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NANCY LUNZER
About Nancy Lunzer

 

Rattlesnake Rider

The day sure’d be long if the sun wouldn’t set,
Was the thought that kept circling my head.
Dust, sweat and grime laid deep in the crease
Of my eyes as I squinted ahead.

We rode to the crown of a sandhill at dusk,
Where a windmill filled tanks in long rows.
Muscles bent hard as I swung a wood leg
Blood tingled stiff ankles and toes.

The day started well with the sun all aglow,
‘Til the bottomland cattle had scattered.
The rest of the day we spent getting the herd,
Then fixing the fences they’d tattered.


Bone tired I pulled all the tack from my horse,
Then I rubbed him and patted his flank.
I filled my canteen from the cold windmill pipe,
He quenched his great thirst from the tank.

I turned to the fire and stared at the flames,
And wondered what made this herd roam.
Despite the best pasture and fresh water near,
Something had chased them from home.

We followed their tracks and they ran in the hills,
They busted through wire and posts.
But we never found tracks from the thing that gave chase.
They seemed to be spooking from ghosts.

I opened my eyes when I heard the herd rise,
We jumped to our feet and grabbed hats.
Before we could get our tack on our hack,
The cows were as twitchy as gnats.

Before sun had risen above the horizon,
The wind had stirred dust to a haze.
Then out of the dust lit behind by the sun,
A rider rose out of the blaze.

We stared and we squinted our hats pulled down low,
As the shape grew up large in the sky.
The rider was wildly hazing the horse,
Whose ears were pinned flat on wild eye.

The rider pulled near and planted all four.
What we thought was a whip had us staring;
The diamond marked skin on the whip at its tip,
Flicked its tongue, coiled tight and was glaring.

The person was female that peered ‘neath a hat,
Squashed flat like a rag on her head.
Lips puckered down deep where there should have been teeth,
And her skin was the pale of the dead.

She acted quite addled as quick as a doe,
Her horse as a jumpy as fleas.
She never stopped watching the sun at her back,
When her voice croaked a great raspy wheeze.

“You better get moving,’ the lips sputtered forth,
“I wouldn’t be stayin’ here long.
I’m not riding fast for the good of my health,
I been riding since yesterday dawn.”

“There ain’t much that scares me, I ain’t like to run,
But the thing that’s behind me is keen.
From the moment it clambered up over that ridge,
It’s wanted to pick my bones clean.”

“I set up my camp on the edge of the ridge,
So the cliff could be kept at my back.
I hadn’t et nothin’ since dawn of the day,
When I heard a poplar twig crack.

I got up my gun and I kicked in the weeds,
And a flush of feathers exploded.
I spitted the bird and hung it to cook,
While I cleaned up my gun and re-loaded.

I ate that there bird standing dead on my feet,
I drifted asleep in mid-smack.
When I woke in the night I still held a crisp wing,
And a creak and an ache in my back.

I stared at the coals when my horse pricked her ears,
And focused out just past my head.
I didn’t react ‘till her eyes rolled back white,
And I knew I was soon to be dead.”

The stench of the cat no one wants at their camp,
Drifted high to my perch on that ledge.
A great tawny paw gripped the tip of the lip,
And a cat poked it’s head o’er the edge.

The cat grimaced mean showing all of its teeth,
The yellow eyes slitted their hate.
A menacing snarl wrinkled its cheeks
And I started to feel like a steak.

“I reached for the whip that I kept at my side,
And I gave it a crack for a hoot.
And quick as a toad at a fly passing by,
I walloped that cat on the snoot.”

“I smiled at first when the whip flicked its mark.
The cat shank back clear to the edge.
When claws fast as light jerked that whip from my grip,
And spun me near clear off the ledge.”

“Stunned as I was, so sure it was done,
I should have been seeing cat butt.
That cat growled and hissed and spitted its hate,
And I got a bad feel in my gut.”

“I back-pedaled then, found a rock then another,
I climbed like a monkey with fleas.
I didn’t look back ‘til I got pretty high,
When I dropped out of breath to my knees.”

“The cat bound up to my height on the ridge.
And he did it with laughable ease.
I scrambled away to the base of a rock
And found a tight space I could squeeze.”

