Sorcery on the Trail?

We saw quite a few snakes on trail in the first few hundred miles, but there’s one day in particular that stands out as perhaps delivering a message.

Our Five Snake Day

On a twenty-mile day into the I 10 “Oasis,” we were thrilled by the dramatically changing landscape. We began the day at a gorgeous 7,700-foot-high campsite, our tents covered in snow, with spectacular views of snowy San Jacinto to the southeast and the valley floor plummeting below. We broke camp quickly and started hiking “bold and cold.”

The trail began a steady descent and we marveled at the changing landscape, gigantic sculptural boulders, and quickly-warming temperature.

Snake One

Lizard was hiking in front of me and greeted a garter snake on trail that quickly shot into the brush. I mentioned that I thought today would be our first on-trail rattlesnake sighting and that when it happened, I hoped the three of us (me & my two hiking partners) would be together and the rattlesnake would kindly let us regard her from a safe distance.

Snake Two

Less than two hours later, while we three hiked together, Lizard almost inadvertently impaled the rattlesnake with her pole. The rattlesnake immediately rattled a warning, and we all stumbled back as the snake lazily slid horizontally across our path. And stayed there. We waited. We thanked her for allowing us to regard her and asked her to kindly move along. She stayed; we waited. We tossed a couple of stones in her general direction, encouraging relocation off the trail. She continued to lounge, her midsection distended, giving the appearance of having recently finished a sizable meal. It became clear that the apparently-digesting rattler was staying put. We climbed up and over some boulders, rejoining the trail a safe distance past.

Snakes Three and Four

The next ten miles or so revealed two more garter snakes, one at the edge of a seasonal stream and the other just as quick to return to the brush as the first.

Snake Five

With approximately six miles to go to reach the I 10 “Oasis,” we came upon the second rattlesnake of the day. This one was at least twice the length of the first, with a beautiful coppery hue. It spotted us first and the rattle warning rang out, stopping us in our tracks. This rattlesnake did not have the lazy, digesting air of the previous one and it clearly was not interested in tolerating our presence. We gave it lots of room as it moved off trail and turned to watch us from the edge.

Was there a message for us?

The three miles approaching The Oasis under I 10 were, well, weird. The no-longer-flowing but recently-flash-flooded riverbed was scoured and silty, the sandy ground sinking beneath our heavy footsteps and simultaneously supporting giant electrical towers. It was jarring to find ourselves in such industrial infrastructure after the many miles of exquisite landscape.

I didn’t think a whole lot about the appearance of the rattlesnake just before the sudden juxtaposition of wilderness and industrial development, until the next time we entered such an area.

Interestingly, we saw our next rattlesnake days and dozens of miles later, just before again entering heavy development. Did the presence of the rattlesnakes signal such dichotomy? Was the sudden rattling of the snake a warning that our trail-induced peace would soon be shaken by the whir of gigantic electrical wires? Did the rattlers have a message for us?

When we later descended the following week, without spotting any rattlesnakes, into Cajon Pass and stopped at the infamous trail-side McDonald’s for thirst-quenching beverages, my theory of the sorcerous snake was shot.

Until two hours later when a few fellow hikers arrived with reports of a rattlesnake on trail just before stepping into the developed area heading into the McDonalds.

Coincidence? Maybe. Message? I’ll keep listening, just in case!

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Comments 2

  • Chris S : May 6th

    The Bard is in tune with the stories and signs of the natural world. Keep listening to your instincts! The snake is an appropriate talisman for that transitional space between natural and man-made worlds since it moves below and above ground and transforms by shedding its skin.

  • Marsha G : May 23rd

    What a wonderful update and tale (tail?) of wild-meets-“civilization”! Thank you!!! I observe that you’re obviously not a “true” Californian, as you referred to I-10 rather than THE 10! I know just the place you’re referring to. It’s fun to think of you there 🙂

    Keep honoring the snakes. My fingers are crossed that they will in turn honor you!


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