North San Juan, California, mid-1980s. This will be my last snake story. My next blog will begin a short series of goat stories.
When we moved to North San Juan, our house was located across a ravine from a large rock pile. Many of the rocks were outright boulders while others were merely to large to carry comfortably for more than a few feet. I think we're looking at a pile a hundred feet long, forty or fifty feet wide and with a fifteen-foot bulge more or less in the middle. Perhaps two hundred feet separated the rock pile from our house.
The pile was home to an immense den of rattlesnakes. If you think about it, rattlelsnakes have many admirable features. They usually warn you before they bite you. How many people do you know like that? They don't get drunk and pick fights, and they will back away from a confrontation if they possibly can. They only kill in self-defense or for dinner. That being said, you still don't want them loitering near the house.
I made no attempt to kill the snakes. With what, my .22? Ricochet bullets all over the place and end up shooting myself, Joanne or the dogs? Or what if I fall and break my leg or land on a snake? Or both? Bad idea.
That's why we started importing snakes. Whenever we saw a king snake or bull snake in the road, we stopped the car and grabbed it. All right, if you insist on perfect honesty, I stopped the car and Joanne grabbed the snake. Once she grabbed a bull snake, but just a little too far back of the head. The snake took two half-hitches and a bowline around her forearm and sank his fangs into her thumb. And there they sat while I drove home. Each one had the other one "gotchaed" and wouldn't let go. When we arrived home Joanne had to shake her arm vigorously several times before the reptile hit the dirt. They the snake left in search of a hole while Joanne went in search of some Iodine.
In 1984 I was playing the role of Jud Fry in Oklahoma. Joanne and I returned home from a performance late one summer night. Fortunately, the moon was full and Joanne saw the snake before she stepped on it. We turned on the lights and it was a rattler. We killed it. Why had the snake been near our house? It was thirsty and had come for the dogs' water. After that I put out water near the snakes rock pile. They stayed in their home, we stayed in ours, and it worked out well that way until we moved.
But word soon spread througout the county (it was a small county) that I was a maniac, putting out water for rattlesnakes. Hardly anyone approved. But a Water for Rattlesnakes Program offered the fewest possible negative consequences, and I still think it was the right thing. We never saw one near the house after that.