Why am I sitting here, in the library, with both pugs, at one in the morning? Because Karyn is outside in the backyard with Animal Control looking for a very long, thick rattlesnake with a bunch of rattles on his (or her) tail about 4 inches long. Two years ago, almost to the day, we lost our CharlieGirl pug, 13 years old, pretty deaf and not seeing so good, to a rattlesnake in the same backyard.
Tonight, Karyn let Teddy Valentine, our young pug, out the sliding glass door for his evening romp in the grass and, oh, while you're out there, do your business. The pug takes off like a shot, out the door, scaring the snake into a rattling, hissing meanie with a bad attitude. Karyn is standing at the door and thinks she hears the sprinklers coming on...uh no, they came on at 8:30, just like they're programmed to do. She looks out across the spa and pool area, and out of the corner of her eye, she sees Mr. Slither's big bunch of rattles making a beeline for the side of the house.
Karyn, who is not a desert weenie, lets out a guttural-sounding howl, (OK, that's what it sounded like from my safe position in the library on the other side of the house surfing the web for something interesting---it's always right in front of your eyes, isn't it?). Actually, she was calling Teddy's name. He was so shocked that he ran back across the length of the backyard and into her arms, whereupon both of them hopped over the threshold, shut the slider and started shaking. By now, I've run to the family room, where the slider leading to the backyard is. Although my doggy's mama and my doggy play exuberantly, as a matter of course, this time I heard the roar of alarm in her voice when she called for the dog. She was afraid he'd run back toward the house, see the snake and try to make a new friend.
As Teddy was shaking (they both were), we checked him thoroughly for a snake bite and were grateful beyond saying that we found none. We had just scared the dog so much, he was a nervous wreck. As was I. Karyn remained fairly calm, but I believe I did notice a tremor in her voice. We had dodged a bullet, and we knew it. But...wither had gone Mr. Slither?
It turns out that the Animal Control guy doesn't come on duty until midnight, and our encounter with the snake happened around 11 p.m. So we waited, and called back at the stroke of midnight. He was on his way. But entering our property is no small feat because earlier this year, thinking we'd ensure our privacy, keep wild critters out of our yard, and not have to worry when the dogs were in the front yard and side courtyard, we fenced the property in. The fence is block walls on the sides and in the front, with wrought iron fencing across the driveway and across the entire width of the backyard. We put up netting across the lower two feet of the fencing in the backyard, but there's not much we could do about the small space between the driveway and the bottom of the electronic gate that stretches to nearly 40 feet. It was part of a major real estate face lift, a real curb appeal gesture to offset the steadily declining house values in Southern California. Botox for dirt, if you will. Lap band for berms.
Well, clearly, we have curb appeal because earlier in the evening, Karyn was sitting in the three-car garage, in the section devoted to sitting, looking out at the mountains, having some iced tea, giving the dogs some outdoor time before closing up for the night and talking to her sister Kimberly on the phone while waiting for me to get home from work. While sitting there, several events occurred that gave her a vague presentment of..."something." The only way I can explain it is to reference earthquakes. Some people claim their animals alerted them the day of or even moments before the earth began rumbling. As my dogs tend to sleep through all but the most remarkable of quakes, say, 6.0 or above, I cannot say the household pets have any such built-in alarm system for natural disasters, or other threats.
First, Pierre came back. Pierre is a frog who has lived in the pipe at the curb where our sprinkler system drains. Every summer, Pierre hangs out at our house. But last year, he took up with Pauline, and he hasn't been seen since. Until tonight. Karyn's chatting with Kim, and Pierre walks across the driveway as plump as you please, although sans Pauline. Later, Karyn said that now that she thought back, maybe Pierre was walking the perimeter, like a guard frog. Sort of.
Then the baby cottontail rabbits, the young, juicy ones and the wizened older (and faster) jack rabbits were hanging around the green grassy area near the fire hydrant across the street, and they all seemed especially skittish. Well, Dopey, Sleepy and Weepy were skittish; Jack was hyper-vigilant. But then, we have coyotes that have built various homes in the nearby hills under the scrub brush, about 200 feet from our fence, so, if you're a cottontail, especially a young one, you're skittish or you never grow old. Even a Senior jack rabbit, not as tasty to a coyote, but a decent meal for a rattler or a Mohave Green, can have the evening desert blues.
Then Karyn saw two preying mantis kids, one on the screen door that leads from the garage to the side yard, and one in the front courtyard. We haven't seen a preying mantis all year, and believe me, we've been praying for some as they like to dine on some of the less endearing spiders that live here.
Then, Richard, resident lizard, and Lord of the West Wall Manor, moved in bad stealth across the entire width of the three-car garage driveway looking for all the world like a Gila monster. You have to understand: Richard rarely leaves his West Wall Manor, unless his lizard wife, Liz, sends him to the pool for some deli. Dick does not go out for evening strolls. Something was up.
Earlier in the day, even Karyn was feeling a bit unsettled while sweeping out the garage. She picked up Teddy's toys and other garage decor that has a way of building up into small and meaningless piles. She said she did it because she had seen three black widows over the past week hanging out just outside the garage and near the front porch. And a tarantula on the warm wall (excuse me, Richard's West Wall Manor) in the zen garden, another area of the outdoors made pretty last year by Karyn with beautiful pepper trees, for abundant shade, Mexican river rock, for cool texture, and some potted Hollywoods, for the proverbial celebrity factor. I'm telling ya, this place so has curb appeal.
