affects. All of Elbow’s dogs top out over seventy pounds, but Izzy, who is barely twenty. If a snake that size hits him, and pumps him with everything he has, Izzy will die on the way to the vet’s office. If the snake hits any of the other dogs with everything, it is still iffy. Elbow and I stand a slightly better chance, but with a full does of venom, I do not like those odds. Back away from the armed reptile!
This is the one day I did not bring my camera and we talked about that as we left the house. This would be the one day something interesting pops up and sure enough. We walk back to the house, get Elbow’s camera, and go back, but the snake is gone. It would have been magnificent. This is an adult, fully grown and in fresh color at the right time of the day for good light. Rarely are the big ones seen, and even more rarely will someone let them live. We have passed within his reach, and he ours, and everyone lives in peace.

Take Care,
Mike

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