The Snakes Are Out

     It’s going to be a hot summer. Ninety-nine in the shade already in my neighborhood, and today I saw the season’s first rattlesnake.
     Seeing a rattlesnake was no news back when I lived on the rez in Arizona. Wasn’t unusual to see two, three of them on an 8-mile run.
     Biggest rattlesnake I ever saw on the rez was 8 feet long. I know diamondback rattlers aren’t supposed to get bigger than 6, 6½ feet, but this dude was 8. I remember it better than I remember yesterday.
     It was 108 degrees in June. I figured if I did six-minute miles on the 5-mile loop I’d be out there for only half an hour, not long enough for the sun to do me any harm. So I scooted on out there, running fast.
     Right at the halfway point, I saw those black-and-white circles beneath the rattles out of the corner of an eye. I stopped and walked back and looked.
     It was 108 degrees, right? – middle of the afternoon under a cloudless blue sky in Arizona – and I got the chills. I was cold out there, goosebumps everywhere.
     This dude was bigger around in the middle than any cantaloupe I ever saw. His head tapered to that deadly viper triangle – but what a giant head. I believe I did the second half of that loop faster than the first half that day.
     That wasn’t my closest encounter with a rattlesnake.
     One day in February I wondered why my hot water heater didn’t work. It was in a little outside closet right next to my front door. I lay on my back and scooched underneath it to see what was wrong.
     Lying there, wondering why anyone would steal a copper pipe, I heard that sound: “Tl-tl-tl-tl-tl-tl-tl-tl.” Turned my head and there it was, no more than 6 inches from my eyes, coiled up, looking at me, ready to strike. I was so close to him I saw the color of his brown eyes, the oblong black slits of his pupils. Fortunately, it was cold, and he was sleepy.
     I rolled on out of there and walked down the road from the teacher housing toward the high school. School had just let out and kids greeted me.
     “Hi, Mr. Kahn,” they said.
     “Beep!” I said. “Gerp!” I believe I was waving my hands.
     I was unable to speak.
     This went on until I got to a group of teachers clustered on the long driveway.
     “Meep!” I said. “Beemp.” I believe I was waving my hands.
     “What’s wrong with you, Coyote?” the young vo ag teacher said.
     The older vo ag teacher said, “He saw a snake.”
     I touched my nose. “Merp!” I said.
     The vo ag teachers made me a snake catcher, a wire loop at the end of a PVC pipe, and I had to go back into that closet and pull the snake out and kill it. That was not easy to do. The snake did not want to come out. He coiled himself around a leg of the hot water heater and held on, and I was not at all enthusiastic about giving him great tugs – toward me. I finally got him out – he was a little 3-footer – and I did what had to be done. Gave his rattles away to a little white kid who thought they were cool.
     I have nothing against rattlesnakes. I like rattlesnakes. They are beautiful creatures. Useful, too. Got gophers, rats, other vermin? Set a couple of rattlesnakes on them, and those problems will be over. Of course, you will still have the snakes.

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