Ravens in the Mist

Taking a break from weed eating, I laid down next to my UNIT crane to watch some spectacular clouds flow past high above me. One minute I’m hot and uncomfortable in the direct heat, the next moment the clouds covering the sun made me wish for a sweater. Hearing the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk, I get on one elbow to shade my eyes to spot him. He sounded close by. Indeed, he was just to my left maybe sixty feet above me. He was making his unique call because he was pissed. My two ravens, Heckle and Jeckle, were harassing him out of their ‘zone’.

As I watched, more and more ravens arrived to assist in running the hawk off. Taking turns nipping at his tail, and coming in like Me 109’s on a B-17 bomber, the hawk was impotent to stop them. His only recourse was to go for altitude. Swinging in large circles while evading the irritating ravens. he was soon a speck in the sky. As the hawk reached a certain height, the ravens flew off at high speed in every direction. Once the speck disappeared, my ravens were back in their oak tree happy as clams. It dawned on me suddenly that both species had tactics. At the lower altitudes the ravens ruled. Once the hawk achieved a superior height where his larger wings could sustain flight easier for him then the smaller winged ravens, he could dive at will on them. Well aware of this fact, the ravens hid. Sweet!

I’m filling my Power Wagon with boulders from Spring Canyon one sunny day. It’s hot, and I took a break from rolling the larger stones up a plank into my flatbed. Taking a seat under the shade of a large juniper, some movement across the narrow dry wash catches my eye. It was a large black tarantula doing battle with a large black hornet with bright red wings. As the large spider tried to maneuver away, the hornet or wasp would checkmate him from escaping. Ultimately the flying insect using only his legs to avoid the spiders mandibles and stinger accomplished his mission. To get underneath the spider to deliver a couple of stings to a weak spot in its abdomen thus disabling it. The wasp then started dragging the spider across the sand and pebbles to a hole about five feet away. It then disappeared into the abandoned gopher hole dragging the now curled up spider behind it.

I do some research on this flying insect. Its local name is, ‘Tarantula Hawk’. N.A.S.A. and other scientists have a lot of interest in this insect too. One thing that has them studying it is the reaction the hawks sting has on the spider. The venom doesn’t kill the arachnid. It just puts it into suspended animation. The hawk then lays its eggs onto the dormant spider for its young to feast on when the larvae hatch. If for some reason the eggs don’t hatch, Mr. Tarantula comes out of his torpid state, sometimes months later, no worse for the wear to go about his business. A neat thing to pull off this suspended animation with no side effects. Especially for space travel or putting someone on ice until a cure is found for a medical condition. I could see using it on Halloween. You dress up in a giant wasp outfit and nail the exwife as she answers the door. Wake her up when the kids are 19.

While rolling giant boulders off of hillsides off of Soledad Canyon, a favorite pastime as a kid, it takes four of my pals and myself to work a fifty ton job loose to start its slow roll, then pick up speed bouncing to the wide dry creek bed about a quarter mile below us. It was almost ready to go all on its own from erosion, so we just had to help it along a bit. As it finally leans past the point of no return to juggernaut down the steep hillside, a movement underneath has us all aghast. Forgetting to watch the boulders descent, we all stared at part of an exposed tunnel as the rock went over and down. For just the blink of an eye, a black carapace about the size of a bowling ball shot past the opening and down the same tunnel into the hill behind us. We were astonished. What was it? We all agreed it looked armored. It was so fast shooting out of the bright sunlight we didn’t get much of a look at it. It wasn’t a mammal. More like some sort of giant insect? Never saw its like since.

Rattlesnakes… I’ve never seen one over six foot, ever. Seen photos of twelve footers in Texas and such. Not around where I’ve hiked and hung out. We do have the Mojave Green, though. Its venom is about five times more potent then the Pacific Coast Rattler or the sidewinders. The big black desert rattlers don’t get long, but they can sure get fat. Seen them twelve inches around in their middles plenty of times and that’s without a fresh kill inside of them. We once came upon a big rattler trying to swallow a large jackrabbit. The rabbit was hung up going down for some reason. This snake had his jaws so stretched, his eyes were flat and wide open. He kept staring at us as he tried to get the rabbit down and get away at the same time. We watched him from some rocks it was so fascinating. He finally disgorged it and crawled off for a smaller banquet.

As far as rattles go, the most I’ve counted is fourteen. I read in a book that captive rattlers grow up to 20 rattles. It’s because they don’t move around much getting fed in their enclosures. In the wild they break off when they get too long and start anew.

Lots of people think that a rattle snake bite isn’t that deadly with serums and such. Not so. I’ve seen many an old rattle snake wound, starting on my own Uncle Curly’s hand, to the idiot ‘Snake Whisperer’ moron in front of the Agua Dulce hardware store. THEY NEVER HEAL. Nope. Every year my uncle would have to put up with the wound on the back of his hand sloughing off skin like a bad sun burn and having tremendous pains come and go constantly. Ditto for the snake handler. He’s gone from 310 pounds to 175. He also has a sunken wound in his chest that has skin paper thin where it keeps trying to patch the venom holes. No dice. You can see his blood coursing through the veins the skin is so thin and taut.

One of our best true life adventures was when my sons Ty and Noah were little. We used to pick the night of a full moon on a hot summer evening to go on black widow hunts. We had so many in our rock walls it was ridiculous. Taking flashlights and cans of spray ‘raid’, we all ways tried to get a new record on kills. I think one night we bumped off over 300. On one such night we witness a battle between an exceptionally large black widow and a big Jerusalem bug. You know, the big armored ‘potato bugs’ that are orange and black striped. Out of her nest in the crevice of two large wall stones, she wanted this bug big time. It was the first time I realized that some spiders can spin strands of sticky web from the ends of their legs. Illuminating the battle with our flashlights, it went on so long we sent Ty to the house for some Cokes.

Lassoing the big beetle like a cowboy would an errant steer, the spider would then race to a twig or small stone to tie up one of the bugs six legs. Then the spider would lasso another leg to try and repeat the process. In between the beetle was like a mini tank. Breaking the bonds it would try and get free. Nope, that spider would not quit. Finally the bug got tired. Lassoing three of its legs, the black widow raced in and delivered a killing bite to a point between its carapace and thorax. Adios beetle. We all acknowledged her victory. Just before we spayed the crap out of her…

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