Monday, April 09, 2007

OK, I’m so bored…

…that I’ll tell you about the rattlesnake. Obligatory Safety Message: Don’t ever go hiking alone. It is not the brightest thing we humans can do on this planet, being as how there are so many ways for us to get killed off out there in the big, bad wilderness.

So, I had gone hiking (alone) (idiot) and was about three miles from my car on the return trip when I decided to sit down and enjoy the view for a few minutes. So down I sat on the side of the road, which I checked very carefully for red ants. Because I was very concerned about red ants, because when you sit on them?

It sucks.

But there weren’t any, so I cheerfully sat down and began sucking on my canteen, enjoying the sweeping view of the valley to my left. Being the twitchy type, I soon decided it was time to get back up on my feet and head out. Fortunately, I had set my walking stick down on my right side – otherwise, I might have just jumped to my feet and earned myself swift retribution, instead of first glancing over for my stick and beholding the glorious sight of the snake. Which was a little over a hands-width away from my right foot and still moving forward.

Right. Toward. Me.

All kidding aside and in spite of the instant and paralyzing terror…beautiful animal. Beautiful. Glistening, elegantly scaled and capped with a stunning rattle. If it hadn’t been for that whole ‘painful bite and possible death’ thing, I would have been delighted to make its acquaintance.

My first thought was, “Whoa! That thing must be, like, eight feet long.”

My second thought was, “Don’t be stupid. They don’t get that long.” (The common species found up on Mt. Diablo [which is where I was] is called the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, which generally doesn’t get much over five feet long – this bad boy was big, both around and in length, but he weren’t no eight feet. It was nearly as long as my walking stick, which was precisely five feet tall.)

And my third was a kind of mini-storm of realizations. Large snake, triangular-head-rattle-tail-forked-tongue-pit-face-oh-crap-yeah-that’s-a-rattler, close to my body, far from my car, molting season (theory supported by the fact that the animal had slithered right up on me like that without realizing I was a person - molting often impairs their vision and also? Makes them pissy, nervous and prone to striking at anything that moves. Great. Just swell.), DAMN that’s a big snake, not a lot of people out today if I need help and also? ACK.

Now, when I saw the snake I jumped and yelped. At this point, it became aware that I was not a nice, warm rock to sun itself on but rather a living Something.

We both instantly froze.

I pretended to be a rock. It imitated a stick. And thus we remained.

Mexican standoff.

I knew that snake wanted a way out as badly as I did. I knew that, in general, rattlers aren’t the aggressive monsters they’re made out to be by Hollywood. Some are, sure. But in largest part, they don’t want anything to do with people. They’d rather hide or run than fight you. They tend to bite people because they are either startled into it (when, say, a foot suddenly descends from Heaven onto their peacefully sunning backs or a hand is suddenly thrust into their den), or because they feel attacked or cornered.

But they don’t, as one particularly awful movie I endured proposed, chase people through their homes, desperate to attack and inject their venom, bwa-hahahahaha.

I also knew, though, that we were in a bit of a bind here. It was a trust issue, you see. I mean. I knew that the snake (probably) didn’t want to bite me – but I couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t just do it the minute I moved. And the snake had absolutely no way of knowing I wasn’t one of those wild-eyed snake-hacking types.

We took a long, long moment to size each other up. Felt like an hour, but was probably no more than a minute, possibly two. Neither one of us wanted to move. Hello Rock, meet Stick…Stick, Rock. Oh, how do you do…I’d offer to shake but obviously, being as how I’m a Stick and definitely not a Snake and all…

Eventually, it became apparent that one of us had to do something. Ever so gently, I turned my foot so that I was showing the snake the sole of my boot. I was hoping that if it did feel the need to strike me, it would hit the sole of the boot and not, uh, me.

When I moved, it’s tail whisked gently back and forth, giving a single rattle of warning. {shh-k!}

And then we both froze again, getting used to the new situation. It didn’t raise its head from the ground, coil, or make any other movement indicating it was considering striking; and I didn’t start wildly swinging my stick around screaming like a chimp on speed.

So far, so good.

After another long moment, I began drawing myself gently away. The snake just watched, only showing signs of anxiety when I got to my feet. The tail twitched. {shh-k! shh-k!} But it didn’t raise its head even a little from the ground. Just lay there…pretending to be a stick…watching and waiting…

I retreated. ‘Retreated’ should be pronounced ‘walked backward away from the snake as quickly as possible without flat-out running’.

And then I stood there and watched with great admiration as it began making with flank speed for the far side of the trail and disappeared into the grass.

That is the closest I have come to a rattlesnake in the wild…that I know of. It is entirely possible that I have walked right over one, or even sat down on top of a den and escaped getting a bite on my butt by the narrowest of margins.

It was beautiful and graceful and terrifying and utterly enchanting. I can see why those nut cases who do the animal shows insist on getting right up close to things. “Oh look, it’s a black mamba, one of the most venomous and aggressive snakes in the world! Let’s try to pet it!!” There really is something about being that close to these wild creatures – and being able to come out of the experience in one piece through the grace of the Almighty (and with due thanks to the park rangers who handed out all those pamphlets about ‘what to do if you encounter a {$Wild_Animal}’ I dutifully collected and read while using the…uh, I mean, in my spare time) which makes you feel alive in a way you just don’t get from surviving yet another trip to the supermarket.

But m’self personally…that’s the closest I ever want to come. And I didn’t want to get that close.

Even if it did give me one of the best cocktail-party stories ever. ;-)


Anonymous said...

I check and see strawberries. Check again, more strawberries. More strawberries.
Then BOOM! resignation, filling up time taking every quiz on-line, and a rattlesnake story!
Great job on your clear-thinking with the rattlesnake and the job situation.
Does this mean you will be entertaining me with even more children and knitting stories?!
[Because it's all about how this affects ME ;-) ]

Jen said...

YIKES! I don't mind snakes, but being that close to a rattler? I would've wet myself and most likely had a heart attack!

p.s. Mind if I add a link to you on my blog?

21stCenturyMom said...

Great story. Totally worth the terror, right? Thanks for sharing.

buffi said...




:::still shaking:::

Holy crap, MC!! I may not be able to sleep tonight!!! (most excellent story, though!)

Dysd Housewife said...

WOW Love the story. We share something in common. I too have a rattlesnake story. Unfortunately in my story, only one of us made it out alive.