I got home, about 10 p.m., we sat in the garage having a glass of iced tea because it was very hot, and I was off the next day so had the luxury of staying up late. Suddenly Karyn jumped up and said, "Wow! Did you see that?" No, I hadn't. She described "it" as a round light that moved across the desert sky just above the mountaintop horizon and disappeared into the dessert. It wasn't an airplane. It wasn't a shooting star. It was...the light. Karyn said if I talk about this part everyone will think I'm nuts, but that's exactly what happened. It was eerie. Even though I didn't see it, the air had a feel about it that felt heavy with...'it.' Well, OK, that does sound nuts.
Naturally, in between spotting Mr. Slither and Animal Control arriving, Karyn wanted to go outside with a broom and "scare" the snake out of our yard. I had to refuse. She was clearly disappointed. She negotiated a compromise. If she put on her thick-soled hiking boots, carried the strongest flashlight and a long stick, I agreed to let her walk the yard with Animal Control, if, and only if, he looked like he knew what he was doing.
OK, enough background. You get the picture. So anyway----------yikes!
BREAKING NEWS: A guy just walked past the window in the library with a four-foot long rattlesnake with four inches of rattles!!! Well, first I saw Karyn run past the window---that was to open the gate. Wow...Animal Control is so cool! He had this long stick with some kind of prong and the snake was, willingly it seemed, wrapped around the prong.
I got used to mosquitoes and bumblebees and wasps in the Midwest; I got used to seeing rats in the ever-damp Northwest; I even got used to cockroaches in New York City (well, 'got used to' might be an exaggeration); but you know, I can't quite get that warm cozy feeling about rattlesnakes in the backyard.
In case you hadn't guessed by now, I am the desert weenie that my beloved refers to when she endearingly says, "Margaret, snake charmer. Not!"
KARYN'S SIDE OF THE STORY: She waited in the garage, grateful that it was only about 92F this evening. ::eye roll:: She waited alone, with the garage door closed, waiting for AC so she could open the gates. She heard his truck pull up, so she opened the gate from inside the garage, then opened the garage door when he got out of his truck. He walked toward her, and said "Yep, that a rattler, all right."
She looked at him, stunned. "How could he get out of the back yard so quickly," she asked. Then she saw what he was referring to---and it wasn't Mr. Slither. Nuh huh. It was Mr. Slither's younger brother, resting in the gutter. Oh my. Chris, the AC guy, a wonderful young man, very cute with spiky hair, thick boots and a sweet smile, walked toward Slither Jr. with his prong. (NOTE: Despite what you've read from an earlier contributor, there is no rattlesnake that "willingly" wraps itself around the prong. The prong is a gripper contraption that Chris used to grab the snake around it's neck, close to its head. So, literary license and romanticism notwithstanding, Slither Jr. was not a happy camper when put into the bucket with the lid on it).
She told Chris she really didn't think that was the snake in our backyard, and he agreed to check the place out. They walked through the yard with flashlights. Nothing. They checked behind every pot, and there are about 20 of them. They checked behind the palm trees, the olive tree and even the Dracena that was originally an indoor plant we moved from Studio City, and which has grown to seven times it's original height since coming to the desert. We checked behind all the gorgeous grasses she planted this past spring. She began to wonder if that had been such a good idea as she looked around the yard and patio and pool and saw no less than 45 good places to hide, if you're a snake. She told Chris to please check behind the pool equipment (that had been Margaret snake charmer's best guess as to where the snake probably went after having been scared scaleless by Teddy).
Chris walked carefully back behind the cement walls that enclose the pool equipment. "Wow, you were right," he called out. "He's right here." (Please give Margaret a round of applause as she's feeling a bit queasy right about now).
Chris found our guy, and he was even bigger, thicker and meaner-looking than she originally thought. But he's not mean. They don't want anything to do with us, really, and they do send out a memorable warning with that rattle/hiss sound they make. Apparently, it's the cottontails that draw them. And the water in the pool on a hot August night.
Chris said it really looked as though we'd done everything to our yard that could be done to protect ourselves and the dogs. The only thing left was to close up one small space near the Dracena that might have been Mr. Slither's front door to our back yard. Also, stay alert, listen, and don't feed the jacks and the bunnies no matter how badly you feel for them. Karyn did not admit feeding wildlife on any kind of regular basis....but she has been known to take the old lettuce, apples, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and dead boxes of cereal up the hill and spread out a little buffet for the critters.
Those, most likely, were the good old days. Mr. Slither was...memorable!
(NOTE: All Efforts have been made to represent Karyn's side of the story accurately and judiciously. This may or may not have actually been achieved).
MARGARET'S SIDE OF THE STORY (Ending): I am not feeling queasy. I am feeling vigilant, alert, and scared to death. But not queasy. Additionally, I believe I bring up an important issue when I put this question to my seven readers: Should people (no names mentioned) give proper names to critters that they don't actually own? I'm just saying...