When the TV Went on Vacation

Sometimes a TV should be seen and not heard. Or maybe not seen at all. Right now our TV is hiding out behind a tent, taking a little well-deserved vacation.

Roughing it in the living room for a night.

This all started a few nights ago. I came downstairs after putting the kids to bed, meaning to do the dishes, wash diapers, and fold laundry. I was tired, though, and I sat down for “five minutes” in front of the laptop. And an hour and a half later, I peeled my eyes away from the screen and went to bed. No dishes washed or laundry done. I was mad at myself for it and decided it was time for that business to stop.

When I’m tired, I sit down in front of the computer. I let the kids sit down in front of the TV. Meanwhile, the sun is shining outside on our limited summer vacation time, or the moon is up and everyone should be sleeping. Screen time interrupts all of that. The lazy, hazy days of summer fly by at a dizzying pace, and I want to absorb them all.

So, the next morning I told the kids the TV was going on vacation for a week. The laptop was, too. I braced myself for the “No, c’mon, Mom!!”. Surprisingly, it didn’t happen, because as much as they like watching PBS Kids, they felt even more excited knowing Mom wasn’t going to be in another world on the computer. We shut off the TV, put the laptop away in a drawer, and ate breakfast. That was it.

Four kids chopping up rhubarb for a yummy dessert. Even the baby gets to wield a knife.

And then we started living. We played kickball. We made strawberry rhubarb crunch together. We rode bikes around and around the driveway. We watched the chickens peck the ground. Literally.

Before this summer, I never spent any length of time around chickens. I discovered, though, that watching chickens industriously amble around on the hunt for bugs is strangely satisfying. I love when a chicken runs full speed in pursuit of a fluttering moth, or snags a big grasshopper and then scurries away to protect the treasure from other chickens. And who doesn’t appreciate a nasty earwig meeting its end? What good little chickens. Sitting in a comfy chair while watching chickens go about their quiet business provides the same soothing effect as watching a bonfire or a snowfall. Who knew chickens could be mesmerizing?

Turning off the TV also made ample time for creative, inventive play. On Sunday morning, in the lull between getting dressed and heading to church, I overheard the kids in the living room playing charades. Stomping around the room with arms chugging and plenty of sound effects I heard, “What am I?” “A train?” “Yeah, but what kind?” “Passenger?” “Freight train?” “YESSS!!! Ok! You’re turn!” And so, full engrossed, their game continued for another 15 minutes. I’m not sure where they even learned to play charades. Ironically, maybe they saw it on TV.

My ever-so-industrious kids also engaged in plenty of creative activities even when I was not even around. At some point, apparently someone hosted a dance party in the kitchen. On my loaf of bread. When I made toast one day, I pulled out a slice that looked a bit rumpled. I straightened it out a bit and popped it in the toaster. Once toasted, a very clear foot imprint revealed itself, complete with five little toes. A little foot-identification confirmed the foot stamp belonged to a certain very adorable baby girl. I’m not sure, however, who kindly put the slice of bread back in the bag after she stamped it.

Always return stomped bread into the bag, so nobody will ever know.

I bet someone could find all sorts of crafty applications for baby foot prints on slices of bread, but for right now, the toast is just sitting on a plate on top of our microwave. It’s just a little too cute to throw away. Perhaps I should varnish it into a Christmas ornament.

My three-year-old, not to be outdone by his baby sister, spent some TV-free time experimenting in fluid dynamics. His great discovery? A wide orange juice lid, installed horizontally, deep inside a drinking glass, creates a water tight seal and is nearly impossible to remove.

A fun experiment: Shove an orange juice lid in a glass while Mom’s not watching, and create a water tight seal.

Kitchen creations aside, a few days into our TV’s vacation, the quiet in the house became apparent to everyone. My five-year-old son remarked, “It’s been kind of quiet and nice. It’s just peaceful around here.” And it was.

