Wednesday 12 November 2008: Snakes, Dogs, and Staple Guns

When Greg first started at H-E-B, he was told that it would be six months or so before he could become a full-time employee, so he got an additional part-time job at The Green Gate, a locally-owned nursery.  He was not given any particular schedule at The Green Gate but was told to come in whenever he wanted.  This was an ideal arrangement, since his schedule at H-E-B fluctuated somewhat.  Between the two jobs, he was able to work a forty-hour week.


However, after just a week or two, a full-time position became available at H-E-B and was offered to Greg.  The hours were roughly eight to five.  Not wanting to give up his work at The Green Gate, which closes at five, Greg worked out an arrangement.  A few times a week he works the four a.m. to noon shift at H-E-B, then drives to the nursery and works there until closing time.  This makes for a tiring day, but he is glad to have the work, and after all, a change is as good as a rest.


So all this means that it is up to me and the kids to get the insulation installed.  Carl and Paul showed us how, and the next day we drove out to the house and began.  It is wonderful what you can do if you will just do it.  Yesterday we finished the walls and started the floor.  Daniel and Anna did the stapling for the walls, because they are both taller than me and our ceilings are high.  My job was to cut and organize the bats.  There was not enough insulation work for four people, so Emilie spent her time sweeping the floor, walking Bridget around the home place, and helping Greg work on the fence when he came out on his day off.  Because we had only one working staple gun at a time, Daniel and Anna took turns helping me with cutting.


But now that we are insulating the underneath of the house, being short is an advantage, so Emilie and I are doing the stapling while Daniel and Anna cut the bats.  And we now have two working staple guns, thanks to Daniel’s persistent efforts.  Our first one, scrounged from one of Ben’s rentals, gave out after a day or two.  Daniel took it apart and fiddled with it but could not get it running again, so Greg bought a new one.  But Daniel did not give up on the old one.  He kept taking it apart and trying various things.  Yesterday he took apart the new one, which had an identical configuration, and at last found the problem.  (I did not know he was taking the new one apart until I saw him putting it back together.)  Apparently a crucial part had given out altogether and vanished from the staple gun’s innards.  Using a combination of hot glue and copper wire scrap left by the electricians, Daniel rigged a replacement.  The fix may be temporary, but he can repeat the process as needed to get us through the insulating of the house.  His ingenuity and diligence will cut in half the hours needed to complete the job.


So Emilie and I each operate a staple gun, and now there is enough work to keep four people busy.


We had some excitement yesterday.  Before we started working under the house, I left Daniel and Anna working on the walls and took Emilie to the storage containers, where the floor insulation was stored.  We loaded the Suburban with several rolls and drove back to the home site.  After opening the gate, Emilie stood on the running board and held onto the luggage rack, and I drove down the long curving driveway.  Approaching the house, I saw a long stick on the ground on Emilie’s side.  As we passed it, Emilie let out a little scream.  The stick was in fact a snake.


Emilie got in the Suburban, and we drove the rest of the way to the house, where Emilie alerted the others.  By the time we all made it over, the snake had crossed the road and was doing its best to vanish into the brush.  It worked its way up a tree and actually slithered along an icicle cactus, that kind that makes life so difficult when you are working in brushy areas.  It was very long, with a dark, mottled back, a pale belly, and a head shape that made us think it was not venomous.  But we were not sure.


As I’ve heard tell, the only venomous snakes to worry about in these parts are rattlesnakes, coral snakes, copperheads, and water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths.  The first three are easy to identify—in fact, we have seen a copperhead in some piles of debris around the home site, and Tina, Carl’s wife, once saw a coral snake under the cattle guard—but I could not positively identify a water moccasin.  They do live around here, and sometimes leave the creeks and come close to human habitations.  But that happens only when the creeks are very full, which is not the case now.  I didn’t want to kill a harmless snake, but neither did I want to let a dangerous one slither off to return another day.


