Texas Vs Minnesota

In many ways, being here with 40 some men is bringing me (Heidi) full circle with my upbringing. My brother and I, unlike many siblings, really were inseparable. I can see now that this was partly by design, as Mom wanted my tattle-tale attributes at her ready disposal. But beyond that, our growing up years in Iowa and Minnesota were a full of comedic adventure.

Bass caught on a live frog

We caught frogs along the lane in the swampy edges and used those for bait as we fished from the canoe for Bass. It was often a contest to see who could keep their frog alive the longest as we’d cast them under the birches along the bank, working our way along the edge of the lake.

We hunted squirrels and rabbits and other monsters in the woods with our modest .22’s and shotguns. We explored the bear trails behind the property for miles into the wilderness on a Trail Ram. (This was before I ever heard of a four-wheeler.) It was an off-road sturdy framed motorcycle with wide stump-jumping tires and lots of torque. Mom always asked which direction we were headed so she could send ‘someone to look for the bones’ if we didn’t show up again.

That was Minnesota. This is Texas. Both states, if truth be told, can be rather individualistic in a rough and rowdy sort of way. Lumber jacks versus cowboys, I guess. I find a lot of similarities, though. If boys will be boys, certainly rough-necks will be rough-necks. One of the riggers said he has a friend from Minnesota and I was curious what kind of comparison he was going to make in his comment. All he said was, “He was a nice enough guy but up in there Minnesota, their food ain’t got no taste: no Tabasco, no hot sauce, no spices, no flavorin’s!”

Rancher on drill site

The current crew at the rig bring my brother’s antics to mind. We have become more acquainted with the rough-necks and mudders of the company lately. Don’t you just love the mental images of rough-necks and mudders and tool-pushers? I see Bluto’s size and Popeye’s wiry bravado. Add to that Tonto’s survival tactics and Rowdy (Wagon Train) with his mischievous knack for getting into trouble and shooting his way out of it. Pretty good description of our crew, actually. Well, minus the shooting part. No weapons here.

The crew is starting to treat us a little like family. One of them said, “We’ve got sisters at home so you just tell us if you need any help. We’d be happy to do it.” I think they were referring to killing snakes and such.

My brother wasn’t always so helpful, of course. I was a crack shot and sometimes he’d get tired of the competitive spirit we shared. I was pretty easy to spook so he liked to share his Outdoor grizzly bear stories with me that came from our Grandpa’s collection. The grizzlier the better. He’d toss the extra gory magazines up into my loft. I can still see the cover story pictures of huge teeth and slimy wide-open jaws of the bears.

My bedroom was a loft accessible by ladder only and 4 foot at the tall end. I’d get dressed lying down on the mattress and keep my clothes in knapsacks along the side wall. I loved that room. At the end of the day, I’d have a lantern and a book. Lying in bed I could put my chin on the window ledge while I looked out through the pine needles at the lake. I remember trying to figure out what the noises were as I’d lie there. It’s not so different now as there is a window at the head of the bead in my RV. When it’s not too hot, I crack it open just to listen. Coons? Coyotes? Wolves? Bears? Bobcats? I’m used to all of those. Tarantulas? Alligators? Rattlesnakes? Wild Boars? Not so much.

Deep In The Heart of Texas, Yankee Style

It’s Monday and time for another Texas tribute. Can there any better way to pay tribute than through a song? There are a whole lot of songs about Texas. Perry Como, from Pittsburgh, took Deep in the Heart of Texas to the top of  Hit Parade Chart for 5 week in 1942. Personally, I prefer the rendition sung by America’s ‘original singing cowboy’, Gene Autry, a Texan through and through.

You know a song is a classic when you hear it in a stadium. The Owls and the Astros sing it, right after Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch. The Longhorns, Cougars and Horned Frogs all perform it for football fans to bolster enthusiasm.

