This hub is not about ex-boyfriends, evil, controlling bosses, or even ex-husbands who sleep with their half-sisters. I've known some of them, and believe me, that is another topic altogether. This article is about real, live snake encounters. After all, I live in Arizona and check under the car every time I get inside.
A Fascination With Snakes
Snakes are fascinating creatures. Let's set aside our fears and emotions about the few bad apples in the bunch--the snakes that bite cows and horses and dogs and drunk young men who should have known better anyway. Let's for a moment forget about those giant anacondas that terrorize entire villiages along the Amazon river, and spitting pythons in the remote jungles and villages of India, and let's, just for a moment, forget about those southern U.S. terrors, the cottonmouths that lay in wait for unsuspecting fishermen. And let's put aside from our minds the fact that Arizona, where I live, has 18 different species of rattlesnakes, all venomous. Yes, let's forget, shall we?
A snake is a thing of beauty, full of grace. Just watch one move. It can maneuver swiftly and quietly through the tightest corners and smallest spaces with almost no trouble. Snakes are beautifully colored. They come in rich jeweled hues, like amber and lime green, and brilliant reds and whites and blacks. Think of a snake's scales, patterned like a shimmering mosaic across it's back and underbelly.
Snakes are also useful. They generally eat rodents that carry diseases like hantavirus and bubonic plague. And some snakes even eat other snakes. Here in Arizona we think of those snakes, the giant California Kings and equally large Gopher snakes, as useful predators, friends of the family, so to speak, because they actually eat the rattlesnakes.
Snakes in Snack Food
My fascination with snakes began during my early childhood in Indiana, where my favorite aunt would take my sister and me to the Indianapolis Children's Museum.There, at the museum was a huge boa constrictor. It was about 8 feet long and weighed at least as much as I did, and usually, a snake handler would allow us to stroke the snake's scales, which were soft and cool to the touch.
Fast forward a few years...Now my family is living in West Texas, and my dad has decided to take us to a culturally enlightening experience: The Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, in Sweetwater, Texas. Apparently, in this part of Texas, there are so many rattle snakes, that every year the local community rounds them up, cuts off their heads, and sells them in many different forms.
And for lunch? Snake meat—Kentucky Fried. What does Kentucky Fried rattlesnake taste like? Chicken, of course!
The Rattlesnake Roundup was a fascinating, disturbing, even inhumane oddity. We went into an indoor rodeo arena where the Sweetwater JayCees gave snake handling demonstrations, butchered the snakes in an open pit. (Uggh! The smell!), and prepared them to be skinned. And I'm not talking 5 or 10 snakes, here, people, I'm talking hundreds of rattlesnakes! The recently butchered snakes were hung from meat hooks along a rail, while the severed heads of the snakes could be seen still wriggling in large metal round garbage containers. Attendees of the event were cautioned not to touch the rattlesnake heads, which were still fully potent with their venom sacs intact, and moving convulsively due to muscle spasms.
Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup
Snakes in Cars
Long before we moved to Arizona, we were driving a rented U-haul truck down the long lonely highways of central New Mexico, on the way to a new job and new home in Dallas.
Parked along the side of the road was a family of Acoma Indians, who lived nearby at the Acoma reservation. It was getting warm and we were inclined to stop, so we asked them what the nature of their problem was. The hood of their car was up and one of the family members seemed to be intently looking for something in the engine. Yes, they had run out of gas, and that was an easy fix. We gave them a ride to the nearby gas station and took them back to their car, which was only a few miles away. But that was not all! A snake had crawled into their car's engine and they couldn't find it! Never fear! My husband was near, and so he found a stick in the nearby grass and chased the snake out of the engine block.
The family was very thankful. They told us that their people were very superstitious about snakes, and they were really fearful of interacting with them. There were taboos and superstitions about touching any snake. Yet, in the car, one of the boys (who rode with me for a time) said that among New Mexico Indians, there was a lot of intermarriage among tribes, and he had relatives who actually slept with snakes as part of a religious ritual!
