Monday, September 10, 2012

Sharing the Desert

With the occasional rains, our part of the world has looked sort of like this.  Saturday even felt as cool and damp as some northeastern woods in November.  We began to
wonder if our friend Liz was right that it would cool off early this year becausee her hummingbirds had left early this year -- although at our place they're still re-enacting famous World War I aerial duels every morning for us.   Sometimes Dael worries that they spend so much time chasing each other around that no one actually gets to eat much of anything.

Meanwhile, we have seen quite a few of these guys.   Sometimes several a day -- crawling in and out of crevices between rocks and the base of the house, climbing the outside wall of the house, hanging out beneath the work-bench in the garage.  Almost daily we think of our friend Joe's remark that in forty-some years here he'd seen two of 'em.

Sunday was an odd mix. 

We enjoyed the unusually moderate temperature and the light breezes, as well as the usual quail families visiting the seed-block under the ash.  Early on I turned over the compost bins -- and a particular small pleasure was recognizing a grapefruit plant in one of them, rescuing it, and giving it a new home in a regular stand-up pot, just like more respectable plants.   (It won't survive here, but we can try.)

We also enjoyed a surfeit of sports on TV: a particularly interesting golf tournament, the debuts of two heralded rookie quarterbacks in the morning NFL games, Serena Williams prevailing in an  unusually stirring Women's Final in New York, and Sunday brunch timed to coincide with the start of the San Francisco 49ers' visit to Lambeau Field.

I missed part of the third quarter of the 'Niners' win over the Packers in Green Bay.

Dael sreamed the cat's name in a tone of voice that got me off the couch instantly.   She'd heard the familiar rattling and seen the cat curiously staring into the high grass where the sound had come from; and I heard the familiar scream.

The cat retreated to safety in the garage, and I closed the cat-door before heading out the back with the snake-noose.   Dael thought the snake was on the path between the little ash and the afghan pine, so I worked myway around to the other end of that path.  Some yellow flower had started blooming like crazy because of the rains, and I made a mental note to go back to that spot and photograph the bees on it.

The rattler was indeed there, right in the middle of the path -- and not best pleased to see me.  I stuck the noose (which, in case you haven't read previous blog entries on the subject (7 July, with a picture of the snake-noose), extends out the far end of a hollow tube, so that I can work it at a relatively safe distance) near the rattler, who lunged forward and, as I tightened it, was caught.  But we hadn't yet brought the plastic garbage can around to the site, and I had the noose so tight on his neck that I loosened it slightly, and he escaped under the Mormon Tea.   Dael brought the garbage can, and I tried again.  

I thought it would be tough to catch him in there, because of the weeds and branches.  I floated the idea of maybe just killing this one.  Dael vetoed that, because the snake hadn't attacked the cat -- and, if it was the same one, hadn't attacked her a few days earlier when it might have. It had been resting, coiled, in high grass that shielded it from view, while she was rooting out goat-heads.  It rested so peacefully that it hadn't moved when she accidentally approached it, and just stared sleepily at us when we photographed it. 

So I tried.  I could see him curled under the bush, and tickled him with the loop until he jutted his head forward into it, and this time he ended up safely trapped in the garbage can, where he stayed until the 'Niners' game was over.

Although we were pretty sure he wasn't one of the two rattlesnakes I'd moved already this summer, we'd decided to take him further away.  So once the 'Niners game ended I placed the plastic can in the truck, secured in one position, with another bungee holding the lid on the can.  We stopped to thank Dave again for making the snake-noose, then drove to a more isolated area.  (At one point we spooked a family of quail, and for quite a long time they scooted along the side of the road in front of us, evidently too panicked to consider veering right and getting off the road altogether.) 

I carried the can a good ways down an arroyo, away from the dirt road, to toss him. 

Releasing him didn't go so well this time, maybe because of the narrow arroyo, with brush on both sides.  First time I tossed the can, he coiled and rattled, but the can was too close to him for me to just pick it up and walk off.  When I did approach, he retreated back into the can, which I then picked up and tossed in a different spot; but I tossed it so ineptly that he was again close to the can, this time between the can and us.   

      At first, apparently deciding the garbage can was the enemy, he coiled facting it, rattling away, but ignoring us.  Then after I induced him to move a little beyond it, though still too close for me to grab the can, he decided we might be the enemy, and warned us off as fiercely as he knew how.  Eventually I found a dried bush the rains had uprooted a while ago.  Using the root as a handle, I pushed the bush toward him as a shield, grabbed the can with my left hand, and backed up a few steps.

Dael thanked him for not biting Bear.  I thanked him for not biting Dael.  We wished him well in his new home.

Back at our home, the sun was plunging down behind the west mesa, the cat was under the covers, and the freshly ground mesquite flour smelled almost chocolate-ish.

Soon the coyotes were howling their evening symphony.   Meanwhile the San Francisco Giants beat the Dodgers 4-0.

Then this morning, as soon as I finished posting this and went outside, I found Dael
looking at another rattler.  She'd felt the cat had been trying to tell her something, and had found the small rattler, peacefully curled up in the vegetation.  The cat hadn't disturbed the rattler, the rattler hadn't attacked the cat, and we now realized this was the "peaceful" one we'd seen a few days earlier.  It expained the fact that the one we'd moved yesterday had seemed much more of a fighter, as well as somewhat larger.

We felt torn.  We'd have liked to leave this one be; but peace of mind and the cat's safety said otherwise.  I felt kind of sad getting the snake-noose.  Initially when I touched it with the noose, it flicked its tongue occasionally but did not otherwise move.   Finally I had to touch it with the end of the metal pole, and even then it barely raised its head.  Thus the noose was around it right near its head, but I managed to keep the tension sufficient to move the snake into the garbage can without harming it.

After coffee when we went to take him for a ride, he was silent.  I've carried that can with a rattler in it for a couple of hundred meters with the snake cursing me out in Snake the whole way; yesterday afternoon's customer rattled vigorously every time I approached the garbage can, even though he couldn't really see me, let alone attack.  This guy?  Nothing.  If I hadn't known better I'd have guessed I'd open up the can out in the desert and find no one there.  As we drove I mused that if ever a rattler had a sweet disposition, it was this one.

When we got there, he proved it.  I opened up the can, expecting the usual angry creature inside, and saw . . . . that he was resting comfortably and not the least troubled by our looking at him and shooting his picture.  When (with some regret) I rudely tossed the can a few meters away to knock him out of it, his first reaction wasn't to coil and rattle at us, but to quietly slither back into the familiar shadows of the can.  I tossed again, and this time when he landed he coiled.  I walked around to the
back of the can to kick it further from him, then picked it up and walked away.  The moving can did frighten him, and he finally adopted a really fierce pose, reminding us that although he seemed as sweet-natured as a rattler could get, he wasn't a pushover.   We wished him well and apologed for the disruption -- and thanked him for his courtesy.

Then as we walked back toward the truck Dael
spotted a tiny Texas horned toad hiding under a sprig of vegetation.  He was about two inches long, maybe less.

He reminded us of the babies we'd kept looking for after watching an adult bury her eggs near the ash tree.

We contemplated him for awhile, warning him about the huge monster we'd unleashed not too far from him. 

Then we went home to start our day. 

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