It was a hot, dry, dusty August evening. The bright sun was beating down hard, and everywhere you looked, the land was parched and wilted and yellow.
I opened our back door and stepped out onto the patio to fire up the old grill and cook some dinner — but as soon as the door was open, I was met with an eerily familiar sound:
My first thought, illogical as it might be, was that our propane tank had sprung a major leak (I guess I just had grilling on the brain), but the more I listened to the strange hissing, the more the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up, and I had the strangest feeling that I’d heard that sound before…
Then it dawned on me.
I jumped back and looked. And sure enough, only a short distance from my hairy bare feet sat the coiled, rattling pit viper, glaring right at me with its cold black eyes.
It was tucked up under the shade of our drooping lilac bushes — a place where he could easily strike at an unsuspecting passerby, but at the same time, a place where he would be almost totally shielded from a shovel attack. So, without a moment’s hesitation, I ran back into our house to get my trusty old Ruger 10/22.
On my way to the gun cabinet, however, I passed Lindsey, who was in the bathroom, busily scrubbing poop-stains out of our 2 year old’s soiled underwear (potty training is the absolute worst!), and I told her, in very hushed tones, what I had found.
“A rattlesnake?! Are you serious?!” she asked incredulously.
“Yeah, you wanna come see it?”
She thought for a moment, then without a word, she dropped the dirty undies back into her scrub-bucket, took off her rubber gloves, and started putting on her shoes to follow me outside.
Meanwhile, I quickly grabbed and loaded my rifle and then glanced into our daughters’ bedroom to see what they were up to. They were squealing and wrestling and playing with toy ponies, not a care in the world.
“Do you think we should take the girls with us?” I asked Lindsey. “Just so they know what a rattlesnake looks like?”
Before long, the whole family was gathered on the back porch, with Lindsey holding tightly to both girls, keeping plenty of distance between them and the rattling intruder.
“What’s that noise, dad?” asked my 4 year old.
“What dat noise is, dad?” echoed her 2 year old sister.
“It’s a rattlesnake.”
“Oh. Where?” asked my 4 year old.
“Where?” repeated her sister.
“Under the lilac bush,” I pointed. “Right there. Can you see it?”
And that’s when the panic set in, at least for our 4 year old. Not because there was a venomous, potentially deadly snake rattling its brains out next to our barbecue grill; she had been totally cool with it up to that point. No, the real reason she started wigging out was because the snake was in the lilac bush — and the lilac bush is the favorite hangout spot for her favorite kitty, “Job” (thus named because of the extraordinary patience and restraint he shows while being mauled by our two energetic little farmgirls).
Our 2 year old, on the other hand, honestly didn’t care about the snake or the cat. But since her big sister was voicing concerns, she figured she ought to join the fray too.
With both girls half-screaming, trying to talk over the top of each other, and the loud, unnerving rattle of the snake hissing over the top of them, it was hard to get a word in edgewise. But I was eventually able to convince both girls that Job was not going to get eaten by the rattlesnake — and the only reason we had brought them out here in the first place was to show them what a rattlesnake looked and sounded like.
We reviewed our family rule that YOU NEVER TOUCH A SNAKE, and I talked to the girls about what they should do if they ever find a snake. And all the while, the sharp buzz of the deadly rattle was shaking continuously in the background, adding some gravity my words.
By the look of their scared faces, I think they got the point.
Then Lindsey rounded them up and headed back into the house so I could take care of the messier side of this snake-encounter.
Racking a cartridge into the chamber, I crouched down and took careful aim, remembering to hold the bead just a little above the snake’s head, to compensate for the offset of my rifle’s open sights.
I will admit though, it was a little nerve-wracking to be crouching there, looking straight into the snake’s cold, calculating eyes; watching its black, forked tongue flicking in and out, testing the air; and its sleek muscles shifting and maneuvering, trying to get itself into the ideal striking position.
And that noise! That constant, buzzing rattle! It was so sharp, so penetrating, so incessant that it almost seemed to be coming from inside my own head.
I tightened my grip on my rifle. The rattling continued.
I flipped off the safety. The rattling drowned out all other sound.
I began to squeeze the trigger. And the rattling seemed to reach an even higher level of intensity.
No more rattling.
Everything was quite.
The scaly intruder was dead, lying in a limp pile next to the grill.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I set my rifle down and went into the garage to get my long-handled pair of pliers. As soon as I had them, I went back to the patio, squatted down under the grill, and reached carefully into the lilac bush to pick up the carcass and dispose of it. But the instant my pliers closed on the lifeless corpse–
The dead rattlesnake struck my pliers with the bloody stump of what used to be its head!
It took me so completely by surprise that I jumped straight up, slamming my head into the barbecue grill and nearly knocking it over in the process.
I rubbed my head and stifled a few half-muttered cuss words, then picked up the corpse again and flung it into the open where I could get a closer look at it. And I kid you not, that snake continued to thrash and writhe and coil and uncoil itself for the next 10 or 15 minutes!
As soon as it finished its death throes, however, I started wondering what I should do with the carcass, now that it was dead. I mean, I hate to just kill a creature and leave it to rot, especially a creature as beautiful as this old diamondback. Before I knew it, an idea started to form in my head…
Now, you can say what you will, but I mighta, kinda, sorta, skinned that old snake, tanned the hide (possibly for a future belt or something), and threw the meat into our old cast iron frying pan.
Waste not, want not, right?