Remember that Brad Paisley song that says "....I hope I'm at least half the Dad, that he didn't have to be...." ?
Well, here's another reason why........
My step-dad, Carl liked to go hiking, or mountain climbing, or fishing, or….anything to do with being outdoors. One summer day, when I was around 10, mom and Carl decided it would be fun to drive up into the Southern California mountains and go hiking and spend some time in the great outdoors.
Okay, so mom and little sister stayed near the car and Carl and I went hiking.
We found ourselves hiking up an old dried up creek bed. It was interesting to see how the bottom of the creek was lined with smooth stones, while the steep sides were mostly dirt with tree roots and other vegetation sticking out of the embankments. Carl took much delight in explaining things like the earth’s “strata” (he liked teaching me new words) and how the flow of the water, during the rainy season, carves shapes into the dirt and rock as it makes it way down the mountain. One thing I recall that seemed quite interesting was the way the creek bottom would step down in certain places. It appeared that a tree branch, or log, would get stuck, small stones would build up around it and create a small waterfall. I was actually fascinated by how these things would occur naturally in nature. I might not have admitted it back then, after all, I was still trying to get used to this guy, but I was really enjoying this adventure.
Now, the next part of the story is told a little differently depending on who tells it and who they are telling it too. To avoid any confusion, and to confirm certain suspicions for some, I’ll give it to you exactly how it happened, at least from the perspective of a 10 year old boy.
After hiking up this creek bed for quite some time, a certain “call” of nature tends to present itself, especially if you’ve been careful to keep your body hydrated while hiking in the Southern California sun. (Yep, Carl was an Eagle Scout). When Carl tells this story, especially around people from church or when ladies are present, he says that we had stopped to admire some real pretty rocks. The truth of the matter is that we had to pee. So we decided to carve out our own little shapes into the embankment of this creek bed. It was a real father-son bonding moment.
Carl finished first and had turned away from our new “artwork”. Then, with a low and serious tone I’d never heard him use before, Carl told me to move very slowly while I zipped up, and to turn around very slowly and to make no sudden movements. Something in his tone of voice told me I should do exactly as he said. As I turned around, Carl said to look at the embankment behind us. It is a really good thing I was already empty because coiling up on that embankment was the biggest Diamond-Back Rattlesnake I had ever seen. Okay, so it was the first rattlesnake I had ever seen. I didn’t like snakes. I didn’t like snakes so much I wouldn’t visit the reptile exhibit at the zoo. I had never seen a snake in real life before that day and this bad boy was huge! Remember, I was only 10 and very small for my age, but even Carl agreed that this was a really big snake. It was still moving and was coiling up on a small ledge on that embankment, preparing to strike, but was not yet in a position to do so.
Although time seemed to move very slowly for me, Carl decisively and quickly, albeit rather smoothly, lifted me up and set me down in the bottom of one of those waterfall things I mentioned earlier. With the same low voice as before, he told me to keep my head down, and to not look up or move until he told me it was okay.
I now could not see what was going on, but I can still hear everything vividly. The smash and crack of the rock Carl threw at the snake. The frightening sound of that snake’s rattles as it hissed and rattled as it prepared to strike. It never got the chance.
I can still hear the Smack! Smack! Smack! of the rock as Carl repeatedly beat that snake with a rock the size of my head. I was told not to move, so I stayed where I was. I couldn’t see what was happening. I was afraid. I was afraid for Carl.
Would the snake get him, or would he get the snake?
I heard the snake’s rattles get stronger and more fierce sounding with each smashing blow. I wasn’t about to move or try to look. Then, the snake’s rattles began to slow down, slower, slower, less menacing, then shake….shake….shake…..thud.
I heard some movement across the rock on the ledge above me, and I heard Carl say it was alright to come up. As I climbed back up to where the fight took place, I saw Carl turn around from where that snake lay dead. He had cut of the snake’s rattles and handed them to me to keep as a souvenir. He then jammed that big rock on top of the snake’s head to make sure no one could come in contact with its fangs.
We counted the number of rattles Carl had cut off the snake’s tail. There were 15 rattles! Carl told me that a rattlesnakes shed its skin once a year, and when it sheds that layer of skin, a new rattle is formed. That meant that snake was 15 years old. Yep, that was one really big DiamondBack! I guess we'd both had enough excitment for one day, and decided to head back to the car for some lunch. Carl offered to bring the snake meat back with us, saying that they make good eating, but I was looking forward to the PBJ mom was making. I think he was just kidding anyway. At least I'd hoped he was.
I learned something that day. Even though I’d only known this guy for two years, and I didn’t (yet) call him “dad”, he cared about me. His first concern in that moment was for my safety. The first thing he did was protect me, shield me, get me out of harm’s way. Then he eliminated the threat. My appreciation and respect for him grew a lot that day. I was only ten years old, but the way I saw it , that man saved my life that day.