Originally published on May 13, 2014
When I was 11 years old I lived in a trailer on a dirt road 7 miles from the nearest town on what today would be called a horticultural startup, but back then we just thought of it as a pot farm. We had no running water, no electricity and no phone lines – but there were lots of critters, big and small. Living out in the wild like that meant that at an early age you had to learn what animals you might encounter, and what to do if you did.
One particularly hot summer afternoon, I was watching all of the other kids playing on the swingset in the shade between the trees of the hillside our tiny little trailer. There was about 25 feet of space between the trailer and the bushes, and it was the only shade to be found within a half mile of our house. I think there were at least 6 kids out back: my deaf younger brother, who was 4 at the time, Sequoia who was 5 and his younger sister, Odin who was around 5, me and my buddy Jerry.
I came around the back of the trailer, and heard what sounded like some kind of wind-up toy going endlessly in the bushes. I thought it was typical that one of the little kids had thrown their toy into the bushes, and I kept pulling the branches back, looking around…pulling them back, looking around…and the noise kept getting louder. By now I was curious as to what kind of toy this could be, as it simply was Not Winding down.
And then I came face to face with the coiled rattlesnake, about 5-feet deep in the bushes, and it was pissed off. Now, this wasn’t the first rattlesnake I’d encountered in my then-11 year old lifetime, it wasn’t even the 2nd.
The first time I met a rattlesnake I was walking up the path to my friend’s house with my new book of paper airplanes. I was so excited about the book that I wasn’t watching where I was walking, and I felt a soft-ish squish under my feet that wasn’t quite right. I immediately leapt about 4 feet, and the rattlesnake did the same, and started to coil. It was small, only about 3 feet long…
It was miles out of my way to go back down the path to the main road and then around to my friend’s house, so I started picking up rocks and throwing them at the rattler until it gave up and simply slithered away.
The 2nd time I met a rattlesnake I had my 4-year old brother on the back of my Schwinn Stingray – riding on the banana seat, and we came around the corner of the dirt road and there was a snake stretched out over the entire length of the road – easily 6 or 7 feet long. It was massive, at least 4-inches thick. I slammed on the brakes, got my feet down, and started backing up as quickly as I could. My brother couldn’t have heard anything I had to say, and leaned out around me to see what the deal was. And then started hitting me in the back and saying, “Snake! Snake! Snake!”
By the time we found an adult, the snake had moved on.
So back to the coiled snake in our backyard: I immediately got all of the kids to move away from the play structure, and then me and Jerry got my mom’s boyfriend’s blow-gun and blow-darts. I’d spent plenty of time practicing with the blowgun – on my The Fonz poster mounted on plywood – and I could sink a dart into the Fonz’s thumb from 15 feet. So Jerry and I took turns shooting darts at the rattler.
Eventually, it gave up rattling, and started to slither away up the hillside, and that’s when we knew that we’d hit it because we saw 2 darts slithering up the hillside. All of the kids cheered, and we started to argue about who had actually hit the snake. And that’s when I noticed that my 4-year old younger brother was not among the kids with us, and as I looked into the trailer I spotted him, and the rifle. Aimed right at me.
As soon as he had realized there was a snake in the bushes, and saw me and Jerry tried to nail it with the blowgun he had gone inside the trailer and worked at the closet door until he had pried it open and gotten at the 30 odd six rifle inside. That last big rattlesnake still on his mind, he was going to settle this and solve the problem for all of us.
I broke into a sprint around the trailer as fast as I could, bounded up the stairs, and opened the door to my 4-year old brother, diligently trying to get the rifle under control, and aiming it right at my chest. I signed for him to stay calm, and not do anything. As I skirted around the barrel of the gun and slowly raised the barrel so it was aiming at the sky, it dawned on me which animal, of all the ones I lived with in the middle of nowhere, were actually the most dangerous.