At a ranch on the banks of the Snake River in southern Idaho a rattlesnake coiled, began to rattle.  My son was a few inches away, frozen, fascinated, terrified.  We’d been warned about the rattlesnakes, told to wear boots and chaps.  But we’d just arrived and Jasper was in shorts and sneakers.  My husband came from behind Jasper and with a shovel struck the snake down.  We’d been told how to kill them if we’d had to, that they don’t die until sundown so to immediately bury the head.

Indeed they continue to live for quite a while.  The mouth continues to bite and the body to coil and the heart to beat.  Bites at this point are still poisonous.  We buried the head and then cleaned the body, examining the innards, keeping the skin and the rattle.  In the morning one of the children decided he wanted the head so he dug it up and cleaned it off with water and preserved it in alcohol.

As it happened, I felt sort of bad.  I later read on the internet that rattlesnakes are very slow moving and they give you so much warning to get away from them that really it is unnecessary to kill them.  They don’t attack.  Like so many other animals they’re  afraid.  As a child in Montana, my grandmother shot rattlesnakes while riding through the sage brush, blasted them to hell and gone because they irritated her horse.  She didn’t feel bad, recounted the stories with a certain pride in the precision of her aim at ten years old.  But of course that was 100 years ago and everything was different.

I told my Dad about the rattlesnakes.  (Actually, by the end of our stay we’d had three encounters.)  He told me that his whole life he’d wanted to see a rattlesnake, but never had.  His friend, Sam Candler, upon learning this, took him to the most infested rattlesnake areas he knew of.  My father didn’t see a one.  He was thoroughly impressed that I’d seen so many.  “Did you eat it?” he asked.  “They’re delicious.”   In Rising From The Plains and in Silk Parachute he has a couple rattlesnake stories of his own involving exotic meals and even a murderer.  I now know where I’ll take my father next summer and I know too what I’ll feed him for dinner.

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One thought on “Rattlesnakes

  1. Love these little western diaries that “Spur” and rekindle my own memories of youth in CO and the fascinating west. Fiona and i swim with water moccasins and eels in the streams of Stockton NJ that feed the Delaware. They are both startling and hypnotic. BTW, My freshmen year at college,first period english class ,first semester and first text book I opened was the John McPhee Reader..I remember thinking that was really cool he was from my hometown. Thanks for the great escapes.

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