This is the end of Sabino Canyon’s paved road. Mosquito’s are biting my forearms and shoulders. Twilight is descending (note: for a twilight ride overlooking the Pacific Ocean see this post).
As I’m heading home, about halfway down the mountain, the light is 85 percent gone. Coasting slightly downhill at about 10-15 mph, I suddenly notice a shape in front of my wheel. Without thinking, I swerve. Actually, there wasn’t enough time to swerve; rather it was just a quick flick of the wrist and handlebars — first right, then left.
I immediately look back over my left shoulder and see a snake falling to the ground, as if recoiling from a near vertical strike.
The part of my brain that processes information informs me that the sensation I felt against my leg a fraction of a second ago was the rattlesnake defending itself against what it perceived as a large, warm-blooded creature (that is, me) bearing down on it.
I stopped my bicycle; went back up the road 20 feet; directed my headlight to illuminate the scene; and snapped this picture!
The encounter reminded me of one of my favorite pieces of writing — Snaketime — an essay originally published in the WildEarth Journal by Charles Bowden (re-printed in this book, which as of August 2011 had copies available for $.01).
Here’s an excerpt where Bowden suggests how a snake perceives the world:
For the snake a few things are obvious: I am large, and this is certain because of my footfall. She can hear the footfall of a mouse. I am rich in odor. She can pick up the faintest scents, identify them, and follow a single strand as clearly as if it were signage on an interstate highway system…And I am irrelevant unless I get too close. She will ignore me if I stay six feet away. She will ignore me if I become motionless for 180 seconds.
If I violate the rules of her culture, she will work through a sequence of four tactics. First, she will pretend to be invisible and hope I do not see her. If that fails, she will try to flee. If that fails, she will rattle in hope of frightening me away. And finally, if I am completely ignorant of simple courtesy and get within a foot or so of her, she will attack me…
She herself is cultured. In her lifetime, she will attack maybe twenty or thirty or forty times. She will never attack any member of her own species. She will never be cruel. She is incapable of evil.
–Charles Bowden, from the essay Snaketime