Using a hoe and a long stick, Daniel wrangled the creature into a bucket.  This was a difficult task.  Again and again he had the snake lined up to drop neatly into the bucket, but the snake had other ideas.  It did not want to go into the bucket, and by moving its head an inch or so, it could alter the course of its whole body and perform amazing contortions.  It was really an admirable creature, supple and strong, like one long muscle.


At last Daniel got it into the bucket and shut the lid.  Later, he found a pillowcase in the pop-up camper and transferred the snake to it, giving the animal cooler accommodations.


Some of you may be seriously questioning my judgment right now.  What does this woman think she is doing, you may ask, letting her teenage son wrangle a large snake of unknown genus?  But as I say, I seriously doubted the creature was venomous, and Daniel was armed with a sharp hoe.  Furthermore, I took the precaution of sternly admonishing him not to get bitten.


Early in the snake-wrangling process, I called Jessica, a friend of the girls’ whose number happened to be in my seldom-used cell phone.  Jessica’s father is a professional snake breeder, and Jessica sometimes accompanies him on snake-seeking expeditions.  She did not answer, so I left a message.


We worked on insulation until we were nearly out of rolls.  Then Daniel proposed that he and I drive back to the storage containers to get more insulation and to look for a book we owned that would help us identify the snake.  We did, and we found the book, but strangely it did not have a picture of a water moccasin.  Ann and Ben were not home, so we could not dart across the road to use the internet.  Next we drove to town to visit the library, where Nancy, the librarian, could surely point us toward a book with pictures of all snakes native to the area; but the library was closed for Veteran’s Day.  Finally, we went into Apple Lumber to ask if anybody there knew what a water moccasin looked like.


As it happened, a former game warden was in the store at that very moment.  He gave us some very useful information:  water moccasins, and other venomous snakes, have blunt tails.  Our snake had a long, skinny tail.  Based on our description, the former game warden said that we probably had a rat snake.  We thanked him, bought a box of staples for the staple gun, and drove away.


“Could we please go home and get the camera?” Daniel asked.  Well, how could I refuse?  It really was a spectacular snake.


While we were away, Jessica had called back and told the girls that water moccasins are short and fat and that our snake probably wasn’t one.


Anna took some pictures of Daniel with the snake, and the creature was then released to the wild.


In other news, Daniel is now the proud owner of a dog.  She is a large dog, a lab/spaniel mix, with lab predominating; she eats as much as Ready and Bridget put together, and weighs as much as the two of them put together, as well.  Until Sunday, she belonged to a coworker of Greg’s at H-E-B, but after she jumped his fence and worried a neighbor’s livestock, he decided to give her away.  She is a young dog, eleven months old, playful and friendly.  Daniel named her Tara.


And now you may again be questioning our judgment.  What are they thinking, you may ask, doubling their dog food bill when money is already tight?  Well, Greg thinks—and I agree—that the kids should not just be stuck on the farm with nothing to do but farm work.  We live in the country; we ought to take advantage of country-type opportunities.  Many city-type opportunities are just not available to us now; we should make the most of our own particular circumstances.  Of course, we already had two dogs, but Ready is primarily Greg’s and Bridget is primarily mine.  Daniel told Greg he wanted a dog of his own, and a short time later, this dog became available.


Immediately upon returning home with the dog, Daniel took her for a walk down to the gate and back to familiarize her with the area, establish himself as her leader, and work off some doggy energy to get her in a relaxed frame of mind.  We introduced her to Ready and Bridget outside the yard, in a spot they would be less likely to consider their personal territory.  Ready did some low-key dog-style posturing and displaying, and Tara seemed agreeable to submitting to him.  Bridget sniffed her, growled very quietly, and then turned her back and sat down.


Daniel is being very proactive in the training of his dog.  Already Tara has learned not to bolt through open doors and to go out when told.  It is a shame that we have to spend so much time at the home site just when Tara has come to live with us, but Daniel has made time for her anyway; yesterday he walked her twice.  She never walked on a leash before but has already made great progress.


It is fun to see Daniel work with his dog.  The experience is good training for fatherhood.


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