Tenderfoot California boy finds life’s a little wilder in Texas

By Benjamin Custer
Texarkana Gazette (Published May 2011)

In a place frequented by deafening thunderstorms and crawling with venomous snakes and spiders, it does not take long for a guy from Southern California to toughen up.

A sunbathing snake nearly sank its fangs into my leg the other day while I was walking through the barn on the way to my house. Had I not jumped back at the last moment, I would have failed to avoid its defensive strike.

Though I’ve only lived in Texas a short time, this was not my first encounter with a serpent.

Last May, while running out the back door to scare a cat off the hood of my freshly purchased car, I unwittingly strode over a coiled snake. I was oblivious to its presence until I turned around to head back inside and noticed it curled up against the door I had just exited.

Venomous snakes and spiders have always made my skin crawl. By way of immersion, however, those fears have greatly subsided.

I lived on the West Coast for 20 years and never came across a snake that wasn’t behind glass. Here in the South, however, they are an accepted facet of life and just about everyone has stories similar to mine.

Snakes are as common here as Hollywood celebrities in rehab.

Having gone unscathed in a snake-infested area for the past couple of years, I too have grown to accept their presence with little reservation.

My experiences here have also helped ease my fear of venomous spiders. Loyal to their name, brown recluse spiders tend to avoid contact with humans, but I have still managed to have a few interactions with them.

Last year, while throwing on a pair of jeans before going to class, a brown recluse dropped to the floor as I pushed my foot through one of the pant legs. I have also seen them in the shower and a couple have even emerged from the dashboard of my car.

Similar to my encounters with snakes, my harmless confrontations with spiders have helped me to confront my fears.

East Texas is wilder than I ever imagined. It is not polluted by vast stretches of concrete, skyscrapers or cookie-cutter homes and the everyday wildlife is not limited to squirrels and pigeons. Also, the storms that occasionally pass through the area are the most ferocious I have ever experienced.

The constant threat of earthquakes leaves Southern Californians concerned about the earth rumbling beneath their feet; Texans, however, must regularly deal with what rumbles overhead.

Even with storms, the saying “Everything is bigger in Texas” holds true.

Texas storms generate thunder that rattles windows and walls, as if the clouds are colliding right above the roof. When lightning flashes across the night sky, the landscape is illuminated as if it were the light of day. When it rains, it pours.

Though the severity of southern storms has surprised me, I have never been fazed by them. Other aspects of the weather, on the other hand, have taken some getting used to.

Last year, I sweated through my hottest summer, managing to acclimate to humidity so stifling it was like living in a three-month-long sauna.

East Texas humidity is so miserable that even five minutes outside induces enough perspiration to warrant a change of clothes. Never before had I carried a spare outfit in the back seat of my car.

Conversely, this winter marked the coldest three months I have ever shivered through. Never before had I endured a snowstorm or realized the danger of driving around with a broken defroster. It also took much more layering than throwing on a hooded sweatshirt for me to stay warm.

I came to Texarkana to receive a college education at Texas A&M, but I will leave having learned far more than I ever could in a classroom.

In the past couple of years, I have developed more courage and ruggedness than I accrued from all my years on the West Coast. Texas living, as I have come to realize, is not for the faint of heart.

One must toughen up if he intends to last here.