“The cat squinted in, his shoulders crouched low,
When he took a swift swipe at my head.
I wedged my big knob tighter into that crack
When a rattler rattled my bed.”

“I froze where I was, not daring to breathe,
The cat hunkered back on its hocks.
We both held our breath not willing to move,
Not wanting to die on those rocks.”

“I took a quick peek and there by my feet,
The snake flicked its tongue at my boots.
Snake-skin from Texas, I ordered ‘em special,
Touted to be snake bite proof.”

“With the snake so distracted the cat swung a claw,
I ducked cow dog fast from the blow.
I got an idea as I pondered my fate,
‘Tween a rock and a hard place to go.”

“The snake wrapped my boot from its tail to its snoot,
And a thought hit my brain for a space;
Would I rather die slowly by poison today,
Or watch that cat eat off my face?”

“I swung snake-wrapped boot in the face of the cat,
Then I crab-walked from under that rock.
The snake hissed and rattled, its tongue flicked a lick
I kept waving that boot as a block.”

“I grabbed that snake’s tail and swung a big loop,
And twirled it and took it outside.
The swing kept the head of the snake on the arc,
While I saddled and bridled by ride.”

“A rattling snake in my hand was a fright,
The horse flipped its head and side-passed,
But staying to dine with that big tawny cat,
Was more than a horse can be asked.”

“I saw my escape as I leaped at my tack.
And I managed to land it astride.
The serpent tried gamely to bury his fangs,
It struck on my saddle’s rawhide.”

I kept that snake swinging from that moment on
It’s business end out on the arc.
Centrifugal force kept the fangs out of me,
While I got this horse moved out of park.”

“But just when we thought we were safely ahead,
I was hating that cat and its guts,
When out of the flat open plain like a streak,
That cat loped right up on our butts.”

“We ran all last night and we brought in the day,
Your windmill we saw from afar.
It wasn’t much good what we brought to your camp
But I can’t run this horse like a car.”

The snake it hung limp, probably spent from the night,
The horse sweated drips from its belly.
She glanced from us men whose mouths stood agape,
When the thunder of paws hit the valley.

Our heads swiveled round and we leaned as if drunk,
And we peered at the trail she just bust.
But all we could see on the wide open plain,
Was the growing plume doom of gray dust.

A flicker of movement started to form,
A black figure bound up and down.
The biggest darn cat we ever did see,
Was mightily eating up ground.

She sucked a big breath and flicked that snake whip,
The horse danced a jig to be started.
“It ain’ t gonna take but a slow cowboy now,
You’ll be mourning the dearly departed.”

She lifted that snake and whipped it a crack.
Hooves dug up the ground as she parted.
Spattered with gravel my horse jumped aside
He bucked then he bolted and farted.

My hat tilted back and my legs flogged the sides
Of my horse who didn’t need nagging.
That roar of the breath of that cat kept us warm
As we passed wore out calves that were lagging.

The cat hugged our tail ‘til we turned off the trail
Of the rattle snake rider now distant.
The cat galloped past with hardly a glance
And my horse hit the brakes in an instant.

I last saw my tack and the ears of my bay,
As I sailed though the air to a dusting.
By the time that the hoof beats had faded away,
I dusted my duds and went busting.

When I topped the next hill, my comrades looked ill,
Our day had turned mightily grievous.
We knew that this tale was the best or our lives,
But who in the heck would believe us.

© 2013, Nancy Lunzer
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's  permission.

 

Nancy told us, "I was inspired by the rattlesnakes and open range of the Sandhills, and the many ranchers who work hard to make their living raising cattle."
 


 


 

   About Nancy Lunzer
                                                       
provided 2014

I own Bear Street Ranch, LLC with my significant other, Scott, where we raise sheep and horses. We enjoy skiing and riding on our trails around the ranch.

I have been riding horses since my neighbor first allowed me to borrow her horse when I was twelve years old in Minnetonka, Minnesota. I was a true horse-a-holic. My favorite place to ride is the Sandhills of north central Nebraska where we help move cattle between pastures each summer. My favorite ranching experience was when six endurance riding women joined me in the Sandhills to help a local rancher move 450 cow/calf pairs from the canyons along Bone Creek to the fall pastures. There have never been so many Arabians in those hills!


 

 

 

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