"I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes..." (Ferrets--Part Two)
So where was I? Wyoming, summer of '91? Check. Trundling across the prairie in search of prairie dog poo indicating potential black-footed ferret release sites? Check. Running into monster rattlesnake bent on swallowing me whole? OK, probably not. Screaming in terror? Check. (If you've just tuned in, scroll down to read the previous entry so you can catch up. Don't worry, I'll wait.) (Got it? Okay, here we go...Oh, and I've switched tense from present--in the previous post--to past. It's just more natural for me when writing. Okay, continue...)
I'm not sure the Wyoming prairie had seen anything like my terrified self back peddling through sage while dragging a metal wheel with a 2 meter long pole attached to it. Wheel and pole got hung up in the shrubbery as I high-tailed it to the dirt track near the edge of the plateau. Why didn't I drop the wheel? Perhaps it was my sense of duty to be responsible for my equipment, but I'm guessing it was more along the lines of all muscles except those required for flight freezing with rigor-like paralysis.
I stopped at the track, panting and shaking as I searched for signs of Glen's truck. There! A cloud of dust trailing a white pick-up. Thank the gods of fools and biologists! As Glen made his way toward me, I started dismantling my wheel. He stopped and got out, a quizzical look on his face.
"Are you done with this area already?"
"No," I said, "but I'm finished."
I told Glen about my encounters. When I was finished, he gazed toward the rocky outcropping and said in complete and unbelievable seriousness, "Let's go look."
I blinked up at him (Glen was over 6', and quite well-built) as if he'd suggested we douse ourselves with honey and find an anthill to dance on. "Wha?" was all that came out of my mouth.
"Come on," he said, and started walking to the rocks.
Now, Glen had no love for snakes either. In fact, he carried a 22 pistol with bird shot cartridges just in case he ran into one that was a problem. Why he was compelled to "go look" is still a mystery to me after 17 years. But I went, because it was either follow the big guy with the gun or stay alone with the truck. Plus, I was starting to calm down a little, allowing my more logical side to have a stronger vote.
So I followed Glen, staying close, but not too close. Why? Because it's usually not the first person disturbing a snoozing rattlesnake who gets bit, it's the second. But I didn't want to be first either. That logical side was starting to sound a bit flaky at that point.
I walked with my hands clenched together up near my chest. I'm not sure what I was protecting, as snakes usually don't leap up like that (if you know otherwise, please, don't tell me. I felt somewhat secure with my hands in such a defensive posture.). We paralleled the rocky outcropping but found no snakes. Relieved, I was about to go back to the truck when Glen suggested we check the other side.
"Wha?" I said.
"It'll be fine." He found a low spot and passed through. Now I REALLY didn't have much choice but to follow him.
About halfway along the outcropping, Glen stopped and pointed. "There's a little one."
Sure enough, about ten feet ahead of us was a 3' rattler. Standing just behind Glen, my insides quivered and my hands tightened.
"You've never heard one rattle before, right?" he asked. I shook my head, eyes locked on the brown and black patterned snake. Glen crouched down and picked up a small rock. "Here, let's have him rattle for you."
He chucked the rock at the snake, but the snake gave hardly a twitch before curling up in its defensive posture. At least its posture made sense. "That wasn't very good," Glen said. "Let's try again."
He bent down for another rock, and as he did so, glanced back past me. And yelped like a girl. He drew his pistol and shot as I turned. A 5' long rattlesnake was twitching its death throes less than six feet from us. Glen turned to shoot the other snake, the one he'd clunked with the rock, but it had slithered off.
My hands plastered themselves to my mouth and my entire body trembled. Glen's eyes were wide behind his tinted glasses, and his hands shook as he holstered the pistol.
"You okay?" he asked. I could only nod, not wanting or unable to move my hands away from my mouth.
Glen walked over to the now still snake. He took out his pocket knife and opened the blade. Stepping on the head, he decapitated it and let some blood drain. "We'll leave the head," he explained, "because a scratch from the fangs could be dangerous."
I wasn't about to argue.
Glen carried the snake, bloody end up, as we made our way back to the truck. Neither of us were in the mood to finish our sites. We'd come back the next day, after our hearts had a chance to settle down. All was quiet across the prairie until Glen let out another yelp and dropped the snake. I jumped about a dozen feet straight up, looking around for the rattler that surely had bitten Glen. But none were in sight. Only the headless carcass.
"What happened?" I asked him.
"Stupid snake doesn't know it's dead," he said as he bend down to retrieve the snake body. When he looked at me, his cheeks were bright red with embarrassment. "The tail curled up and touched my hand."
I'd like to say we got a good laugh out of that, and we did, eventually. But not that day.
I still haven't heard a rattlesnake rattle in person. And you know what? I'm in no big rush.
More on prairie dogs and maybe even ferrets to come!