There’s No Place Like Home
Yesterday, I was heading back to bed to relax and read for awhile with a hot cup of tea… but, in doing so I cast a passing glance out the east-facing window of my bedroom and instantly knew that I wouldn’t be getting to that herbal tea anytime soon.
Let me back up for a minute and say a few things… Ever since we moved here to the canyon, I haven’t been terribly inclined to visit other places. Previously, we had lived in a truly soul-sucking environment — the suburban apartment complex. Perhaps that is a happy housing experience for some, but not for us. Every weekend that we could, we made a mad dash for someplace more wild and lovely, and in doing so we were often heading down to the coast or up into the mountains. But, once we moved to this surreal haven, where “wildlife” and “homelife” intersect seamlessly every day, a lot of the motivation for getting in a vehicle and sitting on the freeway to get somewhere else kind of vanished. Now, some people might think that things would get boring wandering around the same piece of land day in and day out… but it never does for me. I love being able to get to know this area so intimately. Having a feel for when certain bird species will return, where certain wildflowers will poke up through the ground in Spring, understanding the cyclical quality of how the light changes as it filters through the canyon each day in winter vs. summer… these are things that you can only grasp after years of living in a place and wandering the same trails day after day. While I certainly still feel the thrill of excitement that comes from traveling and investigating new places, I believe there are always new discoveries to be made wherever you are if you are willing to look hard and long enough. It is only rarely that I go outside in the canyon and don’t come away with some brand new bit of information that I never knew before. For instance… Woodpeckers and thrushes seem to swallow the fruit from the olive trees whole — pit and all! — while finches and sparrows peck at them and swallow little pieces. Or… Cottontail scat is very different looking in Spring vs. Fall — small, dark and moist vs. larger, light-colored and dry. Anyway… Why am I going on at length about all of this? Well, because if I wasn’t so attuned to my surroundings and I didn’t know the view out my window like the back of my hand, I’m certain the following sighting never would have occurred.
So, where was I? Oh, yes… Cup of tea in hand, I stopped dead in my tracks, scrutinizing a spot of bare ground under a patch of olive trees about 50 feet away. The ground rippled ever so slightly. A sinuous shimmer of banded earth. I instantly turned on my heel, grabbed my camera and hurried to put on a pair of shoes. I walked quickly (but carefully) to the spot behind the cabin and scanned the area until I saw it — a large rattlesnake slowly making its way across the mostly brown earth. My first thought was that this was a really good-sized snake. [According to CaliforniaHerps.com, the average adult length for the subspecies of rattlesnake that occurs in this area — the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) — is “30 – 44 inches long, sometimes up to 54 inches”. After doing a little post-sighting calculation, using the photographs that I took as a guide, I went back out and measured some of the adjacent rocks. Not an exact science, to be sure, but using that data I arrived at an approximate measurement for the snake of 47 to 50 inches!!] It certainly made for an impressive sight and (despite my affection for these snakes) a bit intimidating too. A curled-up snake, if given its space is never something that concerns me too much, but with an active snake I think it’s really important to keep an eye on them and make sure to leave ample distance between yourself and the snake — especially when a portion of your attention (and visual field!) is compromised by photographing or filming. I stayed several feet behind the snake and moved slowly so as not to alarm or intimidate it. My presence seemed to go completely ignored, which is exactly what I aim for when shooting in the field. After several moments out in the open, during which time it investigated small clumps of plants and bits of wood, occasionally flicking its tongue to “taste” the air, it finally disappeared into denser foliage. I am definitely NOT foolish enough to follow a rattler into an area where I can’t keep track of it, so I said a sincere “thank you” (as I always do with accommodating wildlife) and headed back inside. I was pretty sure my tea would need to be re-heated, but what a very small price to pay for such a lasting memory.