This morning, I helped a rattlesnake across the road. My old Boy Scout leader would’ve been proud.
Here’s a photo (courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service) of the snake in question: Western Diamondback (crotalus atrox). Notice the diamond pattern of the scales, the stripes on the tail, and the triangular head. The Gopher snake, a harmless animal, is similar in coloration and has learned how to wiggle his tail and hiss in a pitiful attempt to immitate a rattlesnake. But despite their acting ability, Gopher snakes don’t have rattles.
Snakes are cold blooded, so after a long, cool night in the desert they wake up like I do: sleepy, lethargic, a bit slow and dumb. They need some sun-time to get their blood moving. Unfortunately, suburban snakes tend to take to the highways in the morning to soak up the heat of the warm asphalt, making them vulnerable to rush-hour traffic.
There are people who dislike snakes and feel their life’s calling is to wipe them out. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen such folks aim their cars at snakes in the road. Of course, by reducing the snake population, mice, rats and other rodents move in and take over.
I happen to think snakes are beautiful. I enjoy watching them move—they glide across the earth almost effortlessly, gracefully, quietly. And rattlesnakes, what can you say, they have attitude. They are not usually aggressive, but neither are they easily frightened. They stand their ground when approached, coiling into a defensive posture, buzzing their rattles, saying, in essence, “This is my spot. If you want to fight me for it, I’m ready.” They are little guys, but they have spunk; they have courage.
So, I stopped my gas-guzzling SUV in the middle of the road and halted traffic. Mr. Rattlesnake was sleepy—he had found a warm spot right on the centerline stripe and he wasn’t going to budge. He was a beauty. Probably 3 years old, about 30 inches long, striking colors. He ignored my attempts to shoo him off the road, so I pulled my jack handle from the car and carefully lifted him with it. If he hadn’t been so drowsy, he wouldn’t have put up with it. But he rattled a few times and allowed me to walk him off the road where I placed him beneath a mesquite tree.
Then I said goodbye. And I couldn’t help myself: I smiled all the way to work. There is something noble about rattlesnakes, something that makes me think that God himself smiled when he first conceived of scales and rattles and venom and forked tongues and heat sensors. It felt good to have preserved the life of one of God’s creatures. And I wondered if, long ago, when God’s very first snake slithered away, the Creator himself had smiled and said, “Now that is good!”