With DEBRA COPPINGER HILL
For Those Who Live the West and Those Who Dream of Living It!
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"In the sage-brush when he's herding, sometimes his spirit sags;
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Debra Coppinger Hill
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Snakes in My Décolletage
When it’s cold I dress in the height of rural western fashion Carhartt® insulated overalls and coat. Though my insulated underwear beneath might not match, I am totally coordinated in tan canvas as I make my way to the barn through mud and ice. As I go about the morning feeding of horses, cattle, goat, cats and dogs I consider myself fortunate to be living my life as a ranch woman.
I try to do my chores efficiently, using as few steps as possible and wasting little time. To save trips back to the barn I leave the shoulder straps of my overalls loose, forming a chest pocket into which I stick supplements, tools, etc. as I go about feeding the mares nearest the barn.
This morning I walked into the feed room, reached up and pulled down a square bale of hay. Stretching higher up for a second bale I pulled it towards me, tilting it against my chest for balance. It was early morning and it was dark...but not so dark that I couldn’t see the snake on the other end of the bale. I started to step back to allow the bale to just fall when my legs encountered the previously dumped bale. I sat down with the second bale square against my chest. As the snake slid forward, I swear to you, not since Eve in the Garden had a snake smiled in such a mischievous way.
I am not afraid of snakes. I have a healthy respect for them; especially when I have a hoe or shovel in my hands. As I pushed the bale away the snake slid tail first into the "pocket" of my overalls. At this point I would like to tell you that I was calm and used lady-like language; however, that would be a bold-faced lie. Falling off the first bale onto my back I had a sudden flash of what it must be like to be a turtle. Thick, insulated clothes make it very hard for short, round women to get back up once they are in a prone position. Grabbing the wire of the bale, I managed to turn myself over and get to my feet. Once standing I began "the zipper dance". You know the steps...pull, tug, pull, stomp, pull, pull, pull!
I made my way out of the feed room and into the corral. Gathering my wits, I grasped the top of the zipper and the tongue and moved the zipper on the front of my overalls about halfway down. Unfortunately, this also loosened them at the waist and instead of falling out as I had hoped; Mr. Snake proceeded down into the left leg of the overalls, which fit me just snug enough that I could feel his every movement. Hope springs eternal when you are in a desperate situation; I figured he would go on down and would simply fall out the bottom of the leg of his insulated prison. That, was entirely too optimistic on my part. It was wet and muddy and I had pulled on my big rubber boots, with the bottoms of my overalls securely tucked inside.
As I danced about, my daughter came around the corner of the barn. Throwing myself onto my back in the muck of the corral I shouted, "Quick, peel me out of these overalls! Snake! Snake! Snake!" Kicking and struggling with the side zipper on the leg, I awaited her help; but she was nowhere to be seen! The mental image of a turtle on its back once again invaded my mind. As I screamed her name I saw her coming from the barn with a hoe and looking at the ground. "Where, Mom? Where?!" she kept asking.
"IN MY OVERALLS! GET ME OUT OF THESE!"
Grasping my boots she tossed them aside and began to tug at my overalls, which were still secured by their straps over my shoulders…inside my coat. I was grappling with the coat while my daughter dragged me around the muddy corral. I had the sudden realization that I was a turtle on its back and had the irrational thought "What would a turtle do?" (However, pulling my head in and ignoring the situation was not an option at this point.)
"COAT!" I screamed,"OFF!" Fortunately my daughter speaks fluent screech and was able to translate my cries into directions. Sitting me up, she jerked my coat off and returned to tugging at the legs of my overalls. With one industrious yank they came off and as they flew into the air, so did the snake.
I love old Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons, especially when impending disaster is played out in slow motion. This is the first time in my life that real time took on all the qualities of that poor Coyote having a boulder fall off a cliff onto him. The snake flew up, went into a stall, hung momentarily (still smiling, I assure you), curled into position, straightened out like an Olympic diver and propelled himself straight onto my stomach! My daughter, also in slow motion, watched the snake go up and down and made one comment, "Duh-ang!"
Rolling to one side I dumped the snake into the mud, grasped a panel, scrambled to my feet and grabbed the hoe. I would like to tell you again that I was very lady-like and magnanimous and that I allowed Mr. Snake to make his escape unscathed. This also, would be a lie. I do believe however, that when Mr. Snake got to reptile heaven he told the gatekeeper that he was dispatched from earth by a United States Marine Corp drill instructor wearing muddy long johns and socks wielding a sharp hoe like a machete. I will admit I may have over-reacted a teeny bit, as Mr. Snake vaguely resembled stir-fry when I was done.
My husband made it in from his latest job in the Gulf and went out to do the evening feeding. I had not related the day’s events to him as I was in the shower for the second time that day. (More mud, a skittish bottle calf, you get the picture.) Fortunately for me, my daughter was with a friend and had not regaled her father with her version. (Which differs slightly from mine…I did not pummel the snake with my fists nor did I shout, "This is for women everywhere!" Not that I recall anyway.)
As my husband came back into the house I heard him ask, "Who killed my snake?"
"What do you mean by my snake, Cowboy?" I asked in that unnerving controlled 'mommy' voice that children and husbands fear.
Silence from the hall.
"You knew, it was there?" I asked. "And you didn’t kill it?"
"Well, it eats mice and it never causes any trouble."
"It slid off a bale and into my overalls."
"I think I’ll go back out and spend a little time in the barn before supper" he said as he retreated outdoors. Smart man.
There were lessons learned from this incident. I learned that children do listen to what we say. My daughter made me put seven dollars in the swear word fine jar for what she heard and told the whole county that her mother can kill a snake with lightning speed once it is outside her clothes. I learned that it doesn’t matter if your long-john tops and bottoms match as mud co-ordinates everything into barnyard brown. I learned that my husband is pretty savvy when it comes to knowing when to make a quiet exit. I also learned not to repeat this story to friends or Jon will write a song about it.
The snake learned a valuable lesson too…Turtles, are tougher than they look.
"Ride Hard, Laugh Often, Live Free!"
*Debra Coppinger Hill – Riding Drag http://RidingDrag.blogspot.com
*The snake mentioned in this true story is a non-poisonous barn snake that survives on rodents and small mammals and birds.
RIDING DRAG is written each week by Award Winning Cowgirl Poet and Columnist Debra Coppinger Hill.
Writing what she knows best this Cherokee Rancher tells the stories of her life on the 4DH Ranch in Oklahoma and shares interviews with Cowboys & Cowgirls she meets along the trail. Throw in some Cowboy Poetry, Humour and Stray thoughts and you have RIDING DRAG.
Please enjoy this archived copy of one our favorite RIDING DRAG columns!
Western Humor Column featuring Cowboy Poetry, Cowboy Culture and
Observations about the American West both Past and Present,
Interviews with Those Who Live the Western Lifestyle & News from the 4DH Ranch by Award Winning Cowgirl Poet, Columnist & Motivational Speaker
Debra Coppinger Hill.