Lucas’ chest rose and fell in a deep rhythm his sleep undisturbed by the venom inside his body. His throat and face was still swollen from the effects of the bite and blood leaked from the beginnings of necrosis. My dog would live, two vets had told me this, but it wasn’t easy to watch Lucas rot and bleed. Lucas slept deeply and long. There was no whimpering from this one, no twitching or flinching from examination of the damage. Lucas had lost a fight with a snake and he had lost big. The swelling and blood would be gone but not soon. What would be left?
I knew a GSD who was bitten by a rattlesnake. Uruk was a large dog, a country dog who roamed wild and free afield and he did this for many years with great success. He was a dog person’s dog, and whenever I visited he would greet me as somewhat of a pack member, running along my truck as I went down the driveway, but safely so, keeping some distance as he played at escorting me. The rattlesnake changed who he was. The venom altered his mind. Uruk still greeted me but there was something very different about him after the bite. Uruk didn’t like being held as much and he was a much more distant dog long after he recovered. One night he went missing and we never did find out what happened to him. I think he went looking for himself and never found his way back again.
The difference in Lucas is much more subtle. I can’t describe it but Lucas has passed from one stage of his life, one chapter of his life, into another and who and what Lucas was before being bitten will never return. He is the teenager who has wrecked his first car. He is the young woman whose period was ten days late. He was the shooter whose gun fired accidently and the bullet did not kill anyone, but was gone from the barrel forever, and as the sound of the shot faded the realization of what might have happened still echoed in the brain like the ringing in the ears at night. This is Lucas’ first very serious bout with reality since I picked him up off the road three years ago. How he deals with this is something I cannot predict and cannot control.
Uruk was hit hard by the rattlesnake, very hard, much harder than Lucas was hit by the Cottonmouth. Rattlesnake venom travels in the body while the venom of a Cottonmouth tends to stay in one area, destroying locally. Cottonmouth venom is more easily fought off by the body of a warm blooded creature like Lucas and he is a large dog. Both the vets who have been involved in this tell me I am lucky, that Lucas is lucky (as well as stupid) and as far as snake bite goes things could have been so much worse. But to watch him all puffed up, swollen and bleeding, I do not feel lucky at all except that if he is bleeding then Lucas is still alive. But that was two weeks ago. The swelling is mostly gone. The bleeding has stopped. The wound is healing. Lucas will not die from this bite.
There are changes for me, too. This sounds naive but I trusted snakes not to bite my dogs. I thought that perhaps if I blended into the natural world I would be afforded some protection against such disaster. But Lucas did not blend in. Lucas is a large predator with a strong desire to protect his pack, and without any other Alpha dog present Lucas was left to his own devices. Now I see I cannot live in two worlds. I have to choose which is mine and live with the consequences of my actions or inactions.
I cannot deny the rage I feel. Even though I did not kill the snake the urge to go out into the brush and clear cut both vegetation and serpent burned in me for a weekend. Eden has fallen, and I have returned to the garden to find the apple eaten. The Gift of Knowledge has now been bestowed upon both Lucas and myself; Lucas knows now he is not invincible and I know he is not wise enough to avoid a venomous snake. I have also learned my own miscalculations as far as the level of danger snakebite poses has extracted a price that might have been so much higher.
Choose, Mike, between snakes and dogs, and which way the pressure lies.
Lucas is personality, and snakes are process. I must strike a balance here, and I am unsure what to do or how to do it, but I must not be caught unready. I feel I must live within some wildness for that is what I have chosen to do, yet there is a risk here I cannot bear so soon after losing Bert. My very sanity, what of it that exists, demands that at cost I keep Lucas hale.
This is the dilemma of the settlers of this land when they tried to live in peace with the natives yet found their very existence at odd with the people who had lived here forever. Kill the natives or protect your own home, even though you are the one who carved a hole in someone else’s world. The urge to kill, to destroy in the name of self-protection is a lie, or so history has taught us well. How many people could see a child in such dire straits as Lucas and not seek an end to the danger?
I must accept some, rid myself of some, and I must live with this. If the snake had ben larger Lucas would have been killed. At that point, what would I have done? Where would I be then, speaking to you of this, and trying to explain a heart broken by a philosophy unwisely chosen?
I have to decide how I will live here now.