Rattlesnakes, Foxtail and Bears; OH MY!It's been four years since I purged my belongings and tiptoed into life on the road and off the grid.
The journey originated with a touch of romanticism most likely founded in my long desire to move back into the warm embrace of nature and the ideals I associate with that lifestyle. After a year in my first motor home and the subsequent shift to my big old diesel suburban and now actually OFF the grid on a remote hill in Northern California much has changed.
The romantic vision that once hummed as a background loving call beyond the confines of the ordinary has been replaced with a more personal, visceral experience that continues to evolve as I dance with the infinite in beauty and challenge. In a sense the romantic within me has grown more fervent and yet, not unlike my experience with maturity, it has deepened in spite of what might otherwise seem subdued. In reality, it is more a part of my experience now on a real, tangible level with the added benefit offered by conscious observation and intentional integration into my living experience.
I am knitted to the land around me in a manner unexpected as I embrace my third winter on the hill that has become my home for now. The land and its inhabitants have brought with them many lessons. I have grown deeply invested in seeking out the teachers that abide by the laws of the universe and in whom I share my personal pilgrimage and have been richly rewarded.
Two years ago my friend Tina Grello joined me for a few months on this little hill with its serpentine, long, bumpy winding road 35 minutes from the nearest teensy town and our flimsy link to the smallest vestige of civilization. One of the many fond memories of her time here on the mountain was the afternoon she caught on film my first rattlesnake capture. The moment typifies for me the exhilarating spin of the wheel of fortune that is my walk on this land.
If you are to know me well, looking more deeply into this process might shed some light on what precisely I am speaking about. It is not a matter of capturing the terrifying snake, nor is it being, in any fashion in control of the situation that brings about this sense of exhilaration. It is rather, the clarifying and conscious direction of the energetic and emotional fluctuations within that offers me the thrill of accomplishment. It is in this very dance that my greatest thrill exists in life as a general rule. But in facing off with high contrast, (meaning challenges that are unexpected and appear out of my control), the delight of a task performed successfully from the foundation of love and alignment of body, energy and mind my profound joy blossoms.
The first safe and gentle rattlesnake capture was nabbed by my dear friend Tina in the below video. We have a long shared joke about how her utter dismay at my so called bravery made her drop the camera at the most crucial moment.. so pardon the momentary blip in her video record of the first (and only recorded) capture.
Bravery is a funny thing really. It only exists in the face of fear. That in mind. This was no act of bravery but rather one of joy, discovery and refined, conscious movement into balance of breath, thinking and emotional intention.
This has become my task. It has always been in ways integrated into my daily walk, for as long as I can remember. But, now I have a language for it and a process that keeps the practice alive and in perpetual evolution as a personal commitment to a living process as opposed to a vague concept that resides in the reasoning center of my mind. I have come to understand more fully the difference between accepting a concept as a position of value and moved more deeply into a way of residing with life, recognizing my greatest joy is birthed in my conscious engagement with the living experience.
And so, I have looked at my experiences on this hill from a new perspective and in that shift found the visceral experience again in the forefront of my joy and engaged intimately with my conscious mind and larger experience.
It might be interesting for my east coast friends and family to understand that rattlesnakes hold far less challenge for me in my daily walk than the foxtail grasses do of this area. With now 8 safe and gentle captures of rattlesnakes of all ages and sizes behind me I can say this with a high level of practice behind me to know it to be true.
If you are as unfamiliar with foxtail as I was when first warned about them, let me tell you from first hand experience. These grasses are no joke. I liken them to a fine balance between diminutive, powerful spears, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxtail_(diaspore) ). To say they are pernicious is a monumental understatement. Disguised in a beauty reminiscent of lovely grains of wheat, these deadly sheaths of destruction get embedded in the coat of my very wooly Shiloh Shepherd Yona whose undercoat is more malamute than shepherd. It is because of his well being these grasses have impacted my journey with a fierceness that far overshadows my walk with rattle snakes, bears, cougars or coyote.
The thing about foxtail is first off, they are EVERYWHERE. While living here, one of my tasks as care taker on this 80 acre rolling, majestic, silent hill is to keep the grasses at bay. This translates into weed whipping acres and acres of land through three seasons. The acreage that requires taming is fairly estimated to be in the range of 5 acres all totaled. However, that figure must be multiplied when the growth factor for this plant is realized. Typically the speed the grasses grow require 3 to 5 times if I am somewhat lazy, meaning.. I let the grasses GROW before I cut them down.
Originally the task was daunting beyond description. But over time, like anything I have come to terms with it. The task is unavoidable for several reasons. Primarily the fire code requires all properties and out buildings/ structures to have a 100' clearance of all grasses and ground litter in order to afford our property the immeasurable value of assured back up should fire be presented. The fire teams will not battle for the safety of your property should you opt to not adhere to the 100' rule.
The lessor value for this task is my primary concern since it includes the well being of my dear canine companion. If I do not keep an eye out for the foxtail, be it cutting them down or exploring my boy's body for any hint of the little beasties in his pads and coat, the small but formidable spears will find their way through his thick coat, burrowing ever deeper penetrating flesh and (hard as it is to believe) bone.
Given my boy's coat structure and scale this amounts to gathering 5-30 grains out of each foot in the approach to dry season and up in the 100s in his coat. It is not just the sheer numbers of the challenge that makes that dance dwarf any challenge I find with rattlesnakes but really that the snakes almost every time offer a warning of my (or my dog's) close proximity to them. They have no more interest in our entanglement then I with them. However, the foxtail show no warning except, in a more eerie momentary sneeze from the long, broad, exploring nose of our canine friends. The explosive sneeze initiated by an inhaled foxtail demonstrates the seriousness of the matter without question if you are within earshot. Without spelling it out fully an overlooked foxtail in the nasal passage of any animal is where all the fun stops and a vet visit is a necessity.
And yet, even the toe to toe dance with foxtails on this hill has subsided to a quiet acceptance that even foxtails have a purpose on this planet, even if it means only that I am to become a profoundly adept and well muscled weed whipper and my dogs become well seated in my daily examination of their feet and coat. Balanced out with the silence this hill allows me off the grid has out weighed it for sure. But, more importantly it is not in spite of the rattlesnake and foxtail that I find pleasure here, but rather because of it. It is, after all in my dance with these things that I have become a master at transforming what is uncomfortable and distasteful into experiences of value and ultimately peaceful acceptance.
I have looked back upon my close encounters with a young cougar one rainy night, a very large, male brown bear, the coyote on our property during day light hours, rattlesnake and yes, even the foxtail with a fond appreciation because the growth and unshakable exhilaration that stems from a life well lived. It is in the essence of these experiences that divine inspiration flies to me. It is in the shining wealth of these experiences that my soul blossoms to something as large as the redwoods that inhabit this area. Like the redwoods, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoioideae ), my soul has undergone transformation allowing for a temperament more receptive to the high extremes of a life half spent in winter and the other immersed in summer.
Perhaps it is like the old painting axiom: Chiarocscuro, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiaroscuro ), which speaks to the beauty of contrast between light and dark and in composition. We experience the exhilaration of rich, vast beauty because of its counter balance with it's opposite, without which the so called beauty would be subdued into the background of experience.
So, give me the rattlesnakes, the cougar and coyote and even the foxtail for with it I appreciate all the more the rich, vibrant beauty and joy of a life invested in the exaltation found in joy won by the dance with that which appears unwanted.