Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mother Nature's Revenge

I haven’t been around in a while because I’ve been recovering from the various injustices done to my person by Mama Nature and her frisky minions. Yes, she has turned on me; Red in Tooth and Claw, as the saying goes. Not sure what I did to deserve her bleak attentions, but her attentions have I received. Sure, I’ve caught and eaten a few of her fish. I’ve swatted more of her winged soldiers than I can count. Recently, I clobbered a small bird with my car, but that was an accident. And, yes, I made fun of an armadillo. Right to its face…er, snout. But really, did any one of these actions, or even all of them put together, justify the lengths of her revenge? I dunno. You decide.

Turtle Bobber
So many of my stories have to do with me and fishing or me and turtles, and here’s another, this time about both fishing and turtles.

Sometimes, I leave off angling for bass and kick back under a tree with some bait in the water, and go after channel cat. This particular day I was using a rig with three hooks and three different baits, hoping to entice one of the really big cats up from the depths. I reclined the shade of a old cottonwood, watching my bright orange bobber float lazily on the calm water. After maybe ten minutes it gave a little twitch. Then another. I sat up, and lifted my rod from the holder, ready to give a yank and set the hook. The bobber went dancing across the surface and I pulled.

I knew two things immediately. The first was that I had missed setting the hook, and the second was that it hadn’t been a catfish tugging on the line. When a catfish strikes it clamps its ugly lips around the bait and heads for the bottom, usually causing the float to plunge straight down. This one had boogied sideways, so it was likely one of two things—a turtle or a perch. None of my baits that afternoon are popular among perch, so it must’ve been a turtle. My suspicion was confirmed a moment later when one of the poxy little devils surfaced beside my bobber for a moment, taking stock of the situation, then dove under again for another nibble of free nosh. He was a big one, too; easily a third the size of a trashcan lid.

So, my bobber did its thing again, and again went for a surface stroll; about three feet before it went all the way under. Against my better judgment, I gave the rod a sturdy yank—setting the hook this time. In that bloody turtle.

Now, turtles aren’t streamlined like fishies. With a hook in its beak, a turtle is about as aquadynamic as a pie-tin full of cement. All four of their stubby legs paddle like mad, but they simply haven’t evolved to put up a serious fight. Unless, that is, they are large and the water is relatively shallow and strewn with debris, all of which are true of my fishing hole.

Long story short, the repellant reptile hove for the cover of a submerged tree and somehow anchored himself down there. Lord knows what he managed to tangle my line around, but no way was I going to muscle him loose; not without the intervention of, say, a fair-sized horse. Grumbling, I flicked open my clasp knife and sliced the line, then sat down to string a new rig.

Three minutes later, as I worked, my bobber bobbed to the surface. Right there. About five feet away. No sign of Yertle, though. Then it went under again. I felt I was being taunted, but so be it.

Armed with a new set of hooks and baits, I relocated to a fresh spot, forty-or-so yards along to the north. I threw my line out into a spot I had psychically determined to be a good one, and settled in for a watch. Minute or two later—spoink!—up came a second bobber next to mine. Yertle had followed me, the little blighter. And he continued following me all afternoon. Wherever my bobber went, his was sure to follow. I’m not sure if it was his ever-present lurking, but I didn’t catch a single fish that day.

I’ve been back to that same pond three times since Yertle absconded with my orange float, and have seen the thing in at least a dozen different locations, bobbing merrily about. Obviously, dragging a float behind and having a fish hook in his face hasn’t proven to be the detriment to his general mobility one might imagine. Bully for him, but I find it all just a tad unnerving. It’s like a miniature version of the yellow barrels from Jaws.

The B-52 Heron
Sometimes when the fish aren’t biting I like to go exploring the neighborhood around my little pond, and see what sort of interesting stuff the place has to offer. I’ve watched a mama bobcat lead her kittens to the water at dusk; a mated pair of wood ducks bring supper to their fuzzy hatchlings; and a litter of new-born bull snakes slither free from their underground nest. One of the best things I’ve witnessed, however, is a gray heron standing astride her massive nest near dawn, then taking wing and gliding over the mirror-flat waters of the lake. She was truly magnificent. Her wing-span must’ve been close to six feet and she barely made a sound.

