Bill's Vignettes

This is my story. It will consist of little pictures, snippets, or vignettes, from my past. It is a legacy to my children and grandchildren and those that may come after and hopefully will also be of some interest to the casual reader who doesn't know me from Adam.

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Rattlesnake Ramblings

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 27, 2007

Those never having lived in rattlesnake country think of rattlesnakes in terms of Western movies: rattlesnakes are always coiled up ready to spring, are always on the alert, and always hiss in warning. That’s pretty much the picture I had of rattlesnakes when I first moved into the mountains of northern California.

My wife and knew a little bit about rattlesnakes. We knew enough to know that you really do not want to encounter one up close and personal. Our two boys, young teens, were warned about staying on well-trodden paths and not venturing out into the taller grasses. The immediate locale around our home was an area in which rattlesnakes had often been seen.

The first rattlesnake I came across was on Scott Mountain in Siskiyou County. It was crossing the road and easily stretched from the centerline to the side of the road and was about four inches in diameter. I have seen photographs taken in the area of rattlesnakes draped over a man, with both ends of the snake touching the ground.

One of our neighbors, a hippie-mountain man hybrid, made his living at certain times of the year hunting rattlesnakes. He would go up into the hills to known rattlesnake dens, don his armor — stove pipe shin and arm guards — and enter the many caves in search of his prey. The meat would go into a pot for dinner and the skins would be tacked to a board and dried for use in making hat bands or whatever. By-the-way, rattlesnake meat is quite tasty, at least barbecued (and tastes like chicken — I mean, doesn’t everything?).

One day our sons came home from school and jumped off the school bus and took out in a full gallop. Adam, our younger son, left the trail and had taken only a few steps when he stepped on the head of a coiled rattlesnake. His older brother, seeing the snake, decided to become its executioner and dispatched it by repeatedly dropping rocks on its head. One of the neighbors cut the head off and buried it to prevent the dogs in the area from being poisoned, should they decide to eat or play with it. Adam was given the rattles, five in length, as a souvenir.

Once, while returning from Mount Ashland in southern Oregon, we came across a rather large rattlesnake crossing the road. All in the car thought the appropriate thing to do would be to run over it. Upon having done so, Adam yelled, “Dad, did you see that?” The rattler had apparently recently eaten a mouse or rodent of similar size. When the car ran over it, the pressure build-up between the rodent and the snake’s head caused the head to fly off and rocket across the road.

A few years after moving to California the state passed a law making it illegal to kill rattlesnakes unless you had a fishing license. I had not seen anything to that effect in writing but it was the talk of the town for a while. I was somewhat skeptical, but this was California, after all. About a year later I was attending the Siskiyou County Fair when I encountered a game warden. I asked him if it was true that a fishing license was required to kill rattlesnakes. He replied in the affirmative. I said, “Why, they aren’t fish and they aren’t game.” He said, “But people eat them.” “Yes,” I replied, “they also eat skunk, but you don’t need a license to kill them.” That’s a result of all the concrete-bound tree-huggers that live in loony towns like LA and San Francisco.

That summer a man was bitten by a rattlesnake when he attempted to get into his SUV. A rattlesnake had taken refuge in the shade his vehicle provided and when the returning man approached the snake bit him. A medical unit was called but offered no assistance because they didn’t recognize the purplish swelling as a snake bite. A Highway Patrolman happened along about this time and reported to his superiors that he was following the snake down the middle of the highway. When asked why he didn’t just shoot it, he replied: “I don’t have a fishing license.” Why he didn’t accidentally run over it with his patrol car is beyond me.

I was walking up the road in front of my house one day when I espied a rattlesnake crawling in front of me. I looked around, found a stick, and began poking it. The rattlesnake was more than content to mind its own business and did not at all make any threatening moves towards me.

I have a healthy respect for rattlers and hope I never meet one face-to-face, yet I find them fascinating and intriguing — from a distance. That’s where I think I’ll leave them.

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