Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's alive ...

Both the blog, and the rattler I saw today as I crested the hill northeast of Conway Ranch. I had shooed a garter off the road a few miles earlier, and must have been channeling a charmer's energy. The broken sagebrush strewn across the road even had a sinuous quality.

Luckily, I saw it before it was trouble. It was on the left side of the road, and I was jogging down the middle. Thick, girthy, its pale sides glinting in the post-6pm sun that was pouring its final moments over Conway Ranch. I suspected at first glance that the snake was no gopher, and it's six-tiered rattle confirmed that hunch.

I stopped, of course. I often feel guilty when I pause while "training", and feel the pressure to keep on, to keep the heart-rate up--I just can't help it. One part of my soul loves to linger, the other chafes. But I fought my guilt off for longer than usual this time. If anything, rattler's would have such an effect. I circled around it, squatted down. It raised its rattle and gave two shakes and side winded to the dirt lip at the edge of the road, with its head tracking my shins the whole time (don't worry, I wasn't dangerously close). I think I stood, or took a step closer, and then it slithered quickly over the little embankment and coiled, in a perfect pretzel shape, in the tight clearing between several sagebrush. Its rattle was upright before its body, like a shield, its head reared back--a classic display. It would take a fool to mistake this for an ordinary snake.

But I followed it, stepping off the road, and observed the rattler for a few more minutes. Its forked tongue--jet black at its prongs, a pearly coal further in--slid out and down, in a slow, sense-ful flicker, and then, sometimes, curled back over the top of its spade-shaped head. I stepped from side-to-side, trying for the best angle to see the creature, and it's dagger-face followed knowingly. From the road, before I left, I couldn't resist boyishly prodding its side gently with the twiggy tip of a sagebrush branch, and it turned toward the provocation violently, giving two isolated rattles--like the single click of a castanet--that were quite elegant and clear in their message. (When I told this story to a friend, she mentioned that it's usually males 18-30 who get bit by rattlers ... I can't fathom why.)

Then I went on another 14 miles, or so, down Goat Ranch Cutoff to Cottonwood Canyon Rd, to Highway 167 (a stretch I normally don't reach), and back on Cemetery Road to Mono City finally, after dark.

19 + mi, 135 min; a big Conway Ranch Loop

Week total: 75 mi

Also: A Mono-logue post about a gull, "An elder in our midst"

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