I’ve been living here along the border for over twenty years. There is much I appreciate about the desert and the culture of this thorny, complicated place. Over time I’ve come to accept the things I cannot change like dry skin, a perpetually dusty house, and a surplus of biting bugs. But in all these years, I’ve been unable to shake the queasiness I experience when I encounter a rattlesnake.
This past season we were besieged by snakes. Some we found in the airplane hangars among garden tools and paint cans. Others had coiled up in woodpiles and under tires. Ron took care of them with a small .22 magnum loaded with snake shot he carries in his back pocket, causing me to wonder, Isn’t there a better way? Then in October, a four-and-a-half foot rattlesnake came out from under our refrigerator and slithered past me trailing one-third of its body across my foot; leaving behind the rattles’ buzz inside my bones. A week later I met another rattlesnake on the stairs leading to our basement. After sensing my presence, it reared up to strike, but instead fell backwards and tumbled to the basement revealing a death-like white belly on its way down.
Because killing isn’t in my nature, I had a difficult time reconciling the dilemma. If I didn’t eliminate the rattlesnakes, the humans and animals that inhabit and visit the ranch were endangered. When I was forced to take a shovel to a snake that threatened my dogs, I reminded myself I had set boundaries. Snakes were not welcome here.
Sensing the frost that hit this country in early December, the snakes hightailed it underground for the winter. In a couple of months they will surface from their dens and join us in the garden, out in the yard, and near the house to bask in the sunshine. Killing them isn’t the answer, so we have solicited the advice of local herpetologists at the Chihuahua Desert Museum who can help us find a better solution to control the problem. We all have a right to be here—my family, our animals, and the snakes, but because of our respective links on the food chain, it will be on our terms.
Since our snake troubles began, I’ve been examining the boundaries in my own life. The ones I break because I want to be liked, or because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Worrying about what others think has often kept me from standing up for myself. I can’t carry a shovel in my purse to use when I want to make a point, but I can dip the metaphorical tip of my boot in the sand and draw a line. Teachers and mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Today, I thank the rattlesnake for the lessons it has taught me.