Another Unwelcome Visitor
by Brent Gill
August 1, 2006
After one in the shop, another unwelcome visitor comes to the peaceful hilltop.
My wife Sharon was in the house on a recent quiet Saturday morning, enjoying being at home. Her job takes her away from early in the morning until early evening most days. Any time she is able to spend on our quiet peaceful hilltop is relished.
The morning was getting warm. It was going to be hot by afternoon. Our big Boxer, Max, had accompanied me outside to attend to morning chores around the hilltop. The dog, often smarter than his master, had retired to the shade. Chores completed, I too walked toward the patio headed for the cool in the house.
We live on a hilltop surrounded by golden fields in the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada. Experience has taught us: an unpleasant surprise may appear, unannounced and unwelcome. It is always prudent to look.
As I stepped onto the sidewalk leading to the cool shade of the patio, I scanned the green lawn on the left, then the center where the cool fountain splashed and gurgled. When I looked to the right where the picnic table rested, lying in front of the fountain beside the picnic table was a very large Southern Pacific rattlesnake. His head rested on the ground near the base. His muscular brown diamond-patterned body relaxed in placid curves across the cool cement.
I needed the shovel I used to dispatch the snake in the shop several days earlier, but it was at the other house 100 yards away. I turned and sprinted across the parking area toward the shovel.
As I ran, I yelled over my shoulder to Sharon, “Snake. Big snake!” In a moment I heard her calling Max.
“Good,” I thought, “she is taking care of both dogs so they won’t get bitten.” Then her calls to Max rose to a higher level of urgency.
I didn’t pause to look. Now I was too far away to help her even if both she and the dog got into trouble. I continued to sprint toward the shovel where it leaned against the fence.
With the required tool in hand, I started back. The scene I witnessed chilled me. Max and my wife stood behind the cars in the driveway. To get there she had to cross one side of the patio. The snake stretched across the middle. She had not spotted the hazard. The snake lay unseen but no less a threat.
When she heard me shout, I had sprinted behind the cars toward the other house. Max tagged along to see where I was going. Sharon feared if I rushed toward the snake the dog would go with me into danger. She dashed out the back door to hold his collar. Her route across the patio passed within three feet of the resting rattler. She assumed the snake was somewhere near the cars or at the other house. She didn’t realize she had put herself in significant danger.
As I hustled past them with the shovel, she realized I was headed toward the patio. Alarmed now, she spun around. Lying beside her path of rapid travel to rescue the dog was the big rattlesnake.
I needed to concentrate on the snake so didn’t take time to look back. However, I am certain she must’ve blanched when she realized what she’d done. If the snake were threatened or in a defensive mode she could’ve been bitten.
I was glad the snake was not as upset as Sharon had now become. It still lay in quiet gentle curves.
My mode of dress was the same as the day I found the snake in the shop: shorts with nylon-strapped rubber-soled sandals. I didn’t wear anything which would protect me.
My approach was slow and careful. Part of the success of this operation relied upon not causing the snake to become excited or upset before it was time for action.
Sharon hadn’t startled him. I proceeded in a calm manner. I didn’t want to appear a threat. The snake never moved. The sharp edge of the flat-nosed shovel did the job it had been retrieved to do.
This snake stretched forty inches from its venomous head to the warning rattles. The powerful beige body was as thick as my wrist.
The head was buried to keep it away from animals that might chew on it. The rattles joined the first set on the window above the sink. What was left of the snake went into the field for the coyotes and buzzards to clean up.
I hope we have seen our quota of rattlers for the summer. Two snakes killed in close proximity to the house makes us a bit more cautious when we walk out the back door.