Saturday, July 6, 2019

Rattlers, Ropes and Rumbles

“Only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – FDR

From the Dallas Morning News:

A man and a woman found themselves up a tree in a South Texas park in an attempt to get away from what they thought was a feral hog.
A police officer at Government Canyon State Natural Area, about 20 miles northwest of downtown San Antonio, was notified shortly before midnight June 21 after a woman called 911.
She said a growling feral hog was following her and that she had taken refuge in a tree, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The woman used her cellphone to send the officer her location, and when he hiked there he found her and a man in a tree. The woman warned the officer that the hog was nearby.

One of my favorite movies is Fandango. It was made back in ’85 and was one of Kevin Costner’s first starring roles. It was set in Texas, 1971…if you’re from Texas and from that era…you’ll love the movie. It has become a cult classic for guys like me. But the rest of the world just doesn’t get it. At one point in the movie, the guys are sleeping on the ground out where the movie Giant was filmed. Nothing is still standing there but the old staged front of the Benedict mansion. In the morning just before dawn, one of the guys wakes up screaming, “Snake, Snake…”.

He tells his buddies that a snake has crawled up his pants leg during the night. He claims it’s a rattler. About that time, a harmless lizard sticks it’s head out of his pants and then runs off. The others start teasing the guy who was so scared and he replies, “Well it felt like a snake…” Kevin Costner’s character replies with a thick Texas twang ”No, it was a RAT-LUR…”

When I was a little boy I used to spend summers down on my grandparents farm. It wasn’t too far from the Brazos River and this was back before they built the dam that created Lake Granbury. My uncle would take me fishing and camping down on the river. I was allowed to wonder around, often by myself, in places that if a little boy were allowed to do go these days the uncle would be arrested. But those were different times. They warned you about venomous snakes and river currents and poison oak. It was your job to pay attention and be careful. I think it’s called teaching responsibility. But I digress.

One time I had been down below camp fishing from the bank. A long draught had finally broken and the river was running high and fast. A couple of days before, a young woman had drowned back up the river and her body had not been recovered. Given the way the river winds and bends we were probably 50 miles from where she drowned. But my uncle had great fun telling me to keep an eye out for a floating body. That the woman who drowned was probably “all swole up by now and might float a long way with the river runnin' like this.”

It was the duty of older male relatives in my family to tease and torment the younger ones. It was all about toughening you up and preparing you to face the shit-show of life that awaited. These older males had lived through the depression, the dust bowl, WW2 and a long, brutal drought. They weren’t inclined to worry about your feelings other than to diminish them as much as possible. I think it made me a better man in some ways and a much worse man in others. So I’m not suggesting that it is the right way to treat young boys, but in small doses it might not be a bad thing.

After several hours of bad fishing and intense surveillance, I’d already mistaken several logs and other debris for the dead woman’s floating body. Every time something grabbed my line, usually a turtle or some underwater limb, I just knew I was going to pull up an arm or a leg. So by the time I headed back to camp around sundown, I am pretty spooked by the whole river experience. I had been using minnows for bait and had the minnow bucket in one hand and my rod and reel over my shoulder with the other one. It was a Norman Rockwell image. All I needed was a spotted pup trotting along side. The minnow bucket had a rope on it that was about 8 ft long. Somehow that rope ended up on the ground trailing behind me. It’s getting dark and I’m walking through the woods by myself. My head is on a swivel. I am watching out for everything. Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My.

And then I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye. There is a snake right behind me. I drop the minnow bucket and the rod and reel. I am certain that I set the land speed record for 11 year old fat white boys that day. I get back to camp and my uncle is genuinely concerned when he sees me out of breath and white as a sheet. I tell him about the snake and just dropping everything and running. He says let’s take a look. By now it’s getting pretty dark, so he grabs the lantern and we head back down the trail. He sees my rod and reel and then the bucket and then the rope. And then he starts laughing and says, “Aw you were just attacked by a rope snake. Good thing you ran off”. Haw, Haw, Haw. For the next few years, the “rope snake” incident was brought up at every family gathering. The rope got shorter and my fear was elevated with each telling. No I did not pee in my pants.

However, I did gain something from that embarrassing moment and the teasing that followed. To this day, I don’t overreact to things that might, or might not, be dangerous. It taught me a lesson about misplaced fear and anxiety. A rope is just a rope. (And, oh by the way, they found that poor woman’s body less than 100 yards from where she went under.)

So what about the couple we left up the tree in South Texas. After the officer coaxes them down out of the tree, they hear the sound they thought was the wild hog. Then they hear it again. The officer says that’s just cars going over a rumble strip on a nearby road. Just a harmless rumble strip. No wild hog. No RAT-LUR. Nothing to fear.

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