Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rattlesnake Days

This is by far the hardest post I've written, just for the fear factor! I HATE these buggers, I don't care what they symbolize in the many divination systems I fancy. Transmutation, blah blah blah. These are shy, scary little f*ckers and you don't want them in your garden underfoot.

But just guess what happened today on my delicious morning at home: a tree guy from PG&E walked down the path to my door, and announced, "Wow, that sprinkler sounds just like a rattlesnake." Trouble was, I wasn't running a sprinkler.

Damn, damn, damn, it IS a rattlesnake, I replied, along with many other choice, unprintable expletives. Nothing like a poisonous snake close at hand to release my inner truck-driver mouth. There it was, beside the flower bed, nervously buzzing for all it was worth. Funny thing is, I'd been thinking earlier in the day how it see one again. Later, after we disposed of it (yes, we sent it into the next world since it was stuck halfway under the house) Anthony the tree guy remarked that they'd been on his mind today, too.

The babies are born live, not as eggs, and they start hunting immediately. On hot days they take refuge (Oh lord) beneath our house. Gophers are one of their favorite meals, and we've got plenty of those around. They also kill small dogs, cats and presumably toddlers. Each time I see one it is an epic, unforgettable experience, and after a decade here, I've got a few stories to tell.

Somehow, I don't know why, they appear more frequently when I'm here alone. One evening I almost stepped on a baby one, and I hacked it to death with a shovel. My apologies to those of you out there who have a fondness for vipers. You know who you are. As I gouged its head off with the dull blade (OK, I do feel kind of bad about this episode) my sarong fell down around my hips, and I had a vision of myself, a bare-breasted woman battling a tiny snake while simultaneously being devoured (of course) by a gazillion mosquitoes.

Another time I tried the humane approach, and curled one up on the end of a rake, with the idea that I would toss it down the canyon. Snake-on-a-stick, I realized I'm a failure at all sports involving throwing things, and I was certain I'd just flip it back on to myself. Sheer panic, and then I pitched it into an oak tree about 8 feet away.

Crotalus viridus is the species name of the western rattler we find in Big Sur. They don't come out only in the daytime, they don't just hide under rocks. I've seen them at night, stretched out in the cool grass. They can strike out 2/3 of their length, and this formula just gives me math anxiety of the worst kind. I'm not about to test that theory. An absolutely chilling fact I just discovered is that by killing the ones who rattle, we're selecting for the silent ones. Great.

Naturally, the man of the house doesn't like to kill them, and has an elaborate method of catching and transporting them (generally down to the highway near the hiking trails tourists use.) He'll hold the shovel right behind their evil little triangular heads, and then with his bare hands (gloves are two unwieldly) he pinches them firmly where their necks would be (if they had necks, nasty things) and drops them into a bucket or cooler.

One lazy Sunday afternoon I was napping on the lawn on a blanket, arm stretched out to my side. Suddenly I woke up, to see a rattler coiled up about six inches away from my hand. I did the worst possible thing, and just sat up and screamed my head off. That snake was hunting, and as I screamed it rattled, tongue flicking in and out of its mouth.

Suffice to say, with the help of my neighbors and my husband's trusty snake removal technique, I survived, and began to make a serious attempt to appreciate reptile symbolism. This led me to the poem below, from Jamie Sams' Animal Medicine book:

Snake, come crawling,
there's fire in your eyes.
Bite me, excite me, I'll learn to realize
that poison, transmuted
becomes eternal flame.
Open me to heaven, so I can heal again.

Yeah, right.


Camille said...

Well, Max loves snakes. Maybe he and Toby can hunt them all down a few days before the wedding? Maybe I will leave him with you as your protector? He is a fun and adorable companion despite the ocassional 2 year old TANTRUM

Linda Rowland Jones said...

One thing to know is that they are sensitive to crowds, and tend to appear when only a few of us are around. I think the reverb of lots of feet scares them away. Unless they're really dumb ones. Either way, I'll guard Max and Chloe with my life!

Camille said...

by the way, this is another GREAT bit of writing. Thank you.

Linda said...

Great piece. A perfect blend of your humor, your senses, and a snapshot of life in Big Sur.

kates said...

Very funny piece Linda. Brilliant! Thank you.

Lisa G. said...

After all the great drama of yesterday's snake adventure and your hilarious/ wonderful post, all I keep wondering is "how did the snake get down from the tree?"

jeff said...

well done, rattlers are scary, one reason i carry a walking stick/cane in the back country, but that is like putting a spare key under your door mat, the minute you do that, you will never lock yourself out again nor need the spare key!

Jeff Thatcher