Jack wrote this in June, 2005:
Out in the currently vacant chicken house I found a rattlesnake skin the other day. It was in one of the layer boxes, so I don’t know how long it was there before I noticed it. But it caused me to do some thinking about old brother rattler and what manner of nuisance he’s likely to make of himself if he’s still around.
I’m a man who holds rattlers in fairly high regard, but with a lot of respect for their clumsy bad manners when it comes to getting underfoot. I usually try to keep enough of an eye on the places they like to show up unexpectedly to avoid offending them, and when I can corner them I’ll carry them off into some likely spot well away from humans. Mostly they’re just minding their own business, trying to make a living the same as everyone else and don’t have the good sense to keep themselves out of harm’s way when humans are around.
This one looked a lot bigger last year (I’m assuming it’s the same one) when I lifted up a piece of plywood in a pile of debris in the corner of the lot and let out an involuntary yelp as I jumped backward in time to avoid his strike. That skin shows him to be about two feet long, but I’d have called him an easy four from my brief look at him.
Rattlers are few at this altitude, and the one who slithered off into the cane leaving me to to decide whether to just breathe a while and let my pulse slow down, or take another tug at that plywood is almost certainly the previous owner of that skin in the chicken house.
Rattlers are lucky where it comes to changing their skins. Happens year after year, but generally they don’t change much. People aren’t so lucky in that regard. We change our skins a lot of times in this life, and in a sense we leave the old ones lying around to be examined by everyone with an interest in who we are, making assumptions based on the old skin.
The other night I was down at the Range Cafe in Bernallilo …. met a bunch of old guys my age down there… retirees from the Los Alamos labs…. nuclear physicists who’ve shed their old skins and discovered they’ve let their lives slither off into the bush without doing a lot of things they wish they’d done. Now they’re all off living other places, but decided to rendezvous down here for a hurrah into the mountains, looking for a lost gold mine.
I have a notion I’d have barely been able to tolerate those men in their younger days. There’s a nuance about value judgements involving working on nuclear weapon development that would have influenced my thinking about them.
But these guys had left all that behind, shed that skin and now just wanting to slither off into the canyons, spend some time chewing the fat over a fire and stomp around looking for a lost mine and taking joy in being around one another again.
Strange place we’ve chosen to spend a reality, thinks I.