Old Trails

Sometimes it is the old trails that really are the best trails. There’s always something to keep them from seeming redundant. In the case of the Hole-in-the-Wall trail, part of my love of it is pure convenience – I can tumble out the door and be walking along the trail in 5 minutes, remote, away from anybody, in the quiet of the trees. Part of it is nostalgia, memories, and the sheer beauty of this region. The Hole-in-the-Wall road winds along through ravines and low places, often overlooking or crossing an old nameless, boulder-strewn creekbed that eventually joins up with Battle Creek. This has been a favorite trail since I was a kid – because Hole-in-the-Wall has always been a favorite destination. I’ve written about Hole-in-the-Wall a handful of times before, that it is the site of an old mining camp, that the miners diverted Battle Creek straight through a ridge, creating what we now know as Hole-in-the-Wall. Something about this place is comforting to me, and not long goes by before I get the hunger to hike to it, the same familiar trail, the same trees and rocks and sandy, rocky streambeds. Since I am leaving the country at the end of this week for a month, I wanted to hike to Hole-in-the-Wall again. Mom and Dad were the only ones home, and they agreed to tag along. Off we went, with both of the dogs tearing around, having the time of their lives.
IMG_7859eWe were chatting, watching for fossils and flowers and critters, talking to the dogs casually. I had been down in the creekbed looking for fossils and had just come back onto the trail. Opal, in her play and curiosity, headed down the bank, underneath a still-flowering golden currant bush. We called to her and continued walking, and Mom mused, “I wonder if we’ll lose any dogs to snakebite this summer.” It is just something you think about when you live in rattlesnake country, and this is the time of year they start showing up. Talk about a well-timed comment. No sooner had those words left Mom’s lips, than that unmistakable sound burst from underneath the currant bush – a rattlesnake. The sound is one of those you never forget, unless, of course, you’re my Dad and you can’t hear the snake’s rattle, which is a little unnerving. Well, Opal came tearing up the bank around the other side of the currant bush, apparently unhurt (“Good,” I’m thinking. “How in the world would I have broken the news to Sarah?”). Both dogs were immediately captivated by the strange sound, and then immediately got yelled at.  Trixie, the silly thing, actually responded to verbal commands and getting swatted in the face with a ballcap, which surprised me, since I always assumed Trixie’s first rattlesnake would also be her last. In the next few chaotic seconds we got the dogs by the collars and suddenly felt a little calmer.
IMG_7763eIt’s no fun hearing the snake but not being able to see it. Once the dogs were under control, we got a good look at the rattler, and he was a big one, hunkered down beneath the currant bush in a shaded spot. I honestly have no idea how Opal didn’t get bitten, except to say that God didn’t let her get bitten. Where the snake was coiled was right where Opal had jumped. He was thick and angry-looking, and we watched him for a couple of minutes before continuing our hike, with the dogs leashed this time. Once you see one rattlesnake at such close quarters, suddenly you’re convinced there are snakes in every clump of tall grass, under every fallen log, and in every pile of rocks. A little irrational, but that’s just what happens. Just like when you find one tick, suddenly you’re crawling with imaginary ticks.
IMG_7783eIMG_7842eWe made it to Hole-in-the-Wall without meeting anymore snakes, and enjoyed the flora in the meadow  there. Particularly the Missouri pincushion cactus. We found a whole colony, with little families of cacti all growing in groups, and some beautiful solitary ones with picture-perfect blossoms. Shades of yellow to shades of peach, glimmering and gleaming in the sun. I had never seen so many.
IMG_7797eThere was plenty of dame’s rocket, violet woodsorrel, larkspur and larkspur violets, and even a groundplum milkvetch with its cute little fruits. On the way back, we checked under that same golden currant bush for Mr. Rattlesnake. We tossed a few rocks down the bank into the bush to see if we could stir him up a little bit. He had moved on. Smart snake.

Sometimes it really is the old trails that are the best. Because they’re the ones with all the many, many memories. And I’m really glad we still have our dogs.

Rattlesnakes on the ridge

DSCN0626.1We live under the shadow of a snake-infested ridge.

Okay, so that’s a bit of a stretch, but rattlers have been seen from time to time on the ridge above our house.   Yesterday, I went out to my truck, parked to the right of the old chicken coop, just in time to see two entwined rattlesnakes come tumbling down the face of the ridge and disappear behind the chicken coop.

DSCN0188.1After a rush of some heavy adrenaline while we made sure the pets were all out of the way, we went back to observe. We watched one of the snakes slither slowly back to the top of the ridge and that was that. Or so we thought. Fifteen minutes later, we heard rattling and ran back over to watch the show. Two snakes, probably the same two, were entwined and rattling furiously above the cliff, on a steep grassy slope. Their curious dance brought them further and further down the slope until they tumbled in a writhing mass off the face of the ridge. Once again, we watched as they slithered back to the top. That was the last we saw of them, and Sarah and I left for an evening hike with Jessie and Roy, two friends from church who live in the neighboring town.

But when we got back that night, and after we had been standing in the yard talking for twenty minutes, Jessie suddenly said, “That’s a snake over there. He’s a big one!”

DSCN0659Sure enough, there was a rattler, coiled up not twelve feet off at the end of our sidewalk. And there had been people coming and going for the last half hour!

We weren’t entirely sure what to do with it, but he sure couldn’t stay there. We watched him for twenty minutes or so, amused by how he reacted to shadows passing over his body when we waved our hands in front of the yard light, listening to the fascinating sound of his rattle, and amazed at how long he could hold his body up, unmoving and perfectly silent. Beautiful and dangerous. We kept our distance.

Finally, it was time to get rid of him. Roy picked him up with a pitchfork like a piece of spaghetti on a dinner fork, and took the angry, rattling creature over to the ridge.

Fortunately, seeing rattlesnakes in this quantity or with this frequency is rare. But it was all still a little unnerving.

We let him go this time. But Mom’s determined to get rid of it for good if we see it again.

Laura Elizabeth