Then There Was Arizona
I moved to rural western Arizona with some trepidation. I knew all about those summat 18 different varieties of venomous rattlers, and I was sure my new location would be a reprise of Sweetwater. It didn't help that a long-time resident of my small town, a friend, kept a sharpened shovel outside of each of her doors within reach, to kill those pesky varmints!
During the first year, I vigilantly searched for snakes, so I wouldn't trip over them if I encountered them. Once when we were renting a place along the Hassayampa river, I am certain I saw a 5 foot-long, aggressive Mojave rattlesnake. Fortunately, I was alone in my car, safely behind the glass windows. It was dusk, and I'm not one hundred percent certain, but in those low light conditions, it reared up and danced preternaturally next to my car, teasing me to step out so it could strike me.
After that moment, I couldn't walk anywhere along the road without scanning the ground three feet in front of me for potential venomous predators. I'm sure my friends and neighbors wondered what I was looking for!
But time passed, and I never saw a rattlesnake too close. Although I was startled more than once while camping in the desert by rattlers in the brush. We went camping with a friend who jumped about 4 feet in the air when she accidentally cornered a rattlesnake on a wood-gathering expedition. As for me, once or twice I would see rattlesnakes in the road, either sunning themselves or long after dying a gruesome death by the hands of someone even more paranoid than me. But...I did encounter other snakes at my home. A few of these encounters are worth mentioning.
What is It With Snakes and BBQs?
I guess snakes and BBQ are part of my destiny. One day when I was out on my porch, getting ready to fire up the BBQ grill, I went to open the lid, and saw the tongue of a snake flickering out from the side hole of the BBQ grill lid. Maybe the snake liked the smell of the burnt-on, cooked meat inside the BBQ grill, or maybe the snake liked the intense warmth generated by the closed metal lid (snake sauna, anyone?), but there was a snake in my BBQ grill! I know you won't want to believe this one, so I am including the pictures to prove it. I ran and grabbed my camera in time to see the snake's tail at one end of the grill, and the snake's head emerging from the other end. Spooked by me, it slithered into the protective shade of our spiny-leafed aloe plants.
They Say It's Your Birthday
It was my daughter's 10th birthday, and my husband and I drove our two cars to round up a group of girls to take to a swim center "down in the valley". That's the locals' name for nearby suburban Phoenix. As we rounded the corner to the last girl's house, we saw, right in the middle of the road, the largest gopher snake I have ever seen. It was probably six feet long. Before I could say "stop!" I saw all of the girls in my husband's car flinging open the doors and jumping into the road to get a better look. This scared the snake, which was utterly defenseless, so it took cover at the nearest place it could--under my husband's car. In the wheel well, actually. My husband valiantly made a broom from a small stand of weedy brush, and proceded to try to chase the snake out of the undercarriage of the car and into the open road. But instead of moving off of the car, the snake slithered along the wheel axel, and into the wheel well of the other back tire. This went on for quite some time, until finally, amidst squeals of anticipation (none of the girls were scared--they're all Arizona country girls), my husband put the car in neutral and proceded to push. The snake shot across the road and into a nearby bush. But that wasn't the end--our girls followed the poor creature and gathered around in a circle while one of the girls tried to pick the snake up. At the end of the day, my daughter remarked "that was the best birthday I ever had!"
Tripping Over Snakes at the Mailbox
We live on a paved road in town, and that's saying something. But with an acre and a half of desert for a yard, and neighbors with even more acreage, there's still a lot of wildlife to encounter in our neighborhood. Since our climate is so hot, spring often unofficially begins as early as February, and lasts a few short months until one day it is just too blazing hot to do anything outside. My family was enjoying an after-dinner evening stroll down our street, when my husband looked carelessly down at his sandaled feet, let out a "yikes" and jumped about two feet in the air. He almost tripped over a snake, right underneath our mailbox at the entrance to our driveway. Long gone are the days when I scan the ground for hungry rattlers. We have lived here almost six years, and though we have encountered many, many snakes, we have never even been threatened by a rattlesnake. I guess it's time to be a bit more vigilant.