The Plump Rattlesnake

As the sun began its dip in the western sky, Eric and I zigzagged across an embankment that I had endearingly labeled Tortoise Hill.  The narrow ridge line, filled with saguaro and prickly pear cactus, and sprinkled with other spiky desert shrubs is now surprisingly filled with a thick layer of grass due to recent monsoon activity.  It was because of my frequent encounters with the unique desert tortoise species that I had unofficially named this topographic feature. Comparing photos, I discovered that there are possibly three different desert tortoises on this hillside, with another tortoise on a slope about a half mile away.  When I formerly lived in Tucson for seven years, I had only encountered one of these lumbering, shelled creatures.  Now I could pad my count with three or four more, all seen while roaming the desert terrain over the past six weeks. Amazing!  I hoped we would see at least one on this journey.  It would make my stories a little more plausible to my friend.

I enjoy the opportunities to capture the beauty and nature of the desert and I have become a 'running photographer' to some degree.   I was now in 'love' with the desert tortoise. It has become a favorite animal to photograph.  How can you go wrong with a subject  that barely moves?  I have a history of scrambling for the nearest camera, hastily pointing in the general direction of whatever desert creature was streaking across my point of view, and coming away with blurry or missed shots.  When I find a tortoise I can actually look for my camera, adjust the camera settings, make a phone call, look up the latest gossip on Yahoo, and my model has only moved about ten feet.  A photographer’s dream.  Well, almost.  The subject can be a bit boring.

My first encounter with tortoise number one (in this area) was on one of those rare occasions when I left for a run without a camera, cell phone, or even a pencil and paper to make a drawing.  But my model wasn’t going anywhere fast, so I was able to run home, grab a camera, and run back in time to snap some photos.   

On this day, we failed to find a tortoise on Tortoise Hill, so we trekked to the neighborhood of tortoise number one.  While on our way, I became distracted and by chance spotted an enormous rattlesnake, maybe ten feet away.  Delving into the thesaurus later at home, I tried out every appropriate word that could describe him (or her): fat, chunky, paunchy, swollen, broad. None seemed to fit. This snake was so large, with a long string of rattles attached, that no word seemed to do it justice. He (or she) was simply ominous .  Of course, that snake would 'grow' each time the story was told.  

And our presence did not seem to startle this creature in the least. Silence emanated from that generous line of rattles as Eric joined me for an impromptu photo session. The entire time it lay there fat and content, taking photos of this reptile was not too different from the previously mentioned desert tortoise.  She (he?) was taking a siesta.  Lulled by a stuffed gut, she was not moving and not particularly mindful of the two humans who had invaded her neighborhood.  After about twenty minutes of snapping photos and movies, I got a little too close to the snake, causing two heart rates to bounce upward. The desert dweller finally uncoiled and slithered a few feet in the opposite direction.  That abruptly marked the end of the photo session. But it was certainly NOT boring.