You Lookin’ at ME?

Yesterday, after we finished scrambling up and down streambanks and walking over gently sloped hillsides covered with pine straw, my husband and I headed back to the car. He had walked on ahead a few yards and was turned around in my direction when he saw a slithering not far from me. Experienced Boy Scout that he was, he did not yell “look out” or “freeze” or “stand where you are,” he uttered one emphatic word that instantly stopped me in my tracks. “SNAKE.”
I froze and quickly looked around me.
“In front of you and to your left about 7 feet.” Gingerly, I backed up and took the long way back up to the road.
He, of course, the intrepid and curious cameraman, had to investigate.

It was a rattler, and we were the interlopers. We gave the snake space and respect. It had already wound itself up into a neat coil and was ready to defend itself – firstly, by being smaller and inconspicuous, and secondly, if necessary, by striking.
My husband knew, of course, that it could only strike at 2/3 of its length, and it appeared to be about 3 feet in length (he had seen it extended, slithering.)

He offered to take a picture from a safe distance. “Don’t you want to draw it?” he asked.
What a guy! He knew I did.
I nervously hopped on one foot and the other and made frantic little yikesy noises as he approached it to get a better shot for me.
So the snake lived happily ever after and so did my husband, and I have a sketchbook entry to show for it.

From looking at photos on the net, my best guess is that this is a Crotalus oreganus helleri., which looks a lot like your generic diamondback rattler. I read that the western diamondback rattler has now been divided into 7 distinct species, but that taxonomy is disputed. Whatever you want to call it, it is a venomous pit viper, and unlike some other snake species, its babies are born alive and loaded with poison from the get-go.

Rattlers are known to be aggressive. They prey on small rodents, birds and insects, but are themselves vulnerable to birds of prey. Deer, cows and other large mammals will stomp them to death, so they are necessarily fearful of large warm bodies (like ours.)
We couldn’t hear the snake rattling, but the photo showed a blur where a neat tail should be, so I’m guessing that it was quivering slightly.
Did you know that rattlers can SWIM and hold their rattle delicately out of the water when they do? I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that they often lose their fangs when biting and always have a spare pair in reserve.

I don’t have a fear of snakes, per se, but I do have a healthy respect for them. The sight of one doesn’t send me away screaming and I will gladly hold a small boa or other small non-venomous snake if it is offered. Our son had a green snake named Stretch which I helped care for. So this experience didn’t panic me or discourage me from painting in woods and gullies. But it will certainly teach me to wear hiking boots instead of old sneakers on our next outing.

Tomorrow: a watercolor portrait or a wildflower moment …


  1. Ann Fortenberry
    May 30, 2006

    I’m too speechless to make a comment except bravo, brave you!

  2. Karen
    May 30, 2006

    Oh, Annie, I didn’t paint this one from life, that’s for sure! But I do thank my dear one for grabbing me a reference photo. I’d draw anything from behind a glass wall, though. ‘Cept a T-rex maybe. I know how those movies end.

  3. Lin
    May 30, 2006

    OH MY GOSH!!! GREAT job, Karen!! Reminds me of the 6 footer (black snake) I found on my front porch — what a surprise!! A photo of him i s on my blog!

  4. Tami
    May 31, 2006

    Well Karen, all I can say is , at least they warn us that they are there, USUALLY! I like your description of hopping from one foot to the other while your husband took the picture, I would have been doing the
    same, thing! We don have to wathch out for the beasties out here! Great drawing!

  5. TeriC
    May 31, 2006

    YIKES, I’m with you Karen, back slowly away but still have that strong desire to capture the moment. Thank goodness for photographers/husbands. Beautiful job on this.

  6. Karen
    May 31, 2006

    Lin, I saw that snake! On your porch, my goodness what a shock.

    Tami … I am always that way, when he wants to go to the edge of a cliff to get a better view. I’m such a fraidy-cat, choosing to err on the side of caution. But I do like to get a good look, too.

    Jhana … I believe that painting and drawing are acquired skills that anyone can develop with practice, including you! Yes, all you need to do is set aside some time for study and work and you can do it too.

    Teri, thank you. I thought that was very nice of him to offer. He just knew how much I wanted to include it in my journal!

  7. Slywy
    May 31, 2006

    What about a velociraptor? :)

    I love snakes!

  8. Karen
    May 31, 2006

    Oh, I don’t think I’d like to meet a velociraptor in the woods, thank you very much!
    I’d like to draw the bones of one, though.

  9. pink
    May 31, 2006


    I’m so afraid of snakes….

  10. Donn
    May 31, 2006

    What a wonderful painting of the rattlesnake! You certainly have a way with watercolors. That face is something else!

  11. Fran aka Redondowriter
    May 31, 2006

    Yikes! Like you, I have a healthy respect for snakes, but little fear. I was raised in Sunland and snakes were a daily part of life. There was a bounty on rattlers in those day and my dad would kill them with a shovel and bring in the rattlers. Way to go with a fearless husband!

    As for your saxophone dream, I like your interpretation very much.

  12. Jennafer
    May 31, 2006

    Neato! And great painting!

  13. Don West
    May 31, 2006

    So you’re the Marlin Perkins type eh?

    Remember the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom series from the 60’s and 70’s? Usually on the TV on Sunday afternoon.
    Old Marlin would stand a safe distance away, in his safari duds, and “Jim” would wrassle the aligator or pick
    up the snake, or run like hell from the wild boar…whatever he was getting paid to do I suppose.
    Marlin did the commentary and of course mentioned how dangerous the animals were that Jim was tinkering with.

    Don’t feel bad…I’m the Marlin type too :-) Anybody with a lick a sense would choose to be Marlin given the choice :-)

  14. Malinda
    June 2, 2006

    LOL Don!!!! I grew up watching Wild Kingdom, too! Poor Jim! The Anaconda was always my fav! We went to the St Louis Zoo last summer and they have one, my first thought was, “where’s Jim?”

    Karen, bully to you for having respect and not fear! I’m trying to raise my kids that way and to keep my DH from imparting his fear of stinging insects on them! “Just stand still, all they want are the flowers!” Yes, boots would be a good thing, I bet you won’t forget that! We don’t have that many poisonous ones here, but we see the occasional copperhead or cottonmouth on our hikes. They get pointed out, photographed and skirted around, respectfully.

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