These are the original lyrics for those who didn’t watch the above clip or are from north of the Mason/Dixon line:

Deep in the Heart of Texas

The stars at night are big and bright

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The prairie sky is wide and high

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The sage in bloom is like perfume

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Reminds me of the one I love

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The coyotes wail along the trail

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The rabbits rush around the brush

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The cowboys cry, “Ki-yip-pee-yi”

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The doggies bawl and bawl and bawl

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

I love the (clap, clap, clap, clap)! It’s like going to a live performance of Grease where the whole audience does the Hand Jive. OK, well, that’s a little more complicated, but it’s still crowd pleaser.

You can’t improve on a classic.

This is just a Yankee version: same tune, same refrain, and definitely the same classic clapping:

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Red eyes at night gleam creepy bright

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The prairie heat will melt your feet

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The wild hogs bloom like skunk perfume

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Reminds me of buzzards above

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The mad bull wails along the trails

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Rattlesnakes hush around the brush

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

The boars huge tusks shine white at dusk

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Tarantulas  crawl and crawl and crawl

(clap, clap, clap, clap),

Deep in the heart of Texas.

I hope I did the song Yankee proud. Y’all come back now, ya hear?

Year in Review Part 11 – Southern Texas Survival Kit


This is post is word for word the orginal – so if you’ve read it, you might want to skip it. Word Press won’t let me post the new post I wrote yesterday, but seems to like this one written on back in March just fine.

There’s no tech support for WP until Jan. 3rd so I may just re-post a few of the old ones until then.


It’s in the mid 80’s every day. Where I come from, that’s summer even if this is only the second day of Spring.

The 7 items pictured above are the essential ingredients for a Southern Texas Survival Kit.

1. A round rock

Find a nice round rock, about the size of a baseball. This can be thrown at virtually all threatening things

2. Wasp spray

The first thing we were told to get when we arrived in Tilden back in December was that if we didn’t have a shot gun, we’d better be buying some Wasp spray.We have 4 cans, strategically placed.

One can is in the Jeep. Today I went into town to pick up a few things. Since it was 86 degrees and the freon has pretty much all eased it’s way out of the Jeep, I put the windows down while I filled up 10 gallon jugs of water. In the 5 minutes this took, 2 wasps took up residence in the front seat. It never occurred to me I’d need Wasp spray for wasps. I bought it for scary people and other kinds of snakes. I considered giving the wasps a squirt, but I had to question the wisdom of streaming it that close to my face if that is indeed how intend to fend of unwanted visitors carrying large backpacks and various snakes. I fanned them with a paper plate.

3. Driftwood

A good sturdy piece of driftwood, or if you don’t have ocean access, any hard wood will do. The key to the ideal piece of wood is the gradual narrowing, providing a club like handle.

4. Spider spray

Twice black widows crept out of our generator when we were checking the oil back in Shiner. I think the spray would most likely be ineffectual on tarantulas so, hopefully they’ll live up to their shy reputation and just go away on their own and the brown recluse will stay reclusive.

5. A long handled hoe

Today, Jerry and Kathy (our landlords)  came by in their 4-wheeler. While talking yesterday, they casually mentioned  the 6 Copperheads the guys killed at the  rig site 3 miles east yesterday. Earlier, JoJo  told us about the Bull snake he chased under our barb-wire fence and  Kevin stopped by to tell us he killed a 3 foot Rattlesnake at our site.

Jerry and Kathy asked what everyone asks: Do we have a gun? No, I said, but we have Wasp spray! They stopped by today with a garden hoe. Heidi’s Grandma always killed snakes with garden hoes and she had lots of guns. This is a very long handled hoe, which is good because ordinarily, a rattlesnake strike can cover a distance of between 1/3 and 1/2 of it’s length. The gate guard a mile up the road killed a 5 1/2 footer. I re-read the Wasp can. It doesn’t mention snakes but does mention scorpions(that’s good) and tent caterpillars.

6. A camera

Besides the obvious attacker identification (they like to know which kind of pit viper bite it was or what the backpack looked like), a camera is also an effective weapon. Last night I heard a considerable racket outside (on the dark side) of the RV. I found a flashlight bright enough to cut through the pitch blackness of the undergrowth to find that I had not 1 but 2 nocturnal visitors.

