Friday, July 27, 2012

Rattlesnakes

You would think they were like air: inescapable, ever-present.  The way the locals talk about them is odd and not hypocritical so much as contradictory.  In practically the same breath they'll say "the only good rattlesnake is a dead rattlesnake" and "if they know you're coming they'll get the hell out of your way, but if they've been asleep and you surprise them they'll attack!"  We have far too many mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits for me to share their sentiments on good rattlesnakes and I don't know any creature not programmed by fight or flight and therefore can't have anything but sympathy for the reptiles.

Logic doesn't keep me from being scared though.

My city dog has never met a rattlesnake.  He's never gone to snake aversion classes because they're all based on negative reinforcement: shock collars, fear, beatings.  He's prone to everything under the sun and each week up here has been a fantastic veterinary education for me.

I can't decide if he's more likely to get bit if I continue to fear for him or if I scoff and assume he'll never get bit.  Which position will anger the snake gods and cause them to strike for surely they won't be influenced by my knocking on wood.

I heard two gunshots yesterday.  Funny how after only ever hearing gun shots on a range with headphones on my ears I can instantly recognize one out here.  How they get confused with car backfire I'll never know.  At any rate, there were two shots and only two shots.  This led me to believe the neighbors weren't killing squirrels (another common occurrence out here and one I take umbrage with but not in this session).  At any rate, two shots is not a squirrel killing fest so what was it?

I'm learning that we have far more wild animals out here than I'd originally thought.  I've seen the coyotes, and the scat of the bobcats.  The squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, quail, scrub/blue jays, blue birds, crows, hawks, turkey vultures, wild turkeys, mule deer, skunks, gophers, and mice are in evidence by the minute.  Supposedly there are rattlesnakes and king snakes, neither of which I doubt, and I've seen a gopher snake myself.  I've heard the cry of the golden eagle but never seen him/her.  What I expected to find are possums and raccoons, and while they are here I haven't yet seen any (not even as Clampett dinner on the highway).  What I didn't expect to have but which I've been told are plentiful: foxes (grey ones), badgers (not the honey badger that doesn't give a shit), weasels, and boars.

At any rate, two gunshots means something deliberate and my first thought was a young mountain lion was being chased off (it's illegal to kill one without a permit from the ranger and even then you must have proof that the animal is endangering you or your living.  In other words, the mountain lion has no fear of humans or has been decimating your flock of chickens/goats/sheep/cows, etc.).  There's plenty of scat and tracks to show that we have a local mountain lion and one neighbor said she saw him one evening and that he's still quite young.  I therefore assumed he was being scared off.  I was wrong.

The neighbors called to tell me they'd killed two rattlesnakes.  They told me to be careful with my dog.  They told me (again) to shoot 'em with a pistol if I saw 'em and then decapitate them with a shovel.  They told me (again) that if I don't have a pistol (which I don't) to call them and they'd come handle it.  Shortly afterwards the UPS guy showed up and told me how "just last month" he'd helped the previous owners kill a rattlesnake in the garden "just over there."  Our contractor shows up to finish sweating pipes in the guest bathroom and tells me how they come out when it starts getting hot although usually they're out in the evening and early morning.

It doesn't matter that logically I've always known the rattlesnakes are here.  It doesn't matter that I recognize that a snake is going to try to avoid me at all costs and attack as a last resort.  It doesn't matter that it's been cooler this week then last or that we've been here over a month so the UPS guy has his timeline wrong.  None of the logic matters when it's late at night and you can't sleep cause you're worried about your city dog getting bit.

In the broad daylight of a mountain town morning, when you're above the clouds of the city and all seems peaceful and natural and right, it all appears as ridiculous as it is.


I'm not going to buy a gun to shoot rattlesnakes.  I'm not going to keep a shovel by my side to decapitate them.  I'm no more going to go killing rattlesnakes than spraying Round Up! on my weeds.  And if I know I'm not going to do any of these things, then what bloody good is it to think on them?  Instead I think on the dogs I've known who've been bit by rattlesnakes and lived:

-Sophie: a teacup poodle mix (if this little dog can survive a snake bite, my fears are significantly calmed)
-Simon: an enormous lab/sharpei mix that got bit in the face on two separate occassions
-Kona: a gorgeous long-haired shepherd

No sense dwelling on something you can't change or fix.  We've been out here five weeks without sight or sound of rattlesnake and I suspect that while we'll eventually see or hear one, we're much more likely to go our separate ways then to confront one another.  Porter is more likely to get bit on the muzzle by a squirrel than a snake.  And so it's time for one of our many walks.  Maybe we'll find another walking stick or beehive either of these rarities is more likely than a rattler.

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