5-31-12 Bum Rap








And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. Genesis 3

It is a bum rap from an old story. This Rowley’s palm pit viper, captured on film by Joel Sartori and published in the London Guardian, is one of the last of her kind. Fierce and feared eons ago, she now languishes on the list of those headed for extinction. In the American West she will soon be joined by the frightened Pine Gopher, the harmless Garter and the shy Rattlesnake. Undenning in the spring on the rocky sides of sagebrush covered hills, the Rattler, slow and lethargic, inches down to cross a dirt road seeking food and water after a long hibernation. As predictable as she is a Black Mariah with a man and woman of Stone Age features inching along the road, stopping now and then to cajole the snake with well placed sticks into a small cardboard box where she will languish until killed for human purposes. She may escape to be crushed under the wheels of a pickup or shot by a rancher with a ready pistol.

I resent this. Having spent half my life in the arid West, I have never had a rattler track me down, gliding faster and faster, thirsting for my blood, never been bitten by a cold coiled monster, nor has my dog. Nor have I ever known anyone who was bitten, but, then, as locals will tell you, that is because outdoorsmen are quick on the trigger. Well, maybe.

There was one heart-stopping moment. Early June, the ground thawed but wet with a brief passing snowstorm. We are picking our way through stone slashed with the orange of iron, aromatic fragrance of freshened sage engulfing us. There is movement on the deer trail ahead of us, a mound quivering. I begin a slow broad arc around what can only be a coiled Rattler. It is too much for me. I circle back in time to see a muscular length with distinctive black markings become a part of the coil. The coil unwinds, but the two snakes remain entwined. There is a stretching, a moment of stillness, before they break apart, each going his and her own way. I am breathing hard and the blood is pumping. I cannot move. Then, I can. We go on, Wolly unconcerned, me as excited as the first time I saw Nureyev dance Swan Lake all those years ago in San Francisco.

It is that moment the world is being robbed of. We are doing our best to prevent that from happening. The chances of that best being good enough is mighty slim.



No responses yet

Leave a Reply