We put our golden retriever, Doc, through rattlesnake aversion therapy a couple of weeks back. Not generally a fan of that sort of thing, it is necessary if one is to hike our local hills. In the morning and evenings especially, snakes are on the move. In our HVS days, we would have years of few snakes and one year we had nine in one week. Stephen, our art teacher called the office to report a snake one afternoon. I went up and got it, dropped it in a trash can and dumped it down by the creek. When I got back to my desk, I got another call about a snake in the art room…a second one. That same week a sizable rattler appeared in the hallway of the girl’s dorm about 2am. This kept midnight wandering to a minimum for at least a few weeks.
I have never been fond of snakes, but, out of necessity, I built a snake stick that could snag them from a safe six feet away. Even though they ranged from glistening young specimens to gnarly old bastards that seemed to epitomize evil, I could rarely bring myself to kill them, so I would put them in a trash can, load it into the back of my car..driving slowly so the can would not tip over…. and chuck them off the bridge by the entrance to the land. When no can was handy, I would just dangle the snake from the end of my stick and hang it out the car window until I got to the bridge. Unfortunately, while performing this trick I once passed a family who were arriving to tour the school.
We had snakes because we had ground squirrels. We had squirrels because we had walnut trees. The biggest and most common snakes were gopher snakes, which we would feed down holes in the soccer field, but it was the rattlers which kept us on our toes. Gratefully, we never had many bites. Tom Seibold, our Dean, got bit the worst by a baby rattler while weeding his garden one morning. Every so often one of the campus dogs would come home with his face half swollen, but otherwise, we managed to survive with simply scares. Yet, while hiking as I do each day I always have one eye out and I discourage Doc from charging off into the bushes. Doc now reacts to the sight, sound or smell of a rattler, which gives me some peace of mind….some. I have even run into rattlers at our local golf course. One seems to live in the bunker on the fourth fairway, giving new meaning to a hazard.
I will never like snakes, but I don’t plan to stop hiking or golfing. I like to think that the possibility of snakes helps me to keep a presence of mind while I walk. Then again, I was striding along the other morning, feeling all Zen and present and aware of the moment and, looking down, I realized that I had two different shoes on.