I was standing in my slippers near the tall grass alongside our driveway when Luci, our border collie mix, having finished her business, bounded past me through the grass toward the house. From the area she had just disturbed, three feet to the left of my bare calf, came a sudden but steady hiss, like air escaping from a tire.
For an ignosecond I wondered if one of those defunct plastic irrigation lines buried among the weeds was somehow venting. No way. Even before “rattlesnake” was fully spelled out on the whiteboard inside my dull morning brain, I found myself quick-stepping to the right.
While my personal exposure to rattlesnakes has been blessedly limited, my wife, a veterinarian, more frequently manages their carnage: dog faces swelling to triple their normal size until tissue starts dying off. Antivenin comes with no guarantees except the price of $900 per dose. Oh yes, and rattlesnakes can kill.
We don’t live in a remote Red Feather Lakes cabin or on prairie east of Severance, but rather in a foothills neighborhood with block parties and trick-or-treating. Nevertheless, nearby Lory State Park dispatches critters into our yards and, on occasion, garages and garbage cans.
Since arriving 17 years ago, we’ve coexisted nicely with our wild friends. Only recently have they posed a threat. We caught glimpses of coyotes lurking among the tall grass, and puzzled over their motivations. We surmised the answer later when our housecat, having squeezed through a door left ajar, never returned.
We’ve become accustomed to some dangers. Each kid is trained to distinguish a normal spider, the kind that appears in the bathtub or dangles from the mantle, the kind that deserves to be scooped into a cup and released outside “to go find his family,” and the one that’s jet black, has two unusually long legs on the front, and has a red hourglass on her tummy.
Other dangers come out of the night suddenly. Recently, around 11 p.m. our daughter let out Luci and immediately began shouting, “Oh my God!” — not unusual for an expressive 14-year-old describing the most mundane situation, but the family scrambled nevertheless. On the front porch was Luci, tail tucked and wild eyed, snorting spasmodically, and whipping her head frantically, tossing off globs of foam from her mouth. She had cornered a skunk near the kids’ sandbox and taken the blast point-blank. Before she could bolt into the house — the worst-case scenario — I restrained her outside while my wife blended the baking soda, dish soap and vinegar that would eventually neutralize the devilish stench.
We’ve tried to practice live-and- let-live. After all, 30 years ago our neighborhood was just Soldiers Canyon, not Blue Spruce Drive and County Road 25G. The wildlife owned the place. However, my John Muir sensibilities were challenged two years ago when the first rattlesnake showed up on the driveway, near a 7-year-old artist’s chalk drawing. Then, parental concern shouted down “but they were here first.” I ran over the snake with the minivan, but have felt guilty ever since.
This time, armed with a rake and the garbage can used for diapers, the one with the top that clamps down tightly, interloper confronted interloper. Other than one moment when he wriggled free of the rake prongs, flopped to the asphalt and began striking the air, I kept the sound of my heart in my ears to a dull rush. Once he was clamped in the dustbin, I walked deep into the state park, the snake sounding like a lit fuse, and released him unharmed.
Next up for the kids: a discussion about the difference between friendly snakes and those that require Mommy or Daddy to take them far away “to go find their families.”