Posts Tagged ‘rattlesnakes’

One of my first memories has to do with cows. There’s a story behind the memory that has been repeated many times over the years, and that embellishes my memory. I don’t actually remember the events that have been told in the story: those memories belong to my mother and my older brother. My memories are in italic.


Sunlight filtered through the aspens. Quaking Aspens. Shadows. A narrow one-lane gravel road on an incline. I am sitting in the little Red Flyer™ wagon, holding on to the sides. My brother is pulling the wagon, his back to me. I can hear the tinkle of bells in the trees.

Torgerson’s cows. He belled at least one of them so he could find them when he needed to. They are beef cattle, probably cross-breed Hereford/Angus/Charolais. Maybe purebred Hereford. Red cows. Big. My fear probably originates from my broken middle finger, the memory I don’t have but my mother says happened: the cow that stampeded and stepped on my tiny hands.

I begin to cry. The bell, the cows. the unknown. No mom in sight. Only filtered sunlight and the tinkle of a bell on a mad Hereford cow that is probably going to charge us any second now…

Torgerson was a rancher who owned a lot of the land just north of Jarbidge. He paid for grazing rights. His cattle roamed free.

The story goes that my brother – probably age 4 – had a fight with my mother. He told her that he hated her and we were going to go live in town with someone my brother was certain would take us in. He loaded me into the little red wagon, with my stuffed bear and a few possessions, and off we headed. He was fuming mad.

Mahoney RS was almost a mile out from the edge of town. Terry pulled me in the wagon all the way. Our mother followed us in Nelliebelle – at a very discreet distance – until we were with in sight of the edge of town. Then she passed us and went on in to have coffee with Youra.

Terry hauled me on in, stopping only when he found his destination. Someone he thought would surely take us in and adopt us from our evil mother. They offered us drinks and lunch.

Terry stopped pulling when I started to cry. He came back and hugged me, and then told me that I had to be brave. He would protect me from the ‘mean mommy’. Always. I sucked it up and hugged Teddy tight.

After we were fed and my brother was calmed down, our mother came by and acted like she didn’t know we had dropped in for a visit also. She offered to take us home in the car, and Terry readily agreed. It had been a really long walk, after all.


We were visiting Jarbidge. Denny was maybe 4 at the time and I was 7? I just remember being down near the saloon when someone shouted that there was a rattlesnake. Then there was a terrifying BOOM! and someone else said, “Old Torgerson shot the head off of it.”

My sister and I were escorted along the street back to where we were staying by our mother. We saw the bloody length of snake in the street, but it wasn’t what we worried about. Mom hissed that the head had been shot off and to watch for the head. Rattlers could continue to snap for hours after their head was severed from their bodies – and it was the head that was dangerous. Don’t ask me what images that conjured up – but I never lost any sleep over it. Rattlesnakes weren’t the same as Dementors. Rattlesnakes could die.

I don’t think I ever saw Mr. Torgerson. I have no recollection of the man. Only his red-painted log cabin home and the spread along the Jarbidge River, the cow with the bell, and the doomed rattlesnake. Oh – and his name.

* it is a fact that rattlesnakes can continue to bite after the head has been severed. We never saw the head to that snake. I do not personally hold a grudge against rattlesnakes, but in the early 1960s, a lot of people did. Still do.

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Putting together a presentation for work and trying to research my favorite hot spots in Oregon has been a … challenge. I was going to say “nightmare”, but that isn’t exactly true: some of it has been fun, like perusing the photos I want to use. Ah, memories.

I’ve prayed over this and I feel certain I need to do something on our favorite tours of southeastern Oregon: Hart Mountain, the Steens Loop. the Alvord Desert, and the Succor Creek Byway including Leslie Gulch. I could link to any number of sites on those keywords, but most of them do not begin to reveal what I know of the places or my experiences there. Most of the sites or blogs I have discovered have been written by drive-bys: no serious off-road types or hikers or hunters or wind sailers or primitive campers. Hit and run, consider it an experience.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of the experience in 20 years of primitive camping and hiking and exploring! It’s too vast, too wild, too incredible to summarize. And I intend to summarize this experience for people who probably won’t even go off roads once in their lives? Oy vey.

I’m including a couple pictures of a certain western denizen certain to keep city dwellers inside their comfort zone. alvord-rattler.jpg

He’s not a very old rattler and I took this picture from the safety of the F-250. He was on the side of the road in the evening (when they are most active) and we stopped long enough to snap a picture on our way down to the Alvord Hot Springs. Then we let him go his way (or her?) and we went our way.  I think it’s a rather pretty rattlesnake.

I have another one in a photo, taken in Leslie Gulch while we were hiking on a hot day. He’s wisely curled up in the shade:


He’s also very pretty, a newly shed skin somewhere and an appetite. He’s a little too tightly wound up for me to want to venture much closer!

