Daddy was gone today, working with the crew to gather cows off of Froze-to-Death (which is what we call a large summer pasture halfway between this cow camp and the ranch headquarters). With Daddy gone, we were left without a snake killer here at home. And today, of course, we had two snakes in the yard.
It goes without saying that we’ve got snakes here at the VX. We live in the middle of a swamp (created by a man-made series of dikes, diversions, and ponds on Porcupine Creek) that’s in the middle of a short-grass prairie. Rattlesnakes love the prairie, water snakes love the swamp, and bull snakes just seem to love surprising people.
Daddy — Beau — is a snake killer. As most cowboys can, he can kill a snake with a rope or a whip or even a pair of hobbles (I’ve seen guys do it with their boot heel, too, but Beau’s not quite that crazy). The general thought is that the world is a better place with one less rattlesnake in it, so cowboys usually kill one if they see one — especially close to buildings. We’ve collected quite a few rattles in Beau’s years as a rattlesnake warrior, and in this photo Asher shows off a few from this past summer. A couple of them expired right here in our yard where the kids play.
Temps got down into the 40s last night, so the two snakes we saw in the yard today were moving slow. The sun was hot in early afternoon, though, so they were out soaking up the sunshine. It won’t be long before all the snakes around here hole up for the winter.
Asher spotted the first snake of the day close to the slide and sandpile. It was a short snake, about the length of two pencils, and thin. Asher called me over to inspect it and we guessed it to be a baby bull snake. Bull snakes are harmless and actually help control the rodent population. But they can also get huge and, well, creepy. Asher decided that maybe we should rid our yard of this bull snake so it wouldn’t have a chance to grow up and scare us next summer.
I am not the snake killer that Daddy is but reluctantly agreed. I took my own sweet time going to get the shovel, as that’s the only tool I might kill a snake with, but the snake was moving slow enough for Asher to keep an eye on it while encouraging me to hurry. I returned with shovel in my right hand and baby in my left, took a wild swing at the snake… and cut off about four inches of its tail. That certainly got the snake slithering for high ground… for the dog house to be exact. I took several more swings at it but could never get it pinned again. It finally disappeared for good.
All but the tail, of course. The kids watched in awe as the snake’s little tail wriggled around our hard-pan yard. When it finally expired, they insisted I bury it. So I did. I buried the snake’s tail.
In the middle of burying the snake’s tail I disturbed a second small snake. But I convinced the kids that it was a garter snake, harmless and helpless, and so we would not be hacking at it with the shovel.
Here’s hoping that the one we chopped the tail off of — the one now licking its wounds under the doghouse — was not a baby rattlesnake.