Monday, July 23, 2018


…or simply misunderstood?

My 11:00 AM Saturday nap was interrupted by a rap on the door followed by a barking Edward (the lab mix) informing me repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly that strangers were on the property. Shuffling to the door, I found that two gentlemen visiting from Grass Valley wanted to alert me to a rattlesnake, “… a good size one with six buttons!…” that was heading up our driveway.

“Cool!” I replied and hustled off to get my push broom and my camera.

By the time I arrived on scene, one of the Grass Valleyans – gold country folks know their way around snakes – had placed himself between the critter and our garage door, causing the snake to downshift its reptilian brain into a well-practiced flight strategy.  By now the viper was slithering across our subdivision’s street.

Coincidentally, Wednesday’s Reveille, our hometown weekly, had a below-the-fold front-page feature entitled: “Watch where you step: rattlesnake season in Sonoma County.”  I hadn’t seen rattlers in the neighborhood in our four years of living here.  But maybe the little guy had gotten ahold of the paper and, viewed through his elliptical eyes, the headline read as some sort of an invitation.

In reality, the heat was rising on this mid-July morning and I suspect this guy was simply looking for a shady place to stay cool until after sundown.  I’m sure the concrete front porch stays cool and shady, a perfect place to curl up for a few hours.  Also, I know the garage floor is cool.  I looked down at my bare ankles and naked toes protruding from my Birkenstocks and shuddered a bit.  It was involuntary, honest.

The article in the Reveille reminded me that rattlesnakes would rather co-exist than view every other living thing as an enemy or threat.  I flashed, for only a moment, on Donald Trump’s recent press conference with Vladimir Putin, and thought, Well, some creatures are a threat, just not this rattlesnake.

Encouraged to move away from our driveway, he made it across the street, and although the mountain boys from Grass Valley and I had hoped to coax him into the storm drain, the snake opted for some shade under an oleander in a neighbor’s back yard.

The paper reported that not all snakes are bad guys.  Gopher snakes – often mistaken for rattlers – have no patience for their venomous cousins and often will chase the rattlers away.  King snakes do one better.  In a fair fight, a King snake will kill a rattler. Maybe that’s why they’re called King.  (I saw this happen on the Yahi Trail in Chico’s Upper Bidwell Park a long time ago.)  Rattlesnakes, themselves, do a good job of keeping the population of rodents – mice, rats, gophers, political operatives and door-to-door salespeople – in check. Rattlers are not necessarily bad citizens of the eco-system.  They’re just citizens.

That said, I felt it both wise and neighborly to report to my neighbor the new resident in their back yard.  They have a tasty looking little long-haired tea-cup terrier of some sort that would best be kept indoors for a spell.  And the dog was indoors when I rang, because no one was home, and his yippy little bark warned me to get away.  I returned with a note for the door.  The little dog was still barking from my first visit.  In fact, it’s an hour later and his caterwauling still going on and on.  Maybe I should let him go out back…

I’m not afraid of rattlesnakes and it is kind of cool to see one every now and then.  Perhaps it is nature’s way of letting us know we’re not in complete control quite yet.  Still, for the near future, we’ll be careful letting Edward – the lab-mix who enjoys chasing lizards out in our back yard – out in our back yard.  I’m fairly certain that having the black dog go face-to-face with this reptilian interloper would prompt something other than that flight reaction from the snake.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

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