Anyway, I am having fun revisiting some of Oregon’s best spots – and the dangers that are inherent with the Great Basin and high desert.  I’ll try to blog more as I muddle through this.

It should be noted that neither one of these rattlers was disturbed. They didn’t even shake their little tails. We stayed a respectful distance and then let them live whatever lives they had to live – after all, they are a part of the ecosystem!

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The new picture on my blog is from somewhere in Northern Nevada, close to Dufferena Hot Springs: an old abandoned homestead. I have been busy downloading photos to use for a presentation at work. I’m not thrilled, but I volunteered. What am I doing?? I sort of planned on just doing a slide show of places I like to go (mostly in Oregon, with a little Nevada thrown in), but how many people in a professional urban environment are going to appreciate desert photos, back country camping, no toilets, and rattlesnakes?

I personally am no fan of the latter, but I believe it is “live and let live” and I let them live as long as they let me live. So far, that hasn’t been a problem, although I have been known to jump several feet the opposite direction when I set off a rattler. (That isn’t to mention the times I have hesitated and considered leaping when I have set off a cicada or dry brush or nearly stepped on a bull snake. Pardon me, a “gopher snake”. Who cares what the proper name is when it startles you??)

I thought I could tell of near misses, like when the rattler buzzed in the rocks at Succor Creek and I was located some ten feet to the east of it and leaped ten more, heart thumping (after having restarted) and cursing myself for my stupidity (rock hopping along the river’s edge on a hot day and thinking “there ought to be a rattler hiding in the shade in these rocks somewhere…”). Or of the time a bullet whizzed over my head as I was sipping coffee on a ridge. Now THAT was scary. The rattler is business as usual compared to that. You stand a chance of survival with a rattler: it may not inject enough poison to kill you, you could pump the poison out, you could lay in a cold creek and slow your heart down, and it nearly always WARNS you. Not to minimize the danger (I am afraid of rattlers), but a bullet… THAT comes out of nowhere and you can’t predict it, you can’t see it, you can’t project it, and most of the time you don’t even hear the report from the rifle that shot it. As it was, the bullet whizzed over my head by a few feet and continued on down the slope of the mountain. It was probably an opening-weekend-of-deer-season ridge shot (never take a ridge shot – you don’t know where the bullet will go) that was on it’s final passage to earth.

Most of our close calls have been weather related: the lightning/hail storms that come out of nowhere. One in particular was up on the northern end of the Steens, hiking up a trail that took off from a road going to some rock formation. Don and Levi were, of course, right up on top of the ridge. We didn’t know where our friend, Frank, was. Friends Kathy & Jesse, Arwen and I were in the aspens when it hit. We huddled until Frank came down and joined us. We decided it was best to get OFF THE TOP of the canyon and head for the rigs, so we hustled down hill. Somewhere, Levi joined us. Then Don. Trees were sparse, the lightning was real, and then it began to hail stones as large as a quarter and as small as a nickel. We broke the rules and found the lowest big juniper (lowest as in off the ridge line – it was off the ridge line) and huddled in our summer clothes under the juniper like wild horses or cattle: kids in the center, adults circled around them in protective fashion, and two big dogs whining and yelping and trying to get under where the kids were, too. Those of us with hats fared better than those without. Afterward, we had hot soup and cocoa in Frank & Kathy’s VW van.

There was the badger, too. Well, a couple of them. One attacked the tire of our F-250 when we came around a corner on a dirt road he was crossing. We backed up and gave him his space and he ambled angrily up the hill. The other badger just hid in the brush and growled at us as we gingerly removed all of our camp gear and got into the rig as quickly as possible. Hey, we had no idea he was living under the bush when we decided to camp there! We’re just lucky he decided to growl and warn us.

We had a close encounter with a mustang once. The palomino stallion was herding his harem of six or seven down toward the water hole and we were trying to sneak close enough to get a good photo. He saw or smelled us but didn’t know what we were, so he charged us. He came within 150 feet, neck arched and snorting, straight on at us. Fearless. I couldn’t get a picture of him because he was looking right at us. That was in northern Nevada, just south of the Ruby Mountains and north of the old Pony Express trail. Horse dung littered the trail, piles in heaps three feet deep. We saw no fewer than seven bands of horses plus the band of “bachelors.” I could live there.

I love all that. The bugs, the birds, the beasts. Sneaking up on an antelope to see how close I can come before he gets up on all fours and thinks about running… I don’t mind having no toilet and we travel with a solar shower. I’m not sure I can explain all of that to a room full of people who probably have never camped before (or only have camped inside the boundaries of a State Park with shower facilities and a hundred other people). It’s a different life. I’m just doing this because it is the only thing I know to present and it is, in its very essence, who I am: a desert rat who is currently living out her life in the rather cloudy, wet, and urban lower Willamette Valley.

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