After David and Judith tucked their two granddaughters in bed, Judith searched the internet for information about Rattlesnakes. She was happy to find that their rented Spring Break condominium had internet. Soon she was on line and able to learn that there are many varieties of rattlesnake, including ten different species in Texas alone. She read that the Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox) is the snake credited with most of Texas’ serious cases of venom poisoning. Her research seemed to indicate that this was the snake to which the signs next to their beach access path on Mustang Island referred.
Do not walk in the sand dunes.
Stay on the boardwalk.”
The next morning a sea fog greeted them as they stood on their third floor balcony gazing at what should have been a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico. They could see the boardwalk gently climbing over the dunes but, at its apex, all they could see was white fog. It silhouetted the grasses and plants on the top of the dunes but completely masked the ocean beyond. They could hear the roar of the waves mingled with the call of seagulls, and smelled a salty wetness in the air; but otherwise they could have been anywhere. The girls were ready for adventure, so they were soon walking the boardwalk toward the shore. Judith made sure that everyone read the rattlesnake sign and added her own warning that rattlesnakes are not to be trifled with.
They played on the beach all morning. David dug a hole and Judith and the girls sculpted the pile of sand, which he created, into a ‘sea monster.’ No one was sure what a sea monster might look like on the beach but they had to admit that it bore a remarkable resemblance to a crocodile. By lunch-time a sea breeze had blown up and the fog was gone but it was cold on the shore so the girls asked to swim in the condominium’s heated outdoor pool.
Hours later, when they returned to the beach, someone had reworked the sea monster into a magnificent sand sculpture of a snake entwined around a sand castle. Its head at the apex had an exaggerated carved eye which convinced Judith that the sculptor was a real artist. The girls rushed up to destroy the sculpture. Judith intervened, she said that she liked its art and pleaded with them to leave it unspoiled. For some strange reason she saw it as an embodiment of Moses’s carved snake on a pole used to prevent death from snake bite among the traveling Israelites.
Instead, they played ball, sometimes kicking the ball close to the dunes,
“Don’t get too close to the dunes,” warned Judith, “I don’t want anyone to venture into the dunes.”
“It looks OK to me.” said David; but he still remembered his own encounter with a rattler of almost fifty years ago. The event was as vivid to him today as on the day that it happened. Although he knew that the story was not new he had to tell it. He derived vicarious pleasure in the narration.
“One college summer vacation, I worked on a road crew. It was hot dirty work! But that’s what you did back then!” David nodded at his audience to make sure that they were listening. They nodded back; they knew the tale verbatim. “As I was saying; hot, dirty work. One day I was walking through the desert scrub when I almost stepped on a basking ratter. I heard a hollow sound like the dry rattle of old bones. It was the rattler’s tail. Just in time, I looked down and saw a huge snake poised in a strike position”.
“How big, how big?” asked the children. They knew that the rattler got bigger with each narration.
David stretched his arms wide, “Oh about this, maybe six feet long. So, I looked down and saw a huge snake poised in a strike positon. It must have been yea long – perhaps six feet and fat! I froze with one foot aloft. While I balanced motionless on one leg I stared ahead and tried to avoid its eyes. For a long time the snake and I remained motionless. There was no sound except the scary rattle of its tail. Then it dropped its head and just slithered off into the adjacent grasses.”
The two grandchildren knew the conclusion to David’s story and now both stood on one foot nodding with serious faces. Judith watched the children. She wondered what they were thinking. Her nocturnal research had told her that the best defense against a rattler is immobility just as David had done. She hoped that should either of the children meet a rattler they would act likewise.
The next morning was windy with a clear sky and warm sun. They decided to fly kites. They tried to assemble the kites at the widening of the boardwalk right before it descended to the beach. One of the kite struts slipped out of its package and fell through a gap in the boardwalk planks. David, without thought of the rattler warning, slipped between the boardwalk guardrail bars and climbed underneath to retrieve the piece. Judith watched in disbelief. What would happen if David encountered a snake? Surely the hidden place under the boardwalk was a perfect place for baby rattlers. Baby rattlers also have venomous strikes but before they shed their skins they have no rattles. Judith watched in anguish but all was well and David emerged with the missing strut.
It took them some time to get the kites aloft because the wind was so strong. When they deduced that the kites needed extra tails as ballast things went better. Initially they tried attaching sea weed but then discovered that the long thin packages that the kites had come in made excellent tail extensions. Indeed, they discovered that these extensions could be adjusted by the addition of sand. Everything was going fine with two kites aloft and the kite strings fully extended when one of the girls dropped her tether. For a moment it looked as though the kite might fly off on its own, but instead it took a nose dive into the dunes.
David didn’t hesitate. He ran to the boardwalk and when he got to the part closest to the lost toy he scrambled through the side of the boardwalk and walked toward it. As soon as Judith realized what was happening she ran up the boardwalk to be as close as possible. She was about to call out a warning when she saw him glance at her. He didn’t wave, but turned and continued on toward the toy. Suddenly, just before he reached his goal, he stopped and stood motionless with one foot in the air. Judith had often seen him balance thus in the gym.
© Jane Stansfeld April 2015