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steven smith

Almost stepped on a rattlesnake, again.

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Geez I must be lucky, not only to have found three rattlesnakes in as many weeks just by walking around my buddies ranch, but to have found two of them where my next step would have been! 

Todays snake was waiting for me underneath a low bush on top of a big rock, the path I was going to take was partially blocked by some nasty jumping cactus so I was setting myself up for a hop through the narrow pass and with my left foot in the air about to start the hop I see a three foot rattler just laying there about a foot away from my foot! I backed off and watched it for a while, wondering why they don't use their rattle. A lot of the critters just sit still until you're on top of them, I don't think you can see anything moving much slower than you are. 

The close one before that must have stopped in its tracks when I walked up, this one was just as close, my next step would have been right on the sucker. I went out on that hike to find a senegalia tree, they're kinda like a mesquite, I wanted to see what the wood was like. Anyways, I'm stopped up on the hill looking for a tree, I look at the ground for a moment to check for crystals. No crystals, but as my view goes from my feet to the path ahead I see the snake! Just laying there! Like a danger stick. 

I saw a third one about five feet ahead of me on the shore of a water tank right where I was walking, if I wasn't the kind of person that likes to get real low in the woods and act a bit like an animal I would have been pretty close to that one too. He stayed there for a few hours.

anyways, I haven't been able to do much knife work other than forging out here so I've just been going nuts in the woods. I'm hoping to be back in my shop soon though. 

I've always been an outdoors person but I've learned a lot from being out here about two months now, I'll have a couple more stories later. 

I can't believe some people don't pay attention to what's around them!

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Ah, thought I had something to do for a second. 

So I've always loved snakes and bugs and all that, it's nice to see all the critters out here and the variety is something else coming from the suburbs of austin. One thing that I've noticed is that of all the spiders the brown recluse is the most common, there is one underneath pretty much every other rock I've picked up. And as for spiders with webs it seems like there's just as many black widows as brown recluse, they just live in cactus or dark corners, mostly in cactus though. There are all sorts of jumping spiders, some are bright orange and I found one that was a metallic green/blue. Wolf spiders are everywhere, huge wolf spiders, little dudes that would fit in your ear while you sleep, and a bunch that hang out around water.  Spiders aren't too big of a deal, just shake your clothes and boots before you put them on of course, I found one brown recluse in my clothes but I shook it out so it was alright. 

For every spider there is a bark scorpion, if there isn't a bark scorpion under a rock there are probably two of them. I have had the pleasure of being stung in the wrist by one while I was falling asleep on a couch. I felt a little fluttery thing on my wrist so I pulled it away, but then for some reason I put it right back in the same place, then it felt like someone dug a burning hot nose hair trimmer into my wrist and it electricuted me. The pain was instant. I tore apart the couch to see what it was and found not one but two scorpions with their claws locked together in their mating dance. Now according to every nature show I've ever seen I was about to have a very awful few days, so I checked the net to see what to do, turns out it's no big deal. Just a lot of pain that faded after 15 minutes. For a few days after that I was really unnerved by anything touching me but that's it. I caught both scorpions and had them in a measuring cup for a while, they didn't separate the whole time, it was really sweet, I didn't care about the sting after I figured out what they were up to.

Enough bug stuff. Something that I really wanted to do was go shooting in a kayak, so I brought a kayak out to a big water tank and shot at some drift wood on the bank (there was a big dirt berm where I was shooting so it was safe) but I found out that my scope had lost its zero in the past couple days, so at 50 feet it was off about 6 inches. Just horrible, maybe someone ran over my gun with a tractor and didn't tell me. I spent the rest of the .22 rounds from my marlin 60 and tossed it to the shore. After taking a few laps in the water tank I got out and found a frog sitting on the stock of my rifle, pretty sweet, I quoted Zardoz and told the frog "the gun is good". Now I had to find something else to do as my plans had gone awry, there wasn't really room to go kayaking, the tank was only about 50x70 feet.

I thought, if I can't go anywhere in the kayak I'll get another one and make myself a catamaran and just sit there and enjoy the thing. It took a few days to get it all together using only dead mesquite and carrying branches about a mile to the tank from the dead trees I had been felling. I took some sheet metal from an old nearby playhouse/fort that had fallen apart long ago and nailed it to the frame of the catamaran so I had somewhere to sleep, made a quick tent from a tarp on top of that, and it was done. And horrible, don't think I've done something great here. I almost slept on it one night but decided not to because I wasn't prepared at all (and then it rained!), a few nights later I decided it was time. That was the worst sleep I've ever had, the worst night I've ever had, there were Mosquitos of course and a spider bit me on the lip. but still, there was some good to it, the fish danced around me and the frogs, they all sang. I got a lot of thinking done while the wind whispered to me and slapped the tarp in my face. Maybe I was too far out of my element. 

I want to see the coyotes rushing through the trees, but maybe I'm not supposed to. I had a dream about them. I was in an apartment complex, a white husky runs up to me and bites my leg, then runs off. A little girl walks by and tells me there are coyotes in the courtyard so I go to see them. There are a few other people watching the fifteen or so white coyotes, the coyotes start to encircle me and I wake up while fighting them off with a machete. 

