Monday, May 14, 2012


Flowering cholla cactus, Gunnison River and Uncompahgre Plateau
I was cutting our meager lawn on Saturday morning and almost ran over a baby rattlesnake with the lawn mower. I may have clipped him with a wheel on the previous pass because he was coiled up in a posture of pain when I noticed him and stopped the mower. As I approached for a better look, he withdrew his spade-shaped head and lunged at me repeatedly with fangs extended. It would have been intimidating if he weren't only a foot long. I needed to move him out of the way, but I wasn't going to get my hands anywhere near him. I went in the garage to get the pooper-scooper, carefully scooped him up, and deposited him over the fence into the neighbor's yard. Hey, at least over there I wouldn't run him over again. I looked in on him with every pass, and I worried that I really had injured him because he stayed in his coil of pain for quite a while, but eventually he extended his head, and on the next pass he was gone.

We have lived in Grand Junction for seven years now, and this was my first experience with a rattlesnake. Scout and I occasionally scare up garden snakes on our walks, but they slither quickly away. This little fellow bravely stood his ground. I was so surprised to see him that it didn't occur to me to try to kill him even though he could someday be a threat to neighborhood kids, dogs and cats.

It's not in my nature to harm living things. If anything, I try to encourage the presence of local wildlife. Finches, mourning doves and hummingbirds visit our feeders. Chipmunks and mice eat spilled seeds. Lizards of all shapes and sizes bask on our patio. Toads burrow into the edges of our lawn. Mule deer graze the scrub grass behind our house. Foxes and coyotes dash past during early morning walks. Scorpions startle us in dark corners. And praying mantises and walking stick insects live in our summertime flower pots. For me, the word "desert" used to conjure up images of barren, desolate spaces devoid of life, but living here, I know better.

It didn't occur to me to get a photo of the baby rattlesnake, so the desert scene above will need to suffice. It's from a hike that Scout and I did on Sunday morning while checking out potential camping spots for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The view is looking south toward the Uncompahgre Plateau from a sandstone ridge high above the Gunnison River, with a flowering silver cholla cactus in the foreground. Click the image to see it full-size.

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