New Braunfels lies midway between Austin and San Antonio in the south central part of Texas. It’s along this stretch that my great-great grandfather scouted the land and escaped an Indian attack a hundred and fifty years ago, one of the cartographers who were drawing the lines of the new state of Texas. Putting pen to paper, these men created worlds, erasing the history of those who had lived on the land for generations before without benefit of boundaries and titles.
No uncharted land remains, anymore, just…
“Snake Farm!” I yell out loud as we drive by, a habit that seems to run in my family to constantly comment on the things we observe, even if in the middle of a conversation.
“Want to stop?” my brother asks. We’re on our way to attend to family matters in San Antonio that won’t be easy. We’re easily lured by distraction. We figure we can spare thirty minutes for some cheap reptilian entertainment. We thought it’d be fun.
There are chickens roaming around the parking lot as we stop the car under the giant billboard, but as soon as we’ve paid for our tickets and walked into the dark room lined with large snakes in tiny aquariums (aquarii?), I come to my senses. Boa constrictors, massive pythons coiled together, cobras lying flaccid in empty glass boxes lined with old newspapers. The floor is concrete; the light a faded fluorescent; the smell dank and deathlike.
We pass through quickly to the outside where the man who sold us our tickets promised “three acres of animals.” A Mandrill baboon sits on his haunches staring at us from his cage. A descriptive sign tells us he’s endangered in his homeland of west Africa, that he is a social creature in which the male lives with several females and their young. He sits alone on the concrete, his fingers and toes grasping the chain link fence, looking out at us. His fur is an exquisitely kinked grey in striking contrast to his blue and pink face. Is he happier than the arctic wolves in the pen around the corner, panting in the high heat and humidity? Is he saner than the macaque that is spinning in circles right next to him? Is he healthier than the rare type of piglet that is limping along, only a fence separating the little guy from a stagnant pond filled with alligators?
We escape through the gift shop without stopping to browse at rubber snakes and shot glasses. Back in the parking lot, we see a day-old chick alone at the edge of some shrubbery. It stands, then falls, then stands again. I shoo it towards her mother, a great big black and white Barred Rock hen, who is ten feet away with a handful of other chicks. The mama hen comes to meet me, her feathers ruffled out. I imagine she is mad about my bothering her baby until she meets the tiny creature, picks it up with her beak and shakes her head back and forth to throttle it. She lets it fall to the ground and then proceeds to peck it to death in front of us.
My brother counsels kids at a shelter for abused women on Tuesday nights. He doesn’t tell them that the world is an inherently peaceful place in which they have unwittingly stumbled upon a tiny corner of violence. He is honest and I believe the kids appreciate it. He listens to them when they explain to him that they have seen the nature programs on television. They know what animals, human and otherwise, can do to each other.
As we pull back out onto the highway, back towards our destination and familial duties, my brother says, “Gives a whole new meaning to henpecked, eh?”