Who’s afraid of a little old rattlesnake?

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

A rattlesnake was just a foot away from my face last week.

It was so close I could reach out and touch it. Which means (gulp) it could reach out and touch me.

But I wasn’t scared. More like intrigued.

As the big venomous viper slithered, pulsed and began to coil, I realized this could be one of those “bucket list” moments. I was about to scratch “Deadly Snake Encounter” off my list.

Despite 50 years of carelessly tromping through snake habitat, this was my first brush with a rattler.

Oh, I’ve been inches from their little forked tongues at the zoo and other Plexiglas snake prisons. But never inside the ropes with one.

I’m sort of a weekend outdoorsman. But snakes, bears, mountain lions — even poisonous plants — always seem to give me a wide berth.

I never see ’em.

There is a bear who nightly shakes our bear-proof Dumpster like he’s trying to make jumbo Jiffy Pop.

But when I stumble outside for a look, he’s gone. Always.

The few times we’ve neglected to lock the Dumpster, Yogi has helped himself to bags and bags of assorted goodies.

He drags the stinky black Hefty sacks about 50 yards behind the house and sets his table for a midnight snack.

Though I’ve yet to meet our bear, I feel like I know him after bussing his table a few times.

He’s not picky. And he’s all business — poops right where he eats.

Did you know bears like wine? They do. And not the good stuff, either. Almaden in a box … aack.

But I digress. I’m staring at a rattler right now. About a 40-incher. That’s almost three-and-a-half feet long. I think I’ll go with that description — makes it seem a lot bigger.

I know it’s a three-and-a-half-footer because his skin is drying on a shelf at home.

Yes, I lived through the encounter.

My uncle Eric says I should wrap the snake carcass around my fishing hat. Like Crocodile Dundee. Hmmm? I think I should decorate my golf hat instead. Now that would be a different look.

Actually, it was Eric who pointed out this rattler for me.

Eric sees snakes all the time. He’s capped dozens of them.

Eric and I are opposites in that respect. He unknowingly shared a narrow ditch with a rattler last summer while he was doing some plumbing.

That snake’s dried hide has been on display for some time now.

A few years ago he killed a big buck in his underwear. I’m almost surprised he didn’t kill the deer with his underwear. You know, an improvised choke-hold type of attack.

To a city boy like me, Eric is a bona fide mountain man. He’s two parts Daniel Boone, one part Marlin Perkins, with just a dash of Bart Simpson for flavor.

If a cat has nine lives, Eric has about 23 and counting. I’ll save tales of his near-death experiences for another day. Because this is my snake story.

Sometimes Aunt Pat is along for the ride when Eric is tempting fate. And sometimes she’s the one doing the tempting.

Not too long ago a mountain lion crossed their path as they bounced along their steep and lonely dirt road that winds to their mountain valley home.

As the giant cat stared at them off the side of the road, Pat decided it was time for a “Wild Kingdom” moment.

“What in the hell are you doing!?” the mountain man screamed as the love of his life got out of the truck and walked toward the lion.

“Here kitty kitty,” she said.

Either the mountain lion wasn’t hungry, or decided my slender aunt wasn’t meaty enough for the effort. Not sure. But the big cat just stared at the smiling “happy meal,” turned and disappeared into the woods.

So … here I am staring at the rattlesnake. The big lump in his mid-section was probably a mouse or some other recent victim that was swallowed whole after a paralyzing venom injection.

What a way to go. I think I see nightmares in my future.

But I wasn’t dreaming about this. It was real.

As I reached toward the snake, I noticed it only had four rattles. A snake this size should have about a dozen. Must have busted some off.

With my hand just inches away, I decided to go for it. I could feel the snake’s muscles constrict as I wrapped my fingers around its back.

I could hear, and feel, its rattle vibrating as I lifted it off the ground. It was much heavier than I imagined — all bones and muscle.

Still, I wasn’t scared. Something was missing …

His head.

The mountain man had already removed the business end of the snake a few minutes earlier.

Rattlesnakes still act like they want to kill something even after they are dead.

Must be a reflex. Because this one certainly wasn’t thinking.

Aunt Pat discovered the big rattler sitting near the foot of their front porch.

Eric said he was a bit confused as he rolled up the driveway.

He wondered why Pat’s arms were doing all the moves to the Village People’s “YMCA” dance as he approached the front step.

Pat said she wasn’t scared. She was merely trying to warn her husband. And I believe her.

Hey, this woman stared down a mountain lion. What’s a little rattlesnake?

Moments later it was over.

Eric said he shot the snake’s head off.

But an ending like that sounds a little too conventional for the mountain man.

I think he bit it off.


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