April 28, 2021 411 PM
“Enough already with the rattlesnake stories,” you say. Please, I beg just this one last indulgence. When I first moved out here, the pool at Balmorhea fulfilled one of the requirements on my where-to-live list. Trading the Atlantic Ocean for the pool had one gigantic advantage in that I could swim year-round. In the winter months it was usually just myself and maybe a couple German tourists, maybe Lineaus Lorette, which translates in my world to a version of heaven, and many perfect moments. My goal of swimming while it’s snowing still dangles out there somewhere, still tantalizing, although I did come close once.
So I was driving up to the pool two or three times a week to swim and started looking for a place up there, thinking: work, drive, swim, spend the night, swim first thing and drive back to Marfa in time to work. That’s two swims per drive. I did not find a suitable rental or a place for sale in spite of countless hours spent looking and talking to people, however I learned of a local woman who paid her daughter’s college tuition collecting live rattlesnakes at night to sell for their venom. Holy mackerel. I was still adjusting to poisonous spiders after my elegant and brilliant dog Ida Mae got bitten by a brown recluse on day eight of moving to Marfa, and now with the snakes … yeesh. My previous homeland had ticks carrying dread diseases, which were tiny and nearly impossible to see, and yet not one poisonous snake or spider. I used to joke that I wanted to move to India because at least a person can see a cobra. Instead I moved to Marfa, replete with poisonous snakes and spiders. I realized after her spider bite I needed to toughen up if I intended to stay here, and then you tell me there’s a woman out hunting rattlesnakes at night. Inconceivable.
I did find said warrior woman and did, in fact, confirm it was a true story, which to this day amazes me. I’ve had moments of being intrepid, however nothing like her nightly forays. For her, it was a way to make money from the abundant resources right out her backdoor in a locale with not that many opportunities. So hats off to ingenuity.
I found myself living in a small adobe house in the southeast corner of Marfa, with a very large backyard that was for all intents and purposes basically one large goathead. I committed myself to win in the battle of the prickers. I marched around the yard in flip-flops picking up the goatheads. I would count them into a bucket by the back door, my head resting against the back wall of the house in the hot sun, sometimes crying as my thumb got punctured, at least one hundred in each flip-flop. Pulling the plants and capturing those nasty goatheads took all my available non-work, non-swim hours. The yard had a good, years-long head start. And yet, in time, the plants began to yield to my advances. Then rain came. I walked into the yard one morning and thought initially it was covered in a layer of green moss, and then to my horror discovered it was a blanket of sprouting goatheads, a coverlet of tiny, tiny plants. I turned heel, marched into the house, and in that moment declared there must be something good, a very good reason for goatheads, and I intended to find it. And indeed, turns out the dried plant leaves were brewed into a tea to increase vitality, and that actual goatheads were ground up and used in Chinese medicine. (Goatheads are not native to this region and may have arrived in the fleece of sheep brought from Greece as breeding stock, back in the day).
Allegedly, there was a market for these goatheads –– that bucketful at my back door could be turned into cash. I never actually found the source willing to pay for goatheads, however I started to nurture my crop. When young, but flowering, I pulled up the plants, tied them in bunches in brown paper bags hung in my kitchen to dry. I was a proud farmer with a glorious crop.
Later the brewing started, and the world of Marfa was introduced to goathead leaf tea. The next Chinati Weekend, while other galleries were offering shots of tequila, my gallery offered goathead leaf tea. Rather unexpected, I would venture to say, and much to the horror of Jennifer Bell, whom many of you knew, a Brit and a dedicated tea drinker, who was convinced I was going to kill everyone. She never so much as sipped the goathead leaf tea and yet happily loaned me a teapot. For the record no one died from drinking the tea. It’s quite good –– notes of grass and dirt.
As you can see, it turns out I am teachable, and learned from the example of the woman with the expanse of rattlesnakes out her back door. Work with what you have. Also grateful my discovery was goathead leaf tea rather than live rattlesnakes. Thank you, Far West Texas, for being such a good teacher.
Also, I lied. There’s one more rattlesnake story for another time. Cheers.