Sunday, September 28, 2014

Snake Country

Southern Arizona is snake country, including an abundance of fear-inducing rattlesnakes. The Texas Panhandle, where I lived for my first 31 years, isn't exactly a stranger to rattlers, so I thought I'd be well-prepared for Tucson, but I'm still caught off-guard sometimes. I'm also a little surprised at just how many snakes I see.

We live adjacent to a wash -- a wild, low-lying area that's usually dry but channels water to larger washes and rivers after heavy rains -- so we see more coyotes, quail, bobcats, javelinas, etc. than a lot of residents. Also more sssssnakes.

Here's a photo my partner took when out walking our dogs about 5 months ago.


That particular snake wasn't poisonous, but it was impressive. We're used to scanning the ground for snakes, especially when walking the dogs, so spotting this one above head level was even more of a shock.

We've had our share of rattlesnake encounters during our first 4 years in Tucson, and lately rattlesnakes seem particularly active. We had one in our backyard a couple weeks ago, and several friends have had to deal with them. Monday, I saw one on my morning run along the Rillito River Path, about 10 feet off the path. A Pima County employee was taking a break from trying to capture or kill it with a shovel, and he clearly was not enjoying the task. I offered sympathies as I ran by, speaking loudly so he could hear me over the intense, angry rattling sound but being careful I didn't distract him at a bad time.

So when I approached that same area on this morning's run, after all the snake encounters lately, you'd think I'd be extra cautious, wouldn't you?

Nah! I wasn't, and I was rewarded with a major adrenaline rush for my negligence.

I'd been running along, listening to a runner's steps as he ever so slowly gained ground on me. I don't get passed too often, so I was waiting to see who it was. (If I'm passed by a young jock type, I lessen the sting of being overtaken by reminding myself how much older I am. It's called "playing the age card.") It was, indeed, a young athletic guy this morning, but instead of passing me, he matched pace and ran beside and just a little bit behind me. I stayed close to the right edge of the path to make it easy for him to go around when he wanted, but he didn't pass. I'm not used to having a running partner, so I wasn't completely comfortable, and part of my attention stayed on the other runner.

That's when I spotted a snake...beside me...RIGHT beside me, maybe a foot and a half from my feet.

The snake was about 3 foot long, fat, and stretched out lengthwise just off the trail. At a glance, it appeared to be a rattlesnake, and it might have been, but I don't know that for sure. There are non-poisonous snakes around here with similar markings. I didn't notice if it had a rattle because I was scrambling to get away from it. So it might have been a bullsnake or a king snake, but at the time, I was thinking RATTLER!, so it was definitely a dayum moment for me. I know because I shouted "DAYUM!"

The odd thing was that there were about 5 walkers just ahead of me who'd all passed by this snake almost as closely as I did with no reaction. I began wondering if the snake had been alive. I turned and asked the young guy running beside me. He said, "Oh yeah, it's definitely alive. I was just running the other direction, and I saw it crawling along."

A bit later, the the young guy went one way, and I went another.

Now this guy seemed nice enough, but it was unusual that he ran with me instead of overtaking me. A weird thought hit. He knew the snake was there. Had he stayed beside me so he could see my reaction when I noticed the snake?

Nah! Like I wrote above, he seemed like a nice guy, and he showed no sign of taking pleasure from my "dayum" moment. But if he had been hoping for a reaction, I didn't disappoint. If I'd jumped to the side any farther than I did, I'd have knocked him over.

So another day, another lesson on the importance of staying alert. I love it here, but sometimes...dayum!

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