I had never seen a rattlesnake in the wild. But I wanted to.
Some of my friends thought I was crazy to go searching for a rattlesnake. Dangerous creatures, they explained. Venomous. Bite you and you’ll have to have your arm amputated, just like in the movie True Grit.
But the truth is that there are only about three bites a year in British Columbia, and those occur primarily because someone has tried to handle the snake.
I had no intention of trying to handle a rattlesnake. I just wanted to see one.
And if the worst were to occur? Well, I took comfort in the sign at Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park that told me what to do if I were bitten: “Go directly to the hospital in Vernon. You will be fine. In many cases, no venom will be injected. Do not apply a tourniquet. Do not make cuts and suck the venom. Both of these actions can be more dangerous than the bite.”
Although the Western Rattlesnake is venomous, it is actually quite shy and tries to avoid contact with humans. Its venom is intended to kill its prey, such as small rodents and mice, not to kill large animals, like humans. They only attack in self-defence.
There really wasn’t much to worry about.
So with a lilt to my step, positivity in my demeanor, and a week of hiking booked off to find my rattlesnake, I headed into Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, chosen for the simple reason that a friend told me that a friend of hers had seen three rattlesnakes there recently. As it turned out, the friend of a friend had seen the rattlesnakes near Osoyoos, a 2.5-hour drive further south, but I was not to know that until much later.
For three days, I hiked every trail in the park, at every time of the day, hiking quietly, scouring the south-facing talus slopes, crawling over outcrops of rock, stirring the long grass with my hiking poles. With place names within the park like Rattlesnake Hill, Rattlesnake Point, and Sidewinder Trail, you would think it would be easy to find a rattlesnake, or any kind of snake for that matter.
But there was nothing. Every crackle in the grass that I explored turned out to be a bird. Every elongated shadow in the distance a stick. Every hint of a rattle just a rustling leaf. If there was a rattlesnake anywhere in this park, it didn’t want to show itself. So I gave up my search, put my camera away, and just enjoyed the hiking.
On the fourth day, I almost stepped on my rattlesnake. My foot came down not six inches from it. And I must have startled it awake because it was late in warning me with its rattle.
It was a beautiful snake, all the more so because it was my snake. I was looking for a snake and this is the one that obliged me. There was no drama, no attack, no danger, only respect on my part for the role this fabulous creature plays in this fragile ecosystem. He posed for me while I fumbled with my iPhone to get a picture. And then we left one another in peace.
And for that experience, I am thankful.