When my wife, Jenn and I chose to make our home in the rugged coastal hills we knew we would be sharing our space with wild critters. We accepted this as a gift as we both love most things wild: wild storms thrill us, wild places sooth us, wild flowers delight us and wild animals intrigue and enthrall us.
We became official landowners on a high dry august day. We were as excited as children on Christmas morning and we scampered delightedly around, dressed for the hot day in flip- flops. At some point it occurred to me that maybe flip-flops were a less than wise choice, we were in rattlesnake territory after all. As this thought crossed my mind Jenn gave a squeak and jumped backward. Right in her path a baby rattler lay curled in a clump of irises. We credit that tiny rattler for teaching us snake awareness, (the easy way, no bites!)
Many folks find their first impulse is to kill rattlesnakes on sight. This is understandable; rattlers can be formidable frightening creatures. It seemed to us, however that we had moved into their back yard and not the other way around. But sharing this “back yard” on a full time basis might not make for such great neighbors. Rattler re-location was our compromise. Scary concept yes, but with the right understanding and proper tools it is easier than you might think. We did our research. This was one homestead area where “learn as you go” would just not do!
Our first re-location subject was a fairly small rattler, say about 3 ½ feet long. It was hanging out in our new veggie garden, most likely feeding on the never-ending vole population, (thank you rattler!) Research taught us that snakes go torpid in hot or cold temperatures, so in the cool of a morning, using a long handled shovel, we scooped him up and slid him gently into a cooler, quickly shutting the lid. Off we went to release the lil guy. The short drive was filled with the ominous sound of the rattler’s tail going full force, un-nerving! About ¼ mile away we let him out in the deep woods, patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. The very next day a rattler of similar appearance was in our garden. Hmm? Our reading told us that rattlers are not territorial, could this really be the same snake? So before repeating the evacuation process we dropped a dot of red nail polish on the rattler’s back and this time we released him about half a mile away. Lo and behold the very next day the red dotted rattler returned! Don’t believe everything you read! For the final evacuation we drove several miles away and this seemed to do the trick. At least as afar as we knew!
Rattler’s rattle for reason, they want to warn you to stay away, they don’t want to bite you, they want to be left alone. It is said that one can develop a sort of extra sense when it comes to snakes and we believe it. Too many times we have “known” there was a rattler about before we even heard the tell tale sound. And some dogs are even more tuned in. One fine autumn evening we returned home just as the sun was sinking behind the hills to find our sweet dog, Rosie is a state of high anxiety. She was a high-strung girl to begin with but even for her this behavior was out of the ordinary. She met us at the car and whined and nudged at us, looking around nervously. As we started towards the house she blocked our path and continued to whine. Then we heard it. And then we saw it. A huge rattler was coiled, in full strike mode, under the picnic table beside our front door. Were it not for our loyal lovely dog we would have walked within inches of the frightened snake, and frightened snakes bite!
I could fill pages with more snake stories, luckily all with happy endings. And we know we are lucky but after 20 years of snake encounters we still feel that we are in their back yard. We respect the power of rattlesnakes and we are grateful for their place in our ecosystem. We upgraded the shovel to an official snake grabber, (Jenn is the snake wrangler in the family, have to give credit where it is due!) and we continue to relocate rather than kill. We recall with gratitude that first day when we were taught snake awareness and to this day we always wear our boots during snake season.