— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 15 March 2010, was last revised on 18 April 2016. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 11:03(17).
The hunting party proceeded to the next promising rattlesnake den down the canyon. As we traveled, the raw beauty of the place became more and more evident. Some will question such a description. After all, did I not earlier refer to this as a place that only a rattlesnake could love?
True enough, I did. Yet, that statement was made from a distance, before we had descended into the canyon. More important, it was made before this place had become a part of our lives.
Experience is like that. Not only will this desolate, cactus and rattlesnake infested part of west Texas always be enshrined in my heart as the place where I first learned how Eddie Gomez collected rattlesnakes, but it is also where I got to know two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.
Dr. Russ Kane and his lovely wife, Delia, had become friends of mine early in the day, in the Nolan County Coliseum. Delia remarked that my snake boots, along with the camelback backpack and Resistol straw hat, made me look like Indiana Jones. I countered that her husband, Russ, wore a hat that was much more like the fedora Harrison Ford wore in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. And besides, both had their legs swathed in snake chaps, just the kind of thing Indiana Jones would wear. But they persisted, so I accepted the compliment gracefully.
I’ve been looking for a good set of snake chaps. They protect, besides the lower legs and feet–which are otherwise protected by boots–the thighs and buttocks, and thus are a good adjunct to the knee-high snake-boots I always wear in the bush.
In most places, where I search for venomous snakes, snake chaps are optional because my boots protect my lower extremeties from foot to knee, and snakes almost never strike at points higher than 12-14 inches above the ground. Here in the canyon, where so much of the land one passes over is above the knee, I would have felt more safe with them.
Russ is retired from a career in engineering and technical writing, and now devotes his life to writing books on Texas wines and vinyards. His website, www.vintagetexas.com, educates viewers on the ins and outs of Texas wineries, and on the esoterica surrounding Texas terroir, i.e., the special quality of Texas soil and climate that produces a uniquely “Texas” wine. It’s more complicated than that, too, as the unique Texas terroir varies within the state, based on the specific wine growing region involved.
I’ve already spent considerable time on Russ’s website, and learned a lot. I had not known, for example, that Texas wine is much more like the wines of Europe than those of California. There’s a good reason for that, and Russ explains it well.
Russ has posted a blog about his experiences at the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, and particularly about his rattlesnake pairing with Texas wines. I recommend it as excellent reading, and no doubt his upcoming book will be a serious page-turner.
As the afternoon wore down the group of hunters returned to the trail where we first entered the canyon. On the way, we passed by that first crevice, where three rattlesnakes and a corn snake had been bagged. There, we learned, the smallest young lady in the group had just found another rattlesnake. That specimen, which had migrated to the ledge above the crevice, was the largest one of the bunch. Evidently, it had remained in the crack until the hunters left.
This was the last rattlesnake the group caught during this portion of the hunt. I add that last caveat because, though my involvement was now complete (the drive back to Round Rock would take over four hours, so it made sense to get started early), others continued the hunt in other sections of the canyon.
Back at the parked vehicles, we all gathered around and exchanged stories. Eddie and Mike answered questions as we wet our whistles and ate some of the snacks we’d brought with us. The last rattlesnake was removed from its container so we could have a look at it. The snake was a beauty. In many ways, its majesty helped explain why we were here on this day.
For the moment, at least, no more will be said here about that, as the relevant thoughts are not yet fully formed. Elsewhere in this article, the published thoughts of Lawrence Klauber on this subject have been quoted, but though he’s considered a major source of reliable intelligence on rattlesnakes, he isn’t the only source we should consider. Many more ruminations, kindred and otherwise, exist for our perusal, particularly those of Harry W. Green, author of “Snakes, The Evolution of Mystery in Nature,” and those of Edward O. Wilson, who writes about rattlesnakes in a number of his books on nature, but more particularly in “Consilience,” “Naturalist,” and “Biodiversity.” Snakes beguile us, consciously and subliminally. They feed our senses in ways we may not even realize. Today, I’ll just leave it at that…
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