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Monday, February 15, 2016

Horses and Cattle and Snakes, Oh My!

During the month of October 2015, Evelyn and I had a bit of a sabbatical out at Knights Rest here in central Oklahoma. This is a continuation of some of the things we learned during that month long camping trip and prepping hide away.

We talk a lot in preparedness circles about Situational Awareness. We talk about how important it is to be aware of our surroundings, and what things within our area can potentially damage us. However, we don't spend much time and effort discussing situational awareness in the context of something bad happening to our gear, or what our plans are if Something Bad happens and leaves us whole and hale, but destroys something critical to our continued comfort or well-being.

Twice during our trip, lack of situational awareness got the better of us. The first time, it cost us convenience and gear, and in the long run it cost Evelyn money replacing that gear. The second time, it could easily have cost one of us our life if we hadn't been lucky.

Animals
The horses, dairy cattle, and sheep that are part of Knight's Rest have free roam of the entire 166 acres that it rests on. This is only fair, since it's their home, and grazing is a much more economical means of feeding ruminants than supplying endless amounts of hay. They don't typically wander into camp, preferring to stay in the "unoccupied" areas of the farm. At least, they don't usually wander into camp while people are there. This doesn't mean that they can't, or that they won't -- just that they usually don't.

The Anatolian Shepherd farm dogs are a completely different story: they'll stick around camp if you're there, because you might give them treats! Or if you forget to put away the pound of bacon that you intended to cook for breakfast, and leave it laying on top of your camp kitchen table like a doofus (don't ask).

Animal Incident #1
So just what happens when you leave camp for a couple of days, thinking everything is secure? Well, if you're lucky, nothing at all happens, and you arrive back at camp two days later and everything is just how you left it.

If you are not so lucky, you come back to camp to find that a 2500 pound horse with feet the size of a dinner plate has decided to walk through the middle of your camp -- and the middle of your tent! KR's horses are beautiful Shires and Shire/Arabian blends, which means they're draft animals. They're only slightly smaller than the Budweiser Clydesdales, in fact, and can easily stand as much as 6 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder -- and those are the dainty examples.

This was the resulting damage to the tent poles: a 90 degree bend in a place that isn't supposed to bend at all!

Both poles for Evelyn's original tent had a bend like that in it. While it was a nice little tent, and set up easy, and didn't weigh her down much, it could not withstand having a full size draft horse decide to walk across the space where it had been set up. Needless to say, that was one completely trashed tent.

We were fortunate because nothing inside the tent was seriously damaged. A lot of it (practically everything, in fact) was soaking wet, because it had rained after the tent got stepped on, but otherwise everything inside was undamaged.

Lesson Learned: Don't think that the relatively domesticated animals in your vicinity won't suddenly decide to come investigate you and your stuff. They probably will. Be aware of the relative sizes of those animals, and how much unintentional damage they can do in their fits of curiosity about this newcomer to their domain.

Animal Incident #2
October is one of those times of year in Oklahoma when the weather isn't cold enough to be considered "winter" yet (but it's closing in) and it's no longer really hot enough to still be considered "summer" (even though the temperatures can still reach the mid 80s on any given afternoon).

One thing is certain about what passes for Autumn in this area: many animals are looking for a warm place to hole up in and sleep through til spring. And when I say animals, I also mean the slithery kind, like snakes and frogs and lizards.

While we don't have many snakes here that are envenomed in a manner that is dangerous to humanity, we do have a few, most notably rattlesnakes of several sub-species. This includes pygmy rattlesnakes, which seem to have a Napoleon Complex, territorial aggressiveness, and the bad attitude you would expect from a grizzly bear with a toothache.

Rattlesnakes love warmth. They don't move well when it starts getting colder, and will look for places to curl up where it's sunny and warm and comfortable. The piles of collected pine duff -- the fallen needles, etc that are scattered around in any given pine grove -- seem to be just the sort of thing that they're looking for, because of their high insulation value.

Our camp was in a clearing of a pine grove. Originally planted as a potential Christmas Tree farm project, it was allowed to grow wild when the project was scrapped, and natural clearings and glades were allowed to develop. One of these natural clearings is where I've chosen to make the Valeda's Grove (Wise Woman's Grove, for those unfamiliar with Viking and Norse usage) that is "my" permanent camping spot out at Knight's Rest.

One of those sunny, warm, and comfortably-insulated spots created by fallen pine needles is about two feet off the path into camp. The trees form a bit of a natural arch leading into the clearing, and naturally funnel the flow of traffic in the area. One afternoon while we were out and about, one of those pygmy rattlesnakes decided to take up residence in the pine duff at the entrance to camp, two feet away from where we walked several times a day.

Neither of us initially noticed the pygmy rattlesnake when we got back to camp. That's right, neither of the two women -- both armed, both relatively well-trained in looking after themselves, both familiar with camping and the various potential dangers that it can encompass -- noticed the venomous snake lying curled up and napping two feet from where they were walking.

What alerted us to the danger (and pygmies ARE dangerous!) was one of the farm dogs alerting to the snake and us wandering over to investigate what had caught the dog's attention.

Lesson learned: I learned several valuable lessons that day.
  • I am still utterly terrified of snakes, even if I am armed, unless they are safely ensconced behind inch-thick glass at the Zoo.
  • A .45 caliber bullet, placed correctly, will effectively rip a pygmy rattlesnake in half -- and it's rather satisfying in a strange, visceral way, to watch that happen.
  • Even when it has been ripped in half by a .45 round, a rattlesnake will continue to move for a while, and will look like it's still attempting to strike. 
  • When in doubt about whether the snake is dead yet, beating it repeatedly with a BIG stick makes a satisfying thunk. 
  • A rattlesnake can only strike at things within a distance of approximately half its body length. 
  • I'm too much of a coward to get close enough to figure out how long a snake is in order to determine a safe distance. 
  • Always make sure you check the sides of the trail that you're walking, even (or perhaps especially) the trail into camp, to make certain you aren't missing something critical that could kill you. 
  • Evelyn is a good shot, and it's not wise to piss her off! She can hit a pygmy rattlesnake that's moving and attempting to strike (even though we were out of range) without flinching.

(Editor's Note: My mother was bitten by a pygmy rattlesnake in 2013. If you want to see pictures of the snake and the bite, go here.)

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