Thursday, April 12, 2012

March 30th, 2012

There could not be such a large influx of inhabitants on virgin soil without somehow upsetting the scheme of things, and on 'Sagebrush Flats" as the Fairview Heights Irrigation District was sometimes called, there had to be confrontation between the rattlesnakes that called this benchland home and the veteran and his family.

The first summer after we moved into our home the sun scorched the land, the dust blew in great clouds every time a car or truck drove past, and at that time the road ran right in front of our house.  We had eleven of these startling encounters with rattlesnakes, - eleven that I counted, anyway.

Changing sprinkler pipes was especially hazardous.  The one thing that the rattlesnake found advantageous about being invaded was the cool running water the strange ones brought along with them, but if you were to put your hand down close to where they might be coiled you would immediately hear the warning rattle and I have many pictures in my mind of sprinkler changers springing into the air with great alarm, alacrity and agitation, in that order.

Probably the most amusing and astounding was Charles' encounter in the outdoor shower.

While working on the project P.F.R.A. had a rather primitive place to sleep and eat, and an outdoor shower.  Two compartments and a barrel of water on top of the building, which by evening was warm and refreshing.  When the P.F.R.A. engineers moved on they bequeathed this shower to Charles, and we were most happy to have it as we did not yet have plumbing in the house.

After a dusty day on the project Charles was ready for this watery refreshment, - went out to have a shower and was happily soaping himself at about the same time Fred Mauer drove into the yard, looking for him.  "Up in the shower" sez I.  Fred went to visit Charles in the shower.  "What's that, what's that". said Fred, in great excitement, pointing to a slithering soapy snake coming up between the slats of the shower, between Charles'  feet. The air was blue, - filled with soap bubbles and a dancing Water Bailiff!  I'm not sure if the rattlesnake retreated or slid away into the sage brush, but it made for an interesting evening.  I'm also not sure if those are the words that Fred Mauer said when he first saw the rattlesnake, - somehow I would guess they would be more pungent.

I do know what happened to the rattlesnake that loitered by the back door, coiled in anticipation of our oldest child approaching on his vehicle.  Was it a kiddie car or a small tricycle?  I have forgotten that in the great melee that followed.

The snake struck tentatively at Steven just as I was coming out the door.  I presume he struck in warning but to a mother and her first born his actions were definitely menacing.  I grabbed a nearby shovel and with pounding heart started to pulverize the poor creature.  He slid under Charles' rubber pants, that he used for spraying and in the frenzied beating on the snake the spray pants suffered a certain amount of fragmentation.

When all had settled down somewhat we went inside and I made a cup of tea - probably Steven was more impressed by his mother beating on his father's spray pants than he was of the poor rattlesnake.

And then there was a rattlesnake who hitched a rider on the tractor when Charles was cutting grass in the orchard, - right behind the seat.  It didn't take Charles long to realize that it was not that tractor that was warning him of some kind of disaster in close proximity.

Thankfully none of the children on the Bench were bitten, but the dogs did not fare so well, - especially the Border Collies we kept,  partly for the sheep we acquired later on and partly as dear members of the family.  When they were bitten they swelled up horribly, but went and found a muddy spot to lie in and meditate on their folly of picking up a rattle snake and  shaking it severely.

I am not sure that the Veteran settlement on the Cawston Bench was met with enthusiasm by the rattlesnakes that lived there, or by everyone else in the surrounding community, but I do know that I never felt any animosity or resentment, and made many good friends amongst the people who had settled in Cawston and Keremeos in earlier years.

Those who were inclined to take part in community affairs were soon an integral part of the whole community.  The Cawston Board of Trade, which had been active and vital to the community, became positively vibrant as it gained so many new and enthusiastic members.  The Board of Trade represented the only formal contact with Government, and they worked hard to bring improvements to the community.  One of the matters which particularly concerned them at that time was the lack of dredging in the river channel, which was filling up with small islands, and the Cawston Board of Trade cooperated with the Keremeos Chamber of Commerce in trying to solve this problem.  However, mainly because of Fishery concerns they were not successful and over the years the river has swung from one side to the other, tearing out great chunks of fine agricultural land.  And the small islands in the river, especially in the vicinity of the Keremeos town site, have grown into large islands, overgrown with trees and shrubs and preventing a clear run for the river, especially in flood time.

Charles still fights this fight each spring as the melting snow in the mountains 
threatens the valley with flooding.

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