Today, Wyokiddo and I went to play at the reservoir a few miles from our house. The water is so high right now, there wasn’t really much beach for her to play on, but we found some shallow water and some silt and she entertained herself for the better part of an hour.
I entertained myself watching the snakes. In the cottonwoods lining the reservoir, I spotted two snakes about 30 feet above the water. Each was well over five feet long (bullsnakes if I had to make a guess). They would climb the trunk, slither out on a branch, find where two branches grew together and slither to the next tree. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I was captivated and terrified all at the same time. In drawing up my pros and cons list for moving here, I forgot to put SNAKES in big, bold, capital letters in the con column.
Sure we had snakes in Boulder, but they were garter snakes and confined to just a few places in the mountains. Ten Sleep had rubber boas that were amazingly cool and looked like giant earthworms. And we’d see rattlesnakes when we were antelope hunting in the Washakie badlands, like in this photo. Eastern Wyoming is home to garter snakes, bull snakes, rattlesnakes, racers and gopher snakes, all of which could be hanging out withing a few yards of our house.
And the bird farm where we live is a snake mecca. Birds eat grain. Grain attracts mice and mice attract snakes. I know it’s only a matter of time before we have an encounter with a rattlesnake, and it terrifies me. Am I being rational? Well, no.
According to the Department of Wildlife at the University of Flordia, “Fewer than one in 37,500 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year (7-8,000 bites per year), and only one in 50 million people will die from snakebite (5-6 fatalities per year). Did you know that you are nine times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than to die of venomous snakebite?”
In my rational mind, I understand those statistics. And I know that snakes do a service by eating mice and other vermin that spread disease. But the fear is real enough to me that I refuse to let our dogs or Wyokiddo play in the tall grass in areas around the pheasant pens. And I struggle with this fear, because I want Wyokiddo to grow up respecting these amazing creatures not being deathly afraid of them, like me.
And that was before I saw them climb trees…Sweet Jesus, this might be a long summer.
Border collies are working dogs. They were bred to help with livestock, specifically sheep, and are the kind of dog that needs a job to keep them happy. They are known for their intelligence, obedience and athleticism. Ours is known for barking at unseen assailants and the uncanny ability to get tangled in my feet as I’m about to head down the stairs.
For the last nine years, Archie has been unemployed, because there’s really no need for a stock dog at a fish hatchery.
Since our move to the bird farm, this 12-year old bored collie has been helping my husband herd the pheasant chicks into their barns at night. Now he’s earning his keep and he couldn’t be happier. Today, he helped move 5,000 chicks to their big enclosure.
This is what a happy Archie dog looks like. A dog so tired he’s snoring with his eyes open. Congratulations on the new job, big guy!
My daughter, Wyokiddo, turned 3 a few days ago, and we celebrated by hosting a party for family and a few friends. Wyokiddo loved seeing her grandparents, and especially loved showing everyone around our new house and the bird farm.
As everyone was checking out the pheasant chicks, my nephew (14) approached me and asked if I knew how to catch a frog. He and his brother (12) had found a toad in the weeds and wanted to catch it to look at it closer, but didn’t know how, or if it was even allowed.
Sure enough, they’d found one of the thousand Woodhouse toads we have around here. I scooped him up in my hands and explained that he was a toad, not a frog. Wyokiddo and the boys examined the toad in my hands, touched it’s skin and then watched as I released him and he hopped away.
Thinking about that moment later, I felt both a little sad and incredibly blessed. I was sad because my nephews didn’t grow up in a place where they could spend summer days catching toads or frogs or salamanders or turtles and learning more about the natural world around them. And I felt blessed knowing Wyokiddo could.
My husband is a mid-level civil servant. We live in a house owned by the state and take care of wildlife that belongs to the citizens of Wyoming. We’ll never be rich and famous, we’ll never own houses on both coasts and when we finally save up enough money for a boat, it will be a used boat.
But we are rich in other ways, one being that Wyokiddo will grow up living a toad catching kind of life. She’ll know that toads have rough, bumpy skin and don’t need to live in water. And that toads are easier to catch than frogs. And that snakes aren’t slimy and what a Meadowlark’s song sounds like. We are blessed because she will learn all this from her own experiences running barefoot across the country, not in a book or second-hand.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with growing up in a city. I have wonderful memories of ice-cream cones from the DQ and amusement parks in the summer. But my favorite times growing up were spent on the back of a horse exploring the wide-open spaces and the other critters who shared them. There is something special about growing up with room to breathe and the ability to explore wild places and wild things. It’s one thing to learn about grassland ecosystems in a textbook. But that’s not near as exciting as sitting on a rise watching a prairie dog colony talk back and forth or seeing a tom turkey strut and display for his hens.
“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
I am grateful for our family to be living a toad catching kind of life.
Wyoming gets a lot of publicity for what nerdy wildlife biologists like my husband like to call “charismatic mega fauna,” i.e., grizzly bears, wolves, elk, moose, etc. But I have to say, I think some of our “minor” fauna is pretty cool, too!
Our move from the high altitudes of western Wyoming brought us closer to family and friends. And it has brought us closer to bugs. Lots and LOTS of bugs. Ants, beetles, earwigs, millers, spiders, mosquitoes, flies, pill bugs, crickets and some sort of huge moth that are seriously the things of which nightmares are made.
I’m no shrinking violet. I grew up around horses and livestock so I’m no stranger to insects. But this new combination of lower elevation, farmground and living next to 20,000 pheasants has brought more bugs than I’ve ever been around in my life. The sheer volume and pervasiveness of them is driving me, well, buggy!
Today, my daughter asked to play in her sandbox. We pulled off the lid and were greeted with a squirmy mass of tiny bugs that looked like baby earwigs. Dozens and dozens of them.
Insert full body shiver here. BWAAACCCHHHKKKK!
Insects, spiders and the like have their place in the world. Just not in my house and not in Wyokiddo’s sandbox. Chemicals also have their place in this world, but I try to minimize our exposure to them. With a toddler and three dogs running around the homestead, I’m not crazy about saturating every square inch of our home with commercial pesticides. So I’m turning to some DIY insect repelling remedies. I’m considering it my own personal science experiment. So here are the remedies I will be testing (most use essential oils).
- Mosquito Repellent from StepIntoMyGreenWorld.com
- Spider Spray from KidsActivitiesBlog.com
- Ant Killer from Lorigama.wordpress.com
- Ant Repellent from Innerchildfun.com
- Tick Repellent from thenaturallivingsite.com
- Earwig Repellent from ehow.com
I hope these work, because as I’ve said, I hate the thought of layering on chemicals to keep the mostly harmless bugs at bay. We started with the Ant Repellent in Wyokiddo’s sandbox. I don’t know if it will help with ants and earwigs and the like but she sure had fun sprinkling it around and decorating her “cupcakes.”
Do you have a favorite homemade pest repellent?