So Much to Fear – Snakes and Oil

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It wasn’t even our first day living out in the country here in Oklahoma, but it was certainly one of many eye opening experiences that taught us that there is no limit to the kinds of things that you’ll encounter, scream at, run from, and eventually get used to, living in the country.

For starters, we were contemplating moving to Southeastern Oklahoma for my wife’s new job, although we weren’t as familiar with the area as we were with the rest of the state. It was hot, dry, and unreasonably occupied by the oil and gas industries. We would come to learn that in greater detail over the next year.

Second, we were going to be living so far out away from everything we were used to and, even though this was exciting in our journey toward self-reliance, we didn’t know just how far away we were – 45 minutes from the closest anything, roughly 17 miles of the worst dirt roads imaginable separating us from the nearest paved road which was nothing more than large rocks cobbled together and potholes.

Finally, we had a plethora of new things to deal with. No more assuming that everything would be taken care of by a landlord or maintenance man. Instead, we had her vehicle for work and my old trusty farm truck for everything else. We knew that if it all hit the fan that our only hope was over an hour away riding in the oldest, roughest truck in the state.

So, we made the decision to move onto a nice piece of Earth, approximately 260 acres of solitude with nothing nearby aside from the cattle and wildlife with the occasional visit from relatives or the closest neighbor who lived about seven miles up the road.

We had just made the decision when we asked, “Is there anything we should worry about out here or know about? Like crack houses and meth labs, people to stay away from, etc.?”

“Nope. That’s it. We’re about twelve miles away if you need us.” Said the woman we would be paying in exchange for the new place. As we walked out the door happy of our next step in life she said, “Oh, Copperheads. Lots of Copperheads. They like to lie on the front porch, back porch, sometimes come inside, and they’re all over the tall grass out there. Might be some Rattlers, too. Just shoot ‘em.”

My wife and I shot a glance at each other. “Really? Copperheads? And enough of them that she could list at least three places she’d seen them out here recently?” we seemed to say to each other silently.

We left and talked it over with my wife’s mother who grew up in that area. She wasn’t worried although we were a little terrified due simply to the fact that all we heard growing up were horrific stories of injuries and death from snake bites. Her mother calmed us and said it was a good move so we stuck with it.

While we were moving boxes into the new house and unpacking them we found all sorts of massive spiders and my wife has a fear of Brown Recluse spiders, having suffered an awful bite when she was a child that put her in the hospital, so that was a little bit of a turn-off, although nothing we felt would alter our plans or cause us any worries.

Our two dogs were happy and loved playing outdoors. They had no more worries of annoying apartment dwellers in the city taunting them or potentially running over them in their hurry to get to work each morning. They could roam for hours and still not be much closer to another human being. Of course, we hadn’t yet had an encounter with anything that might hurt a dog.

Then, one night after I had finished tending to the garden and was doing my nightly check around the property, locking the chickens up in their coop, and so on, I heard a yelp. Moments later the smallest dog came limping up to me whining. He had been bitten by a Copperhead. The little guy had a rough night, shivering and shaking, with a fever and the chills. But he made it. The dog was tough. It was about a month of time before he was back up to full speed and he was stronger for it. We didn’t think we had anything else to worry about and we were kind of happy for the experience because we needn’t worry any longer about how to care for a bite like that. We had been through it and succeeded. No more obsessing over Internet forums for magic cures or freaking out because of some insane person’s ramblings in an anonymous forum. You know how it is. “How dare you waste your time on the Internet when you should be at the vet right now! Shame!” and all sorts of crazy like that. Because, let’s face it, when you’re over an hour from the nearest vet in the middle of the night with an animal that has a very common bite, the easiest and most sensible thing to do is to take the animal to the vet, right?

It was about two months later that we came to meet our other fear, coyotes. Our smallest dog was outside with us, completely recovered from his Copperhead encounter, as we went for a run up and down the hills and back roads for some evening exercise – we liked to stay active and healthy, just in case of the impending Zombie apocalypse. The sun started to set and in the distance of a large pasture we saw a farm truck. We thought it was nothing but just to be safe we called the dogs to come closer. Our memories of city life conjured images and stories of stolen dogs due to their breed. The smallest dog never showed. It wasn’t out of the ordinary but after about fifteen minutes we felt something wasn’t quite right.

We searched for him all night, taking shifts walking the pasture, driving the back roads, spot lighting any open area we could think of. There was no sign of him.

It took a while for us to come to terms with what had happened but the poor guy had been eaten by coyotes that hunted in the open pasture. They made a meal of him in seconds and we never saw him again. This is something we still can’t forget because he was a great dog. For us, it’s the thought of how it must have gone down, how he must have felt with one or more large dogs tearing down on him while he lay defenseless. This was a dog that seemed to think everyone was out to play with him and never assumed violence from another animal. Our attitude toward the wildlife changed overnight. No longer were we the loving, “show all animals compassion” type of people. We hated coyotes and swore to kill any that we saw from then on. Incidentally, we didn’t see many more after that, go figure.

