Oct 262009

Many, many years ago, my young Newfoundland Tillie and I were hiking down the Rio Grande near Santa Fe, several miles from the nearest road. It was one of those perfect days where the sun seems to warm every inch of your body while a gentle breeze keeps you cool, and the concerns of life seem far away indeed.  Tillie was trotting a few yards ahead of me, off-leash, when my reverie was shattered… tillie

Have you ever heard the screech of tires coming toward you? The sound of failing metal brakes struggling to stop a freight train about to impact your car? The sound of millions of voices crying out in terror and suddenly silenced? A high power electrical transformer exploding? The clattering chain dragging your roller-coaster car towards the looming brink? Imagine them all combined into one piercing-deafening-heart-stopping-shriek-of-a-rattle. Even if you have never heard that sound, there is an ancestral memory woven deep in your genes that tells every fiber in your body and soul to contract. I froze and called Tillie to me, and she happily trotted over, apparently unconcerned by the deathly sound.  Inches from where she had been I saw the largest, angriest rattlesnake that has ever lived.  Normally I love snakes, and gently remind people that they are an integral part of nature that will not hurt us if we leave them alone, but standing there, feeling how close Tillie had been to death, I was less benevolent and rather more terrified. I could almost see the poison dripping from his fangs and eyes, as I returned his icy stare. Tillie and I retreated a few feet, and I held her closely as she licked me with an “I have no idea why you are suddenly hugging me, but okay…” look on her face…

After a few minutes I was calm and began trying to figure out a way around the giant serpent who filled the only available trail.  I tried various methods to encourage him to depart, all to no avail.  Finally, anxious to get to our favorite swimming spot, I hatched a plan. (Have you noticed that plans that are “hatched” almost always end badly…) I put Tillie in a down-stay and found a long, hefty stick with a sort of a “Y” on the end, and I cautiously but swiftly scooped the snake with the stick and flung him into the river.

Of course, what Tillie saw was me carefully selecting a lovely fetching stick, as I had done many times, and flinging THAT into the river. And so, before I could utter a word, she was up, into the river and swimming powerfully towards the western-diamondback-stick which was swimming towards me with astonishing rapidity.  For the second time in 5 minutes my heart leapt into my mouth and I tried to call her back but she either could not hear over the river or perhaps figured she would come just as soon as she had the stick in her mouth.  Fortunately, I still had the real stick in my hand, and in a moment of clarity decided to fling it between Tillie and the snake.  She grabbed the closer stick, turned, and came back to me…  Ever since then I have proofed stays and recalls rather more creatively and diligently!

 October 26, 2009  Posted by at 7:04 am

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