The last of the cottonmouth-free days

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The snakes will be out in full force by Friday. Tomorrow will be the last of the nights below 50 degrees. From Wednesday on it’ll be above 50 degrees overnight, and, as the herpetologists I spoke to after Roo was bitten (it doesn’t seem possible, but four years ago?) explained, as soon as the nighttime temps average over 50, the hungry snakes come back out to party. In most places where there are a lot of snakes, the nonvenomous species outnumber the venomous ones, but there are tons of cottonmouths and copperheads here. There are also rattlesnakes — the most dangerous of the lot — though I’ve never seen one or heard one rattle here. Dr. Stokes tells me that at least the cottonmouth bites aren’t as bad as the rattlers, but Roo was most likely bitten by a copperhead, and that was bad enough.

Last year, I saw the first of the cottonmouths the minute it warmed up, which was about a week earlier. So, I’m sure they’ll be back. See Roo in the water there? That’s one of their favorite spots. If your’e dangling your toes in the water there, the odds are only about two to one that the snake you feel crawling over your skin is a water snake. Every third snake will be a cottonmouth. When they’re out on the water, you can tell the cottonmouths by the way they swim. They’re thick snakes, and their fat bodies ride high on the water, much more so than the more slender, and harmless, water snakes. And, like all pit vipers, they look naturally fearsome, especially when they hiss and gape at you, which is when you see the bright milky white of the inside of their mouths. They are also reputed to be among the most aggressive of snakes. People who love snakes dispute this, but others who have tangled with them dispute that right back.

I’m not looking forward to snake time. Ever since Roo was bitten, I’m tense every minute she walks in snake country. So, once again, it is time to get back on the road.

Take heart, spring is on the way.

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Suddenly, all at once, there are green and lavender and white blossoms on the trees. The grass is turning green. Now, the warmer weather will start creeping northwards and show up in Missouri and Iowa, to the west in Colorado and Utah and up into the Badlands. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois will see it soon. Wisconsin and Minnesota soon afterwards, and it won’t be long before the Northeast blossoms, too. So, for those of you still freezing, take heart. It’s been one hell of a winter, but it’s just about over with.

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The United States of Meth

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Every person I’ve spoken to lately has some kind of personal drug story, either opioids or meth. Vets with PTSD who pill mill doctors take advantage of to fill prescriptions for astonishing quantities of Oxycontin. Teenage daughters disappearing to St. Louis, the last they ever heard from them, right after meth moved into the neighborhood. People getting their houses emptied out by gangs of addicts, kids in the streets of even the smallest towns looking haggard and filthy. Cops on the take. In West Virginia I saw skeletal 17-year-old girls in torn old leopard print tights trying desperately to hook in parking lots. There was a meth head in Arco, Idaho who was too jacked up to rob me at an empty truck stop, but he was going to try. He looked just like any other kid off a ranch. It’s everywhere.

The worst I’ve seen it was in East Liverpool, Ohio, where no one seems to chance walking around downtown but the addicts. It was a rich town once, but now there are parts of it where one house after the other is half-torn down what with everything from old fireplaces to doorknobs torn out to be sold for a few bucks, more people in the ratty old sweats that make up the uniform of the modern junkie, casing cars in the parking lots of the supermarket, checking the doors to see if they’re open and there’s anything to steal, eyeing you to see if you might be a mark for a few bucks, but I’m sure there are another thousand towns just like it. I grew up in New York City, and even though there were lots of muggings, it was never as bad as that. I heard about meth heads in Pennsylvania who kidnapped dogs at highway rest stops as long as they were wearing tags with numbers to call for ransom. A cop who pulled me over for no reason told me it was because of all the meth trouble they were having.

Out in the country, it’s the farm kids, their neighbors, their parents. Everyone nods with understanding when someone describes the way a property gets run down when someone starts on meth. The dogs get tied to trees, the horses start to show their ribs.

Reading about this stuff in the paper is one thing, but when you get as close a look at America as I’ve had over the past few years, you see how bad it really is. And it is bad. This is not a crime wave. This isn’t about weak character. This is about brain science, and we better start treating it like the epidemic it is, not a crime wave. The war on drugs is just another war on the poor. The crime is caused by the disease and by those who make billions from it, from the Oxycontin family to the private prison contractors. And now that we’re leaving it in the hands of Trump’s crooked son-in-law to figure out, nothing will happen. They’re probably in on it.

A lot of good people are going down.

Getting by with a little help from R.K. Beker

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Even if Roo understands how exhausted I am all the time, she doesn’t carry the leash back to the camper to relieve me of the weight. If anything, she must think I’m in great shape because I don’t stay in bed until 1 or 2 in the afternoon the ways she does. She asks to carry it because it’s her signal that’s she’s had enough and because it somehow represents loot. Usually I don’t give it to her unless she’s wearing her collar and it’s clipped to it, because every once in a while she tries to bury it, but sometimes I give in and give it to her even if she’s not wearing the collar and hope for the best.

