We were perched on the edge of a 50 foot cliff. Red rock covered with black and chartreuse algae. Winter was turning into spring in the lush desert outside Sedona. I spent most evenings meditating on the cliff’s edge as the sun set.
We had been in this spot for a while, so I could dodge the cacti intuitively with my bare feet. I skipped out to the edge 25 foot from the Scamp. As I approached the ledge, I caught a familiarly jarring shape in my peripheral. The tight circular coil of the rattlesnake. Near invisible in its home. I love snakes, but my heart still flutters when I see one in the wild. Something about their shape awakens the animal in the oldest areas of my brain.
I took a deep breath to slow my heart rate and relax. The snake was motionless in its coiled position. I walked out on the ledge next to her on the edge of the cliff. The rock jutted out next to her forming a wide plank. I stepped out on the plank and sat a couple feet from the snake, with an L shaped gap between us. The snake would have to jump the gap to get to join me on the plank.
When I got too close her black tongue fluttered, I nodded and kept my distance. Sitting with the snake I studied her beautiful patterns and shape. We sat like this for over an hour as the sun set.
Meditating on the cliff’s edge, just feet from a wild rattlesnake was a powerful experience. My eyes were closed a good bit of the time, occasionally squinting open, mindful of the powerful animal’s position and demeanor.
Not once did she rattle, even as I approached with a camera. We had a mutual level of respect established. The language of the tongue flick and head position communicated all that was necessary.
I headed into the Scamp as the sun set. I would have let the snake be sooner, but I wanted to see where she went. Our Scamp was set up just 20 feet from her perch, and our curious little cat-doge named Kamp would likely agitate her if he had the chance.
I woke with the sun the next morning and found the rattlesnake in the exact same position on the edge of the cliff. I likely cooled her down too much as the sun went down the night before. Since the snake was cold and therefor slow, I decided to move her up away from the campground. I would have felt better just letting the snake be, but if any other human in the area saw her, she’d quickly be headless.
I fashioned myself a snake hook, grabbed a Rubbermaid tub and made my way back to the cliff. I approached slowly, reading the rattlesnake’s energy, hoping she wouldn’t dart off the cliff. I was couple feet from the snake at this point, Rubbermaid at my side, with my hook just above the snake’s coiled body. The closer I got the more rapidly her tongue flickered, but she remained motionless.
I gently poked the snake with my stick, her coil rose into a poised position as she prepared for confrontation. The snake gently moved backward, head high, neck an S shape. I slid my stick under the snake’s belly as she lengthened away from me. Once the stick was at her mid point I lifted the snake toward the tub. She woke her piercing rattle for the first time as I put the lid on the tub. The sound of a snake’s rattle in the silent desert is like no other noise I’ve experienced. Awakening every fiber of my consciousness.
I securely fastened the lid and giggled to myself as I let out a “Kroike” in Steve Irwin’s honor. I hopped in the car with the tub in the back and drove a couple miles from where humans frequently camped. I walked with the tub full of danger noodle into the forest. Once got to a place I thought a snake would enjoy, I opened the tub and let the beautiful critter be. She didn’t strike or show hostility a single time in our entire encounter. Only rattling as I levitated her on my stick into the darkness of the tub. I took a few photos, smiled and let the rattlesnake be.
A year later I sat with a plant medicine and met the familiar serpent spirit. I had encountered a prismatic serpent in a psychedelic state before, and it was jarring to say the least. This time though I was at peace. I interacted with calm humility.
The first realization I had in this interaction is, “snakes are scary because they’re scared”. Even venomous snakes are fragile creatures. If an animal steps on a snake, it will likely die. Reptiles are in perfect harmony with nature, harvesting the majority of their energy from the sun. Warming their cold blood on desert rocks. Eating only once a month, preying on the most feeble and fearful of creatures.
I have never encountered an aggressive snake. They would always prefer to escape, but if threatened the snake is powerful enough to kill a full grown human.
This simple realization can be translated into the context of humans. The scariest and most venomous people are often the most fearful and fragile.