I don’t ask about the banana slugs. Or if it’s been a big year for fleas. But a venomous critter is one to reckon with, and it seems snakes hold a certain fascination for people. I like a snake story as well as anyone.
The other morning I was walking the dog like usual, except it’s getting hotter, and the landscape is already bleached of color. As the trail dipped into a wide wash, I saw a gentleman approaching from the other direction wearing a bright red shirt and a wild stir of white hair. He slowed his pace so we’d pass on the floor of the wash instead of the steep part. We were measuring our strides, engaging in that age old negotiation of trail space, when I looked down and saw a rattlesnake at our feet.
She passed before us with a series of quickly sketched eses. Then she vanished into a thicket of palo verde and creosote, leaving behind a shimmering memory that I would milk for details.
“That was a rattlesnake,” I said. He laughed in relief. “Yes, and she was very well covered.” He spoke with an accent.
I realized that the snake had come slithering across the open wash, an unacknowledged third party in the negotiation of trail space. Apparently she was in no mood to wait for us to pass and then sneak across like a rabbit might.
The snake was about three feet long, heavy bodied and marked with broad stripes. Her black tail was tipped with three blond buttons of rattle, meaning she’s just a youngster. My field guide says black-tailed rattlesnakes live in rocky mountainous areas of Arizona, Texas and south to central Mexico. They eat primarily rodents but also lizards and birds. Black-tailed rattlers are known to climb into low branches of trees to bask and hunt.
Rattlesnakes do keep a lid on the rodent population. And they are amazing creatures if you think about it, with their retractable fangs, heat sensing pits and flesh eating venom. What a marvel of evolution. I just wish she’d been going a little slower so I could see more of her. But it was very exciting to have a rattlesnake roar through.