Saturday, March 18, 2006


Rattle-less

Mija and I were headed out the back for a walk up to the pumphouse by Paul’s. As we reached a small thicket of sage Mija bounded ahead. I watched. When I glanced back down I was about to step on the tail of a diamondback rattlesnake. Fortunately I caught myself and backed off. Mija started to come back to me but I told her to "stay". I realized that she must have just missed the snake’s tail when she shot out ahead.

The snake was stretched full out, as they often are in the morning, trying to catch some sun and warm up. This is a good time to come on a rattler as they’re sluggish with cold and reluctant to strike. This snake slowly coiled but still did not rattle.

I headed for the garden to get my snake removal kit, a hoe and two buckets. When I returned, having put Mija in the office, the snake had gone into a pricklypear cactus. With the handle end of the hoe I pushed it into the open, laid down the large bucket and with the business end of the hoe scooped the snake into the bucket, which I then set upright. I put the smaller bucket (actually a lightweight plastic plant pot with holes in the bottom) into the larger bucket where it rested on the rim, giving the snake some room.

Still the rattler hadn’t made a sound.

I took the buckets over to G at the house and we looked in. Sure enough, no rattles. They’d either been chopped off somehow or this snake was simply born without the ability to form rattles. It wasn’t young, being over 3 feet long, so something had happened.

Neighbor Paul had a similar experience a couple of months back. He drove into his carport, got out, walked around the truck and opened the passenger door to get something. For some reason he looked down and there, about six inches from his foot, was a diamondback in full coil, ready to strike, but making no sound. He thought, "if I stand here it’s going to strike, if I jump it’ll still likely hit me". He jumped but the snake remained coiled.

Paul, unfortunately, is one of those who shoots rattlers, and he did. When he examined the dead snake he saw that the rattle part of the tail was missing. As he turned to leave the carport he noticed something on the ground behind his tire - the rattler’s tail. He’d severed it as he drove in, putting himself in a very tight position.

As for our snake, I relocated it far out in the desert, away from habitation. On the way home I realized that most of us out here count on the buzzing to warn of snakes. Obviously a mistake to rely solely on sound. Odds are that there are many rattlers without rattles or with damaged ones. The tail whirs away, yet no sound. I’ve learned to keep an eye on the ground for that brand of snake.

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