I was babbling on as we exited the back door of the house, yesterday in the afternoon heat, so Tim had to say, “Rattler!” twice before my ears caught up to my mouth.
“Where, Timmy? I don’t see her.” What was also odd was that I did not hear a thing. The pressure cooker sound of the snake’s rattle is so insistent, that it is not something you can lose in the shuffle.
Pointing to the faucet, he said, “There, right at the base of the flower box,” and then I saw her too. Once that happened, the price of poker went up. This was no light-weight; she was coiled up, quite the beauty and looked most formidable.
The eight-foot-square flower box is ten paces outside my back door, originally built for one reason only: to turn a huge pile of rocks into something more aesthetically pleasing. Most folks would agree that a flower box is more pleasing to the eye than a pile of rocks.
The first question might be, Why would you expect flowers to grow in a pile of rocks? I started by using scrap 2-by-6 redwood to form a box that was about two feet higher than the now-leveled-out pile of rocks. Because the ground slopes away, this meant only three sides of the box needed to be formed, the fourth side being shaped by the ground itself.
I filled the box with soil so that it was 24 inches deep at the low end, and at least eight inches on the high side. I mixed in several wheelbarrows of my home-grown compost, and planted snap-dragons, zinnias and an assortment of other ornamental flowers. All this took place three years ago and the benefits have been dazzling.
|Things get a little jenky at the bottom...|
Now, in my sandals I was not inclined to get any closer than the length of the snake, which was impossible to determine from its coiled form. Grabbing a rake that I had been using earlier, I circled around the back of the box, rounded up Ellie Mae, our little rescue dog, and whisked her back into the house before she had a clue as to what was going on.
|In the garbage can|
Rake in hand I returned to the scene and found a stand-off going on. Tim had a five gallon bucket in which to put the snake, but the coiled form in front of us made us reevaluate our plan. A snake cannot crawl up the side of a bucket, so if the top of the bucket is taller than the snake is long, she is trapped. The five gallon bucket was looking pretty skimpy. “Let me go out front and get a garbage can,” I suggested.
“Get a lid too,” Tim added.
When I returned, the snake was nowhere to be seen, “It just crawled under the box,” Tim explained, “through those rocks right there,” he said, pointing.
Where the ground sloped away, I had wedged several soccer ball-sized rocks in place, along with lots of smaller ones, to create a solid wall into which dirt could be dumped. The rocks had gaps that I had never focused on before, that obviously had enough room for our snake friend to maneuver through, out of our sight.
Who knew? Did she live here? Had I been blissfully unaware that a non-paying resident had been occupying a back-yard suite? Did I need to post an eviction notice? Or was she just visiting? Most importantly, how could we entice her out of her hiding spot, so that we could trap her and put her into snake-protection-program?
I tried a cool mist from the hose first, to see if maybe water being sprayed into the hole between the rocks would convince her to come out? She might have liked it though, because she never budged. I took the handle of the rake and stuck it into the hole between the rocks, and I started to pry the rocks apart.
One by one, I levied three of the more sizable rocks aside, flushing out our girl, and giving her no option but to crawl into the trash can-on-its-side, into which Tim had placed some sticks, some straw and some dead weeds.
|Breaking for freedom up the road...|
Prior to tipping the can upright, putting the lid in place and heading out to the car to take a little ride, I snapped two quick pics. Later, when I released her a few miles up Bell Springs Road in a remote spot not near any driveways or off-roads, I took a couple more photos. When I got back to the house, I posted a brief account on social media, along with two photos.
Within seconds the comments started flowing; responses varied from wildly pleased to shocked disbelief. Some were warm and fuzzy, which is surprising when we are talking about a cold-blooded critter; others were alarmed at the thought. By cold-blooded, I do not mean heartless; I mean the snake is hugely influenced by the temperature outside.
If it is too cold or too hot, the snake is lethargic, and not likely to be anywhere it could be seen. When the temperature is in the eighties, as it was yesterday, a rattler functions just fine, so it is imperative that the utmost caution be used at all times. At no time would I ever suggest someone relocate a rattlesnake; if it doesn’t occur to you on your own, you don’t need me to light your fire.
That being said, a rattlesnake has no interest in being around people. We’re too big to eat and we have a nasty habit of killing them on sight. I have lived on this property for 36 years; on average I see two or three rattlers each year. That’s somewhere between seventy and hundred rattlesnakes I have come face-to-face with, give or take.
I am out in the early morning darkness every day during the summer, and when the temperature is over seventy degrees, which it frequently is, snakes can be as active as they are during the day. I usually am listening to my music and have headphones on anyway, which does not help.
|Maybe the scariest encounter was with the dude:|
Note the lack of a rattle...
Nonetheless, I have never been bitten or felt that I was in danger of being bitten. I do know that rattlesnakes can and do bite; I just think it requires special circumstances to allow this to happen.
Responses to my relocation post were quite passionate, whichever side of the pit you were on. They included phrases such as,
“Fine looking snake!” “They are so awesome.” “Beautiful!” “Nice!” “Nice fat and green one!” “They sure like hot weather!” “Very happy you do this!” “We always try to relocate.” “What a beauty!” “Always relocate.”
On the flip side there was,
“No. Absolutely no. Under no circumstances. No. I mean, I love you, man. I love visiting HappyDay Farms. But no.”
“Ugggg!!! I’m so afraid of snakes!!! But they are on earth for a reason!!!!”
“Ew. This is scary; be safe with your family…”
“…I see a rattler-I kill it… I kill her babies too…”
The decision as to how to handle a face-to-face encounter is intensely personal, and no one should judge how another responds. When my three sons were youngsters, I killed any rattler I found within the compound. I used the flat side of a shovel in a most methodical and undramatic manner possible. One Whap! and one Chop! and it’s all over.
I also did not try to capture them back then, because I did not want to instill any ideas in impressionable young minds. I could [and did] always rectify matters down the line, but I did not want these country boys messing with rattlers.
Now it’s a different story so I handle it differently. How do I know the snakes don’t come back? I don’t know for sure and I don’t even know that they survive where I live them off. I just know that automatically killing such beautiful critters, if it can be avoided, goes against everything for which I stand.
Rattlers, like health or monetary issues, are always going to be around, and you deal with them as you see fit. I just wish I could move a health issue or a money problem, on down the road as easily as I can a rattlesnake.