Hanging around in the quiet on a cloudy, rainy night, my five-year-old asked if maybe he could go camping “back by the sheep fence in the trees.” I felt bad that we hadn’t done any camping this summer, not even in the yard. But I didn’t feel bad enough to head out to a cold, rainy night in a tent.

So I did what any parent would do, I told him yes. All he had to do was get the tent out of the attic, haul it outside, carry it through wet knee-high grass, and not get it in any sheep p…resents along the way. And then he needed to do the same with all of his blankets and his pillow.

Considering it for about two seconds, he said, “How about a tent in the living room?”

Now there’s an idea! I couldn’t deny that one. Filed away in my memory bank are many happy times building forts with my cousins for sleepovers in my grandma’s living room. As a veteran living room camper, I knew that the building of the tent and preparing beds would be far more exciting than the actual camping part. A tent, after all, is a tent: first it’s too hot, then it’s too cold. The one consistent is that it’s always uncomfortable. But I certainly would not deny my children the experience of all that adventurous living. No siree. We hooked together the poles, applied a little duct tape help as needed, and they had a fine camp out ready in our living room. All courtesy of the TV going on vacation.

That night, three kids excitedly headed to bed in a tent-filled living room. Giggles, excitement, a little nervousness, and an over-active three-year-old kept them all awake still at 10:30. Sometime around 2:00 AM, all that excitement and ensuing exhaustion led to a wet sleeping bag. Then around 3:00 AM, we had another wet pile of blankets. Who knew that less TV = more laundry? I swapped out wet for dry, tucked in the kids again, and they spent the rest of the night in camping bliss.

The next morning, triumphant in their camping experience, my daughter proudly deemed the living room tent sleepers now had the official title of Junior Campers. Every important feat deserves an equally important title.

Many thanks to our TV and laptop for taking much-needed breaks last week. Turns out we don’t need you two nearly as much as we thought.


Life on the Mississippi: Boating, Babies, Burns and Beaches

Several times a summer, we take family getaway cruises on the Riviera. No, not on one of those dreary cruise ships. On my brother’s private yacht. It’s absolutely divine, dah-ling.

Yes, it’s a long-standing family ritual to head to the Riviera. The Mississippi Riviera, that is. We always go to the (ahem) highly exclusive Port of Bass Camp in Minnesota City, MN.    Not just anyone is allowed to launch there, of course. No, you first need to pay your $7 and wait your turn for the camo-painted fishing boat to launch ahead of you. And sometimes that takes an extra few minutes because a guy can only do things so fast if he already has a High Life in his hand. This is life on the Mississippi.

Nope, no cruise ships around here. But there are plenty of party barges and a few house boats that have seen better days.  It’s more like a three hour tour, a threeee hour toooour…. (are you humming the Gilligan’s Island theme song yet?)

And did I say yacht earlier? Well, perhaps technically it’s just called a boat. But my brother’s Larson does feel like luxury because it always starts, has nice paint, no cracks in the seats, lots of power, and was made well after I was born.

boating on the Mississippi

The misty soft focus, created by a careful smear of sunscreen over the lens, truly conveys the romance of boating.

In the boat world, it is practically new, just over ten years old, and rides smoothly and loads up easily. Most notably, the boat is a three-decade upgrade in style and comfort from our old 70’s tri-hull that used to spank its riders across waves and throw people’s backs out trying to load it onto a trailer. Ah, I fondly recall those days.

These days, on several Saturdays a summer, my brother tows his boat down to the Mississippi and my family converges on Bass Camp, our preferred place to launch. As we drive in to Bass Camp, just past the purple martin houses, my kids sometimes say, “Remember that big dead fish?” because two or three years ago (a lifetime in their world) a big dead smelly something-or-other fish found it’s final resting place on the shore next to the dock.

In the scariest nightmare ever a few days later, my then two-year-old son woke up crying and whimpered, “It’s sniffing me! The big fish. It’s sniffing me.” It’s ironic that he’d dream a smelly fish was trying to sniff him. He usually smells pretty clean.

