The only place to find rattlesnakes in South Florida was at the famous Miami Serpentarium. It was famous for the work done by Bill Haast who had a thing for snakes. He had developed the anti-venom serum that was needed to not die from the bite of a poisonous snake. He even held the record for surviving the most deadly snake bites. On a school trip to visit his ‘Slithern’ facility, we got to see a snake who had just swallowed a whole calf. You could see the calf in more detail than comfortable inside the snake’s body. It was gross and cool.
Years later I moved to New Mexico, they have rattlesnakes. I know because I have a special magnetic attraction to them, or them to me. My first encounter was when hiking in an area west of Santa Fe where a smaller river flows into the Rio Grande. It is incredibly beautiful with the carved stone made over time by the movement of water. As often the case, I was on a slightly different route than my companions and as I came around a large boulder, I heard the warning. The noise the rattlesnake makes with the tip of its tail. It is not as many believe the first sign of an imminent strike. It actually is a warning you are too close and do not come any closer. So I obeyed and stopped, then immediately and slowly and carefully backed away. The snake was satisfied.
On another occasion in a gorge near to Bandelier National monument, my friend Matthew and I were heading down the steep and narrow trail towards the river below. Snakes do love their water and rocks and are often found around both. This time the snake was on the trail and did not want to move, so it shook its rattle suggesting we go another way. On this trail, there was no other way. No amount of asking or shouting or pleading sent it scurrying. Last resort we used a stick. A long stick. Giving some gentle encouragement, the snake finally moved away allowed us to safely pass.
The last encounter took place in northern California on the way to the Ananda Marga headquarters in a beautiful wooded, hilly area overlooking the Pacific Ocean. My german friend Bettina was driving on this isolated mountain road and a short way before the entrance we drove past a rattlesnake laying on the road. I asked Bettina to stop the car so I could get out and investigate. On closer inspection, the rattlesnake had been run over by a vehicle but was still alive. It was badly hurt and lying undignified in the middle of the road. I felt helpless and sad for this beautiful creature. I asked the snake if it needed anything. It replied, get me off the road. I gulped since this would involve picking the snake up and carrying it to the side of the road. Bettina was screaming to not touch it and to leave it alone, but the request from the snake was clear and since I asked, I needed to honor its request. I cannot stress how carefully I approached the snake and even more carefully picked it up. I had learned how to hold a snake behind the head pinching the neck to keep it steady. I first saw Bill do this at the Serpentarium, I did this with great care to not further injure the snake or myself. It was one of those moments where one forgets to breathe. Bettina had quieted down since any further yelling would not help the situation. I carried the rattler carefully to the side of the road and put the snake behind a small bush. Everybody take a deep breath and slowly let it out. That was scary.
For those reading who don’t really get the part about talking to a snake, first, let me say it was not like Harry Potter. Consider that all living things are connected. We live on this one planet together and are part of complex eco-systems. For instance the trees ‘breath’ in the carbon dioxide that we exhale, returning oxygen for us to breath in. The point is we are all part of each other one way or another. People think nothing of talking to their dogs or cats or horses. Why not snakes? Or trees? Or rocks? I have had amazing experiences doing all those things and most of the time I was sober and had not taken any drugs. Hey, we even talk to ourselves inside our own head. Have you ever asked, when you talk to yourself, who is actually listening and who is talking? So dear reader, have fun discovering what the animals and nature would like to discuss with you.
I have had many other snake experiences, (photo of me and a non-poisonous snake in Austria) and even met one near my house last month as I was returning from a hike in the nearby woods.