Being of Sound Mind

And Recently “Rattlesnake-Bit”

By Gary Oberbillig

Bill was scooping moss aside to get his German shepherd a drink from a seep of water along the trail when the rattlesnake struck without warning. He looked aghast and in disbelief at the two small punctures on the outside of his palm, trying to wish them away. The snake, no doubt seeking the cool water for relief from boiling August temperatures along the Salmon River Canyon and blind after shedding its skin, had found a comfortable spot under the moss. Even though old scales covered the snake’s eyes, it was able to detect a human presence with its forked tongue and the heat-sensing pits on the sides of its triangular snout.

It likely was a Great Basin rattlesnake, which is the most common to central and southern Idaho.  This subspecies of the western rattlesnake shows considerable variation in overall color and has irregular squarish patterns on its back rather than the diamond patterns associated with the more familiar western diamondback rattler. Some subspecies of the western are more poisonous than others, with different toxic components in their venom, but all are sufficiently bad if you are miles from medical help.

At any rate, the encounter was bad luck for both of them, as Bill instinctively drew his .357 revolver loaded with snake-load cartridges, which are like minature shotgun shells. A year after this happened, when I heard the story, I asked how long the snake was and he indicated six-inch sections after he had blown it into pieces, which of course didn’t help me much.

Bill’s dog Murphy, unaccustomed to the ear-splitting blasts of the revolver, yelped and ran off.  Alone with a rattlesnake bite and without even the moral support a dog can give, Bill was at least eight miles from help and high on the rim of the canyon.

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Gary Oberbillig

About Gary Oberbillig

Gary Oberbillig was born and raised in southern Idaho. He has been a college art teacher, photographer and writer. He says, “I’ve lived on Puget Sound for many years, but to re-establish my birthright, I go east of the mountains and take a good long whiff of sagebrush after a rain.”