We tried getting another dog so our big one would have a friend but after only a few days the two of them went off running toward what sounded like the only other dogs for miles. It turns out that what they heard were wild boars. The little dog was torn to pieces accompanied by the most horrific sound I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t bear to imagine the sight of it but I stupidly went searching with nothing but a dull machete, as if I could have accomplished anything more than being attacked by the very animals that destroyed the new puppy.

So, we left it at that. No more new dogs. We became more and more protective of our big dog. She was scared after that and has never been the same. I could see from a distance that she watched the entirety of the events marking the ends of those other two dogs. Something about seeing death did something to her. When the sun would set and twilight would come upon the land she would stand with her head as high as possible in the air barking and howling, as if she was shouting her anger and rage at the encroaching nightlife and violence of wild animals in the immediate distance. Then she’d see that darkness was setting in and would do everything but tear the door down to get inside to safety where she would stay until the sun was out and bright enough that it had completely destroyed the night’s darkness for another day.

Things calmed down for a bit. And then one night my wife jumped out of bed screaming. A scorpion had been crawling all over her thighs under the covers. Luckily, she wasn’t bitten, but that marked the beginning of what I can only call an infestation. We had scorpions in such high numbers that we couldn’t do much of anything without triple checking to ensure none of those bad boys were in hiding.

So, after only a few months we had come in contact with spiders, snakes, coyotes, and scorpions. We learned how to avoid them all, how to handle them if we came in contact, and how to kill and dispose of them when we needed. What else could we encounter that would scare us half to death?

Enter the oil and gas industry.

It was late one night and we were having some drinks and enjoying a rare weekend off to ourselves when suddenly we heard a loud knocking at the door, something unheard of out there and something that was cause for immediate alarm. When I spied through the peep hole what looked like a hideous Zombie from a movie thoughts of our evening jogs and exercise snapped into my brain as I contemplated an exit strategy, should this interaction go awry. I grabbed my knife and yanked the door open to find a bloody tanker driver. He had been driving recklessly around the curve in front of our house, something these tanker drivers did constantly, and he flipped his truck causing the nasty liquid to flood our property, the roads, and everything in sight. He needed help so, having been drinking, we had to drive him some fifteen miles to meet the ambulance.

This was an adventure in itself as we were doing something that could have endangered all of our lives, but we felt it was more important to get this man to safety and, more importantly to speed along the process for someone to clean up what looked like 3-Mile Island less than fifty yards from our front door.

We had problems with those tanker drivers from day one living out there. They would drive incredibly fast, ignoring the 15 mph speed limit signs, ignoring the rules of the road, forcing drivers into ditches, causing irreparable damage to vehicles and property, running over animals, and generally disrespecting the fact that land owners allowing for drilling on their property was the only reason they had their jobs. So, most of us, the neighbors and others out there, were angry at them. Never once had one of them stopped to help us out of a ditch that they forced us into by driving on the wrong side of the road, but when one of them flipped their truck nearby they wanted us to help pronto. And we obliged.

Over time we saw more damage and more oil wells, drilling stations, heavy machinery and equipment, and people flood into the area. None of them residents or land owners, all of them oil and gas industry employees.

The beautiful views were ruined, clouded with odd fumes and odors. The water changed in taste. The ground seemed to be less fertile near the wells. We couldn’t understand the necessity for that amount of desecration of land.

Then one day we got word that a tanker driver had sped by a neighbor’s house while the children were playing outside and he threw up so much dust and gravel that he peppered the kids’ eyes, knocked over their mailbox, and ran over their beloved family dog. Chasing the driver in his pickup truck, the neighbor finally confronted him as he tried to outrun him on those horrible back roads. When he spoke to the driver he was told, “You wouldn’t live here if it weren’t for me. This is my land.”

The neighbor was disheartened and it caused a great change in all of us.

Needless to say, we soon moved away and let the spiders, snakes, coyotes, and scorpions take over the house we were in, putting it back to its rightful way of being, and we let the oil and gas industries do what they desired with the land.

Our biggest fear became not insect or animal bites, but death by way of toxins in the air, ground, and water we relied upon for survival.

So it became that our first step into the adventure of self-reliance was fraught with the harsh stings of unavoidable things and it was exhausting, but we learned valuable lessons that we will keep forever. Lesson one being; don’t sweat the small stuff, like the bugs and snakes. We’ve coexisted for centuries without too many problems. Lesson number two is that you can’t wait for industry to clean up their act. When you get that awful gut feeling that something just isn’t quite right with the water and air, or you start to see a little too much development on the other side of your fence, it might just be time to get away. If not for your sake, do it for your health’s sake and the health of the rest of your family.

When it comes to snakes and oil I would choose the snakes every time.