Dead fish or no dead fish, we tromp down the scorching hot wood planks of the dock. The sun beats down as we load up my brother’s boat with towels, toys, and thirst quenchers. Once in the boat, we all fling our flip flops in a small mountain under the dash on the passenger side. No need for shoes on the river. With little tikes properly buckled into life jackets, we ease out of the dock area and slowly troll out of the no-wake zone at Bass Camp.

Once we hit the main channel, it’s throttle down time. As the motor revs up, stress immediately cuts in half. Sweat on hot heads evaporates into the water-cooled breeze. Mini vans and jobs get temporarily abandoned on the shore, replaced with deep blue water in a tree-covered valley. Little kids up front reach out hands to catch the spray as they bounce along with wind-blown grins. The feeling of easy livin’ blows all around in the breeze.

Water droplets and sand, the good life on the Mississippi River.

Once we arrive on our favorite sand bar on the Wisconsin side of the river, life settles into the Mississippi Routine. Unload the stuff, unroll the blankets, unleash the sunscreen. Liberally lather the sunscreen on the entire fair-skinned, freckle-covered crew, while debating proper application techniques and sunscreen brands. “That kind is highly toxic and causes cancer.” “Yeah, but it smells good and it’s so much easier to use.” Renew sunscreen discussion in two hours when it’s time to reslime the crew.

For the next 2-5 hours, avoid all of the following: drowning, sunburn, dehydration, horseflies, gnats, poison ivy along the treeline, flying carp while tubing, zebra mussel cuts on feet, sand consumption, losing cell phone or keys in sand or water, extreme wedgies from tubing wipeouts, suspicious squishy mud underfoot in water, and grinding up the boat prop on unseen wing dams or logs.

However, do take part in all of the finer points of the Mississippi. Turn kids loose with implements of sand destruction and watch as ponds, moats and little rivers appear on the shoreline, and mountains of sand appear on beach blankets. Every afternoon on the river should include at least one baby of sand-eating age.

Hair coated in sand, sunscreen, and peanut butter, a cup of bonus sand lurking at the bottom of the swimming suit: standard issue for a baby’s day at the river.

And of course, head to the water for swimming, splashing and the unspoken place to…well…pee. (Can I say that in the paper?) Actually, that part is spoken, my niece proudly announces her actions to give everyone else around fair warning of any unexpected warm spots in the water. It’s the same sort of phenomenon that also happens while floating in tubes down a river: even though people might be on a river for hours, nobody ever needs to stop and use the bathroom. Hmm…

Water play on the Mississippi also means tubing behind the boat. Integral parts of the tubing experience include whipping around the corners, hanging on for dear life until forearms are raw and hands can’t grip anymore, epic crashes, bodies skipping across the river like nice, smooth rocks, free high-pressure sinus cavity cleansing, and involuntary swimming suit realignment. And sometimes, tubing means slow, scenic rides for the little kids.

mississippi river

15 first cousins, including our four kids, hanging out together for a day on the Mississippi.

All of that activity also means eating is essential. The basic river diet includes sandwiches (with a strong emphasis on “sand” for little kids), munching on a few salty chips, some juicy grapes, and washing it all down with icy cold drinks from the cooler. Cookies are also a necessity. Note that babies at the river will only consume food liberally coated in sand. Sand Doritos are a perennial favorite.

A day at the Mississippi also includes wildlife. Eagles, turtles, geese, clams, fish and river rats are common sights at the river. River rats are a prevalent native species, and quite easy to spot. You can recognize this native wildlife by their uber-tanned skin and relaxed smiles. They are often found riding in boats built for speed with excellent sound systems, with red-painted boats usually thumping the loudest music. Jimmy Buffet songs are a common mating call. While slightly untamed, river rats are a friendly wildlife. Like any native species, I’m quite certain they are meant to be there.

