Acorns, leaves, and rocks crunched under my boots as I walked past clumps of aster, goldenrod, and touch-me-nots. As I rounded a familiar turn I noticed a thick tree branch sticking out of the grass that hadn’t been there on my previous visit. I quickly trained my binoculars on it.
It was a timber rattlesnake.
I became giddy with excitement. I had never seen a wild rattlesnake before. I crept towards it and checked with my binoculars again. It's scales were blackish. Unsatisfied with my proximity to the snake, I got closer. I did this a few times, until I was about fifteen feet away. At this point I was close enough to the snake to observe it without binoculars. Then, worried that I may be too close, I jumped back. I spent several minutes hopping around all over the place, trying to decide how close I wanted to be to the snake.
Finally, I stopped, and a funny thought occurred to me. The snake hadn’t moved a muscle since I’d arrived. My dancing about hadn’t perturbed it. It still sat, sticking out of the grass and hovering over the road in exactly the same position as it had been in when I rounded the bend in the road. It didn’t waver from the effort of holding itself, and there was no tongue flicking in and out of its mouth.
I became suspicious. Was the snake real? I looked around nervously. Of course there were no people around. I studied the animal with my binoculars again. No fake rattlesnake could look that good. It was a chilly day. Maybe the temperature had something to do with the snake’s reluctance to move. So it had to be real. My paranoid thoughts quieted for the moment and my mind turned to other things.
I briefly fantasized about picking the rattlesnake up. This desire was immediately suppressed because of its stupidity. I was alone and had no experience handling venomous snakes. Surely the animal would bite. I had no cell phone on me, and even if I did it would be useless because there was no cell phone service in that area. It would be up to me to drive myself down the mountain and to the emergency room.
So I settled back to watch the snake. After several minutes, almost imperceptibly, there was movement. I blinked my eyes hard. Yes, the snake was moving! Ever so slowly it lowered its head to the ground. At the same time it turned its body toward the grass behind it. The snake was leaving. When the snake’s head was fully in the grass I crept a little closer to admire the pretty markings on its back and to see the delicate rattle at the tip of its tail. At almost four feet in length and as thick as my arm, the reptile was bigger than I had thought it was.
As the grass swallowed the snake, I bid it farewell and hoped it would not run into a person with malevolent intentions. I continued up the dirt road. A breeze rustled the leaves, hemlock needles pattered to the ground, and birds called to each other from the forest and the brush.