Today I've decided I'm gonna leave as soon as I can, I really need to be making knives in my own shop that is my room at home. I realized it when I almost stepped on the rattle snake today, this is a great place for me to think, but not to do. I had my first panic attack out here, but I knew what it was so I was able to relax, walking down from a hill into a meadow the bees and birds and bugs were so overwhelming. I've been here before but not like this!

i saw an ostrich chasing a bunch of buzzards while driving on the highway not long ago, can you imagine that in the middle of Texas!

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Don't know but I enjoyed the read anyway. Thanks

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I like snakes, and don't mind rats, mice or the general vermin.  Spiders on the other hand... yuck :P

How cool is it where you have been finding the rattlers?  I'm wondering if they were warming up for the day and too docile/sluggish to bother to warn you of their presence.  We have a lot of snakes, but this is one of the few areas in the US where there are no rattlers :( 

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I'm between llano and mason, tx. I saw one snake yesterday morning and it had rained a bit in the past few days, that one was still warming up. It ticked at me a few times with its tail, just one little sound, when they do rattle you can really hear it, anybody would know what the sound was. The snake on the hill I found in the afternoon, it wasn't too hot to me so maybe high 80s. I guess they don't need to be quick till they strike. 

I caught a big Texas rat snake about a week ago, now this snake shook its tail at me, again the snake was just stopped in my path! I found a baby in my yard once so I brought it inside and later took it to school with me where one of my teachers had a few rat snakes in the class. My cats found the baby snake before me so he was a little beat when I first had it but the next day it would strike at anything that moved from the other side of the room while in its box! So when I found this big guy, who was four of five feet long, I was pretty cautious. I've had a ribbon snake bite my index finger and work its way up to my hand, it's not easy at all to get a snake off of you and their teeth really are razor sharp, not like how a cats claws are razor sharp but sharp like shards of broken glass. I chased him through some bushes and leaf litter then grabbed the rat snake by the tail and looked around for a stick to pick up the front end of it, that's really fun to do by the way, like going to quench a blade and having to look for your quenchant. It only got aggressive once which surprised me because they're supposed to be really mean, it was a pretty slow snake but it knew how to hide despite being mostly black. So I got a stick and took it down to a sandy bank on the creek and watched it slither around a bit, then I took it to show my buddy. This whole time I'm keeping away from the head of the snake, I can't imagine it would be nice to have all of your teeth snagged in some dirty jeans that smell like someone died in them, he turned out to be pretty chill and  I like to think he enjoyed being carried when I let him down low so he could float through to top of the tall grass while I walked.

there are also a bunch of coachwhip snakes and man those are fast, probably as fast as me. there are lizards everywhere too, mostly these smooth scaled green with black stripes dudes, when I ride my bike down the dirt road they get scared and run in front of me, they are incredibly fast and I've only caught one I found sunbathing early in the morning. 

The coachwhips, hares, and doves are all pretty startling when they take off. Sometimes it's a bit irritating to to be wandering through the trees and then something explodes right next to you. But I'm doing the same to them pretty much. 

I sang a little song about it after I found a baby deer and it ran off screaming for its life. It starts like, I hate all the animals, and the animals hate me too, you say hello to a rattlesnake and he bites you in your shoe. Then the last verse was something like, well I hate the animals I can see, that they're all just the same as me, when a baby deer runs off and screams, that he hates the animals and they hate me.

of course I don't hate any animals, it's just a dumb song :)

animals will leave you alone when people wouldn't, and as for stepping on rattlesnakes I think I'm more likely to get hit by a car (again) then to get bit by any kind of snake. 

Heres some good advice that I see a whole buttload of people don't follow in Austin, look both ways before you cross the street. I got hit by a car because the guy didn't stop all the way at a stop sign and was only looking left while making a right turn. Nobody is looking for you!

 

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Austin is like that one ex... from a few years back. You just have to keep going back because it's a lot of fun, but you can't stay for long because they annoy the hell outa you.

Where were you from before being out there? I know the area quite well where you've been at. Between Mason and Llano. Many a time I've been at my best bud's ranch up in Mason, not to mention the couple of ranches in Bertram I've been to every other weekend. Never once saw a rattlesnake out there though! Plenty of coachwhips (mean little bastards), plenty of pulling 6 ft ratsnakes out of the chicken coop, a few cottonmouths. Hell, we'd go swimming with watersnakes all the time in some creeks. I love snakes but boy, do they still get the blood pumping when I see em!

Thanks for sharing, was fun to read!

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Where am I from before being in mason? Austin, or south austin, rather :). I was at the Kothman ranch, there is a small graveyard with a historical site marker on highway 29 (also called austin st. On google maps I noticed) where the first kothmans in Texas now rest, I thought that was very interesting.

I would have liked to catch a coachwhip but they are so fast, I'm pretty sure I saw a cotton mouth, all I could see was a stout black snake going in the water a few feet ahead of me. 

