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Lifelong Learning

Notes From a Life-Long Learner: Rattlesnake!!!


The sound of a Rattlesnake's warning is terrifying and hard to describe. It doesn’t sound like a baby’s toy. Well, it might if the toy was being shaken at a million times per second by an angry, tight-fisted god who looked kind of like a baby. Add to that impossible sound a buzz and a sinister, insistent shhhhhhhhhhh. You may think I’m being dramatic, but in my defense, it’s easy to be dramatic when you’re face to face with a Diamond Back Rattler.

This was my welcome to Southern California: a sunny, casual hike up a rolling hill in Castaic. My tour guides: brother and sister in law. I will refrain from naming them to protect their reputations as conscientious hosts. Let’s call them Monica and Lucky Ed.

Before the hike, These two bantered back and forth about the probability of snakes and questioned the need for a snake bite kit.  Now, keep in mind that this conversation was quite breezy, far from urgent. Where I come from, snakes, let alone poisonous ones, are serious business. The consensus between them was that the first week in May was probably too early in the season for snakes.

Not really.

Lucky Ed alerted us when we had walked a few dusty feet past the large, black, Diamond Back. I turned and saw it slowly slither into the scrub. It wasn’t in a hurry. Pretty confident, I’d say. Did it see us and mercifully wait until we passed before it crossed the trail?

I didn’t know, and I wasn’t about to find out.

Lucky Ed, on the other hand, was all kinds of curious. He moved into what seemed to be the snake’s striking distance to get a better look. This sent Monica into hysterics. I merely stood, dazed, watching. I reasoned that life had been good, that I had had a “good run”, and dying on top of a hill in Castaic wasn’t so bad. There were already vultures flying overhead, so everything seemed to be in place for an efficient finish.

These are the things that went through my mind when I heard that...sound.

Obviously, we got out of there, unbitten, adrenaline coursing through our veins instead of venom, thankful that we encountered the snake on land, with plenty of running space, and not on a plane. Another day, another learning experience.

I learned that Rattler season begins in mid-to-late April in that part of the country. Good to know.  I learned that each segment of a Rattler’s rattle is formed as a direct result of molting and that, contrary to what many believe, the segments do not indicate the snake’s age, as snakes can molt several times a year, depending.  I learned that an adult Rattler’s bite may not kill you, but the bite of a baby rattler will most likely do you in--their venom is more toxic than adult venom and the little devils can’t control how much of it they release. They’ll drain themselves dry right into you.

And I learned that you should probably leave Rattlesnakes alone.

Have you ever been this close to a Rattlesnake or any other kind of poisonous snake? Feel free to share your war story right here.


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