From the Pen of Robert L. Cook
It had been a long time since I had killed a rattlesnake. I’m not sure why, maybe I just don’t wander around in those kinds of places as frequently as I used to. I was born and raised in some of the best snake country in Texas, and I’ve been around rattlers all my life. I don’t particularly dislike rattlers, but I do respect them and their role in the outdoors. I’ve learned to live with them, and I guess they have learned to tolerate me.
My most recent encounter with a rattlesnake included a new ingredient in our lifelong relationship: three of my little granddaughters. It was mid-June and time for our Sometimes Annual Campout with the Grandkids on Lost Creek Ranch. All seven grandchildren, age 10 months to 10 years, and an entire troop of fretting parents were committed to an over-night campout. The tents were up and we had enjoyed a beautiful Texas sunset. The campfire and wiener roast were highly successful, and the s'mores were in various stages of stickiness on little faces and hands.
I had settled back in a camp chair studying the stars, listening for the owls and bullfrogs, pondering what big yarn I would spin for the kids before bedtime when spine-chilling screams cut into everyone’s heart and mind. I knew it had to be a snake. Emilee, Morgan and Rachel, ages 6, 9 and 10, raced screaming and breathless back to the campfire. A quick check assured us they were not hurt, and the fact that they said “Rattlesnake!” about 20 times left little doubt about the problem. I quickly fetched my flashlight and pistol, walked about 15 yards in the direction indicated and was greeted by a huge diamondback rattlesnake, in full coil and strike position, its rattles buzzing. With no hesitation, I dispatched it.
Now, after some thought, I wonder if I did the right thing. At 61 inches tip to tip, and 13 rattles, this was an unusually large and beautifully marked specimen. I wonder how old she was. No way to know for sure, but most likely, 15-25 years. How many mice and turkey eggs had she eaten in her lifetime? How many redtailed hawks did she avoid? Was she headed down to the Rock Tank that night to see if a frog might be on the menu? Will the cottontails sleep more comfortably and become lazy in her absence?
As strange as it might sound to some of my old reprobate friends, I find myself hoping that our old rattler left many generations of healthy offspring on Lost Creek. Like the mountain without the wolf, Lost Creek wouldn’t be the same without the rattlesnake. The balance of nature is strong and lasting in many ways, but fragile and fleeting in others. We humans struggle to find our place in nature. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, and sometimes we wonder if we did the right thing.
By the way, I must report that the campout ended immediately. We adjourned to the safe and comparatively boring ranch cabin for the weekend. Get outdoors and watch your step.