One of the hazards of living in this particular ecotone — a place where different ecosystems overlap — is that you may go jogging past an aspen grove and then step right over a rattlesnake a quarter-mile later.
And that’s basically what happened to my burro Laredo today. Like a dog on a walk, Laredo has the annoying habit of wanting to pee or poop in the first mile of a training run. He generally pulls over into the ditch and sort of waddles until he gets the job done. Actually I think he’s so smart that he sometimes fakes the urge to go as a work-avoidance tactic.
Well, today he found a not-so-little surprise in the ditch. And so did I. I heard the buzz, just about jumped out of my Nikes and turned to see the 2-foot-plus snake coiling and Laredo crow-hopping over it. I dropped my lead rope toward the burro and yelled in an effort to haze him away from the snake. The rope came down touching the snake on its side just as Laredo landed on his feet.
It all happened so fast that I’m still trying to process what I initially saw — a tangle of hooves, legs and writhing snake. But I’m pretty certain about what happened next. One of Laredo’s legs came down fairly near the now-coiled snake’s head, and I had a view from directly behind as the viper zeroed in and struck.
But oddly, the snake pulled up just short, maybe an inch, and merely snapped a warning strike. Laredo moved off and left the coiled buzzworm rattling away in the ditch.
I tiptoed gingerly through the brush — after an experience like this every stick or patch of bunchgrass tends to look like a rattler — to regain the lead rope, and check Laredo over. It seemed unlikely that he had gotten away unscathed, but apparently he did. We finished our training run and as of this evening there’s still no sign of swelling or other ill effects.
Rattlesnakes are supposedly altitudinally limited, but I guess someone should tell them that because we’ve seen plenty of them up here at 8,900 feet. At least one of these high-altitude buzzworms showed enough courtesy today to save a burro a lot of discomfort and his owner a big vet bill.