Bad karma? What would you do with a rattlesnake hanging out under the tomatoes?

August 4, 2008

Our house borders the open space of a dry table mountain (mesa) in Golden, Colorado. Last week my wife had quite a shock: bending down to pick some ripe tomatoes she noticed – just barely in time – a rattlesnake coiled up under the tomato bush. We took some pictures, called in the neighbors and their kids so they would learn to recognize one and know to keep their distance, and then shooed it away with a ski pole. The rattle sounded exactly like one of those pop-up lawn sprinklers. Also, the snake turned out to be quite a bit longer than it appeared rolled up, 26 inches as we now know.

Anyway, we thought that encounter should have frightened her more than us and that we’d never see her again. Wrong. Four days later is was me who almost got bitten. I had looked carefully before going near the tomatoes but had seen nothing. But when I turned to the plum tomatoes there it was, 2 feet away, coiled to strike and rattling full throttle. I jumped back instantly, ‘enjoying’ a huge rush of adrenalin, and losing some cherry tomatoes.

It didn’t take me long to decide. We have a five year old girl, a clumsy St. Bernard, the kids across the street are even younger, and this deadly critter seemed undeterred and comfortable under those tomato plants by the brick wall that was radiating back the day’s heat until late at night. I got my camera, took a few last pictures and then hit it with a long shovel. 

Despite its partially severed head the body continued to writhe for another 20 minutes. My daughter was fascinated. I finally sawed the head off (with the shovel), sealed it into an empty can in the trash, and my neighbor moved the body onto a rock where birds of prey could easily spot it. 

Live and let live – sometimes. Still, I felt lousy and shaken.

In hindsight, I probably could have ushered the rattler into a tall garbage bin and let it out on top of the mesa. But it’s amazing how visceral those emotions get, and how they affected me.

Maybe that’s what I’ll do next time. Coincidentally, the authoritative book on rattlesnakes by Laurence M. Klauber “Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind, Abridged edition”  had arrived that same afternoon. I had hoped to find more information on how to handle this slithery situation there but hadn’t checked the mail yet.