And when the sun sinks in the sky, the sounds of motors dissipate and the quiet of a massive river prevails. Sparkling water laps at the sand bar and fading sun illuminates beach-goers in a golden warm glow. Shaking sand off the beach blankets and swishing babies in the river to empty out their loads of swimming suit sand, we pack up the boat.

Heading off into the sunset on the boat ride back to Bass Camp and our waiting vehicles, our surroundings are summery blue skies above, water below, and a lush tree-covered valley all around.

The sinking sun glitters on the water, and the moist spray smells fresh in the breeze. Sun-soaked bodies feel hungry and tired, but life is good. That is life on the Mississippi.

And finally, after a day filled with earth, water, and wind, the most suitable nightcap is little fire. That, and a few s’mores.

Turning 30-Ah-Who-Cares-What

My new shiny red slice of freedom, old school style. (With my three-year-old’s slice of freedom in the background.)

I’m turning 30-ah-who-cares-what tomorrow.  Honestly, who really cares what the number is.  Well, I guess the DMV cares about my age, but that’s only because I just had to identify myself for my new MN license.

I’ve decided that my new age is “Adult.”  Really, that’s about good enough.  Nobody asks for ID if I buy alcohol, nobody looks at me strangely for being a parent, but nobody’s looking to put me in a nursing home.  Let’s see… I believe that makes me…adult.  Once you turn 21, the importance of the number dissolves.  The only time adults really make any to-do about a birthday is when it ends in a something-0.

This isn’t a big something-0 year.  No black t-shirts tell me that I’m over the hill.  There’s no milestone where I’m suddenly supposed to feel sad and old.  For the record, I don’t plan on a crisis at 40, either.  Life’s too interesting for that.

Even though this isn’t a milestone birthday, I felt inspired to do something to commemorate my birthday this year.  Last fall, while brushing my teeth in the bathroom, I made a solemn vow to myself: I will go kayaking for my birthday.  Knowing we were moving near Lanesboro, MN, I envisioned a solo kayaking adventure: an afternoon with no kids.  Just me, water, a paddle, just enough excitement, and some time for my thoughts. That was my plan months ago.

The clock just flipped over to 12:01, so it is officially now my birthday for the next 23 hours and 59 minutes.

So, here are my plans for the day, that is, after I go to bed and get up in the morning: do the dishes I should’ve done last night, but instead watched the Olympics.  Wash the laundry I didn’t get to last week because there were too many other fun things to do (like going out for lunch while my mother-in-law from Montana spent a week visiting us). Clean the bathroom that was on my list for yesterday, and clear off the two pesky counters that I’ve meant to clear off since we moved in. Oversee the kids getting their chores done.  And of course, feed kids nutritious, delicious meals that fully utilize the boatloads of produce in our fridge.

Anyway, not on the list is kayaking.  It’s probably not happening this weekend, either. My Saturday plan includes a list of food and prep for our Baptism Birthday Bash extravaganza on Sunday.  And I’m ok with that.  The work is for a good cause.  It’s our baby girl’s baptism, and Sunday also happens to be my husband’s birthday.  He conveniently has his birthday just three days after mine, so the birthday party is part mine, too.

Kayaking?  Penciled in the agenda for next weekend.

That’s really how it is, though, on your “Adult” birthday.  Being “adult-years-old” means that there is a good chance that your plans and desires are inextricably entagled with the plans and desires of family and coworkers (which, for me, are one and the same). This is the age of compromise.  I’d love to go snorkel Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but that really just isn’t feasible right now.  I can, however, take the kids’ new snorkel sets to the St. Charles pool.

So, yes, my birthday plans got bumped.  And nobody (including me) really cares what my official age is, but that isn’t to say that I’ve thrown in the towel.  Reaching the age of Adult does not mean “curl up and die.”  I’m really quite happy to be alive.

