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Steve Eaton: Rattlesnakes hate distorted sirens

Published: Friday, Sept. 13 2013 3:50 p.m. MDT

A Great Basin Rattlesnake.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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Earlier this week I ventured into rattlesnake country.

There’s a trail that I believe the city of Logan built back when it had the idea to make Cache Valley into Lake Bonneville, I assume to capture some of the Bear Lake tourist dollars the city wasn’t getting. This all happened a long time ago, before Merlin Olsen taught us about football. Since then they’ve drained the lake but left the lumpy trail in place, and people voluntarily go out on it to run and be fit.

This trail is also a place where rattlesnakes go. I know this because my wife was walking the dog on this very trail just a few weeks ago and came across a rattlesnake. She managed to rein in the dog, who goes everywhere like a hurricane is driving him from behind and, I guess, just stared it down. The rattlesnake lost its nerve.

I was nervous about my ability to do that, so I was walking without even having headphones on, which I believe is against the law. I didn’t think anyone would see me.

I’ve had far more experience than my wife with poisonous snakes because I once lived in southern Illinois for one year. My father and mother moved us there when I was in ninth grade so he could work on his doctorate at Southern Illinois University. Compared to Washington state, it was like the Amazon to us. There were so many bugs that we had to have our house sprayed every month to keep them from taking over and carrying us outside, where there were lots of poisonous snakes.

People told us that we need not worry about the snakes. If we felt a need to walk in a field at dusk, we should probably wear long pants and boots. Very few booted people who followed this advice died of snake bites. I was then and still am of the belief that all snakes are probably deadly, so I didn’t ever take off my boots, even indoors, and I tried to stay on the pavement while outdoors. Indoor house plants were also areas to avoid.

You know how some days you are in such a hurry that you don’t think things through and you end up doing something crazy like driving on the freeways in Salt Lake City during rush hours? Well, one day I had a moment of severe instability and decided, at dusk, to cut across a field. It was a 50-yard risk and even though I was wearing sneakers, I felt it had to be done. I was late.

And, of course, I came across a large snake that appeared to be rushing in the same direction that I was, as if it had been surprised by something running toward it. When I saw this frantic snake just a few feet away I got a huge shot of adrenalin and did two things at the same time that made perfect sense to me, given my circumstances. I increased my speed and dramatically shortened the amount of time each foot would have to stay on the ground. I also made a loud noise that sounded like an English ambulance being strangled.

While this is an effective approach, it looks a bit odd. Think of a film of a goose-stepping army played in fast motion and then add in the waving arms and the distorted English siren and you might get an idea of how I looked.

The only reason I give any thought as to how I might have looked is because I remember as I “ran” over the snake I saw I was “running” toward a woman unloading groceries from her car. She looked at me as if she was getting a quick review of her life before she died, and it seemed clear she was going to drop her groceries and run in the other direction. She did not, as far as I can tell, because when I hit the road I just sprinted on by and said to her, “Just out for a jog.”

You have to keep in mind this was back in the days where everyone dressed funny and right about the time someone got away with inventing disco. The Beatles had broken up and weird stuff just happened.

Now I’m way older and much wiser. I was nervous about being on the trail but I knew that if I encountered a rattlesnake I would not sprint and high-step up and down the Bonneville hills. I would, of course, just dance in place while the hurricane dog tried to drag me to my death. I offer you this tale as a warning. Rattlesnakes are out there. Develop a strategy now. Practice the noise that you will make if you encounter one.

And above all, don’t move to southern Illinois.

Steve Eaton lives and works in Logan, Utah. He can be reached at Eatonnews@gmail.com

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