This land of many contrasts

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A few days ago, an article appeared on CNN’s web site that got skewered on Twitter for being badly written. One of the standout sentences was that Trump, “… was on the tiled patio of Mar-a-Lago, bathed in golden light, with his wife and son Barron, who had reached teenagerhood two days earlier” before droning on about his coterie of confidants, his legal albatross, opening a new chapter of which Trump will only get to write part of the script (just typing that hurts), and more.

But, teenagerhood? Is that even something people reach? Bathed in golden light? Trump? The only thing Trump bathes are the cans of Aqua Net he hides behind a bust of Robert E. Lee. The best one-line critique of the article came from author and editor Benjamin Dreyer, who wrote, “I’ve never seen an entire article’s worth of “is a land of contrasts,” which was funny because even though the article didn’t use that cliché, the rest of its style was filled with them. I felt a little sorry for the guy whose byline was on the story. A decent editor would have slapped him around a little and brought him back to his senses and he wouldn’t have had to suffer the ridicule when thousands of people jumped on with “land of contrast” jokes.

It’s worth noting that CNN, which is run by the former producer of The Apprentice, a man who has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect thousands of hours of footage of Trump saying more of the sort of things we’ve already heard Trump say about women and minorities, recently hired as its political director a woman with no prior journalistic experience beyond right-wing conspiracy theory. Obama birth certificate, Pizzagate, Uranium One, massacred first graders being crisis actors hired for a false flag operation, that kind of stuff. The world of journalism, atop the pinnacle of which this web site is of course perched, was stunned by the hiring.  And she hasn’t disappointed. Since she got there, Trump started to show up bathed in a little more golden light.

But… “Land of contrasts?” Is that so bad? Because no matter how much I wrack my brain trying to avoid using a cliché, I can think of no other way to describe Oklahoma than as a land of contrasts. Wait — I’ve got it: land of many contrasts would be better. Oklahoma, land of many contrasts where the one thing you can bet the farm on is that if you don’t like the weather just wait a half hour because it’ll change and stop raining cats and dogs for as far as the eye can see. 

No. As you can see in the photo, there’s no other way to describe this corner of Oklahoma. True, it might have been a stretch to shoot the photo in color, because the light Roo was bathed in happened to be quite golden, and what with Roo being a Golden, things started to get out of hand and go downhill from there, so I went with black and white in the accompanying photo, resulting in the usual top-notch literary quality you have come to expect here. That’s how a pro operates, folks.

So, Roo and I bid you adieu from this land of many contrasts, where, between you, me and the fencepost, if you want to keep up with the Joneses all you have to do is build a better mouse, and all the world’s dogs, or at least Roo, will lead you down the garden path and straight to the poorhouse.

Today's history lesson

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It is a little-known fact that before the advent of the bulldozer, in the days when draught dogs pulled beer wagons, dogs were widely employed as earth movers and military entrenchment technicians. Here, Roo demonstrates one of the ways her forebears might have assisted in the failed defense of the Maginot Line against the Hun. Even without the fitment of any type of cowcatcher or plowing apparatus, a dog with Roo’s crack training is capable of tunneling as much as two kilometers per day. Had there been a way to force a mouse to burrow along a predetermined path, that output could have been increased, but many dog programs ended when World War I did, and, fortunately, as the world’s militaries moved on to other methods such as large scale nighttime incendiary and nuclear bombardment, research was diverted to peacetime activities, leading instead to the development of other technologies, most notably among them the greyhound racetrack mechanical rabbit.

A horse who likes Roo

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Some horses like goats, some like dogs. The trainer of the legendary race horse Seabiscuit knew Seabiscuit needed a pal, and they tried all sorts of pets out on him before he finally settled on a particular dog who became one of his best friends (if you haven’t read Laura Hillebrand’s book, stop whatever you’re doing and read it now. You won’t be able to put it down. It’s brilliant and the author manages to make the horse the main character of his story, and what a character he was. In the movie based on the book, they made it all about the humans, and while their stories are wonderful, Seabiscuit was a real star.). He was a very friendly horse with a lot of personality quirks and without the companionship of a good dog he never felt quite up to snuff.

While this horse may lack Seabiscuit’s esprit de guerre and earning power, she shares his fondness for dogs. She and a couple of other horses live in a big pasture on this Oklahoma ranch, and any time she spots Roo she runs over to say hi to her. Roo may be frightened by many things, but not other animals, all of whom she looks upon as inferiors, so she only returns her kindly look with the bossy one you can make out in this photograph. She’ll return a sniff, but that’s about it. And if she sees the horses standing in the pasture late at night, she likes to give them a few deep barks to let them know she’s keeping an eye on them. Still, this one always tries. Though I doubt it, maybe Roo will warm up to her one day.