Monday, May 23, 2016

A Snake in the Grass

After a week at home in Austin, mostly watching it rain, we are back at the farm.  This morning, John mounted the skid steer and began cutting cedar while the dogs and I took a walk.  My brother, Allan, mowed the roads on this side of the creek where it wasn’t too wet.  However, grass, weeds and flowers in most of the pastures are thigh-high, encroaching on my waist in some places.  It’s certainly taller than a dog in a lot of areas.

We stopped to visit our cattle as they lounged in the grass.  (They have so much grass to eat that it seems they lounge most of the time.)  Dude, our sweet, gentle Hereford bull, eyed me with a quizzical expression, while very pregnant B6 rested and chewed her cud.  

Wise B4 with the luminous brown eyes let me come almost close enough to touch her…but not quite.  

And our newest herd member, nameless though “Freckles” seems appropriate, rested between his mom and aunties.  The dogs waited quietly a few yards away, and earned “good dog” praise for holding their stays.  

We continued our morning excursion past the stock tank and up the far side of the creek.  As always, my senses were on high alert for snakes in the tall grass.  The warm weather has brought then out of their dens, and sent them in search of rodents in the pastures and along the rocky hillsides.  We saw a four-foot rat snake in one of the trees near our house the last time we were here.  And, only a little over a week ago, some men cutting cedar posts killed a rattlesnake on the road near my brother’s house.  

In the high grass, however, a snake is hard to see, and harder to identify.  So, I was listening for them as much as I was watching.  

Speaking of listening, when you think about it, it’s amazing how many different sounds a person can be aware of at the same time.  Just this morning, the pasture orchestra consisted of three or four painted buntings calling from treetops on either side of me, cardinals and wrens chirping in the bushes, a cacophony of frogs in the stock tanks and creek, turkeys gobbling in the distance, cicadas and other insects, the rumble of the skid steer on the hill and the swish of dog bodies plowing through the high grass.  How the brain can decipher and process all those different sounds simultaneously is mind-boggling.  (But I guess the mind can’t be boggled if it can do all that deciphering.  It is a puzzlement, though.)

As the dogs and I made our way across the pasture on the far side of the creek, I saw movement in the grass just in front of me.  My mind immediately registered “SNAKE!”  I stopped, and so did the snake.  I couldn’t see it clearly, so I picked up a nearby branch and parted the grass to try to identify it.  It was quickly apparent from the distinctive pattern and the rattles on its tail that I was looking at a three-foot diamondback rattlesnake. 

I don’t think he was particularly worried about me.  It was only when I parted the grass with my stick that he coiled and began to “sing.”  Those rattles have an unmistakable sound.  Once you hear it, you will never forget it.  I don’t think this snake was especially concerned, though.  He just remained coiled in the grass, his black, forked tongue darting in and out between his scaly snake lips, and his rattles (the blur just to the left of his head) singing.  Even when I moved the grass aside to get a photo, he never struck.  John thinks he was not more aggressive because the temperature was only 78 degrees and the snake was still somewhat cool.  He thinks it would have been much more assertive had the temperature been warmer.  I don’t care why he was so calm, I’m just glad the dogs and I didn’t step on him.  Thank you, God!

The dogs’ behavior was puzzling, though.  All three have been through snake-avoidance training, and they refused to come anywhere near a rattlesnake when we went for a snake-avoidance refresher course.  I expected them to react strongly when they heard the snake rattle or when they scented it.  This morning, however, they showed no interest in the snake nor did they show any fear.  When I stopped to look at it, they turned and came back to me, but stopped on command and held their stays until released.  Colt did cock his head and look in the direction of the snake, but then showed no more interest in it.  They could certainly hear it rattling, but it didn’t seem to bother them.  Perhaps they knew it was too far away to reach them.  Who knows?  I just hope this is the first and last rattlesnake we see this year.


  1. Wow! Can't believe you stopped to take a picture. Maybe there should be a snake-avoidance training for photographers. Next I'm really impressed that you can ID birds by their call. Well done. Farm is looking lush and lovely.

    1. Let's just hope I don't have to avoid another one. And, the next time you're here, we'll go out "bird-watching" by ear. It's a lot easier to hear them than to see them.