I think one of the most fruitless, ridiculous things people can say is, “I’m old,” especially when they’re not.  It’s a waste of time.  I’m never going to be younger than I am right now.  Why would I want to waste that wishing it was 10 or 20 years ago?  When I hear someone long before retirement talking about how OLD they are, I just can’t help but wonder if they’ll be wishing back their 40s and 50s when they’re in their 80s.

So today, it’s my birthday, and I’m not old.  I know it.  The gray hairs that I douse with hair color every so often beg to differ, but who cares.  My legs still run.  My pants still fit.  I’m thankful for my health.  I have a cousin my age with cystic fibrosis.  Her life is a constant battle for health.  She spends weeks, even months, in the hospital at a time.  I’m in awe of her perseverance, optimism, and emotional strength.  She fights endlessly to just have a normal life.  How can I be anything but grateful for my own healthy life?

If I had a soundtrack for my birthday, I’d play “Blessed” by Brett Dennen.  By name, the song sounds like it might be a pious church hymn, but it’s actually a little acoustic guitar ditty that instantly makes me want to groove in the kitchen, even before my cup of coffee.

I welcome the sun
the clouds and rain
the wind that sweeps the sky clean
and lets the sun shine again.
This is the most magnificent
life has ever been
here is heaven and earth
and the brilliant sky in between.
Blessed is this life
and I’m gonna celebrate being alive.

Welcoming clouds and rain is what really strikes me, contentment in the storm.  Any fool can be happy in the sunshine.  I am blessed.  I was blessed with three puddles of pee on the floor today.

Later in the day, I was blessed with an outdoor performance of the play “Cold Winter Mountains.”  That play on my porch, set in the arctic (then the desert, the rain forest, and the ocean) featured three of my favorite child actors.  They performed stirring roles as penguins, cheetahs, poison tree frogs, kangaroos, and killer whales and more.  The play dissolved in the 4th Act over a disagreement over the handling of stage props. “I need the basketball hoop DOWN! That’s my burrow.”  “Well, I don’t like it tipped over.  I need it UP!” Ah, actors and their drama.  I am blessed to have them in my life.

What more could I ask for on my 30-ah-who-cares-what birthday?

A Birthday Epilogue

Turns out, my birthday was far more grand than I ever asked for or expected.  The day after my birthday, my husband and I went out to celebrate our mutual birthdays.  It was our first date in 15 months: the last date we had was our anniversary last year when we took along our then three-week-old baby girl.  On our honest-to-goodness REAL date, I downed a great plate of spicy Mexican at Rubio’s in Winona, MN, we shared a bird bath-sized margarita, and took in the view from the lookout at Garvin Heights.  We rode home in the pickup with the windows down and the radio cranked up, side by side on the bench seat.

Happy birthdays to us…Mexican style.

When we approached my brother’s house where my niece was babysitting our kids, Jarred told me, “I got you a present.” I responded, “Yeah, going out was great.”  As we pulled into the driveway, he said, “No, I got you a present.”  And there, under the light of the garage, shining like a beacon in the night, was a SHINY RED BIKE, complete with a bow.  For me?  For me! It’s the quintessential red bike, looking like the kind that a kid would’ve found under the tree on Christmas morning in the 1950s.  A big thank you goes out to Rosie, who had the bike for sale, and to my husband, Jarred, for thinking of me and getting it as a surprise.

I of course had to immediately take it out for a victory lap spin around the block, out in the dark, under the street lights.

Jarred tucked the bike into the minivan before loading up the kids.  As I drove the kids home, I rested my hand on the cool metal of the gleaming red fender the whole way back, a ten-year-old girl with a new bike.  And after I tucked the kids in bed, I took it out for a cruise on the moonlit road in front of our house, because I’m gonna celebrate being alive.

A Clothesline Romance

One of my favorite memories is crawling in bed on a summer night, hair still damp from a Saturday night bath, and diving in between cool, crisp cotton sheets that smell like grass and sunshine, fresh from the clothesline.

