The Queen hummed a tune in the manner of a Dr. Seuss song:
"That Fidel I am,
That Fidel I am,
I do not like that Fidel I am."
As everyone knows, what you think about most of the time comes true and Fidel appeared waddling up the driveway. It had been almost a year since they last met when she fired him and took over management of the vineyard herself.
"Hey, senorita, ¿Cómo estás?"
"Hey Fidel, don't you senorita me. What the hell do you want?"
"May I have some of your lemons?"
"Can you set some gopher traps?" So a cease fire was arranged whereby Fidel set 5 gopher traps and took 5 lbs. of lemons, tangelos, oranges and limes. Normally he charged $10 per gopher (carrying around the same used-gopher-carcass from vineyard to vineyard collecting his bounty), but he was dreaming of margaritas that evening and offered his services in exchange for citrus.
When I got home from my daytime job she told me about her encounter with Fidel. I was glad to see they had reached a detente of sorts in their cold war. Bluey and I went out to inspect the traps.
Now Fidel is the legendary gopher trapper of Blue-Merle Country, and it's not for nothing that he could make a living catching the varmints. He certainly relishes the victorious hunt, celebrating by stringing up the victims on fence, tree or trellis as a warning to other gophers: don't you dare. The Fidel "technique" is to find an hole, clear it open and set some weeds as bait. This is totally at odds with the theories of Macadamia Bruce, who insists on finding a "main road" and setting traps in both directions and never uses any weeds as bait. Now I have never seen Macadamia Bruce's captured gophers, but I have seen Fidel's. Fidel is in the Mexican version of the Guinness Book of World Records for his prowess, and he does it by setting a single trap at the end of a tunnel.
As I inspected Fidel's traps, it seemed to me that they were not set deeply inside the tunnels. Also, it seemed he had selected squirrel holes for two of the traps. What was worse, there was an area at the top of the hill in the Aglianico bloc with recent gopher markings and no trap set. So, I decided at that point to challenge Fidel. Novice vs. expert. Student vs. teacher. New world vs. Old World, to see who could catch Mr. Gopher. Bluey and I set our own trap and as it was getting dark called it quits and retired for the evening.
The next day (last Friday afternoon to be exact), Bluey and I went on patrol to inspect the traps. First, we visited Fidel's. Not only were there no gophers, there were no bites. Nada. Then, we checked the trap we had set, and there he was, Mr. pesky Gopher, deceased. What a way to begin the weekend! Fresh from our first round victory mano a mano against Senor Fidel we headed to our neighborhood Belle Marie Winery carrying bottles of Petit Verdot, Petit Verdot Plus and Petit-Petit wine for a little wine shoot out, after setting a couple of more gopher traps in other areas of the vineyard.
The next day, Bluey and I were out vineyarding and inspecting the traps and there were still no bites at Fidel's traps and we noticed that we had caught a gopher in the Grenache area from the trap we set the day before (that's two in two days and an auspicious continuing for a really good weekend). Just as Bluey was pulling on the chain to get the gopher out of the hole Coyote Karen called, offering us some brownies and mint-chocolate cake. Would we like any?
"Would you like us to come over and catch some gophers for you? Only $10/head!"
"How about a bottle of wine per gopher?" It's the new economic age of bartering.
The score after two rounds of the shoot-out: Gringo 2: Fidel 0. I reset the traps.
Bluey and I went out on patrol early this evening carrying a shovel which I used to strike at weeds along the way and we inspected Fidel's traps and there were still no gophers nor any bites. So I took out his traps and used the shovel to fill in the holes so the gophers would have to work if they tried to come back that way. Bluey went up ahead of me and took up position where I had set my last trap Sunday evening and by his stance I suspected that we had caught another one. Damn. 3 gophers in 3 days. I guess we had caught this one on Sunday and it was now Tuesday evening and he was a little gamy and Bluey had tugged on the chain pulling him out of the hole (good dog) without eating him (good dog). Now the Queen had gone to Japan on Friday carrying with her a case of the Blue-Merle's finest wine to find us a distributor and to host wine tastings in the Land of the Rising Sun as our wine is enjoyed from Texas to Oklahoma, from Connecticut to Japan, and since she was gone there hasn't been much to eat and I was thinking that a little gopher stew might be pretty good. But as this one was riper than road kill we threw it over the fence for the coyotes.
Thoughts were going through my head: 3 gophers in 3 days. America shuts out Mexico in Gopher Championships 3 - 0! Outlaw winemaker declared gopher champion in Blue-Merle Country. Boy, would the Queen be proud of me. And as I had these I heard voices of the Three Priests who warned me that perhaps I shouldn't be so proud. That perhaps the good, gracious Lord might just put a little rattlesnake in the next gopher hole I stuck my hand in, so with gracious, humble, humility in mind I walked down the Rue Jean Baptiste -- the road we had made straight and level in the hills -- with shovel in hand scraping weeds as I walked and there he was on the side of this main path feeling warm against a short concrete wall. What is it the experts say? What you think about most of the time comes true. I raised the shovel and made a positive identification of the tail before striking. The temperatures had climbed well above 70 degrees this afternoon, this almost first day of Spring and the rattlesnake had come out of hibernation. Bluey was a few steps away from me and I had been thinking of enrolling him in a rattlesnake avoidance class and used this opportunity to teach him about "bad" Mr. Snake and to "leave it" while allowing him to experience the scent from a safe distance.
I gave thanks for our blessings and in the manner of Disney's Country Bear Jamboree I sang a little country tune as I washed my device of self-defense:
"Blood on the shovel,
Blood on the sha-a-a-a-ovel...."
I looked at the the snake and remembered I was running out of food with the Queen being in Japan and thought that this would make a pretty good meal and it was fresh. In order not to offend our gentle readers I will simply state that I have been to China and I have eaten Chinese food and fried snake is good (and grandpa has eaten it too and even drunk the bile and has had a good long life) and if Ms. Connie from SouthTexas had been here she would have enjoyed it and I'll leave the rest of the story to your imagination.