We spent last spring and a good chunk of summer wandering through the deserts in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Almost each trail welcomed us with a familiar snake warning, but we saw just one rattlesnake. It was quite well hidden and tolerated us soundlessly while we were having our lunch admiring the Hovenweep ruins. It only got agitated when we suddenly stood up. Its angry rattle was more surprising than scary, but for a couple of days we took our time choosing a place to picnic. And then we started to hike in California where it seems we come acress a snake or two every day.
We have been promised the first one by the trail description: on the lower part of Chinualna Falls trail in Yosemite lives a huge rattlesnake that guards the trail (or is somebody’s pet as the author suggests, hopefully in jest). We’ve seen it on the way back and sure enough it was winding down the trail. Dark olive green with yellow marks, thick as a man’s arm, it moved to the side of the trail sensing our approach. It might have been a sufficient distance for the snake, but we were not brave enough - or stupid enough - to pass it on a 2 feet wide path. The alternative was wading through ankle high bushes, which could have been hiding many more hissy reptilians. So we waited. And then waited some more.
Making noise and stomping our feet did not seem to affect it. Finally the snake looked at us with what must have been a pure disgust and moved slowly across the trail disappearing into the bushes. I threw a stick in its general direction hoping to scare it away farther. I doubt very much it had any effect, but we were not inclined to check too thouroughly.
The next day we’ve met another one in Kings Canyon. This time we had been warned by a nice young woman manning a ranger’s station at the bottom of the Mist Falls trail. Watch out for rattlesnakes she said casually. An watch we did. But we noticed the one perfectly coiled next to the trail only because we stopped to drink water right at it. It was more conventionally colored and quite courteous: stepping off the trail to rest so people can pass under its watchful eye. Seeing a non-venomous (or so we assumed) snake further down the trail was completely devoid of excitement by comparison, despite it posing for photos sticking its tongue out.
When I posted photos of our snake encounters a friend of mine demanded to know what wild exotic country we were visiting. My meek response that it is simply California brought her disbelieving response: I know from movies that rattlesnakes wander deserts of Texas and Arizona. In California you meet half-naked girls on rollerblades and movie stars, not snakes! Snake population of California apparently decided to disagree and after several snake-less days we’ve seen one again on the road to Alabama Hills Arch. Non-venomous or so we assumed again. It looked like it was struggling to get off the road perhaps driven over by a car. I felt sorry for it but not sorry enough to get out and try to help it - my assumption of its nature didn’t stretch that far.
Snakes, vipers and serpents have an image problem. Fatal snakebites, while not unheard of, are quite low on the list of death causes. Way more people die in car accidents than in snake accidents, and yet we like our cars and we hate our snakes. That’s because our human and not-so-human ancestors evolved in a place infested with snakes and not with automobiles. This fear explains much better than any Freudian nonsense why serpent plays such an important role in Christian mythology.
We are now back to a more conventional California of my friend’s movies. And while snakes can be graceful and even beatiful, I am hoping to see more scantily dressed people and fewer venomous vipers.