May 2017 Archives

[Part 1] [Part 2]



Trigger Warning: Here there be dragons. Or, at least, serpents. Elizabeth, you've been warned.


Having survived the Great Coax Caper and the Putrid Possum Pestilence, we were looking forward to a relaxing hike on the newly-christened Horseshoe Creek Trail with The Nephew, his wife, and their dog Sophie. (I briefly introduced the Trail in this novel-length post from last December.) So, at mid-morning on Saturday we caravanned up to the south trailhead, which is at the end of the winsomely-named Mausoleum Road.

You get to the trailhead by way of Mountain Dew Road, a steep and winding street that meanders through neighborhoods interspersed with the typical Texas Hill Country scrub woods. As we neared the Mausoleum Road turnoff, we encountered this lovely beast stretched out across the pavement:

Photo - Big honkin' rattlesnake

I jumped out of the truck and cautiously (an understatement) approached the snake, and snapped a few photos. Photo of rattlesnake rattleI estimate it was about 3-3 1/2' in length, but what was most striking (pun intended) was the thickness of its body. Rattlers tend to be this way, but some who have seen this photo suggest that this one was either pregnant or had just eaten a large meal. In any event, this was not only the first rattlesnake we've seen in the four years we've been coming to Horseshoe Bay, but also one of the largest we've encountered, period. A closeup of the non-business end of the snake clearly shows nine rattles plus a button...not a record by any means, but still a pretty good noisemaker. (By the way, contrary to popular belief, you can't judge the age of a rattlesnake by the number of rattles; they add one each time they shed their skin, but they might shed multiple times in a year.)

The snake paid us no mind, and didn't move until we got back in the truck. At that point, I had to make a decision regarding its fate. Had it been in an absolute wilderness with no homes or public trails around, I probably would have let it go, but in this case it was (1) moving toward the trail we were about to hike, and (2) fairly close to a number of houses. So, I chose to inflict Death by Michelin on the serpent. I'm never happy about having to kill an animal, but this one had the obvious potential to do serious harm to humans and their pets.

We proceeded to the trailhead, determined to do the planned hike, but you can bet that the thought of encountering more of these rattlers was at the forefront of all our minds. Horseshoe Creek Trail is not particularly challenging, but at this time of the year, it's covered with leaves and it passes over and through rocky terrain that provides perfect camouflage for snakes. I led the hike and didn't really see much on the first leg other than the ground immediately in front of me, trying to make sure we weren't stepping on anything hazardous to our health. Relaxing? Well, not really.

Fortunately, we didn't come across another snake, but my singleminded attention to the ground almost resulted in an even worse encounter.

We came to a rise in the trail, a section that required stepping onto some rocks, and at the last second, I looked up just in time to see a Big. Honkin'. Spider (!) drop down at eye-level. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a classic case study in arachnophobia, and this freaked me out way more than that rattlesnake. 

The spider had stretched its web completely across the trail, a distance of at least four feet, from a tree on one side to a bush on the other. Had I not seen it in time, I not only would have had a spider on my face, but I would have been wrapped in a web, and I think we all know what that leads to. 

Webbed Frodo
In my mind, every spider is named Shelob.

I may have screamed like a little girl, just the tiniest bit, but we did find an easy detour around this horror, and the rest of the hike was pleasantly uneventful. Here are a handful of photos take along the trail; click on the photos to see larger uncropped versions.

Horseshoe Creek - Not quite a stream in the desert, but close Horseshoe Creek Trail The trail winds through some semi-rugged terrain In places, you can catch a brief view of Lake LBJ The trail passes some serious boulders. Horseshoe Creek Sophie leading the rest of the intrepid band


OK, there was one stretch of dry creek bed that contained a startling reminder that perhaps the snake we encountered earlier was just an infant, a mere worm compared to what might inhabit that rough terrain through which we were traipsing:

Photo - animal skeleton

Is this the skeleton of a harmless deer...or is it more likely the remains of a prehistoric dinoserpent whose descendants still inhabit these hills? You'll have to decide for yourself; I'm still on spider watch.
[Part 1

Now, where were we? Oh, yes...I had completed a successful repair of a shredded coax cable that restored our satellite TV access, and life was good.