I remember giggling as I felt the breeze blowing in from the window, looking out at the gently swaying leaves of our gigantic trees that made a canopy of shade in the summertime, and hugging my favorite blankie while I inhaled its every well-worn inch. It smelled so incredibly good after hanging outside all afternoon.

Everything felt so clean and fresh and good, and all was right with the world. They say that scent is one of the strongest triggers of memories, and every time I smell sheets fresh from the clothesline, it brings back that time.

One of my very favorite photos ever, my little girl in her “prairie girl” dress playing in the sheets, her brother in the background.

I love clotheslines. The sight of crisp sheets, sunning in the breeze, gives me a feeling of utter contentment.

So many of my memories growing up are linked directly to the clothesline on the side of our house. It was, of course, a magnificent clothesline. The horizontal metal pole on one end grew directly into a huge pine tree, hugged deeply by bark on top and bottom. A pine tree helping support the clothesline? Absolutely amazing to me as a child. That horizontal clothesline crossbar was strong enough that we used the bar for gymnastic feats of near-Olympic caliber while Mom pinned up towels on the lines.

Also amazing was the fact that my mom actually grew clothes pins. Whenever an old clothes pin broke, she chucked the broken one into the day lilies by the side of the house, always telling us that the long, thick leaves were new clothes pins growing. I never actually saw those leaves “flower” into clothes pins, but sometimes I even threw in extras, just to help Mom grow more. She was always running out of clothes pins, after all.

The best thing about the clothesline as a kid was running full speed through the rows of towels and sheets, shoving them up in the air as we ran underneath. Crispy, stiff towels brushed on my cheeks as I went past and sheets billowed up to catch the breeze just long enough to dash through. Sometimes we even drove the 4-wheeler under the clothesline to have the same effect.

clothes line diapers

I remember wishing I could be a sheet on the wash line, waving up and down and snapping in the breeze. It seemed like that had to be a sheet’s very favorite time, getting to hang out on the line to dance and play in sunshine. I also wished I could be the grapevines that spiraled and curled along the wires of my grandma’s clothesline, racing to grow to the other end.

.On the business side, I clearly remember Mom’s mad dashes to the line and her yelling, “My towels!” when the first big rain drops rapped against the windows. Out the porch door and around the corner she’d race to the clothesline, trying to save everything from needing a trip to the dryer.

And woe to the puppy that pulled clean towels off the line. A very good swatting with those towels, if done properly, only took one time to cure Buster (we had several Busters growing up) of pulling things off the line.

Today when I hear of housing developments with restrictive covenants not allowing a clothesline, it simply feels like an abomination and an assault to my sensibilities. I understand that in a row of perfect houses, hanging out towels is far too “redneck” to be acceptable. Maybe it’s not so much redneck, though, as far too human.

In eliminating clotheslines in the quest for perfectly tidy yards, we lose a part of our humanity. Towels, sheets, and jeans on the line at our neighbor’s house provide very concrete evidence that there is, quite literally, dirty laundry in that home. We are human. We all have it. It’s hard to maintain the pretense of perfection if slightly tattered towels are out there for the world to see. When did it become unacceptable to be human, a real human with laundry drying in the breeze?

At our new house here out in the country one of the things I loved right away is the long, ample clothesline that definitely means business. Laundry business. It’s a little crooked and needs to be shored up, but in the mean time, the line hangs low enough in some places that our kids can reach it and help hang up clothes. Lots of chores around the house hold no interest, but hanging up things on the line is pretty much always a fun job.

cloth diapers clothes line

Three kids helping hang diapers in the sunshine. (Helpfulness like this just has to be photographed.)

What endears me to clotheslines is the very visual evidence of a family’s life inside a home. Driving past a farm with clothes out on the line, it’s such a signal of life, industry, and a busily humming family inside that home. A line of clean clothes hanging up to dry says that someone’s working hard to keep life peacefully in order. There’s a Puritan practicality and work ethic appeal in a row of clothes out on the line.

