By Joe Zeason
I have had a hell of a day. When not on the sailboat in San Pedro with my betrothed, we live in the mountains about an hour east of downtown L.A. It is a nice spread on a hill with the constant sound of serenity from the babbling creek running through the property and if you can't be on the water, there is no better place to be. Considering our proximity to L.A., it is pretty amazing to be living among relatively pristine nature in 2012. But as with all things, particularly the ocean, there is a flip side to all this beauty because nature isn't just Bambi and squirrels.
There is a family of black bears in the area that has terrorized our humble abode recently. At least three times a week I am out in the street scooping up trash back into the cans after their late night foraging and I must admit to a certain degree of satisfaction when I see the neighbors with their trash all over the street too - it is not just me. What I found out recently is that it is just me in regards to where these obnoxious bears live - our backyard.
The backyard is a steep hundred-yard hill that is terraced in three sections which go up a couple hundred feet where it then turns into thousands upon thousands of acres of National Forest. The terraced sections are landscaped and loaded with fruit trees, roses and sprinklers for irrigation and fire suppression. These beasts have been running up and down the hill at night hanging on to and breaking branches off of the fig and peach trees, breaking decorative fences and eating all our apples. If that isn't frustrating enough, they somehow broke a sprinkler main and had their own fountain and personal bath for a while.
Now I know these bears are not grizzlies like we had in Northern Idaho, and are fairly docile, but it is a little ominous climbing up the hill when you walk by large areas of flattened brush they slept in and have to watch out for bucket sized bear scat all over the pathways. Knowing that the bears are out there, close by, makes pipe repair and landscape maintenance an extreme event. All one can do is be as noisy as possible and complete the task at hand, knowing that if things go awry, it will make one heck of a news story and family legend.
That being said, the pipe is fixed, the roses and fruit trees are watered and I did not step in any bear scat this morning. It is a little nerve racking up on the hill constantly on the lookout, but what can you do? So on my way down, I cut a couple of roses for the wife and walked on down the steps...
...walked on down almost on top of a 4 foot black diamondback rattler. The black ones (Southern Pacific) are mean, real mean. I almost stepped on one in late June and I found out what it means to be a human pogo stick. I jumped so high and far that if it were on video, I'd be in the NBA this year. That particular rattler was hissing and spitting so loud that I couldn't even hear the rattle. Needless to say, that snake will not be bothering us anymore. Today's nasty old rattler was incognito and didn't rattle at all. Hey man, the rules say you have to rattle mister snake.
So, I am still a little freaked out from the whole, "is Yogi gonna get me" scene up the hill a few minutes earlier and now I have a stealth rattler one foot away acting more like a Costa Rican bushmaster than a rattlesnake. It was a quick decapitation and I take the rule breaking reptile to the driveway and skinned him. I then mounted the skin on a nice piece of wood for a keepsake, cleaned myself up and drove on down to the store.
I felt a whole lot better after returning from the jaunt to town. I was feeling pretty good and I walked up the steps to the hill to inspect the area and all was well. I retrieved my trusty scissors and proceeded to trim up the lower roses and gardenia. On my way down the steps to a couple of straggler branches on the gardenia, something caught my eye down by my flip flops. I couldn't believe it, a monster tarantula walking down the concrete path like he owned the place. Well, the only thing he owns now is a jar and label, but it brought all the days events (bears, rattlers and tarantulas) to the forefront of my thoughts and I am now comfortably drinking some rum and pineapple wondering why I am not out sailing the Pacific.
I haven't processed it all and the adrenaline has almost subsided. Ultimately it isn't any big deal because we do what we have to in order to survive, but that scene from Apocalypse Now when the chef goes looking for mangoes on the way up the river keeps coming to mind. He's surprised by a tiger in the jungle and makes his way screaming back to the boat and once on board keeps repeating to himself, "never get off the boat, never get off the boat, never get off the boat." I have to agree with Martin Sheen on this one when he adds, "never get off the boat.......goddamn right!"