Driving along the gravel road through Loyalsock
State Forest, coming back from a hike to Angel Falls--
something in the road ahead.
Something long and straight. A stick?
No, not a stick. Approaching,
we see it is a snake, and stopping
a little ways before it, we see clearly it is
a rattlesnake. We pull up closer,
a close rattlesnake viewing,
from the safety of the car.
Timber rattler. Dark, almost black.
Somewhere between three and four feet long.
A beauty of a rattlesnake—
if beauty is the word
for a rattlesnake.
I have an impulse
to get out of the car and urge it onward,
but my wife says, No,
and of course she’s right,
why tempt fate, and another car
might not pass on this woods road for hours.
So we sit and watch, and now the snake
has noticed that something is going on.
What does the snake brain make
of the large object looming nearby?
Picked up by tongue? Snakes don’t have ears,
but they do hear vibrations
in the bones of their jaws,
I’m told. We’ve got the windows open.
We’re talking, making perceptive comments like,
"Wow, look at it!"
And now it is not
stretched out straight, it has stopped
its forward progress, and gone
into a semi-coil. It is looking back
over its shoulder
which it doesn’t have,
looking up toward us, its triangular head rising
six inches off the ground.
It does not go so far as to rattle.
It reassesses, it eases, and turns again,
continues its slow slither
to the edge of the road, and then
off into the rocks
and the mountain laurel bushes.
Majestically, might be the word for it.
When I get home, I do a little research.
I shouldn’t be surprised,
but there are dozens of Youtube videos of rattlesnakes—
apparently a whole sub-culture
of rattlesnake aficianados,
people who enjoy finding them
for various reasons.
People in shorts and boots.
Some harass them.
They like to hear the rattler’s buzz.
You can’t really blame them.
It is a thrilling sound.
And that’s what rattlesnakes, and their rattles,
are made for, isn’t it?
Others are scientists, taking a census,
taking measurements, before they release them.
Some are just hikers,
carrying their phones with them of course,
so they stop and record a minute or two
of rattlesnake encounter—
minimal drama, no plot, no meaning,
just the rattlesnake
on the trail, and its slow withdrawing.
Legless terrestrial, hearing with its bones,
sampling the air
with flickering forked tongue.
What does it see
through the slits of its eyes?
It cruises slowly through eternity.
It slithers along. Gliding—
majestically, might be the word for it.
I’m not sure what the word for it is.