Prairie Rattlesnake, Tom Spinker

“There are lots of snakes.”

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This was 1998 or so. At the time I had a half hour commute between my home in Boulder, Colorado, and my workplace in Golden. Highway 93 provided a relatively quick shot between the two, with just three stoplights (where now there are eight).

Still, the highway holds on to a bit of its wild feel, as it runs parallel to untrammeled foothills, with much of the in between land set aside as open space.

But this was 17 years ago, and I was on my way home, northbound on the two lane highway, in the valley south of the quarry…

I am minding my own business. I see a coiled up rope in the southbound lane. And then as I get closer the rope becomes a snake. A big snake. Big.

I am not one to not help an animal in distress. I immediately pull over and run over toward the snake, thankful for the lull in southbound traffic. She doesn’t welcome my approach. A raised head. A rattle.

I am H.I. in Raising Arizona after knocking Leonard Smalls off his Harley. Sick with the sudden reality of my situation. Over my head.

Today – with much more traffic and with much less patience among the commuting public – a person probably couldn’t get away with what I did next.

I step into the southbound lane and wave my hands at the oncoming traffic. The first car stops, and so do the cars behind it. “What is it?”, the driver of the lead car asks. A snake, my reply. A pause. “There are lots of snakes”, his eventual rejoinder.

Yet he is willing to keep his car parked in the road while I attempt a rescue.

Back at my Subaru, I hurriedly and ineffectively duct tape two golf clubs together. (According to the internet, rattlesnakes cannot jump, but they can lunge – about half the length of their bodies.) But it’s 1998, and I don’t know much about rattlesnakes. I wouldn’t believe they could jump, but I don’t know if I can outrun them. I approach warily.

A northbound car slows. “What’s up?”, the driver asks helpfully.

“There’s a rattlesnake in the road.”

Prairie Rattlesnake, Tom Spinker
Prairie Rattlesnake, Tom Spinker

“Oh. OK.” And away he goes.

Deep breath. To my right, the cars coming to a stop in a long and growing line. A honk. Another. To my left, curiosity slowing and occasional screeching tires.

A foot closer. A slight prod of the snake with my flaccid implement. No response. Another, and then a rattle. And me there, with barely controlled terror, trying to formulate thoughts. Looking back, I probably could have taped several more clubs together. There would have had to have been more overlap, to avoid the arcing effect…

And then – a helper! Misery’s company. “What can I do?”, he yells, his car pulled over on the shoulder behind mine.

Oh, thank you! I ask him to try to warn the northbound traffic to slow down. He grabs a large piece of cardboard from my open trunk and starts waving it.

To some effect. Probably because people are trying to read what is taped to it: A poster reading, “Would Jesus be killing prairie dogs today?”

I’m an animal advocate, in case you didn’t already know.

Nevertheless, he’s doing his job, standing on the center line, waving his sign, and I’m in the southbound lane yelling at the snake, pounding my feet, waving my arms and the golf club thing.

Long story short. I can’t compel the snake to move off the road. The guy in the lead car says, “Can we just go around on the shoulder?”

I say, that’s not going to work. I’m at wit’s end.

And then as if on cue the snake slowly uncoils and slithers off the road, to the west, into the open space, toward the foothills where she belongs. And the three of us watch, mesmerized.

And the guy in the lead car smiles and says, “Wow. That’s beautiful.”

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