What I feel like when I hang clothes on the line.   (artist unknown)

Not only does life feel industrious and in order, but a trip out to the clothesline for ten minutes really feels like adult recess. Ten minutes to soak up vitamin D out in the sunshine and wind all by myself is heaven. Sometimes in a busy day of completing my mental to-do list, I don’t even step outside the house until I haul out a load of laundry.

Then, when I step outside, it’s a wonderful paradigm shift. Away from the noise of busy kids, all is quiet, and breeze, warm sun, and birds suddenly fill my senses. All of the stress of things to do in the house disappear for a little while in the simple, quiet rhythm of grabbing items from a basket and hanging them on the line. I value that in my rinse-and-repeat world of being a mom.  

And when the load of laundry is all up on the line, it’s such a pleasing sight that I usually take a few steps back and just stare at the line for a little bit. A nicely pinned up row of sheets or towels gives me a momentary sense that life is all in order. Well, at least part of it, anyway.

Using a clothesline is so nice that sometimes I let the towels enjoy a full two days out there, or even three. Yes, let’s just call that intentional. I’m doing the towels a favor. Unlike my mom, I often don’t dart outside when the rain starts, so sometimes the towels even get an extra rinse with soft rainwater. Purely deliberate, of course.

When I was in high school, old enough to dream about my life as an adult, I sometimes imagined one day looking out of my kitchen window to see kids playing outside and sheets drying in the breeze on the wash line. And today, I have four little kids running full speed through my sheets, hiding between the towels, and accidentally tugging my clean things off of the lines.

And as I yell, “My towels!” to get my kids to slow down a bit, they have no idea how utterly happy the whole scene makes me.  

© 2012

That Sprinkler in Your Lawn Just Might be a Rattlesnake

 “Dear Dad, Thanks for chopping the head off the snake. I love you.” 

If snakes give you nightmares, better just stop reading right now. Never mind, you probably can’t help yourself.  It’s like unexpectedly coming across a gigantic bug. You can’t hardly stand to look at it, but you also can’t stand to not take a look, either.

First of all, many thanks to the little fox snake sitting on our basement steps recently as my daughter went downstairs to get some dog food. Without you, you darn snake, I might not have snakes on my mind.

In the last few years, I’ve had entirely more contact with snakes that I’ve ever wanted. Growing up, my childhood was blissfully snake free. I knew we had rattlesnakes in SE Minnesota, but I only ever saw them behind aquarium glass at Whitewater State Park. And even with the glass between us, I still wondered if maybe the snake could somehow get out. I can recall only two other snake sightings in my entire childhood out in the country, and those snakes weren’t rattlers.

Rattlesnake Adventures

Broadview Montana rattlesnakes

Mosdal Road in Broadview, Montana. Population: two grandparents, and a few pesky rattlesnakes.

Where we now live Minnesota, there was a bounty paid for rattlesnakes many years ago.  The numbers declined sharply and now the timber rattlesnake is listed as a threatened species. In Montana, by contrast, the western rattlesnake is alive, well, and quite bountiful.

My first run-in with a rattlesnake happened the summer of 2003, shortly after we moved to our trailer house on my husband’s grandparents’ farm in Broadview, Montana. I sat out on the front steps one evening, just after our five nieces and nephews left our house after a visit to play in our yard. As I sat there on that quiet night, I heard the sprinkler running by our house… but hey, wait a minute…we don’t have a sprinkler.

There, less than 10 feet from the front steps, right where some of my favorite kiddos played moments before, was a rattlesnake busily shaking its tail. I don’t remember the specific method my husband, Jarred, used to get rid of it, but I believe it involved a shovel, some chopping motion, and then a garbage can.