Once I knew where her nest was (high up in the skeletal branches of a dying cottonwood tree), I made it a point to creep by occasionally and listen to her chicks peep and whistle. I rarely saw her there, though, herons being rather skittish birds, except for that first time, and then again about a week ago. And then I didn’t know she was at home until it was too late.

I was sitting on the ground beneath her tree, when there came a loud rustling from over my head. I looked up just in time to see her leap from her nest and rocket skyward. She was obviously startled, though I’ll be damned if I was making any noise. I mean, I was just sitting there enjoying her company. But away she flew.

And—miracle of miracles—she left a parting gift. On my shoulder and back.

I once got crapped on by a sparrow. The full extent of its anal output barely amounted to a smudge, but holy hell did it reek. I don’t know what goes on in the digestive machinery of our avian cousins, but does for the human nostril what Tyson did to Holyfield.

Now imagine, not a mere smudge of the stuff, but enough to top off a Big Gulp. Oh my good, good god. The fetid glob hit my back like a water balloon full of Satan’s own special ass pudding. The smell singed by nose hairs. It crawled all the way into the center of my skull and started a mosh pit. I would’ve burst into tears if bursting into them hadn’t meant drawing a deep breath and inhaling even more of the noxious slurry.

I yanked my shirt off and flung it away toward the pond. It landed half-in, half-out of the water, so I grabbed a stick, shoved it all the way in, and sort of stirred it about, watching as greasy white pustules of heron poo reluctantly detached themselves from the fabric. As I stirred I explained loudly and at length what was in store for mama heron next time our paths crossed.

That I haven’t seen her since makes me think she heard and understood.


Sweet SHIT That Hurts!
Among my many charming (read: nerdy) traits is an inability to look at an expanse of rock face without checking it for fossils. Every once in a great while I actually find something. In this case, they weren’t true fossils, but small and very fragile snail shells, bleached white by the sun. As I picked them from the red dirt of the cliff face (this was at my favorite fishing hole) with a toothpick and the tip of my clasp knife, I studied each in turn. Man, were they ever cool; tiny marvels of evolution; each about the size of a dime, with delicate whorls marking the snail’s growth, like the rings of a tree. Just beautiful.

After about thirty minutes diligence I had over a dozen shells in my hand. It came upon me to take them home, clean them up in some hot, soapy water, and make a bracelet with them for my friend Cal. I carried them to a fallen log to study them more carefully, with an eye toward accessories. Depositing them in a little pile, I sat beside them, easing into a comfier position by putting my palm on the log and scooching over.

I was mid-scooch when somebody set my hand on fire.

That’s what it felt like, anyway. Then it felt worse. It was pain with a side of fries; pain in its go-to-meetin’ clothes. It pulsed up my forearm all the way to my elbow. I started yelling and flapping my hand in the air. Can’t remember exactly what I yelled, but it was along the lines of jesusgoddamnfreakingsweetgoatSHIT!

I figured I had put my hand in a hornet’s nest, seeing as I was sitting on a rotting log and all. But that wasn’t the case. Dangling from my palm, right below the thumb, its stinger still stuck in my flesh and pumping venom, was a pale brown scorpion. He seemed almost as agitated as I was, flailing away with his tiny pincers. I didn’t like to see him so out of sorts, so I smashed my hand flat on the log. I smashed my hand on the log about fifty-seven times, pretty much reducing the beast to his component parts and a fair amount of juice. About a thimbleful, I’d say.

Killing the thing was only a psychological victory, and not even a particularly satisfying one. The pain only increased. Then it got together with some swelling and nausea, and the party really started rolling sevens. Pretty soon it looked like I had a cherry tomato growing from the ball of my thumb.

Driving home one-handed was a joy. Once I got there I put a wet washcloth on the tomato and sloppily mixed a tall, strong vodka-tonic. The booze made me feel better. It usually does.

So, there it is. Nature’s Revenge. But I am still left to wonder why She decided to make the last couple of weeks such memorable ones. But no matter Her reasons, I’ve come to a decision. No more making fun of armadillos. Seriously. No matter how stupid they look.


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