The other night I was on the way home from a family gathering and ran across a snake in the road. I pulled right over. Discovering that the snake was alive, I backed up, turned on my flashers and positioned my car back in the road behind the snake so that no one could run it over. It was a little late for a snake to be sunning itself on the asphalt but I was hopeful. I got out to investigate. A rattler, probably about 4 or 5 years old. Although its coils were still moving — slowly, as always; I have never seen one of these things actually get up any speed — its head was not coming up, and, as close as I was getting to it, I knew this was not a good thing. About this time, a young man in a BMW with a few friends in back came screeching around the corner and narrowly missed my car. He careened on down the road, and I got back to trying to figure out if I could help the snake. Some movement but that head still did not come up even as I got closer. A few minutes later, the young man in the BMW came back to see if I needed any help. I told him what I was doing, which seemed not only to confuse him but make him faintly disgusted. (His personal headline: Crazy middle-aged snake lady causes a pile up on Camino Real.)
Just as he was pulling away again — alas, towards the direction he had originally come from — two more cars stopped and pulled over. One was a couple about my age and the other a young family in a van. Both the men got out, while the mother in the van tried to explain why the girls, who wanted very badly to see the snake, could not get out. She told them it was a dangerous snake, but kept the sliding side door open so the girls could watch from good vantage. Their father approached the snake with what amounted, really, to a long twig. The other man was right behind him, giving him the assistance of good, clear directions. Unhappily by this time the snake was dead. But the man with the twig got it on the twig and moved it to the side of the road. Just then, the young man in the BMW, having turned around and got going in his original direction again, came speedily by and offered up that we were stopped at a dangerous curve in the road (which, if taken at the speed he was going, was true enough). We all nodded and, snake moved to the side of the road, got back in our cars and went on.
This is one of the things I love about living in Tucson. Unless people are afraid of it, they seem to respect and even revere wildlfe. After all, we all stopped our cars to check on that rattlesnake and try to help it, and they are certainly quite foreign to most of us. We’re not sure how to be around them. I have come across a few rattlers sunning themselves in the road and have never had any problems convincing them to move along before a car comes along. But I’ve always seen them before they saw me, so to speak, and so my approach upon them felt safe to me. My neighbor Laura had that very uncomfortable experienc of coming upon one in her patio and not seeing it before it had to warn her off. She said she has never, never had such a clear message. In that instance, she did call Rural Metro Fire, as she has dogs. They came and removed the snake, which so often means the death of the snake because they have such high site fidelity. (Interestingly when several members of our neighborhood, which is in the county, attended a meeting a few months ago about the possibility of being absorbed into the City of Tucson, one of the things that came up is that the Tucson Fire Department will not do snake removals. I was surprised how many people seemed to think that was a deal breaker.) My sister’s favorite local herpatologist, Phil Rosen, says that snakes need only the faintest of blows in the road to experience mortal injuries. They are that delicate.