Snake in the Road

By Margie Bailey Rose


On       On the move from Washington to California I lectured the children for 1,200 miles on the deadly inhabitants of sunny San Diego.  Snakes, scorpions, and black-widow spiders were the stars in my show.  After we lived there a few months the deadly beasts became the children's playmates, and we all got used to living together.  Until a sweltering day in August when the most frightening native you could imagine appeared in the street in front of our neighbor's house.


Several children ran into our house banging the door and shouting and screaming for me to come see, come see.  They all talked at once and it sounded like a sea monster or space alien had materialized on our block.  It could kill us, it could eat our dog (not a bad idea.)  It was the biggest monster ever  They went on and on, begging me to hurry as I dusted the flour off my hands and looked for some shoes.  Were they saying snake?  I didn't understand what the big deal was about a snake.  Rattlesnakes were all around our houses, especially in the summer when they came in our yards for water.  They were startling when encountered, and we quickly gave them space, but such an uproar?  I didn't understand. 


The kids pulled me down the block where a large circle of people observed the excitement from a safe distance.  Several men were shouting at one another and doing something with rakes and shovels.  I left the children and edged closer to see for myself.  It was a rattlesnake that looked as big as the anaconda in the San Diego Zoo.  I wondered how old it was.  Its rattles were huge, but few.  They must have been broken many times over the years.  The men pushed the snake with the rakes to keep it in the road while they argued about what to do next.  Every time the snake moved in someones direction they screamed and ran. 


I moved closer, fascinated by his eyes.  He did not look dangerous to me, not even frightened– just old and tired.  I feel like that some days.  Our eyes connected.  He stared at me and I at him.  His tongue stopped darting for long seconds.  I wished him a good death through my gaze.  "You have lived long enough old man, rest now."


Turning away, I walked slowly back to my house.  I had no fear that the children would get too close, and I had no interest in participating in the death by doing or watching.  He could not live so close to our homes, and no one would offer to transport a snake that big to a far-away mesa.  He must sleep permanently so we could all sleep peacefully.


The children still tell the story of the men running over the snake with a car and finally some held it with rakes while others chopped off the head with shovels.  Mr. Shockey skinned it and I guess his family ate some of it.  He brought the dry snakeskin to our next Neighborhood Watch meeting.  People oowed and awed.  It was eighteen inches across in the middle and eight feet long– give or take and inch or two.  I waited until the others lost interest and unrolled the skin a little.  I gently ran my fingers over the cool, shiny diamonds and wished him well again.