Rattlesnakes spend the winter in dens above our house and when Spring comes they emerge. The young ones go first, to feed and find new territories. The older ones wait a few weeks. This means we have to be very careful when going outside. Doors must be closed and screens kept tight because snakes follow a trail with their tongues. If they detect a tasty mouse they will climb through a window to get it. One of our friends carelessly left the door of his office open. He was writing at his desk when he heard a rattlesnake buzzing by his foot. He stayed perfectly still, hoping it would go away, but it didn't. Fortunately, he had a cell phone on his desk and called his wife to distract it. The museum here sells snake catchers. They look kind of like the tongs used to lift spaghetti and you're supposed to clamp them onto the creature without hurting it. It's good to have a bucket with a lid and fast reflexes. And then what? Where do you take a poisonous reptile? Is there any neighbor you don't much like?
The other day Harold went out the back door and almost stepped on a five-foot gopher snake (not poisonous) lounging by the car. A bird called a thrasher was going nuts trying to chase it away. He must have had a nest nearby. The bird kept dancing around out of fang reach and darting in to peck. I watched for a while -- scientists aren't supposed to interfere with Mother Nature -- and finally decided to rescue the thrasher. I got the hose and blasted that snake. Guess what? He hooked himself around a tire and held on like a leech. When I stopped spraying, I saw that he was drinking happily. This happened once before when I tried to drive a rattlesnake out of my rosemary bush. The gopher snake eventually slithered away.
I have been reading Larry McMurtry's books, starting with Lonesome Dove. I put this off for a long time. Having grown up in Arizona, I don't like westerns because they're too close to home. Also, I don't know why gunslingers like Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid have been turned into heroes. They're psychopaths. The other reason I didn't read Lonesome Dove was because it's more than 800 pages long. Finally I got around it it. The first 200 pages rambled on, but then the story caught fire and I read the whole book non-stop and three others in the series. The story is unbelievably bloody. The desert is littered with dead bodies by the time you're finished, but I liked it.
Being a writer, I was interested in technique. First of all, McMurtry has an insane number of characters, but he gets away with it. Maybe because he kills so many of them off. Secondly, he almost manages to do without swear words. He invents alternate phrases for them. This is harder to do than you think. Thirdly, he is never clichéd. His characters never quite say what you expect. And fourthly, he isn't afraid to go over the top. A lot of beginning writers are afraid of sounding melodramatic, but not McMurtry. In Dead Man's Walk, so many bad things happen you can't imagine how anyone could survive (and a lot of characters don't). I am in awe of an author who can get away with this. I do have to warn younger readers that these books aren't for anyone under 21 or even 35. You won't even like the story until you are older, especially since you have to slog through 200 pages before you get hooked.
THRASHER ATTACKING SNAKE