RATTLESNAKES
Michael Ellis

In addition to Buddhism, rock-climbing and psychoactive drugs, one sure way to achieve total awareness is to startle a rattlesnake. Years after nearly stepping on a Mojave Green I can still vividly recall in intimate detail every single aspect of that moment.

We only have one species in the Bay Area – the Western Rattlesnake. This is by far the most widely distributed species – ranging from the west coast east to the Mississippi River valley, Baja to Canada. There are many color and pattern variations and therefore many subspecies. Our local one is called the Northern Pacific rattlesnake and is quite a handsome reptile.

Snakes, especially poisonous ones, elicit more fear and distrust in humans than any other wild animal. This is somewhat understandable but still unfortunate because many snakes are killed just because they are snakes. If you want to totally avoid snakes then stay indoors and shop on line or you could move to Alaska or Ireland. But to venture out into the wilds of California, there are a few simple DON’Ts that will minimize your chances of being bitten by a rattlesnake.

First of all don’t be a male (this is hard for some of us). And don’t be between the ages of 18 and 25 (no problem there). Don’t be drunk and this is the most important of all – don’t pick rattlesnakes up!

Young males that have been drinking and pick up rattlesnakes are the ones often bitten. You could think of this as improving the human gene pool but the foolish boys rarely die. People often receive more damage from faulty first aid treatment than the actual bite. Most healthy adults survive this species just fine.

I think that it is quite considerate of these snakes to make a warning sound. I am often in South America or Africa where there are some very venomous and aggressive snakes that don’t make a noise. Biologists reckon that rattlesnakes evolved a rattle to warn heavy, hoofed mammals of their location. Therefore both the buffalo and the snake got to live another day.

I am reminded of that early American flag, a warning to the British. Rattlesnake posed in strike position, tongue out, tail up, DON”T TREAD ON ME. I wouldn’t think of it.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 8, 2010