The past couple of weeks have a circle of life kind of time out here in Seale, Ala. I spent quite a bit of time during the past few days working on a speech that I delivered to my Rotary club on Wednesday, I folded down the screen on my MacBook Pro Saturday morning and stepped out into a Chamber of Commerce kind of day. Breezy, cool, dry air filtered through a canopy of trees in fresh, full leaf against an impossibly blue sky. The grass needed to be mowed and I needed some solitary time with my thoughts to ponder the difficult task of telling the story of my five year tug of war with kidney cancer in just 20 minutes in the presence of 250 or 300 of my fellow Rotarians.
Izzy, our Golden, and I walked down to the barn for me to get the mower and for her to dance circles around me, snap her teeth and crowd my legs with her body, itching to get as many square inches of her bulk against as much of my legs as is geometrically possible. She’s a low tech, high touch creature. When she’s really happy, she leaps around and loudly clicks her upper and lower jaws together. I’ve never seen a dog do that. Her lips are curled back and her teeth are bared in what, to the casual observer would appear to be a bit of aggressive dog face. That look, only for a second, interrupts her usual open, wide-eyed, grinning self.
I unlocked the door to the barn and took a right into my shop. There was a fertilizer spreader tipped against the mower and when I moved it out of the way there was a dark, still 4 and a half foot rat snake curled up in the shadow. He or she took a leisurely slide and eased its body into a small diamond-shaped hole in the metal tread of a ramp I use to roll heavy things into the bed of my pickup truck. The snake’s head was small enough to get her moving through the hole, but the mass of its body stopped moving forward when it became larger than the inner dimensions of the grate.
I gently picked up her tail and her underbelly, on my side of the grate, to see if I could pull her out. She was calm, but I could feel the rhythmic ripple of her muscles trying to propel her through the grate on the side where her head was. I laid her back on the concrete floor and as I reached up to remove my sunglasses, a rotten smell assaulted my nostrils as my hands passed. I left her, called up Izzy and we headed back to the house for me to wash my hands and to get a pair of work gloves out of the garage. I’ve been around a few snakes and I don’t remember them smelling bad. This one smelled like she had been rolling in road kill.
She could not have been happy about me pulling her backwards out of the hole, against the grain of her dark brown scales, but she let me pull her out. I could hear the scales clicking against the steel of the grate as she gave in to the sensation of being pulled. Although I’m skeeved out by snakes, I’m drawn to their elegance. Efficient, understated movement. Smooth, usually scent-free skin.
My plan was to catch her right behind her head just before she was completely free from the hole in the grate. It didn’t turn out that way, because once most of body was free, she back-peddled on her own and her head quickly joined her tail on my side of the grate. So, I had a hold of her just ahead of her midway point. She seemed to appreciate me pulling her free, tongue flicking and moving slow. We walked out of the barn and I gave Izzy the Sit/Stay command. Izzy dropped down onto her haunches and watched me walk with the snake until she lost sight of us around the corner of the barn. I left the snake at the edge of the woods fifty yards south of where I found her and headed back to the barn, where Izzy still sat waiting for me to free her from her command to stay. What an awesome dog!
This past Saturday, I spent some much-needed time on my tractor bush hogging a field. The grass needed to be cut and I needed some thinking time with the muffled thrumming of the diesel engine coming through, diminished by 15 decibels by ear protection I wear when I’m on the tractor. On a westerly pass, a huge turtle moved out of the 10″ tall bahiagrass and into a mowed strip. Thankfully, I saw her and stopped the tractor, picked her up and took her back to the woods, safely out of the mowing zone.
Last night as we drove onto our property after an evening out with the McKnights, our headlights lit up a beautiful gray fox out under the pecan trees. What a cool thing to see.
On another note, I know it has been a while since I’ve posted about my cancer journey. I was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Columbus last week. Our son, Nicholas Riddle, was there and used my iPhone to video Marquette McKnight’s introduction and my speech. The video has been uploaded to my YouTube account page and is in two parts.
I continue to thrive after I stopped taking Votrient, at Dr. Pippas’ recommendation. My hair is returning to the color brown. I have gained back some of the 100 pounds I lost and I’m sleeping like a baby. Hallelujah!