Rocky Hill had few trees and lots of rocks and cliffs. It was just the place for climbing and an adventure. By picking my way slowly and pulling myself up some rocks I thought I would be able to gradually work my way to the summit. From there I would be able to see the whole valley stretched out before me. I planned my route and calculated my time from start to finish. To add to the fun I invited three friends, Tom, Linda, and Kathleen, to go with me. Tom and I would carry the picnic supplies up to the top and while all of us surveyed the world we would dine in leisure. I was nineteen, bold, brave, and thought I could do anything and everything. I still had much to learn.
The next day we packed our lunches and started out at 9 a.m., late enough to miss the morning chill, but early enough to still be cool as we wove our way through the rocks, climbing those that stood in our way, backtracking and changing course when necessary. Tom and I carried the backpacks easily at first but the rocky terrain and gravity gradually worked at us, and we stopped occasionally for a brief respite.
We were half way up the hill when we took five minutes to catch our breath, look up to see where we needed to go, and down to see where we had been. Ten feet just below us, on a rock ledge we had crossed a minute earlier, lay a snake. I studied it from my safe position, decided it was asleep, and made a quick, ridiculous plan. “Hey,” I announced. “There’s a large rattlesnake down there.” I pointed down and they noticed it for the first time. “I’m glad we didn’t find it and it didn’t find us,” Tom stated. I smiled and shook my head. “Let me see what I can do,” I said as I shed my backpack and started back down.
They watched in horror as I eased my way back down the cliff. I was fascinated with the snake and wary, but the rattlesnake was oblivious to my presence. It was lying in the middle of a four foot wide rock ledge. On one side of the ledge was a drop-off of twenty feet. The other side was a steep rock wall. I slipped up beside the snake, standing next to the drop-off. I picked up a large five pound rock and lifted it high over my head. “Watch this,” I said to my friends. I slammed the rock down on the serpent’s head. I watched in disbelief as the rock split in half. I had not noticed that the snake was lying in a fissure and the natural cleft had taken most of the force away from the snake.
The rattlesnake rose in fury, rising chest high and spinning round and round, its tongue flickering left and right, towards me and away from me. I could not step back without going over the sheer drop-off and the snake blocked my way in all other directions. I stood frozen, my blood cold, my heart pounding and ringing in my ears. Above me I could hear excited whispers but they made no sense. I could only focus on the snake’s eyes and tongue. It had been stunned by the blow, its senses dulled, and it continued turning its head to the left, to the right, and finally looked directly at me. I was sure the snake was focused on me, looking deeply into my eyes and soul. I stared back, unable to move or breathe. Seconds slipped by. It seemed like an eternity. Finally the rattlesnake lowered itself and began gliding back into the crevice. I watched in amazement, weak and soaked with perspiration. I only moved after I saw the rattles disappear. I breathed deeply, feeling alive again. I glanced around making sure there were no other snakes before I clambered up the rocks to safety.
“I think that rattlesnake was way over seven feet in length,” Tom said later. “That was the biggest rattlesnake I’ve ever seen. I haven’t even heard about any rattlesnake that big. You could have been killed.”
“I had everything under control,” I murmured with false bravado, although I knew I had just had a close encounter with death.
We did not finish our climb, but opted to go home. The girls had lost their appetites. The picnic was over and Tom said he didn’t feel like continuing up the mountain. He also questioned my sanity so I finally agreed the outing was over but announced there would be a next time, a next place, and a new adventure.
I told this story over and over again, to believers and those who thought I made up the story. I thought no one listened but one day a new chapter developed. Some relatives and I were fishing along the rocky shore of a large lake. As we fished we exchanged yarns and stories to pass the time. My six year old nephew overheard me telling some friends about the rattlesnake and heard me warn them about snakes in the area. He continued playing in the sand by the edge of the lake, not paying attention to the fact we were getting farther away. He got up and began walking in our direction. The walk turned into a run. We heard a frightened cry, “Aaaaagh!” He ran terrified, trying to escape. Behind him trailed an unknown thing (Later he told us he thought it was a rattlesnake). What we saw was a clump of fishing line. It was caught on one of his shoes and no matter how fast he ran the fishing line jumped and ran with him. He screamed over and over as he raced to us, sure we could get rid of the snake. We were unable to keep from laughing as the scene unfolded before us. I grabbed him and pulled the line free from his shoe. The crisis was over. The snake was gone. Now he was mad because we had laughed at his predicament. It didn’t matter that we knew there was no snake after him. We had laughed at his expense. The snake had won once more.
By Dan Roberson 3/16/09