Raccoon, afraid of the flash, falling off the barbed-wire fence

Just a couple of days before, Heidi had decided to try to draw some of the cardinals and chickadees to the fence line. It’s a jungle of mesquite and live oak all around us so it provides a natural habitat for quite a variety of birds, and others things. The cardinals have come, along with a pair of morning doves, a raccoon and a wild pig.

I found taking flash photos of the raccoon to be very effect. Every time he came back, I’d just shoot a picture in the dark and he’d fall off the barb-wire fence and run. He only came back twice and the feeders are now taking their place in the Jeep at night.

6. A creepy pig on a fence post carcass

To get rid of crows, they sometimes shoot a few and put the dead ones in the trees to scare away the rest of the flock. I don’t know if this same principle holds true with wild pigs and boars. The difficulty lies in finding decaying pigs to borrow.

7. The round rock in driftwood catapult

This needs to be a pretty precise fit: snug enough to stay in place during the back-swing and loose enough to leave the wood and hurl towards your target. The catapult gives range the wood alone doesn’t have and force throwing the rock bare-handed lacks. The disadvantage is that round rocks roll so practice rounds can be grueling.

8. A watch dog

In my case, Henry is a bull dog. He has acquired a great dislike for bulls. He lies down in front of the door(inside) and gives his best low guttural growl, which the bulls never hears, and 1 loud bark which the bulls ignore. At that point he considers his job done and proudly waits for praise and a treat.

If you have a shotgun,  you can throw out everything but the spider spray ( a shotgun would be over-kill) and, of course, you’ll want to keep your dog .

40 Days and 40 Nights

We’ve been in Shiner for 40 days and 40 nights. Like Noah, when we arrived it was dry land and construction began. Unlike Noah, the rains never came, but the freeze did and we spent parts of 2 weeks with frozen lines and a flower-pot toilet.

After 40 days and 40 nights we’re deconstructing. Our site is coming down. Day and night, trucks are trundling away bits (literally) and pieces. This mass and mast of metal will be entirely gone in a few days.

Deconstruct means to dismantle. I’ve been gong through some deconstruction myself.

For starters, I’m living in one of the last places I would ever have expected to live. I live in Texas and if I don’t self-combust this summer, I expect I’ll be living in Texas for the next few years. This has required some dismantling.

I have flat hair and not a whole lot of it, so big hair is completely out of the question. I’m a Mid-Westerner,  in love with the ocean, living in  Texas, where  I’ll always be a Yankee. Being from Iowa, I’ve never thought of myself as a Yankee. I only recently became an Episcopal.

I now have an accent. People here say “I knew y’all was from the north cause of your accent”. I always thought one of the truly bland things about the mid-west was our lack of accent. Another misconception in need of dismantling.

I’m neither naturally suspicious or cautious. What I am is naturally friendly and clumsy. Which is why I don’t own a gun, concealed or otherwise. I can only sometimes remember to take my phone with me for emergency protection so I can shoot pictures of would be attackers with my HTC Surround during my daily walks with Henry.

Henry and I  try to avoid unnecessary confrontations by never veering off the dirt road and keeping a vigilant eye out for: men walking with backpacks large enough to accommodate assault weapons; feral pigs and wild boars; rattlesnakes; arachnids (so far I’ve only seen black widows on our generator, but there’s a significant tarantula and brown recluse population); bulls (all cattle upset Henry, but the bulls are preoccupied with the lady cows right now); coyotes (I’ve only seen 2 in the day time but I do hear them singing at night); scorpions (I leave the rocks alone) and jumpy armadillos. Watching for all these potential attackers keeps me from enjoying the scenery which consists of trucks, mesquite, cows and cactus.

Then there is the issue of dirt. I don’t like dirt.  Enough said. My idea of clean now is to take a shower after walking Henry since I come back looking like I applied a nice even layer of Coppertone. I’m beyond dismantling on this one.

I’m a gate guard with level 2 security clearance. My bright orange vest says so. When I was 22, I quit my job as a correctional workers after 6 months, but not before I’d furnished an entire apartment for a resident, in for her 3rd DUI, who pawned everything for booze two days after release. Clearly I’m both tough and street smart.

