I’m Listening Lord…
By Charles Towne
A faint, barely discernable suggestion of sound, a troubling dissonance suggested itself upon my being. Then, silence? A silence all the more foreboding and pervasive because the author of that sound could make the next few minutes or hours most interesting indeed.
Nature, all of nature, with its myriad quirks and eccentricities has always fascinated me, holding me a willing captive to its will. As I follow an indistinct animal trail that will eventually lead me into the dense swamp that is part of the Wekiva river flowage. I progress steadily from dry, sandy highland habitat with its oak groves, long leaf pines and Gopher tortoise burrows, ever lower to where the palmetto scrub becomes almost impenetrable.
The dense palmetto provides cover for many animals as well as a handy food source for the bear for the berries it provides. Here also is habitat more than adequate for a denning female, due to the fact that a large predator, such as man, or another bear, would find it most difficult to approach the den site through the almost impenetrable, noisy cover with any amount of stealth.
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 sharp serrated edged, 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 along the ground in a most snakelike manner, thus rendering each step most precarious.
While I was forceing my way through a particularly dense and wickedly inhospitable patch of scrub palmetto one day I was suddenly jerked up short by the distinctive, and under the circumstances, unwelcome sound of a diamond-back rattlesnake .
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 away, 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 rattler. 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 snake’s body; A section perhaps a foot long, I guessed it 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.
O.K., 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 what hurts yah folks!
And by the way, it is impossible to tell a snake’s age by the number of rattles it possesses. 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, (a rarity in these days of indiscriminate slaughter and urban sprawl) with no rattles at all.
I pushed aside another frond and there was the impressive head, two inches wide with fat cheeks. Yes, this baby could definitively put a hurtin’ on you. A snake this size is going to possess fangs three quarters of an inch in length, which means deep envenomation and even though he could possibly expend enough of his poison brew to kill a man the amount actually injected would 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, believe me, I know.
Oh so carefully, I let the fronds settle back as they were and began my slow, oh 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 frantic beating if my heart.
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
Thank you so very much Lord. How many times have you protected me in my everyday walk? Lead me, guide me, and reveal to me your divine will for my life. Show me how best I can reveal you to all I come into contact with and help them to see you and know your love for them through me. Praise you O Most Holy one, in Jesus’ beautiful 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.