Faith & Inspiration
By Charles Towne
A faint, barely discernible suggestion of sound, a troubling dissonance, suggested itself upon my being, then, silence. A silence all the more foreboding because the author of that sound could very possibly make the next few minutes, or hours, most interesting indeed.
As I followed an indistinct animal trail that eventually would lead me into the swamp that is part of the Wekiva river flowage, I progressed steadily from dry, sandy, highland habitat, with its oak groves, long leaf pines and Gopher tortoise burrows, ever lower to where the palmetto scrub became almost impenetrable.
Most humans find the large expanses of palmetto growth most inhospitable and not at all to their liking, not only due to the palmetto’s sharply serrated, flesh cutting stems, but for the unpleasant fact that it is also ideal habitat for that king of North America’s venomous snakes, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
While negotiating your way through a large patch of scrub palmetto it is almost impossible to see the ground immediately at your feet. The large, meandering trunks of the palmetto plant creep over the ground in a most snakelike manner, gleefully waiting to trip the unwary.
It is a most disconcerting and mind expanding experience to be negotiating such habitat and find oneself in the center of a large patch of this less than friendly cover, to suddenly hear the impressive rattle of a large diamondback at, or near, your feet.
While I was forging my way through this particularly dense and wickedly inhospitable patch of scrub palmetto, and was about half way across, I was suddenly jerked up short by that very distinctive, and under the circumstances, unwelcome sound.
Nature, all of nature, with its myriad quirks and eccentricities has always fascinated and enraptured me, holding me a willing captive to its will. Whatever the fascination of the moment, be it a spider’s web with its hungry and vigilant resident, to the most delicate flower, to a scorpion or a diamondback rattlesnake, I find it all a marvel, a mystery waiting to be unraveled. But as I stood there in the heart of that forbidding patch of scrub palmetto, I could tell from the dispersed sound, there were at least two of the reptiles, and from the volume and proximity of the sound, they were large, and close, very close.
I stood absolutely still. In fact, I gave new meaning to that old saying “frozen in your tracks”. After a few seconds of intense rattling and no more movement on my part, that threatening, dry, castanet sound slowed, became erratic, stopped, jerkily started again, and then ceased altogether.
I could hear at least one of the snakes as it crawled over something, probably the above ground root systems of one of the large palmetto plants. That dry, rasping sound made by the snake’s movement over and around the palmetto roots seemed to be coming from somewhere three or four feet distant, but it was difficult to tell. Quietly, so as not to disturb either reptile, I began to carefully push and lift aside the closest palmetto fronds to better enable me to see the ground at my feet.
There, no more than eighteen inches from my right foot, was a portion of the heavy body of a large, beautiful diamondback rattlesnake. It was obviously well fed, a prime, healthy specimen. My only difficulty was posed by the somewhat prickly fact that I didn’t know where the snake’s head was, and as yet had only spotted the one. Oh well, all in the day’s work of a wildlife photographer.
It was difficult to tell, but according to what I could see of the creature’s body – a section perhaps a foot long – I guessed the snake to be in the neighborhood of four or perhaps, four and a half feet in length. That is certainly not a huge specimen, but if it bit you, it could more than likely ruin your day.
I continued carefully pushing aside the fronds and soon discovered the second diamondback. It lay there in a loose, defensive coil a little less than four feet away. It seemed to be undisturbed as it faced me, it’s black tongue lazily tasting the air of its environment.
Okay. The next thing to do in the order of importance was to find the business end of snake number one, the snake at my feet. Carefully parting some fronds at my side I saw the musical section of old Mr. Buzz tail. According to the width of the rattles I knew that my estimate of the snake’s size was probably right on.
Well, it ain’t the rattles that hurts you folks!
And by the way, there is a popular misconception that you can tell a snake’s age by the number of segments it possesses on it’s rattles, but that is all it is – a misconception. Each and every time the reptile sheds its old skin it gets another segment. A snake such as the one at my feet, if well fed, could shed a half dozen times in the course of a single year, and each time, another segment is left from the shedding.
As the reptile crawls along, over and under various types of obstacles in its path, there are times when those dry segments become damaged and break off; thus you might find a five-foot specimen with no rattles at all. A rarity in these days of over-building and urban sprawl.
I pushed aside another frond and there was the impressive head, two inches wide with fat cheeks. Yes, this baby could definitively put a hurt on you. A snake this size is going to possess a pair of fangs three quarters of an inch long, which means deep envenomation. And even though the snake can possibly expend enough venom to kill a man, the amount actually injected would, without proper and prompt care, only make the limb turn black, the skin and underlying tissue to slough away, and leave you with some interesting bragging rights, if you are so inclined
It is highly unlikely that a person is going to die even from the bite of a large diamondback, but it will leave you suffering enough so that you will, at times, wish that you were dead.
Oh so carefully, I let the fronds settle back as they were and began my slow, ever so careful retreat, leaving the cute couple in possession of their lovely patch of palmetto scrub.
As I began to move away, one of the rattlers buzzed a brief farewell and then all was silent again, except for the frenetic and frantic beating if my poor heart.
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
Dear Friend God, I thank you so very much for caring for me, for protecting me, not only from danger in the wild places, but from the results of my foolishness as I, at times, do presume to walk in those places best avoided. Thank you so much for guiding me through life, for always being there when I have needed you. Praise you O Holy one, in Jesus’ wonderful name I ask it, Amen
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.