Gate Guarding is a 24/7 job. I work evenings and overnight. I have sleep issues. I have about every sleep issue there is: RLS, PLM, sleep apnea and a mild case of narcolepsy. I’ve never been able to sleep if I were too hot or my nose was too cold; if the room was too light or if there was any noise at all. I sleep from 6 a.m. to around 2 p.m. in the hot middle of the bright daytime in a bed 8 feet from a cattle crossing which is continually rattled by giant trucks. I’m sleeping well.

Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always had a close circle of friends that I shared my thoughts and my heart with. These special people have always been women. I like men. As a matter of fact, I was just confirmed as a friend of C.S. Lewis (who has been dead sice 1962) on Facebook last week. The requirements for friendship stated “you must have a personal relationship”.

I also like many men who aren’t dead. However, men are rarely conversant in areas of the emotional exhaustion, motherhood or the woes of menopause, so while I like them, they’ve never been in my coffee-klatch. Can you feel the deconstruction coming?

I live on an oil rig site. The world outside of my RV is composed entirely of men. The few women that work in sales on well sites come in the daytime while I’m sleeping. Except for Heidi, the only time I even see another woman is during my every other week trip to the laundry mat where men still out number the women. I don’t know if that’s because single men don’t own washers and single women do? Maybe the laundry mat is a magical place for men, just like in the detergent commercials. A guy dreams of starting to wash whites and darks together when a lovely lady saves him from pink boxers, which inevitably ends with a romantic dinner.

Anyway, my entire social circle is now male: old men and young men and in-between aged men. Lots and lots of men. There are the 20-30 that saty on site, many who work in 7 day rotations so that number is really doubled. And then there’s the other 30-50 that make up our daily gate traffic: the drivers, the repairmen, the welders, the ranchers, the inspectors, the supervisors etc…

Our Company Man, Jimbo, was clearly at a loss when we showed up for work 40 days ago. He looked at us, kept shaking his head and told us to come back in the afternoon after the sand/clay was spread for our pad.

Gate Guard Services will usually give you a couple of hours notice before your gate shuts down and you have to leave. You never know how long it will be between jobs or where the company will send you next. Last time we had a day to go to Wal-Mart and a day to drive to the next site. This time it’s different. We’ve known for a couple of days that our site is finishing up. We’re ready to  roll out on Monday.

We even know where we’re going. We’re moving from Shiner to Smiley (they give their little towns such happy names here in Texas). We didn’t really want to go to Smiley. We were hoping to go NE instead of SW.  But with all the deconstruction going on, our guys are going to Smiley and so, so are we. Jimbo was willing to keep us. Gate Guard Services approved it. I’ve had just the right amount of dismantling to be pleased.

I don’t know what the next 40 days and 40 nights will bring. There are a lot of armadillos in Texas. I haven’t seen one yet.  I’m thinking of asking the guys where the nearest armadillo race is. They know about things like that. I’m told armadillo racing involves getting on the ground and blowing on the south end of a north bound 9- banded critter, encouraging him to victory. Sounds like a true Texas experience! I’m just learning about armadillos. I guess they can jump 3–4 feet straight up in the air if sufficiently frightened. Looks like Henry and I have some exciting walks ahead!

17 Lone Star State Facts

It’s been exactly 1 month since Heidi and I took off down a strange new Fork and began working for Gate Guard Services in Tilden, Texas. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know we’ve had more than a few adventures.

As with all true adventures, there are limitless opportunities to learn and discover new things. I thought this 30 day marker would be a good time to recap 30 things I’ve learned, observed or been told since arriving in Texas.

The order is random, my experience is limited to the very small area of the Lone Star State I’ve explored, and all of my information, a part from my own observations, comes from locals.

1. In Texas they have ranches, not farms. There are cattle ranches, of course, but there are also chicken ranches and pig ranches and hay ranches and hunting ranches.

2. Blue racer snakes make good pets (although they aren’t native, you can import them from Ohio) because they eat rattlesnakes.

3. It costs approximately $5 million to drill an oil well. The process can be greatly impeded by gumbo, which is a type of mud, not soup.

4. The highest concentration of scorpions in the US are found in AZ, CA, NM and of course Texas. The good news is that they’re primarily nocturnal and hang out under rocks.