Except...something was slightly amiss in the air. There was a lingering odor, a smell that seemed to grow stronger depending on which way the breeze was blowing, and where one stood in the back yard.

As the afternoon went on and the temperature rose, the smell got stronger and became the unmistakable odor of something dead and putrefying. And, as far as I could tell, it was coming from beneath our deck.

I had feared this ever since we bought the house last fall and witnessed an armadillo crawling out from under the deck one night. What was the likelihood that an animal would expire under the deck, and how would we deal with it?

I wanted to seal all the possible entry points, but it was a Catch-22 situation: what if I locked in a nocturnal critter, causing its death by starvation, and thus birthing the exact scenario I was working to avoid?

But now, we had to confront the reality head-on. There was a bit of urgency to the task, apart from the increasingly offensive aroma in our back yard. We were expecting the arrival of guests that evening, and they were bringing their dog who would undoubtedly freak out at the possibility of rolling around in something dead. Hey, that's what dogs do, right?

*sigh*

The first order of business was to locate the exact source of the odor, because that would help me understand what would be needed to deal with it. There were no large openings in the deck, and I was fresh out of remote-controlled robotic nano-cameras to send in a search-and-recovery mission. So, I did the next best thing: I watched where the flies were swarming, grabbed my industrial strength flashlight, and began shining it into the small seams between the deck planks. My fly-directed instinct was accurate, and I quickly spotlighted a tail. As I moved across the next several seams, a clear picture emerged of an expired possum, and a fairly large one at that.

So, I knew what I was dealing with, and where it was located. I now had to figure out how to get to it. I first tried taking up the decking directly above the malodorous marsupial, but the wood screws had become inextricably merged with the decking and this approach was a non-starter.

Plan B was to remove a section of the deck siding directly adjacent to the stinking stiff. This was significantly easier than removing the decking, but still not without its challenges. I won't go into the minutiae of the process; suffice it to say that it required another trip to Ace Hardware, and I'm now the proud owner of a 4-foot crowbar, a mini-hacksaw, and a new garden rake. [Aside: This is a problem with having a second home...many of your tools reside somewhere else.]

Removing the siding was a relatively quick job - apart from the run to the hardware store - and it led to the most unpleasant part of the task: retrieving the reeking remains. That's where the rake came in, if you were wondering. We [by then, MLB was at my side, offering spiritual solace and a second pair of hands] put a heavy duty trash bag on the ground, and I endeavored to rake the offensive opossum out from under the deck and into the bag.

Normally, at this point in a task, I would take a photograph to document the proceedings. But the thought of having a picture of a squishy, maggot-infested carcass on my phone trumped my documentarian tendencies. Feel free to thank me, dear reader. However, that doesn't mean that we don't have visual proof of the episode, courtesy of our game camera. I hope the following isn't too shocking.

Photographic proof: possums wear shirts!

[Note: I realize that some of you are thinking, "what a noob!" because this type of thing is old hat to you - the dead animal, not discovering it's actually Pogo - because you've lived in the country long enough to have encountered it many times over, and then some. But it's brand new territory for us city folks.]

With many exclamations along the lines of "ewww" and "ick" and "yuck" (and it's not easy to emit such exclamations whilst holding your breath) we managed to roll the corroded corpse into the bag, which I quickly sealed and hauled downwind for safekeeping until I could permanently dispose of it. MLB scattered some odor-absorbing pellets under the deck, and I then reattached the siding with a single wood screw on each end, in case we ever had to repeat this process.

Within an hour or so, only the keenest of noses could detect that anything was ever amiss in the back yard. Of course, that keen nose did eventually show up on the end of a curious German shepherd, but after much earnest sniffing, she lost interest and began to focus on the more important task of stick chasing.

