Tales from a Texas Ranch from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
I was in a hurry to meet the trapper at the main house at the ranch. I had overslept at my house in town and was speeding down the highway way too fast for this overcast spring Sunday morning. Thank goodness there wasn’t any highway traffic to speak of. But I made it to the front gate without getting arrested or crashing the pickup.
Three hundred yards from the front gate, I pulled up the main house gate and cattle guard. I keep the main house gate locked with a combination lock when I don’t stay at the ranch house.
To get to the lock, I had to get out of the truck and gingerly step on the old, rusted 4-inch pipes from which the cattle guard is made making sure I didn’t slip and fall through the gaps between the pipes into the two-foot deep and dark abyss underneath the cattle guard.
Spring grasses and a few primrose blooms were growing up between the pipes and I noticed a nearby prickly pear proudly blooming its yellow, succulent flower.
As I grasped the lock to flip the tumblers, I glanced back at the pickup. Sierra the Dog sat in the driver’s seat, ears perked up and watching.
I still think she’s expecting me to teach her how to drive.
Anyway…I spun the tumblers, released the latch and unwound the chain from the gatepost.
As I turned, carefully attentive to my footing on the cattle guard and the top of the gate in hand, I glanced down…into the darkness beneath the cattle guard.
“Is that?…is that?…is that…?” I thought, as my eyes popped and focused on the dim outline of a serpent in the darkness just below the toes of my boots.
“Yikes! Yes! It is!” as the synapses went off in my brain and I, indelicately but with an alacrity any old fart like me would be proud of, launched my body off the cattle guard and onto firm ground nearby.
Now… I carry in my pocket (especially this time of year) a small .22 derringer loaded with ratshot, in case I encounter a rattlesnake which I will readily dispatch with said firearm.
Snakes, in general, I don’t harm; but rattlesnakes usually die if I encounter them.
I also carry a compact digital camera in the same pocket for impromptu picture-taking to record minor historical events.
As I began to fumble for the firearm, I inched back toward the cattle guard for a closer look.
I had to squat to get that closer look.
As I did so, out of my pocket came the digital camera.
“Great…” I thought, distracted for a moment by the faux pas, and gently tossed the camera aside.
At that moment, there came a faint rattle-buzz from beneath the cattle guard.
“Okay!” I thought, standing erect, searching in my pocket for the .22 caliber nuclear weapon I was about to use on this rattlesnake. We were about five feet apart; he was in the pit and I was on the high ground.
Now I get all fidgety around rattlesnakes whether they be itty bitty or monsters.
So, I’m standing right next to the cattle guard. As I finally find the .22 in my pocket (it’s one of those balloony cargo pant pockets) and pull it out with my thumb and index finger, the little front sight catches on the pocket button and flips out of my hand into…yep, into the darkness of the pit beneath the cattle guard, banging metallically against one of the pipes.
Well, I’ll not repeat the “hollered-out-loud’ curses that were instantly voiced at that moment, but I did go searching for a nearby big stick, which I found and returned to the scene with visions from the B.C. comic strip’s Fat Broad who liked turning snakes into a semblance of bacon.
As I returned, the critter was slithering out of the dimness of the cattle guard pit and into a nearby mesquite bush, which I began to beat with a sweat-lathering intensity.
I could see it but given the springy nature of young mesquite, I was having little effect.
I looked over my shoulder. It was the trapper with his wife and son. He had pulled up behind my truck…I never heard him approaching. He had a big grin on his sunburned face.
“Que pasa, Mr. Ed?” he hollered from his open window.
I looked back at the little mesquite bush where the rattlesnake had hidden…no snake. (How do serpents, or animals for that matter, just disappear like that?)
“Ah, no es nada. una serpiente de cascabel,” I said. (Oh, it’s nothing, just a rattlesnake)
He and his wife looked at one another and burst out laughing.
As I tossed the stick aside and strode back to my truck, I thought I heard him say to his wife: “Puede ser un poco loco.” (he may be a little crazy)
We then drove up the house, discussed our business and he and his family drove off.
After I knew they were gone, I returned to the cattle guard, located my derringer in the depths of the cattle guard pit and reached down, with great trepidation, to retrieve it, all the while scanning the nearby brush as well.
So, the unfired and slightly dinged derringer is back in my pocket; my pucker factor has been reduced to low; the rattlesnake is still wandering the nearby pasture; and the trapper and his wife think me “puede ser un poco loco.”
I guess there are worse things in life….