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HOME RANGE: Notes on Literature, Nature, Working Dogs, History, Martial Arts, Other Obsessions and Sundry Annoyances by Henry Chappell

A Snakeish Outing

A few days ago, I received an email from Kim Rothe, my editor at Texas Wildlife:

"Just a friendly reminder about your feature on rattlesnakes."


Perhaps someone in an editorial meeting decided I ought to write a rattlesnake piece, and no one informed me. More likely, I signed up to write the piece and promptly forgot all about it. In any case, I'm happy to write the article, and ever-patient Kim has mercifully given me an extra 10 days.

Irresponsibility on my part, you say? I prefer to think of myself as a high-maintenance writer who's worth the extra aggravation.

I could simply pull out a few field guides, bone up on rattlers, call a couple experts, reuse one or two old tales, write a decent article, and collect a check. Sometimes, that's the best you can do.

Instead, I'm heading west day after tomorrow for a very close look at some rattlesnake dens - just to get in the right mood. I have an excellent guide.

Last night, I took my old copy of J. Frank Dobie's Rattlesnakes from my shelf and spent a couple hours freshening up my rattlesnake lore. As I read about 10-foot rattlers and prickly pear flats carpeted by snakes, I kept hearing the voice of one of my favorite Texas philosophers:

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Dog Man

Donny Lynch with three feist puppies
A few days ago I received a text message from my old friend and dog training mentor Donny Lynch:

"I have come out of the cave age."

This was indeed the first text he'd sent me. Attached was this photo of Donny with three squirrel dog puppies, taken by his wife, Lucille. As expected, several more photos followed, all of dogs.

Donny Lynch is a Dog Man.

Most people like dogs, and lots of people love them. But there are very few Dog Men and Dog Women, people whose lives are wrapped around working dogs, who daydream about dogs, who will visit your home and spend more time with your dog than with you.

Like most Dog Men, especially the old-time backwoods variety, Donny takes a casual approach to dog training. None of the formal yard training common to pointing dog and retriever people. He simply trains as he goes about his daily routine. When a pup starts toward him, he'll whistle and call her to establish the association between the command and coming to the boss. A pup is lazing beside his feet in the den? Perfect time to introduce "sit-stay." Or maybe he'll take a kibble from the pocket of his bib overalls, toss it out a few feet and say, "Whup!" By the time the pup heads to the woods, she'll know that "whup" means "Heads up! Something's afoot!"

Being a man of his time and place, Donny will sometimes threaten to "put a boot in that dog's ass" but he never does. In fact, I've never seen him get the least bit rough with a dog. He rarely raises his voice.

He gets his dogs in the woods nearly every day, and not just during squirrel season. Often, on summer nights, my phone will ring. I'll answer to the sound of Donny's dogs treeing a 'coon. No comment necessary, although he'll sometimes add, above the din, "You better get on out here."

A couple years back, during squirrel season, we were eating lunch at a little store near Karnack, in deep East Texas. As usual, a hunter filled every chair in the little eating area. The parking log was full of pickups outfitted with dog boxes. The conversation turned to the subject of whether or not a sure-enough 'coon dog could be called off a tree. This can be a serious issue when a 'coon leads the dog across some broad body of water and there's no boat handy. The general consensus was that it was nearly impossible.

Donny swallowed a bite of cheeseburger, cleared his throat and said, "You hunt that dog about 13 days straight and he'll come off that tree when you call."

Nobody argued.

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Here We Go Again

Well, here I go again, trying to blog. I'm hopeful, but, based on past performance, not optimistic. Perhaps moving from Blogger, where I started Home Range in 2007, to my website, will provide some needed change. Probably not, but we'll see. I write for a living and find that my limited creative energy is best preserved for paying work. Still, when I don't blog, I miss the conversation with readers and fellow bloggers, and I'm forever thinking of good blog posts that would compliment my published work.

Please let me know what you think of the commenting process on this site, especially if you find it cumbersome or have problems.

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