However, there's one nagging thought: what was the cause of death? Silly me; I failed to perform an autopsy, so now I'm left with only speculation. As a wise coworker told reminded me, "everything dies," so it could have been natural causes. But what if it was something more sinister, like a hit by the local squirrel mafia? We've also had some suspicious characters roaming our back yard when all law-abiding mammals should be snuggled in bed. Perhaps there's a reason they always wear masks.

Raccoons: Nature's little felons

Anyway, to recap: two crises dealt with, and we could now relax for the rest of the weekend.

OK, there was just ONE. MORE. THING. 


After a month-long family crisis that ended in a bittersweet manner, we headed for our Hill Country hideaway for a long weekend of regenerative relaxation. We looked forward to a time of recuperation, both emotional and physical.

But, you know what they say about telling God your plans. Here's a hint: don't.

Our first indication that things might not play out exactly as we hoped came almost as soon as we walked through the door, when we discovered that our satellite-connected TV displayed the dreaded blue screen indicating no signal. MLB spent a half hour on the phone with DirecTV lack-of-support, booting and rebooting the box to no avail, while being assured that there was no apparent problem with our dish. She finally had to schedule a service call, which couldn't happen for a week.

Accepting the inevitable, we continued settling in, and then went into the back yard to check things out. It didn't take me long to discover this:

Pieces of shredded coax cable

There was a two-foot gap in the cable running from the satellite dish into the attic. The cable hadn't just been severed...it had been annihilated, as if a band of marauding mutant squirrels with titanium teeth had gone medieval on it. Of course, there was also the [more boring] likelihood that the lawn service had shredded it with a mower.

I'll confess that I have never tried to splice a coax cable. Unlike speaker wire that's drop-dead simple in construction, coax is mysterious and finicky, and repairing it requires special tools, connectors, and expertise; I was 0-for-3 in those areas. This was a challenge I was unprepared for, but faced with the possibility of four days of nothing but conversation, I was motivated to conquer it.

The first order of business was to solve the tool and connector crises. I turned to that trusty stalwart companion of every inadequate DIYer, the Home Depot, and found this coax repair kit. These tools would allow me to put connectors on the ends of the severed cable. I also bought a short length of ready-made coax, and a couple of splice connectors.

I then found a YouTube video explaining the intricacies of arcane art of coax repair. Along with the printed instructions that accompanied the tool kit, I now possessed the knowledge to do the job. Probably. Possibly. Well, we'd soon find out.

Taking a tip from the aforementioned video, I stopped by Ace Hardware and picked up some heat-shrink tubing to weatherproof the new connections, which would be reburied once the repairs were made.

I found some old coax in the attic and made a couple of practice runs with the tools to make sure I understood the repair process. The process was a lot easier than I expected; it's really just a matter of having the right tools for the job. Satisfied with the results, I moved over to the severed cable and...discovered a complication. Surprising, right? That never happens.

It turns out that the satellite coax has a ground wire running its entire length. That makes sense, and I suspect it's actually required by local building codes. But the coax I got didn't have the associated ground wire. So, off again to Ace to get a spool of copper wire to splice the ground wire. Fortunately, our local store is well-equipped and had just what I needed.

Back to the cable repair. Enduring the 90-degree heat, high humidity, and hungry mosquitos, I managed to affix new connectors to the severed cable, insert the coax splice with the adapters, and add the ground wire splice. I used a butane lighter on the heat shrink tubing to seal the connections, and wrapped the entire length in heavy-duty, weatherproof electrical tape. It was time to find out if I passed the coax repair initiation test.

I turned on the TV in the living room while MLB turned on the one in the bedroom. "We have a picture!" she yelled from the bedroom. However, the living room TV still had no signal. It took only a quick reboot of the box to remedy that, and we were back in business.

This was a small but significant victory, and meant that the rest of the weekend would be spent in relaxation and recovery.

Well...not exactly.


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This page is an archive of entries from May 2017 listed from newest to oldest.

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