We live in rattlesnake country. I’ve heard lots of stories from neighbors about rattlers in the garage, on the front steps, in the yard. There’s even a mountain summit in our county named Rattlesnake Hill.
But I’d never seen a rattler at our place until last summer.
On a hot July evening, Sweetheart Al and I were coming down the hill to our house, engaged in one of our lively discussions. As we reached the level ground between the garage and our back door, I saw a snake just inches from our feet.
It was dark, about 16-inches long, and it noticed us about the time I noticed it.
"Ooooh, be careful," I said, pointing it out, just as it wiggled into a kind of muscular squiggle in front of us and raised its head, flicking its tongue repeatedly.
"Isn’t it beautiful!" Al said.
Just the day before, I’d read an article about the rattlesnake’s triangular shaped head. So I was trying to get a good look at its head, to identify it. "I wonder what kind of a snake it is," I was saying, bending close to see if its head looked like a triangle.
All the time we were studying its fierce beauty, its little tail was standing straight up and rattling away like a tiny buzzer.
At the same moment, in unison, we said, "It’s a rattlesnake!" And stepped back. And at that precise moment, the snake, eyes glaring, tongue snapping, whipped his dark body backward away from us and like a floating, fleeing, seething creature from another planet, disappeared beneath our front porch. During our entire encounter, it never lowered its head, never took its eyes off us, never slithered.
We’ve talked about that stunning snake more than once since then. And how I concentrated on the wrong end as I tried to identify it. My intense concentration on its head made me deaf to its rattle. (Surely there’s a life lesson in that).
Since then, we’ve seen other rattlesnakes around the place. Big, dusty brown ones. Some with patterns, some without. But none of them have had the wild-beauty, the intensity, the style of that evening’s visitor.
Because of that snake, I’ve done a little reading on rattlers, and here are a few fascinating facts I’ve learned:
- Rattlesnakes give live birth.
- Their eyes have vertical, cat-like pupils.
- Each time they come out of hibernation, they shed their skin and add a rattle.
- In captivity they can live for 20 to 30 years.
I hope that snake we saw lives a good long life, somewhere far away from our house, and helps keep the small rodent population in check. But I’m not interested in seeing him or any of his relatives near our back door again.
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