5. There is a relatively high demand for chicken manure.

6. On a typical hunting ranch, you pay $1500 for one “set shot”. If you shoot and miss, it’s up to the ranchers discretion whether or not to give you another shot. If you make your shot, you pay for the buck, based on his rack. In Freer there’s a trophy buck that someone paid a quarter of a million to shoot. This one in Max’s Motel and Cafe in Tilden is only a $5000 buck.

7. Not everyone who asks for directions is lost.

For example, Heidi’s  conversation with a trucker yesterday:  Trucker: “Are you familiar with this area?”  Heidi: “No, I’m from Oregon, originally from Iowa.”  Trucker: “Oh, I was going to ask you for directions”.  Heidi: “I have a Texas map, would you like to look at it?”  Trucker: “No, that’s OK, I’m from around here.”

8. Never buy a brown outdoor carpet at Camping World for your RV. Rattlesnakes camouflage themselves on brown Camping World carpets and you could step out of your RV right onto one.

9. Axels confuse even guys. Not only do most of the big rigs stop and wait for permission to go into the site (see sign below), but I had this recent conversation with a really nice young guy in a Ford 150. He pulls up to the stop sign and says (not joking): “Howdy ma’am! Do I have 2 axels?” I say: “Yep.” He says, “I thought so,  good, in that case my name is Bobby Joe!” I don’t know what his name would have been if he’d had 8 or 10 axels.

Since they didn’t seem to know where to go, we’ve added ON IN to the sign.

10. Money you don’t work for (like the money ranchers make from their wells) is called mailbox money.

11. It’s not a real good idea to discharge a loaded 12 gauge shot gun inside an RV.

12. It’s legal to shoot an attacker with a gun but not with wasp spray.

13. Javelina is spelled with a J not an H and there are over 4 million in Texas. They become agitated when dogs bark or they feel threatened by people. The official Texas web guidelines for encouraging a javelina to go away is: “attempt to scare them off by making loud noises and throwing rocks”.

This presents several problems for me: Henry barks at all cows pigs and is unable to distinguish between a pig and a javelina; I’m not very good at being loud or throwing rocks; and javelinas have a scent gland on their lower back which releases a strong, skunk-like smell if they are upset. I’m thinking Henry barking, me being loud and throwing poorly aimed rocks might upset them.

14. There’s a whole lot of spitting in Texas (already covered in detail in Feeling Spit-less).

15. A non-portable dump is a reason for celebration!

16. An average oil well with a 64 ml choke produces 60,000 barrels of oil per day.

17. The speed limit for county roads varies from 70-75.

If you feel someone is driving too slowly, you indicate your desire to pass by driving up to their back bumper and pass (in the no passing zone) when they begin driving halfway on the berm while maintaining their same speed. Not driving on the berm is considered very inconsiderate.

18. Potable drinking water is not drinkable.

19. Most cattle round-ups are done by helicopter since its too expensive to rent a cowboy,$75 per cowboy on foot, and an additional $100 an hour for the horse.

20. There are an estimated 2 million feral hogs in Texas , 50% of all the feral hogs in the U.S.

21. Lots of folks hunt hogs in Texas. Sometimes they put them on their walls.

22. Sometimes they serve feral hog for dinner. The best way to get rid of the gamey taste is to pack the hog in ice for 2-3 days before barbecuing.

23. It usually takes several months to establish an oil well.The riggers make $25-$30 per hour.

24. There is dust covering every surface an hour after you clean, giving new meaning to True Grit.

25. Direct TV is directionally challenged (2 installation attempts in the ocean and 1 in Mexico).

26. 90% of all pickup trucks on ranches and rigs are white Fords.

27. It’s not a great idea to teach yourself how to knit with a cheap WalMart DVD at 2:30 in the morning while wearing a security vest with Velcro strips.

28. You can rent-a-buck for your field of does for somewhere between $30-$50,000.

29. The “Cleanest Little City in Texas” stays clean because if you don’t mow your yard in a timely fashion, the city will mow it for you and charge you $75. Same is true for keeping your property trash and junk free.

30. And finally, after 25 days in Tilden I have no idea why the chicken(s) crossed the road.