When You Have To Fix It Alone

About 40 years ago I went on a hunting trip with my dad to far west Texas for mule deer.  We went to a lease near the “town” of Shafter.  I put the quotes in because it was a place that still had a name on the map but in fact there was nothing there.  It had been a location for one of the only mercury mines in the US for a number of decades but the mine was abandoned after WWII.  Look on a map and you’ll see that Shafter is between Marfa and Presidio, just west of the Big Bend National Park and on the western edge of the Davis Mountains.  Marfa was the place where they filmed Giant back in the ’50’s.   This is very rugged and remote country.  The hills are numerous, steep and covered with sage brush, Yucca plants, mesquite trees and other varieties of cacti.  It is home to snakes, scorpions, huge ants and other creepy crawly creatures of all stripes.   The ranchers horse are special because only those raised right in that area can survive.  Others brought in will almost always in up injuring themselves on the rocks and cactus plants and not make it.

For most of you it is hard to imagine being someplace that is truly remote.  For those living east of the Mississippi it must be especially hard.  There you can’t walk more than a couple of miles without crossing a country road, rail line, encounter a farm or even a small town.  A big farm there would be maybe a few hundred acres at most.  You would never be more than a 20 minute walk from some sign of civilization.   That is why I found the Blair Witch Project so hard to get into because the basic premise of getting lost in Maryland is laughable.  Just walk any direction for a while and you will come across something to follow back to civilization.  It would be impossible not to.   But out in west Texas there are areas where there are in fact no roads.  There will be trails used by ranchers on occasion but they may only use them a couple of times a year to check on their herds.  Sometimes you can walk for miles without even coming across a barbed wire fence.

I didn’t really want to go on this trip because I was worried about the work at the law office and leaving the wife and kids at home for 4 days.  But I decided to go because it meant a lot to my dad for me to be with him.  We arrived late in the afternoon and then drove a few miles on a dirt road into the interior of the lease.  It was a 26,000 acre lease just east of the highway from Marfa to Presidio.  We set up camp and had our dinner.  The camp was on top of one of the many mesas dominating the region.  You could see the lights of Presidio on the distance about 40 miles away on the Rio Grande.  This was an area where illegal aliens often traversed after crossing the river near Presidio.  Dad told me to watch for them and stay out of their way.    The lease was separated roughly into two parts by a huge gorge or canyon down the middle.  It was a few miles farther east from the camp.  We began our hunt the next morning.  I went out alone like we always did with each of us assigned a specific area.  We stayed out of each others way by miles for safety and to increase the odds of finding the deer.  I saw nothing of the deer that morning but did see lots of varmints and critters and the views were spectacular.  That afternoon I went back to the same general area but crossed over that gorge and then back up a steep mountain to hunt from a different location.  I found an area that looked promising with good views of the surrounding territory.  I hadn’t been there long before there was quite a ruckus and I jumped to the alert.   It was a herd of javelinas running through the area.  They aren’t the brightest creatures and make a lot of noise.   I thought about taking one for the pork but then realized it would be a really long haul with that heavy hog all the way back to the camp or to the nearest area where we could get the truck.   I demurred.  No sooner than I sat down again and I saw a buck on the next mountain top.  I moved quickly to get into another position and close the distance gap some.  I was watching the buck more than where I was walking and the next thing I knew it felt like I had be slapped with a baseball bat across my shin.  It hurt like hell immediately.  I looked down and saw that there was a yucca plant there with those long needles.  Those needles on the ends of yuccas can be as long as a three penny nail and they are as sharp as a needle.  The indians used to use them for that purpose in fact.  I pulled up my jeans over my shin and saw a small round wound on the front of my shin.  The size of a pea.  Blood was oozing out.  But no other sign of injury.  I started to walk but every step was agonizing.  It felt like that bat was being slapped against me every step I took.  It hurt so bad it took my breath away.  I sat down to examine the w0und more closely.  It hurt to touch but there wasn’t much option.  I discovered that the tip end of the yucca needle had broken off inside me, underneath the skin.  I could feel it there.  It had penetrated and then the back end of it had moved underneath the skin so that it wasn’t protruding out of the wound but was off to the side under the skin.  I pondered what to do.  Dark would be coming soon and I knew I couldn’t walk the way it was.  The pain was too great as the sharp end kept jabbing on the nerves or whatever inside.  I tried moving it with my fingers to work it into a position so I could “squeeze” it back out of the open wound puncture hole.  Every time it killed me and I screamed from the pain.   I didn’t care at that point about screaming like a girl and besides there was no one to hear me.   I could scream as loud as I wanted.  After about 15 minutes I knew I had to come up with another plan because the squeezing, pushing and maneurvering with my fingers was getting no where.  Well, hell, just like those old western about cutting the skin with a knife to suck out the snake venon I was going to have to do a little surgery to get the sucker out.  I was getting bloodier by the minute which didn’t bother me except it made it that much harder to work and see.  So I got out my skining knife which was the sharpest of the two I carried on deer hunts.  I thought about it.  Maybe make the smallest cut possible?   I decided that was dumb since the pain would be the same and for the same amount of time making the cut and if it was too small I would have to do it all over again.  I didn’t like the idea of going through this twice.  So I made the cut right on the edge of the wound and dug deep and made a slit about half and inch long.  More darn blood gushed out.  I moved quickly so  I wouldn’t chicken out and reached in for the tip.  This time I was able to maneuver it so that the back end did reach the new opening in my skin I had cut.  It came right out.  Ah.  The relief was immediate.  I washed it up some with my water canteen and set off for camp.  It still hurt very badly but it was at least manageable.  It just hurt, it wasn’t taking my breath away any more.  I made it back to camp just after dusk.  Dad noticed the limp and asked and I just said I had a thorn that hit me in the leg.  I little of this and that from the  medical kit and I was good to go.  It remained swollen and red and inflamed for the next couple of days of the trip and I definitely had a limp but it was done. 

Sometimes we have to make do on our own.  That is not always a bad thing.  In our day to day existence we can count on “help” from every where for most matters.  That was an instance where if it was going to be fixed I was the only fixer around.   The episode taught me a lot.  You can do more than you think most of the time.  Pain and just a tad of fear can be a hell of a motivator.  www.olcranky.wordpress.com



Filed under family, geography, history, Mother Nature

2 responses to “When You Have To Fix It Alone

  1. blu

    good story! i love the descriptive details about west texas. i thought you the baseball slap was going to be a porcupine or javelina running you down. a thorn!

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