When I'm out looking for new claims I tend to run into rattlesnakes. Same thing with you huh? I've run into a lot of them but the truth is I've run into more rattlesnakes than yellow jacket nests. I've been stung by yellow jackets a lot of times, but I've never been bit by a rattlesnake.
Yellow jackets are just about my least favorite creature on this earth. Give me enough hornet spray and enough time and I'd kill every last one of them. No sympathy from me for these ill-tempered bugs. Rattlesnakes though, are different.
Like Yellow Jackets you rarely see the rattlesnake before you realize he's there. Usually this is due to the buzzing sound you hear which causes you to really, really focus your attention on where your feet are. The records are full of people who've been bit, and the suckers don't have to be really big to cause an awful lot of damage, even death, so I'm not at all discounting just how deadly these snakes can be.
I know I'm going to walk a bit of a plank here, and I also know I'm not in the majority, but I think the world is a better place because of rattlesnakes. I'll often go days and weeks without running into one, and that's when you really get nervous. That's when you are lulled into a belief they all went somewhere, like lower elevations for the summer, or maybe they just don't live around there anymore.
But, they're there. I've had pleny of close encounters with them, and I mean really close. Within inches of them, and yet I've never had one strike at me. They've curled up in the classic pose shown above. Rattled for all their worth and looked pretty darn scary, but they've never struck. It was always me who backed off and let them be.
I know the majority of people would shoot them, and I've been scolded before on this topic, but it doesn't change my mind so let me explain why I think this way.
A walk in the park doesn't interest me.
I don't want the mountains wrapped in a bow where we walk on wooden boardwalks and take pictures of the canyons. I don't want trails or markers which tell me how far to Paradise Falls or the parking lot. I want to know somewhere in those mountains are bears, mountain lions and rattlesnakes. I can do without the Yellow Jackets though. Nothing focuses the mind like the buzz of a rattlesnake or the print of a mountain lion. It keeps you looking to ensure you don't end up wearing a 300lb cougar pelt on your back, but I don't begrudge the cougar his hunt. When I get old enough and crickety enough I'm fair game, but until then he's got a fight (and a .40 caliber Glock) to deal with. So far no takers.
Bears tend to run crashing through the brush when they hear you. If you spend enough time out trapsing the mountains you know they're pretty much just big dogs. If you've ever sat on a hillside and watched one you know what I mean. Cougars are big cats, and as big cats have the same evil, stealthy streak in them. All cats are evil and cougars are just bigger cats. You know they're sitting up there somewhere flicking their tale watching you, waiting to see if you break your ankle or not.
Rattlesnakes are neither. They're not sneaky and they don't run. In fact they hold their ground and I respect this. When you're on a trail the rattlesnake always has the right of way.
It's a rare encounter where I see a rattlesnake more than a few feet away. In fact they seem to delight in scaring the bejeezus out of you with the instant coiling and buzzing. I would have named them buzzsnakes myself. One day walking a stacked rock wall I came within inches of stepping on one nestled in a crook in the rocks. Another day lifting a rock for a claim marker there was one lying under the same rock, yet another day reaching to pick up a dropped tool I heard the buzzing from under the same rock the tool had dropped. Yet another day I went to put my left foot down on top of a rattlesnake who quickly slithered in front of my right foot, then to my side and coiled up and started buzzing for all he was worth.
Each time they could have bit me, I was that close, but they didn't. They gave me fair warning if I pushed them further we were going to have a spot of trouble. I didn't push them, they had been more than fair in the deal.
One day I was driving into a claim on a logging road which was fairly well travelled. It was early morning and the morning sun was burning away the chill of the mountain night. Ahead on the road was a big Western Diamondback warming himself. I stopped, got a long (really long) stick to push him off the road, knowing the next person along the road wouldn't hesitate to run him over. He coiled up and began rattling. I pushed him with the stick and he wouldn't budge. He just kept buzzing and striking at the stick. That was a heavy snake, but I finally managed to push him coiled up and all, to the side of the road. I can say without a doubt he was most unappreciative of the help.
I don't love rattlesnakes. I respect them. That Western Diamondback stood his ground knowing with just the pull of a trigger I could have won that fight, but he didn't back down or let down his guard, not for an instant.
Rattlesnakes are an ornery, cussed lot, loved by none, feared by all. They will never, never back down from a fight. They won't run. A rattlesnake knows he has two choices in an encounter with a person: he can stand, fight and die; or he can run and die. He always chooses to fight.
Only a fool would mess with a rattlesnake. We dredgers can learn something from them. We can stand and fight, and likely die, or we can run. We should always stand and fight. Running just means we'll die another day.