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Sunday, 29 May 2011

First Encounter with a Rattle-snake

I still haven’t quite shaken off the blues. Stepping outside this morning and seeing the space where the trailer used to be – Matt hauled it away yesterday morning – didn’t help. I’d got used to it. Now there’s just a patch of lush green grass marking its outline – or was, until a posse of cattle swooped down from the hills and had a good munch. It’s the surest indication that there really will be no more hunters to keep me company.

Yesterday I lightened my mood by taking a hike. Today I stayed in bed until 0730h – quite the latest I have slept since I arrived. After breakfast I washed – myself, my clothes, the dishes – and fixed up a sprinkler for the vegetable plot; then I thought about a hike, and decided against it. Why? Partly because I had some reading to do, but partly, I may as well admit it, because of the damned snakes.



A closer examination of the pictures I took yesterday revealed that I had indeed had a close encounter with a rattler. Kitty confirmed it, and started counting the bulges at the end of its tail, which can indicate its age, I believe she said. I was barely listening by then. Part of me was thinking, okay, over the years I’ve seen most of the things the West is famous for; all I need now is a twister and I can check that off my list and go home. Another part of me was thinking about how best to protect myself. ‘Bet you wish you had that gun now,’ Kitty was saying.

I will go out again – most likely tomorrow morning. In fact, I did go out briefly this evening, to phone a friend in Albuquerque. But I found myself treading carefully; very carefully, in fact, because I hadn’t bothered to change out of my shoes and into my boots. So instead of studying the sky for the turkey-buzzards who usually come to check me out, and instead of casting my eyes over the sweep of grass looking for newly-emerged flowers, I had to keep a close watch on the patch of ground immediately in front of me – and hope nobody was watching as I tip-toed up the hill, startled by every exposed soapweed root, hopping away from every cow-turd, because that’s what these coiled-up snakes resemble at a casual glance. Goodness knows what I looked like: a tenderfoot, I guess, and a mighty jumpy one at that. To think that yesterday I crouched down not ten feet from what I thought was another bull-snake, leaned towards it and took two photos…. I’ll recover my nerve, I guess, but it may take a few days, and I will be far more cautious than I have been.

I suppose I am still adapting to what is a potentially hostile environment, quite unlike what I am used to ‘in England’s green and pleasant land’ as the old hymn puts it. We do have poisonous snakes at home: adders, otherwise known as vipers. I’d never seen one – other than on a trip to Sweden – in over fifty years, until a couple of summers ago when my partner and I came across two within the space of a month, both sunning themselves on public footpaths after rain. Neither was more than a foot in length, and both were easily identifiable by their dark brown and yellow backs. I’ve never had the slightest worry when out walking – which I do a lot – although my sister has written to remind me that she was bitten by one many, many years ago. She turned dark blue from her foot to her knee, but it didn’t last more than a few minutes and she was fine; scared of snakes for the rest of her life, but fine. Rather like me and horses, if you read my earlier posting on the subject.

One other thing that has been catching me unawares out on the range is the many different types of short sharp spiky things that are lying in wait for the innocent hiker. It’s not just the obvious plants like the soapweed and the prickly pears, which I’m constantly kneeling on; it’s innocent-looking plants with what look like soft hairs sprouting from their leaves, flower-heads or stems. Most days I get back from my walk and realise that some invisible something has penetrated my trouser-leg – generally on the inside of my thigh. And it’s nearly always a handful of those ‘soft hairs’.  Good old Nature: always coming up with some new way of irritating us.

But on a brighter note, I forgot to mention that I spotted a tiny white flower yesterday that reminded me of the wild garlic we see at home. I tasted a slender leaf and detected a distinct onion flavour. Back here I looked it up in one of the books and saw that I had found one of the wild onions that the Natives used to collect – and the homesteaders too. I shall watch out for more, and maybe dig up a root. Not much tastes better than free grub.

It looked very much like rain earlier this evening when I took this picture of the trees which overshadow the house, but it looks as though we’ve escaped. I’m sure there are other parts that could do with a spare inch or two. We’ve had enough for now.



It’s a minute or , Mountain Time. The sun still won’t have set, but with an overcast sky it’s quite dusky out there. I think I’ll get out my shortwave radio and see what I can find. I want to hear the sound of English-speaking voices. Preferably talking about sport.