John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 9-17-12
Friends of ours bought a property in the northern San Luis Valley that turned out to have a renowned concentration of rattlesnake dens.
On one border of the property, a serpentine rock formation, clearly man-made and possibly erected by the Utes, proved to be more than ornamental. It might have been a warning, or marker for the gathering of rattlers. Our friends built a cabin on the property before fully grasping the significance of that rock formation.
It is well known to locals that rattlers occupy the south-facing portions of the Sawatch Range of the San Juans, while only about a dozen miles east to the Sangre de Christos, a rattler has never been seen. The Sangres face the western side of the Valley, and the Sangres are liberally populated with bull snakes.
On our friend’s property, however, there was a time when three to four large rattlers were seen every day: under trees, sunning against the south side of the cabin, curled up in doorways, and even in the house, on the bed, or on a shelf. On one memorable occasion a bolus of rattlers was witnessed: dozens of three to four footers slithering in a thriving ball of reptilian affection. That made quite an impression. Fortunately, it was not inside the cabin.
After years of human occupation of the cabin, the frequency of sitings has diminished somewhat, but large numbers are still evident in spring and fall.
Instead of fighting the rattlers, our friend realized she had to live with them.
I mention here without prejudice, or intending to generalize beyond my own experience, that I have noticed women are generally less hostile toward snakes than men. The man of the cabin, for instance, shoots snakes on sight. His wife is the one who prefers to live and let live.
“Snakes have been living here for millennium,” she said, “and snakes are very territorial. They like their hunting grounds and will travel up to 50 or 60 miles to get to them. Nothing stops them. If they come to a construction site or road, or, in our case, a structure, they just side-wind their way right through it.”
She did note however, that being bit by a rattlesnake is not something one can mess around with. It is her understanding that snakes of different regions have different “cocktails” of toxins, those being both hemotoxins (blood poisons) and neurotoxins (nerve toxins). If you are bit, and go to the hospital, it requires a range of treatments, and the antiserum has a shelf life.
She was told that full treatment for a snakebite from a rattler with full venom could cost upwards of $100,000. That’s right — over $100,000 if the snake’s venom is full potency and contains an unusual mix of toxins. There have been reports of hospital bills for a rattler bite treatment reaching $150,000. Full treatment can require a complex menu of antivenom serums and a prolonged hospital stay to repair damaged tissue.
Our friend has not been bitten, but wears protective “snake pads” on her shins. The combination of her accommodation, and her husband’s bullets, have arrived a balance of human and reptilian nature. ❖
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