Arriving after a 5 hour drive from Santa Fe, the kids (in descending order: Gus, Eli, Jake, Noelle, Cody and Tucker) tumble out of the cars and stream down the lawn behind the lodge, laughing and chasing each other in the shade of the cottonwoods. The adults are moving, stiff-legged, toward the office to check in, when Dee (of the proprieters: Dee and Lee) appears at the top of the lawn, frantic, calling out: "No running. No running." The explanation follows. It's been a bad year for rattlesnakes, very dry, only water for miles is in the creak that runs behind the lodge. 18 snakes captured on the premises so far this season. All are instructed to walk and not run, to always travel in pairs and to watch our step at all times. I'm thinking, this is going to be a very long week.
It turned out not so hard. We spent a good deal of time on horseback. Gus riding like he was born to it. Volunteering to ride the bareback stretch of a race during the arena games at the end of the week. He hopped on and raced across the arena, never having ridden bareback before. And Jake rode too, laughing and undaunted by the fact that he had absolutely no control (too little body weight and arm strength) over the large animal. Noelle had herself a dancing horse which managed to spook, but not un-seat her. Eli got stepped on by his steed, and lived to walk away from the encounter. Tucker, hitherto unfamiliar with the emotion, was completely intimidated by the animals and cried whenever he saw me on one.
No one got bitten by a rattler. There was one capture during our stay. The scene of extermination that followed drove the adults from the porch and drew the kids in close. From a distance on the lawn we watched our children watch Lee submerge the snake in a pot of hot water. Once the snake was dead, Lee, smiling, took his knife to it. I had to turn away. Moments later Gus opened his hand to me, displaying the trophy Lee had bestowed on him, the small snake's rattle. A sorrowfull thing.
One afternoon, Watt and Will and Jake went fishing. Jake returned with a beaver log and tales of having caught two minnows in a can and one snake with his bare hands. Watt and Will grinned as they told how, their heads full of rattlesnake warnings, their hearts stopped when Jake said: "Look, a snake." and reached in and snagged it out of the tall grass. "I knew it was ok," Jake explained in calm self-assurance.