Well I have a couple more stories about pulling logs. 

The first log was a fresh oak about  16-18" wide and 6' long, I could just barely stand it up on end. Now I'm not too sure about this, but I've never seen a big log for sale, I think people like to cut up wood as much as they can so they can get more money from you. I needed a work bench so I figured a big 300 pound log with a flattened top would work alright. I like to move heavy things, I was going to pick up the log on one end and pivot it on the other 180 degrees over and over again but it was too big to do that much and I had about a quarter mile to move it. I used a couple of ropes thinking that I could roll the log onto one, flip the log over, and when I pulled on the wound up rope the log would roll and wind up the other. What that really did was make a tangled mess of rope. So I took off one rope and went like this, I'd prop up the end of the log, wind the rope and then pull it. That took about an hour, lots of fun, it was Arbor Day so at one point I sang "i am a lumberjack and I'm okay" and just then I walked backwards into a cactus and cursed for a second, then finished with "I cut down trees on Arbor Day". (Really it was already cut down a few months before)

The thing that bugs me most about Austin is that people don't look where they're going. they look at their cellphones while they j-walk so I tell them to pay attention or stay on the right side of mixed use trails or "don't move here" is a common plea from many young austinites. 

Anyways, I walked backwards into a cactus because I was singing and pulling a log, not sure if that's quite the same as j-walking but the end result was close enough. Wait that's not what the story was about, it was supposed to be a feat of strength! But I've led it to a fools tale. "Pay attention" seems to be a common theme here, I've been close to hitting a few j-walkers on my bicycle, it's hard for me to shout advice to them when they are wearing headphones. 

I used to be a real tough guy on a bike, proud and irritated maybe, but any idiot in a car can mash you and just drive away. It's like swords vs. guns. I find the sidewalks to be more interesting for my mountain bike but the cops will tell you it's illegal when it isn't..... 

NOW WE MOVE TO THE SECOND LOG PULLING

theres mesquite everywhere at the ranch but most of it is pretty thin, not big enough for a full tang knife handle. I scored a few burls and one good log, the log is about a foot wide and 7 feet long :):):) and I have it here with me at home. My preacous log, resting on top of an ash log I got from down the street. 

While I was camping on my terrible house boat from earlier I went out to find some firewood and came across a fallen mesquite tree, a big one. I made a turning saw with a saw blade I bought at a horrible "antique because it's rusty" store, later that day I saw the same blade for sale in a hardware store for 40 cents less.... The antiques guy was selling those Pakistan Damascus knives for twice what they cost on eBay. I've got some words for him, and a pair of ruined boots too! 

Oh, and I have this log story. So I found this big dead tree and thought about it for a while, a couple weeks later I started sawing in the heat of the day and in about an hour I separated the log from the rest of the tree. Now I had a big log out in the woods about a mile from the ranch house, I didn't want to use a truck to move it because that's really quite extreme and I wouldn't be playing any part in that. I tied my whip that I had made a few years ago around a protrusion on the log and tried to pull it, I wasn't worried about hurting the whip because it was just a simple three strand braid with some taper to it, pretty much just a leather rope. There was no way I could just yank on the thing to move it, too much surface area on the ground. I had to put the whip over my shoulder and back and lift the front of the log a bit so only the back end was dragging, it wasn't too bad from there but it took me an hour to move it that mile. Half way through I thought "so I guess I'm a horse now, or maybe a mule. Maybe I'm just a jackass!"

 in my pride and joy for the log I sang "I can do anything you can do, I can break my back just as quick as you, and if you say you've got nothing to do, I can do anything you can't do." 

If only... Motivation is often hard to find but I think I've got something. My home in Austin drains me. I've been setting up my shop and getting a few knife patterns made, I'm also making a miniature power hammer that's going well so far, it's going to be about 8" tall and use railroad spikes cut to appropriate shapes for the dies to give you a sense of scale. Having a shop is one of the most important things to me. I doubt I could make knives in an apartment or a rental house. A house should be a home, not an investment...

i made a new friend that was stowed away in a big oak burl, it's a red headed centipede! It's about 5 inches long and it's a true horror, the way it moves, it's the most timid and quick bug I've ever seen. I read they dry out quickly so I gave it a bit of water and watched it drink, it's just a big ol' bug. But man I'm glad I didn't bring that burl into my room with all my other fancy woods, I only saw the guy because I was going to play with my yari kanna and carve the burl a bit. 

My best friend likes to say "stay on the bounce" from the book starship troopers, so I'm off to breakfast now, then it's time for knife work. I'd like to heat treat the stuff I forged at the ranch and get some stock removal blanks cut out today, so long for now!

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There is a theory that rattlesnakes are evolving more toward not rattling , because rattling gets them killed . It would make sense , but I have no idea if that is the real cause . 

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Steven , there are some well respected herpetologists who have a theory that rattlesnakes are evolving to rattle less and less , because when people hear a snake rattle , they tend to hunt it down and kill it . This is just a theory , but it might explain what is happening .

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Steven, you have a great "voice" in your writing, please continue!

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