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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Prairie Rattlesnake

Air Date: Week of

The Prairie Rattlesnake has a black tongue (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

A few months ago writer Mark Seth Lender met his first Prairie Rattlesnake up close and personal, and found the snake fascinating, and though venomous, not a threat.


CURWOOD: For many people, snakes provoke shudders and an urge to run the other way, especially if the one you encounter is venomous, like the Prairie Rattlesnake. But deadly or not, this rattlesnake is typically not aggressive and would rather just slither away when it encounters humans. A few months age writer Mark Seth Lender met his first prairie rattler in Grasslands National Park and found the creature strangely engaging.

LENDER: Prairie Rattlesnake lying in the road, down in the dust, warming her bones. I lie down just across the way to look her in the eye. She stares right back, and only raises her head when I shimmy up - too close! - and only coils (and then not all the way) when with too much haste I try to hurry her on, before the next car comes.

The Prairie Rattler’s instrument (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

She shows me her rattle, without one tick, and sticks out her tongue from the jet black tip to the velvety purple top to taste the curious scent of me. Better if that’s where the story ends…

Rattlesnake bites you? You’re gonna lie right down and dance. Shake and roll all over the place. Dirt in your hair, fear in your face. Ain’t no use yellin’ for help; shoulda put your foot down somewhere else. Shoulda listened, shoulda changed course. Snake rattles? That’s her only voice. Take a hint, take her lead: put your hands in your pockets, hike up your pants, jump on your ride and take yourself back.

Prairie Rattlesnake on its guard (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Snake just wants to get away from you.

With horror we watch rattlesnake consume her prey. The rabbit, completely still, vanishing with inexorable slowness down and down, the snake undulating with what seems like terrible pleasure. Is that not true of you seated at your overflowing bowl and groaning board? True upon the supermarket shelves and at the corner store?

What of the fungi the rattler crawls through at the dark beginning of her day. The fish in the pool gasping at the surface when the snake swam through to cool her bones in the long heat of the afternoon. Not just the lamb that was the flesh upon your plate but the wine that was the grape, seeds that were ground that you may break bread, the flower that became the saffron in your rice, and the rice, and the aged porcelain with which the potter made the plate; when fire fused the glaze it burned invisible things, uncountable. Even the ant, automaton of genes, of habit, and the chemistry of scent, and down in the weeds also what the ant eats.

(photo: Mark Seth Lender)

All want to keep on living.

Rattlesnake would tell it like this: “On a stone set by itself you may find fresh in the sun my shed skin (rattlesnake growing and prospering). Take it is a sign: Like you I passed this way.”


CURWOOD: Mark Seth Lender recorded this warning from the prairie rattler.
To see some of Mark’s close-ups of a prairie rattlesnake, slink on over to our website, LOE.org.



Check out more at Mark Seth Lender’s website

If you’re interested in visiting Grasslands National Park contact Mark Seth Lender at MSL@MarkSethLender .com


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