September 8, 2011 at 12:55 PM

Rattlesnakes and Okra

"I have never had a rattlesnake strike at me in all of the years I have been catching them for myself and other neighbors"

By Thor Sigstedt

Thor’s Hammer

Thor Sigstedt is an artist in wood, words, cameras, bronze, cast iron, glass, notes and steel; a homesteader from Spirit Valley specializing in forest diversity and “land ethics” and a dabbler in practical and non-practical non-zero new paradigm complexity in the multiverse.

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Now, as far as I can tell, the conversations always comes around to rattlers or okra; at least in my family.  Okra is slimy and primal somehow and worthy of fear; snakes: ditto.  So I have a rap on rattlesnakes and Belle always talks about okra.

I used to kill them ( not the okras) on sight out here on the ranch; just pick up some rocks and pummel them to death on the spot.  It was a sort of no brainer.  One I killed early in the morning in October as it was sleeping, curled, under a piñon. That was easy but not very satisfying.  Years went by like this and one day as Jim and I were outside working, we spotted a rattler near the shop.  For some reason, I mentioned that I was tired of killing them and did he know how to make a tool to catch them. He looked like the guy who bites off the heads of chickens at the circus….and of course he did.  So he went inside and made one while I watched the snake.  Then he caught it with the noose and the pole and that was that.  I now had a way to avoid killing them. 

I put them up on the mesa for a while, using a dynamite box that I had acquired.  You just open the box and release the tension on the loop and the snake wriggles free and, usually, goes to the bottom of the box and coils up again to strike.  Then you wait till you have the time to take it away and usually this is an insane amount of time.  I told some mesa dwellers about my release system and one said, “Oh that gives me a great idea.  If I catch one I will bring it down and let it loose on the tracks!”  That was the end of that release system. When I caught the next one, I called up the animal people in Española  and asked what to do (use them for science, etc. etc. ?) and someone there said that some people let them loose on Cochiti land. I was taken aback and immediately thought, “Oh, I know; I will take them to _______, which has a ____ course (and the tools to deal with them) and let them go there.  Ha Ha!”  The truth is I have let them go in many different places all over the state.

So here is the rap. I have never had a rattlesnake strike at me in all of the years I have been catching them for myself and other neighbors.  I have had bullsnakes strike and be aggressive and I have been around and caught western coachwhips (which require their own rap). I have only had the rattler jump out of the box once and it just went a few feet  away and under and tree and coiled up again.  Now we are talking about prairie rattlers, which are greenish and smaller than the diamondbacks, which I have not had to deal with (and not too anxious to deal with either).  You can slip that noose over their heads pretty easily and they just don’t seem to understand their impending problem and even if it touches them, they tend to stay there. 

I did, though, increase the length of the original pole and added the length with electrical tap connection so that the rig is almost laughably long.  I laugh at it anyway.  I forgot to mention that I am afraid of snakes, just like most people.  I have studied the matter though and have this to say.  Most people who get bit are drunk males who are playing with them. 

Most snakes should be considered poisonous, as they may not have venom but if they bite you, the risks of infection and problems are very high.  I do not play with snakes and tend to not get any closer than the pole.  You will not see me grabbing them and holding them from behind the head, for instance. Pistols are pretty much useless for dealing with them. 

I love the story when I went over to F_____’s house and looked at his mason jar filled with green antifreeze and a dead rattler.  He said,  “Yeah I got one the other day down at the bottom of the driveway, saw him and went and got my pistol…..”  I took another look at the dead critter and said, “why is it so bashed in on the side there, F---?”  He said (and don’t forget he is a medal winner in sharpshooting), “Well, yeah, I emptied the gun and never hit him, so I grabbed a rock and bashed him in with it…”.  Hmmmm.

Now I am thinking of leaving them here instead of carting them away each time, but have not decided about that, as there are many children around.  Often the children find them first for me, though, and I love the way they deal with the situation as we all carry the snake box back to the shop and are looking through the plexiglass window I put in so we can see the snake and they have conversations like this:   1st child: “Yesterday I caught a bullsnake, three rattlers and a king snake”  2nd child, straight faced,: “Yesterday I caught  a rattlesnake, two gopher snakes, a bullsnake and a racer”.  Both children: “Let’s go out and look for snakes to catch”.  Me: “That is a really bad idea; don’t do that”.

So there you have it folks.  The big question is and always will be until we get things sorted out around here, “What do you do when you see a wild animal near you?”  More on this later.

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