One interesting thing about living in a tiny town out in the middle of the Great Wide Open, as opposed to a big urban center, is you get to roll with so many more representatives of the Animal Kingdom. Sometimes these encounters are a Disney movie, sometimes they are Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. Mine? For some reason mine tend to be Dali Does Warner Bros.—surreal life, with sarcastic plants and smartass bunnies.
My favorite uncle has a ranch about an hour’s drive from my little town. There’s a small spring-fed lake on his land that he has been stocking with largemouth bass and channel cat for twenty years or more. Excellent fishing.
I’m over there late one afternoon, casting for bass with a silver spinner. It’s a bit too far in front of dusk for the bass to be very hungry, so I decide to wander down to the far end of the lake, where there’s more shade, and where the fish might be more peckish. The move entails my climbing up a slight incline, motoring several hundred yards along a sort of mesa, and then making my way back down to the water, by way of an even steeper incline, where deep run-off trenches scar the rock-hard, red Oklahoma dirt.
Down I go, carrying two poles in one hand, a collapsible camp chair in the other, and my tackle box slung over one shoulder. My eyes worked busily, scouting for a good spot to throw a lure. Which is all well and good, but they really ought to have been engaging in a larger mission: making sure I got one foot in front of the other without mishap. Couldn’t tell you what I tripped over, but trip I did. (Maybe the several beers I’d consumed played a part?) And the fall was a doozy, too. I flailed for a second with my over-full arms, but alas, I still went ass-over-tea-kettle down the hill, and all of its jagged little ravines. Stuff literally flew all over the place—an indecorous cloud of fishing tackle, fiberglass rods, folding furniture, and one fat white guy.
After bouncing, skidding and rolling about twenty feet, I finally came to an abrupt stop against a fallen cottonwood log, and simply sprawled there panting like a stranded beluga whale.
So many parts of my body hurt that I had, for a few minutes, trouble concentrating on any one particular pain, while entertaining the entertaining notion that I had simply broken my entire body. Soon, though, the myriad agonies settled into three fire centers: the right side of my head, my left rib cage, and the better part of my lower right leg. Some finger-tip explorations yielded a small amount of blood on my head, an inflamed blotch on my side, but probably no broken ribs, and a whole chum bucket of blood on my leg, where a four-inch by eight-inch swatch of my skin had been flayed off, like something out of Hannibal Lecter’s notions box.
After a few minutes, I lurched to my feet and set about collecting my scattered gear, stopping for a moment to wipe blood off my leg (it was filling my shoe) with a handful of leaves. Stuff reassembled (and the urge for further fishing now gone the way of the mastodon) I started back up the rutted incline. It hurt like shit, and I was reduced to a sort of inept crawl. But I made it, by God, my head cresting the top very near my trusty Toyota—
—and even nearer to a rattlesnake.
The scaly bastard was tightly coiled, with its head up high in that super-snarky, get-the-fuck-away-from-me-with-that-stick-Steve-Irwin, pose. Don’t know what I did to piss the fucker off, but pissed he was.
So, I’m in pain, my shoe is full of blood, and I’m eye-ball to slit-pupiled eye-ball with a cantankerous reptile. And I did what so many of us out-doorsey types do in such perilous situations:
I said, “Shoo.”
And I meant it.
The snake didn’t care. He just rattled at me. His rattle had around six segments on it, making him approximately three feet long. Not exactly an anaconda, sure, but easily long enough to puncture me if he got up the urge to do some puncturin'. I needed him out of my way and not just in retreat under the car, but since my heartfelt “shoo” hadn’t exactly sent him into slithers of apoplexy, I was forced to roll with Plan B.
Moving slowly, I let go of the tackle box and folding chair, and got a grip on my fishing pole. I turned around, aiming the tip at the snake, and gave him a poke. He raised his head even higher and really got to working his rattle, but he didn’t launch an attack. So, I poked him again. And again. And a fourth time. And still he refused to either bite me or fuck off. He just kept rattling, in a way that was fast becoming wearisome.
“C’mon,” I said, stabbing at him now. “Move your narrow ass or it’s wallet time.”
Rattle, rattle, rattle…
“Jesus Christ!” I hollered. “Move!” I hauled off and gave him a really solid thwack with the fishing pole. And finally! He flung himself sideways and took off through the grass like he had a herd of Pentecostals on his tail.
Quick as possible, I hauled myself and my cumbersome stuff up onto flat ground, loaded my car, and got inside, cranking the AC all the way to HIGH. Cooling off, I blotted at my leg with some old newspaper, and fumed about my decision making skills.
See, that very morning, while cleaning out my tackle box, I had, after almost no humming and hawing at all, removed my little .22 revolver and hidden it away in the garage. Not that I wish death upon all serpents, or anything, but a pistol is simply a better deterrent than a fishing pole. Right?