Rattlesnakes around the Broadview, MT area are a common sight. While I was teaching at the school there, the elementary teachers one day nervously came in from the playground reporting that they’d found a baby rattler on the playground. Locals there say the babies are particularly dangerous because when they bite, they don’t hold back, and will use their full supply of venom when they strike. I believe our janitor at school had a small, slithery extra duty that day in addition to sweeping the floors.

As for me, I had several more encounters with rattlesnakes while we lived in our trailer. Every summer we’d find at least one rattlesnake, and some years three or four, right by our house. Standard practice is grabbing the nearest hoe or shovel: they are not a threatened species in MT. My brother-in-law, a Montana native, wisely advises, “How do you know when a rattlesnake is dead? When the shovel breaks.” I can’t say I personally ever had the guts to kill a rattlesnake with a shovel, but I did squish one with a strategically placed Buick tire once or twice.

When we moved out of our trailer house in the country, I excitedly hoped we’d see far less snakes living in our new little log house on the edge of town. As “luck” would have it, that didn’t exactly happen. Playing outside one day on the side of the house, we found a rattlesnake just off our front steps. Just as we saw it, my then three-year-old daughter came around the house.

Nothing made my heart sink more than seeing my daughter no more than 15 feet from me, with a rattlesnake in the middle between us. Fearing that my little girl would get scared of the snake and instinctively run toward me, and inadvertently run closer to the snake, I screamed her name and yelled at her to stop. It’s a tough balance to convey urgency, but not panic, when every fiber in me is terrified because my daughter is within striking distance of a venomous snake.

Luckily, she did as she was told, and her dad came to the rescue and killed the rattlesnake. He then dumped the snake in the garbage can. It continued to involuntarily coil and twist its body around for long enough afterward that I had to go inside because I couldn’t stand hearing the sound of a dead snake’s body twisting around in the garbage. The thought still makes me cringe.

Rattlesnake snakes often travel in breeding pairs, and just a few days after the near run-in with our daughter, we found another rattler by the back steps. Jarred added it to our collection in the garbage can. We just really didn’t have any room for that kind of wildlife in our yard with two toddlers out and about.

Rattlesnake encounter

The side of our house, where kids, the dog, and a rattlesnake hung out.

Just this spring while unpacking, I came across a Father’s Day card from that year, a card I’d completely forgotten about. On the card was a special message to Dad that I transcribed for our daughter, “Dear Dad, Thanks for chopping the head off the snake. I love you.

Now that’s a card that not every dad gets on his special day from his little girl.

I’d like to say that this is the extent of my snake tales to tell, unfortunately, it is not. While snakes completely freak me out, it is sort of therapeutic writing snake tales, much like describing a bad dream to someone makes the dream not so scary. I actually don’t have room in this week’s column to tell my um, “favorite” snake tale. That story will have to wait until another time, which probably makes you either say “Ooooh!” or “Eeeeew!” depending on your feelings about animals with no legs. I’ll give you a teaser line though: Bull snakes can climb walls!

Which brings me back to the present, when my now six-year-old girl discovered a little coiled snake sitting on the steps as she came back up from the basement. An internet search led me to the “Snakes and Lizards of Minnesota” pamphlet available online from the Department of Natural Resources. There I learned by looking at photos, and reading utterly helpful but not terribly comforting information about snakes, that our home visitor was likely the Western Fox Snake. Mystery solved.

Unfortunately, I kept reading and found this entirely unsettling tidbit, “This snake is frequently encountered in people’s homes, especially homes with stone foundations.” Care to venture a guess on what our foundation is made of? I really do not enjoy snakes, and I would prefer ignorance on the issue, thinking that this snake just made a horrible mistake, not a preferential habitat selection at our house.

Jarred scooped up the little guy in a plastic garbage bag and he relocated it behind his shop. It obviously wasn’t a rattler, and if it wants to catch some mice, we aren’t going to get in its way. We aren’t just indiscriminate snake killers, for the record.

Just the same, it is a snake, and apparently the kind that likes houses. Sometimes I hate the internet and the information it so easily provides. I just didn’t want to know that.