On June 6, 2013, I visited Brice. He was not feeling well, but he rallied, eventually rising from the hospital bed that was in his living room, to tell me about the changes on his farm. Iva helped him move to the recliner where he was most comfortable. “I usually hang out here,” he said.
He told me he had sold his 40 head of cattle three weeks before and leased the pastures and the hayfield. He would get a third of the hay that he would sell. “Because I can’t make hay myself no more.” That admission was a lead into one of the stories he loved to tell.
“We had a big two-story barn up here we were going to take down. It wasn’t in use, and if you got it, you have to pay taxes. We decided to drop it. And my sister wanted to cut some boards off it, old faded out boards to get my brother to make her some picture frames. So he goes up and takes one of the grandkids with him to knock a couple boards off the old barn before they started demolishin’ it. He was standin’ at the windows prizing one of the boards. And he heard a rattlesnake. He looked and saw it was four to five inches around. He said it slid back under there, and he never did see how long it was because he didn’t see his head, but the tail was rattlin’. They tore it down this winter and moved it and they ain’t see no sign of him. So he might be in Rutherford County now.”
Or at my back door.
Brice continued, “A few years ago I had a diamondback, no, no it was a ol’ mountain rattler in the field where I had the cane for my cattle to eat. We’d take an electric fence wire and just hold it and as the cows ate, we kept moving them back. They knew what that wire was and they wouldn’t cross it. And I kept hearing an old rattler in the hay. The cows could hear it, too, and they’d look and look and look and then go ahead with their eatin’. So we got to the end with about 8’ left. The next morning we took the wire up to finish. He done left town. His space was runnin’ out fast. The cows was eatin’ it down so he took off. I never did see him. The cows don’t get too friendly with them. If they stay back, people know there are snakes in there.”
I have since found out that NC has laws about killing rattlesnakes. For some reason, they are on an endangered list. (http://sites.naturalsciences.org/faqs/snakehtml#law) When I see them, I feel endangered because they do not run. They do not back down. Which is annoying when they are at my door. They stand their ground and can strike twice the length of their bodies. Around here, they can be five and six feet long. Brice would call them big dudes. The law states that you may kill to protect yourself. I don’t know why that has to be a law. That seems common sense to me.
(But I hold minority opinions in lots of things. For example last year in Marion, a man broke into his ex-wife’s place while she was sleeping. He beat her senseless, stopped only because their small child walked into the bedroom. He was found guilty but immediately paroled with a caution to behave. I still don’t understand why he did not go to jail. He was as mean as a rattlesnake. IMHO)
I digress from my visit with Brice. I asked him if they had any bears around his place, since we had just seen one in our yard. Brice said, “About a year ago, the neighbor up the road stopped at the tunnel (On Vein Mtn Road) and there was a mother bear and a cub drinking water. Then about two weeks ago, this same neighbor drove out of Brackett Town, turned on Vein Mtn, and saw the mother and her cub drinking out of a pond.” (So the cuddly looking wild things had moved up the road about six miles in two or three days.) “They were just scavenging for something to eat. They hadn’t taken up residence. Just moving through.”
“And year before last, I had about 26 guys deer hunting and one afternoon, about dark, they started coming out of the woods. There were two or three that hadn’t come out, and the rest hung out at the parking lot waiting for everyone. I heard the awfullest eerie sound back there, and I tried to figure out what it was. Heard it two, three times. While we were waiting, we decided something must have happened because the boys should have been back. It was getting dark. We got a four wheeler out to go hunt ‘em and then we seen a light comin’ down off the hill.”
“One of them said, ‘Did you hear all that screamin’ up there?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, what was it?’ He said, ‘An old bear, and she was calling her cub.’And he said, ‘I was up a tree, and the little ole cub come running around the tree and lookin’ up and smellin’ up the tree, and I thought, Now am I gonna have to shoot that sonofagun if he climbs up here with me? And I heard that eerie sound. The cub perked up and listened, and the second time he took off. Mama was callin’ and he went to find her’.”
Brice said, “A week later, I heard the same sound again back down on the creek. So he must go and roam where he wants to, and if she needs him she lets out that eerie sound, and he comes runnin’ back.”
Brice tried to describe it. “It’s a wild sound. ‘Eeeeeeeee.’ Makes the hair stand up on your back. As time goes on we’re gonna have more bear sightings because we have 900 homes going in on top of this mountain ridge up here, and that’s takin’ up their habitat. They’ll be moving down here.”
(Actually this former Vein Mtn Products property has now been purchased as a conservancy, more than 6,000 acres, Box Creek Wilderness, and we hope to keep our wild critters close to Brackett Town. If they behave.)