Escapee Takes Cover at the Ranch

It was a dark and stormy morning… No, Really! And my dogs howled and barked and carried on so loudly that at 5:15 it seemed like the end of the world would happen any second. Something prowled outside the fence, and it was frightening my dogs. I wandered to the dark kitchen, watching the rain beat against the window. It couldn’t be coyotes. Even they didn’t like hunting in the rain at 5 a.m.

Not a Bunny-In-The-Yard Bark

As I got a better idea what was happening, the dogs continued their constant barking. This was not their typical “bunny-in-the-yard” bark. They sounded scared and defensive. I peered through the kitchen window and a large, white body glistened in the half hazy dawn. I stared at it for a long moment until my eyes focused on two beady eyes.

I even backed away. Then a huge pink snout poked through the cat door in the wall next to me. That was a clincher — I realized an escapee had come to The Rusty Bucket Ranch. It wasn’t my hog, so I called my next door neighbor, apologized for calling so early, and asked if they knew anyone raising a hog. Yes! His son down the road was fattening up a white Duroc. Aha! Mystery solved.

How Do You Get a Hog to Follow You?

First, you get dressed warmly because the early morning rain was nearly sleet and driving hard from the north. I bundled up, grabbed a few handfuls of dog cereal and tossed them into a metal bowl. Any pig worth his weight would come running to a promise of food in a rattle-rattle bowl. I was right. On the first rattle, the 100 pound hog was at my front door snuffling and waiting for food.

He seemed nice enough. He followed me out across the yard and back to the empty horse corrals. I knew these old pens would come in handy again. “Piggy” followed me like dog. By the time I reached the corral gate, the owner and his daughter arrived with their own rattle-rattle bowl. I told them the hog would be safe until daylight. They promised to be back soon. They also promised a BBQ pork sandwich when the time came.

BBQ on the Hoof

Once the storm dissipated, they returned in their pickup truck to escort the escapee back to his own pen. “Miss Pinky” followed faithfully the promise of food, and I watched from my window as a little girl, bundled up and sitting on the tailgate, rattled her bowl all the way home. Not quite the nursery rhyme… but you get the idea.

I perked some coffee and sat in the recliner letting the steam warm up my still chilly nose. The storm continued as the sun rose higher but, it came to me that so many strays arrive at the ranch … and I’m warmly encouraged and greatly entertained to know I have “the beacon” flashing above my roof.

Science Lab: What’s In Your Ranch Refrigerator?

Early years on the ranch were full of open-eyed excitement for my young daughter. She wanted to know how everything worked: from cocoons to wasps, bat to lizards. Everything was a potential science lab experiment.

I must admit my own mom was never very good around icky things. Squeamish was the word for it. She avoided dead stuff and called on me to rescue her from a bug, a spider, or the very large Sphinx moth that often looked like a bat rather than a gentle moth. I loved investigating the insides of stuff, mostly bugs. Squeamish was not in my vocabulary.

So when my daughter showed my same interests in nature’s surprises, well, I couldn’t help but beam from ear-to-ear. Once that door was open, all sorts of icky stuff arrived in my refrigerator and freezer. Science Lab was open.

If the cat’s killed a scorpion, and it was huge and hairy, then it went into the freezer. If a bird miscalculated our front window for a portal through the house, she was lovingly placed in the freezer as a volunteer cadaver. Lizards, among field mice, were often brought in by the ranch cats. Their offering was our next lab experiment.

One time, the cat’s brought in a barely living pregnant lizard. She grabbed it up and showed me that it only had minutes to live. It was true. Poor Mrs. Lizard was on her deathbed. Her fat stomach was bulging. My daughter hoped little lizards might come out if we did surgery.

At age four, with the help of my “Exact-o“ knife and my able assistant at my elbow, we dissected it and found three large yellow egg sacs that would have grown into three sleek lizards. We were sad to find out that they were too immature to be recognizable as lizards. But it was interesting all the same. As long as she was wide open, the lizard that is, we found her heart, some purple and green organs, her spine and how the tail connected. In all, it was a great surgery.

My daughter, later on, had learned that skinning a snake is gruesomely cool. She asked if I could show her how it’s done. We have plenty of rattlers in the desert yet we shy away from them as most sane folks do. However, if you’re gonna skin one you need to find one. I must add that messing around with a rattler is something that takes skill and steady nerves. Don’t do this at home without someone to help you and who knows what he’s doing. I say “he” because most ladies don’t want to be in the same county with one. (In fact, I will not explain how to do this on the internet because of the safety factors involved. I don’t want you to get bitten.) Most desert dwellers won’t touch a snake. I don’t touch live ones, just the dead ones.

Sometimes we’ll kill a rattler that is in a dangerous place for our dogs. We don’t kill all rattlers, just the ones that are too stubborn to stay away from the ranch. Needless to say, we did have rattlers in the freezer with their skins, holding off until we had time to thaw and skin them. And, yes, they are edible but there are many other websites that can tell you how to whip up a Snake Fricassee much better than I can. Besides, it just tastes like tough chicken.

The bottom line here is that you can have a science lab in your freezer, too. You just need to capture different bugs, reptiles, and small critters that are easy to handle. Let nature take its course while providing you and your “students” a variety of dead stuff to prod and poke. Maybe your child will aspire to be a scientist, a lab technician, a doctor, or even a serial killer (It’s that how they all start? <grin>) … but we won’t go there.