We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Sunday, June 28. 2009
More reminiscences from our friend, during his time in the Indian Health Service. He is probably referring to the Prairie Rattler:
From afar, it might have sounded like "Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk"; at the base of my skull, it was more like "K'thunk, K'Thunk, K'thunk, K'Thunk." What I didn't know was what how it sounded to a rattlesnake in the dusk of the Dakota scrubland. My second day's doctoring done on Eagle Butte, the heat dissipating quickly at sunset, I hit the asphalt's edges to jog.
It's more strike, than bite, when it happens. The boy was in jeans, work boots; brought in on the back of an ancient half-ton Ford 100, the twin I-Beam front grill with a grim or determined look to it. Ranchers -- Sioux and Washichu -- knew about bites hereabouts. Boss tournequitted and elevated the leg; told the boy to lie still on the bouncing pick-up. Even after the half-hour trip cutting across grazing land, the boy looked alright: no vomiting, no drooling, no shock; just local swelling and hemorrhaging. Anti-venom treatment and he would be fine. When I saw him, I knew that I did not want to be brought in on the back of a pick-up.
Rattlers ruled hereabouts, although I never saw one, I kept hearing about them. When I went off to Cherry Creek, off to a corner of this 5,000 acre reservation to visit one of our clinics, in the hope also of meeting the medicine man, I came up against rattlers again, but incidentally, by-the-by. It wasn't the unseen rattlers nor the absent medicine man whom I recall best; rather the clinic, the mother and child.
About the medicine man, despite my requests, my interest, Mrs. Alpern and the nurses murmured excuses; not around much, doesn't have much to say; no one really sees him. Finally, came out that he was in the sauce much of the time. I had read Illness and Curing in Zinacantan, the Harvard study of various shamans or medicine men in this Mexican village; had studied with Bob Levine about the Ibo and Hausa (a few decades later showing an stunning capacity to slaughter one, the other); had read and re-read Erikson's Childhood and Society, when he had spent the '30's visiting the Sioux and also the Yurok. I too wanted to learn as they did; but I had to settle for what the people said and did; never visited by a shaman. The Sioux staff weren't romantic-eyed as I; they wanted the real Western stuff -- a doc who could cut and sew, a doc who could give meds. Decades later, in the Bay Area I met many Washichus who believed in medicine men and burning sage; many more than I could find among the Sioux. One woman described how her Native American medicine man kept her bowel disease in check by giving her various weekly belly kneadings during which flames emitted from her elbows and knees, relieving -- her shaman said -- her bowels of its inflammation. When her ex-husband would phone, her medicine man gave her a shrub of sage to set afire and smoke-out his spirit from the house. She wasn't Sioux.
Our Cherry Creek "clinic" was a single-wide trailer on cinder blocks. Cinder blocks also were the three steps leading up to the entrance. Only after I stepped up, then stepped into the cool darkness of the clinic, even as my eyes adjusted and before I could see the mother and child wating for me -- only then did the nurse tell me how the rattlers liked to coil-up beneath the trailer or in the cells of the cinder blocks. A few moments I needed to adjust to both the dark and what lurks beneath.
What happened next was a quiet, brief drama. Mother watched me examine her daughter as the girl sat on her lap. Something minor (for a pediatrician; not for a parent). A middle-ear infection. Mother, reassured that I could care for her child gently, then told me of her chronic cough, and the blood, and the weight loss. She let the nurse take her daughter, so that I could examine mother. TB, I thought, from the history, from the look of things. TB, I hoped. Apical Xrays, I remembered; the bacilli favoring the upper lobes. Next week, I felt relieved that TB and a course of INH would take care of her.
After this, a descent into the blaze of day, tripping down the cinder block steps, beneath which, the nurse said. Home in the red Fiat to K'thunk the sunset down.
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If you're dove hunting on a 100 degree September day, going up a dry creek bed along the Snake River, never get curious and open the door of a old run down abandoned farm house among some old oak trees. Place exploded with a chorus, a symphony, of rattler music. Will never forget it.
Happened to me as a kid, running through some chaparral. Never ran so fast in my life. Except maybe once or twice...
Nice writing. I'm relatively new to your site, so I haven't enjoyed previous excerpts. How are they categorized?
Rattlers. Hmmm...a 3-year-old relative lost her life when left her sandbox pail in the "patio" of her family's Texas hacienda-style home. Personally, I always wear high boots and heavy jeans, regardless of weather. And leather gloves.
Don't forget links to your previous memoires...
Is this story an excerpt of a book? If so, title? if not, keep these tidbits coming. I've lived in S. Dakota since birth and love to read about non-Dakotans thoughts, observations and experiences in our great state. Thanks for a great site.
Not from a book. Just our friends' writings. His books are not really for lay readers, exactly. He's a Child Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst.
For his other stuff, you can search our search box for Aliyah and for Dakota.
Rattlesnakes can be dangerous on many levels. On one of my first trout fishing trips in WV as a child my family had drilled the dangers of rattlesnakes around rocky whitewater streams for weeks. The first morning, with these warnings bouncing all around my subconscious, I was climbing a fairly large boulder at streamside to get from one pool to another when a cicada in a tree revved up right in my ear.
I landed about halfway out in the river. Nothing broken, but a slightly sprained ankle and several nasty bruises.
I've seen some healed bites --from rattlers, water mocassins, copperheads, where great masses of calf or forearm muscle is just gone. Pretty nasty venom.
Once when about 12 i cut off a small copperhead's head with a machete, and this girl, Fanny Vines, with us in our little gang hiking along the Vermilion Bayou, picked up the head to look at it. The jaws were still working and a fang barely scratched her. Well, long/short, in about four hours she was in the hospital with her right arm purple, about triple sized and full of little skin tears. Mr & Mrs Vines were NOT happy. neither was Fanny, tho it WAS quite an adventure as she always said later.
Here in the sunny Southwest the rattlers, for some reason, like to hang out by front doors. So when the unwary homeowner steps out in the dark to go get his newspaper... bam! Happens two or three times a year at least. I'm pretty wary now. I'm not afraid of snakes, I'm afraid of getting bit.
Luther, i'm like that too --i'm not afraid of falling off high places, i'm afraid of the sudden stop.
Rattlers must like campfires at night. In rural PA I was by my tent, keeping warm with the beautiful Christine, when the unmistakable rattle came from...everywhere. I worked my flashlight here, then there--they were BIG and they were all around and very close. I was camping in downtown Rattlerville! Into the tent, closed up tight, for an uncomfortable night. The morning was lovely as we headed out. Now I did not know the ways of snakes and would not needlessly harm one, but I remember thinking .410 and how, as a basic rule, gun control must be wrong.
Scary story, Mike. But a good observation came out of it.