Field notes 3/22/2011 — diamondback and monarch

Winds sustained at 22 m.p.h.  Highway travel to Abilene slowed.

Yeller, our Aussie-Lab mix dog, sat in the hallway in front of the glass door leading to the outside porch.  He growls deeply, the deepest and most sustained growl I have ever heard from him.  I go to the front door, thinking Yeller has alerted us to a strange dog or our resident lizard that comes across the front porch.  Yeller growls deeper.  On the porch, I see a four-foot rattlesnake slithering next to the closed glass door, six inches from his nose.

The glass door separates Yeller and us from the rattlesnake.  Brenda gets Yeller and Lottie, our Schnauzer, away from the door and takes them into another room, away from what must happen.  I grab the Remington 12 gauge and run around to the front door and dispatch the snake quickly, angling the shot to prevent blowback.  We are unnerved since no rattlesnakes — other snakes have been left alone — have been seen around our house since we moved here in 2003.

I must make sure the grass is cut about the house and piles of brush are placed at a distance away from the yard.  We have become complacent and need to sharpen our senses.

Later this afternoon, I see a lone monarch butterfly sitting on our wild verbena in the front field, a hundred-feet away from the front porch event a hour before, feasting on nectar, gently folding and unfolding the wings.

I am not sure what to make of monarchs, diamondbacks, dogs and all of this that comes across my field.  I am saddened and must do what needs to be done to be safe and live.  This day, March 22, 2011, has been filled with many things I do not understand.

* * *


[From Backpacker, June 2000.]  Sure, carrying a hiking stick makes me look like a rugged mountain man, but it also helps me in more pedestrian ways. By easing the load on my knees and shoulders, it helps me chew up big miles, plus I can tiptoe across loose rocks, slippery logs, and rushing streams without a wobble. Here’s how to create your own personalized staff.

1. Search your local forest for a downed branch that’s stout, straight, and preferably, blemish-free (no obvious cracks or big knotholes). The stick should reach your armpit and measure 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

2. Remove twigs with a pocketknife and strip the bark if you want. Round off sharp points or level knobs with a plane or file. Hold the stick as though you’re hiking (your elbow should form a right angle) to figure out where your grip will be– 2 to 3 inches below the top. Customize the grip by cutting shallow grooves for your fingers like those on a steering wheel. Just above the grip area, drill a 1/4-inch hole for a wrist loop. Smooth the surface of the stick first with coarse, then fine, sandpaper.To remove residual sawdust, wipe the stick with a rag dipped in paint thinner.

3. Decorate the stick with carvings, wood burnings, paintings, emblems or bear bells. If the wood is still green, place it in a warm, dry location to cure for at least 2 weeks, and rotate it often to prevent bowing.

4. Apply two coats of wood stain, allowing each coat to dry overnight, to give the stick a darker, richer hue. Then apply three coats of clear urethane varnish to seal the wood and prevent rot. Allow each coat of varnish to dry overnight. Sand the stick lightly with very fine sandpaper or steel wool after each coat.

5. Thread a 2-foot piece of rawhide lace or heavy cord through the hole. Adjust the length of the loop to fit your wrist, tie the ends in a big knot to secure the loop, then trim the ends as necessary.

Wood is a fickle creature, so remember that hiking sticks are born as much as they are made. –Jonathan Dorn



“Making Your Own Walking Stick,” Backpacker magazine, June 2000.


Filed under Adventure, Diamondback Rattlesnake, Field Log

13 responses to “Field notes 3/22/2011 — diamondback and monarch

  1. Sorry to hear you had to kill the Diamondback, I too am saddened. I know how hard it is to try to be in tune with nature and her critters and their need for habitat. I can also understand your need to protect those you love. Life, it seems to me, is filled with just those kind of conflicts. Hard to understand but I just keep trying.

    Love the walking stick excerpt. It reminded me to get mine out and take it next month when I go wildflower walking at the Sutter Buttes. Another blustery wet day here so the thought of hiking through wildflowers is a nice one to hold on to.

    • Life is filled with those conflicts is true. I’m afraid that I often deny they are there or try and forget it. Not good to deny.

      I’ve got to get a walking stick since I have put the cane away.

  2. Hi Jack, I Love this post. The image of the monarch and the diamondback in the same setting is magical to me, part of the wonders of nature, but I do understand the ambiguous feelings from having to dispatch the rattler. These are difficult things to deal with: the sadness at having to do what you know you had to do, the sadness of losing an amazing creature, and the feeling of vulnerability that follows.

    I have a couple of walking sticks, one of which I should write about sometime. It was handmade for me. I have to admit, though, my thoughts went off on a small tangent when I read the instructions for the walking stick and the possible embellishments. I read bear bells wrong and this ridiculous image came in of tussling with a bear trying to procure said embellishments. sorry. I am apparently in need of a bit of humor on this cold and windy, somewhat snowy day. Yearning for spring.

    Have a good one. The rattler and the butterfly? Another grand lesson.

  3. What you have experienced is none other than life in the country. I’ve killed rabid animals, raccoons killing chickens, coyotes attacking cows (or rather my Newfoundland did this for me), and I’ve chased off bears peering in my windows. An then I’ve taken the time, as you have, to see the beauty in a buttercup, a vole, a new nest full of phoebe chicks, and the flittering of a butterfly.

    Violence has its lonely place in this strange world. Without it predators would not be able to feed themselves. That you protected your family is just that, an act of preservation.

    I think we all get confused we think that the world is always safe and wonderful. It’s not. But I still like to pretend that it is.

    • Your comment is true and haunting. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have thought of your comment this week. I’ve much to write about the Diamondback in front of our Taos Blue Door on that Spring day. Bill, you are truly a nature philosopher that lives what they state in their writing.

  4. I confess we had the same experience and dealt with it the same way, no choice. I saw my dogs barking in a circle around something in the yard. I ran out and immediately heard the unmistakable rattle. Jimmy grabbed the .22 and put one expert round in its head. I’m so sorry, so sorry. I placed the rattler out in the the desert to hopefully be consumed by coyotes.

    In bigger cities in Arizona people build block walls around their properties so snakes can’t get through. But out here on the border we have field fencing or chain link. I’ll take my chances, as block walls may give you more privacy and safety, but destroy the sense of community we depend on here.

    I’m sorry you had to do it Jack. But we’ve known too many dogs killed by rattlers here. There are vaccinations, but we can’t afford them.

    In nicer news, the hummingbirds are back and there’s a bright orange oriole hanging around the suet feeder, we only see them once in a while. Crazy windy though. Take care.

    • Debra, I know you feel much like I do on this issue. Yes, rattlers kill and I know of many cases where horses have died around here because of a bite. Nicer news: we saw hummingbirds for the first time yesterday. Take care, Debra, out there in Arizona.

  5. It is sad about the Diamondback, but sometimes in this world that we did not design we must fight to live.

  6. Read your post the other day and have been thinking about it since… it is, as others have noted, sad but inevitable that one must sometimes kill a creature who could cause them great harm if allowed to live. I know it is nature’s way and also know that it is nature’s way that hawks prey on other creatures and so on in the food chain of life… but it still makes me sad for the creature who is being eaten!

    • Victoria: That post is hard-to-forget, I know. I have planned a couple of posts based upon the incident. I did not mention in the post how strikingly beautiful and graceful the Diamondback was. I used the term “slither” and I wish I hadn’t because it connotes an attribution that the Diamondback did not have on that sunny day on our porch in front of the Blue Taos Door. Yet, I had to do what I did because I have small children from two families that play about the house and I could not take the chance. It had to be done and I go on. Thank you for commenting.

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