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The Gorgeous Dance of Rattlesnakes Mating

March 10th, 2013 by Alison · 15 Comments · climate change (global warming), nature, spirituality

 The diamond-cut life is about joy that’s available to all of us, no matter our income level. Last Saturday I stumbled into a startling scene withrattlesnakes mating, halfway up off the ground my friends Jeremy and Aubrey, ages 16 and 12. I wish you could have been there, too.

 We were hiking in Riley Wilderness Park in Orange County, Southern California. It was a dazzling, sun-drenched day, the air clean, the sky bright blue. A man in the middle distance was photographing something, his camera pointed downward, but we couldn’t see what. We traveled off the trail to investigate.  

It was the sinuous, gorgeous dance of two rattlesnakes mating, their heads undulating a foot or more off the ground in graceful reptilian courtship. We gawked. We were awestruck. Dumbfounded. It was as if we’d gone to Washington D.C. and found ourselves suddenly brushing shoulders with President Obama. It was nothing we could have possibly expected. Nature is like that.

Watching rattlesnakes mating was even better than the time I saw a bald eagle snatch a fish from the Willamette River, or the family of raccoons I saw climbing a Douglas fir in Mount Tabor park. It was all the better for seeing it with Aubrey and Jeremy. In the years to come we’ll talk about it. “Do you remember the time –?” “Yeah, that was so cool! When are we going hiking again?”

What did it cost us to see this spectacle that most people will never see, not once in their entire lifetimes? A three-dollar parking fee. Even if we hadn’t had three bucks, we could have parked in a neighborhood and walked over. The point is that nature belongs to everyone, of all income levels. That’s a powerful, beautiful thing. Nature can make us all rich.

Nature gives us a spiritual connection devoid of religion, ideology or the other things that set people to arguing and trying to control each other.  It’s a haven, a refuge, a sanctuary. Nature can bless us with serenity. I’ve read that being in peaceful natural environments can bring down the blood pressure of people suffering from hypertension.

Of course, it doesn’t pay to over-romanticize that which is wild. Nature is also dangerous. For example, the rattlesnakes could have bitten and killed us, which is the reason we kept a respectful distance. People get injured and killed in wildish places every day of the year. I try to use the mindfulness skills and practical techniques described in Deep Survival, an excellent book by Laurence Gonzales. (Be alert, be humble, and constantly update your mental map, are my favorite takeaways.)

In the post-collapse world of the future that James Kuntzler describes in his intriguing novel World Made By Hand, fossil-fuel-based pleasures like jet skis and air travel may no longer be options. But nature will still persist, even as it will also change, in the same stable, persistent way it was there for our ancestors. When we spend time in it, nature yields us deeply sustaining pleasure. We build our relationship with nature over time, the way we do with a person who is complex and has a lot to them.

The curious thing is that tens of thousands of people live close enough to Riley Wilderness Park to easily go there. But on that sun-drenched, idyllic Saturday afternoon, Riley Wilderness Park was deserted except for me, Jeremy, Aubrey and that wonderful man who pointed us, like a bird-dog, to the slithery dance of rattlesnakes mating. Given the data on how Americans spend their leisure time, it’s a pretty sure bet that many Southern Californians were watching TV or otherwise engaged with computers and electronic entertainment while the rattlesnakes were doing their erotic dance in the lemony sunshine. I think that’s an unfortunate choice.

On a separate but related note, I attended the video chat hosted by 350.org today on the climate movement’s next steps. When author and activist Bill McKibben was asked how to best raise our children, given the dire future realities we’re looking at, he said, “Just give children a chance to fall in love with nature. Then when they’re adults, they’ll do the right things.” (That’s a paraphrase, but faithful to the essence.)

What has been the best experience you have ever had in nature? What is the best way for you to access nature, given where you currently live? Comments here.

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15 Comments so far ↓

  • Colleen

    On your separate but related note, I concur with Mr. McK that children need their parents and other adults to introduce them to nature –a lot, over and over– to care about its preservation as adults. The further we remove ourselves (or our children) from anything, I think, the less we care about it. Apathy is the scariest thing I see happening in our society, and adults perpetuate apathy toward environmental issues by *not* exposing their children to both the breathtaking and beautiful aspects of nature, as well as *not* showing and explaining to them what happens now (and what can happen in the future) when humans treat the Earth badly.

    • Alison

      Colleen, I feel happy when I anticipate how you and Thad will introduce your eventual children to both nature and humans, with all the attendant beauty, dangers, thrills and spills.

  • craftygreenpoet

    I’d love to see snakes mating, but it’s incredibly rare to see snakes at all in Scotland!

    I’ve had many wonderful encounters with nature, from seeing the white storks migrating en masse up Lake Malawi to coming literally face to face with a hunting short eared owl on a recent birdwatching walk.

    And yes it’s vital to make sure that children get to spend time in nature

    • Alison

      Ms. Poet, when you mention the rarity of snakes in Scotland, my mind immediately goes to the legend of how St. Patrick (whose day fast approaches) banished snakes from your neighbor Ireland. (Who really knows how and why the British Isles generally don’t have snakes? A legend involving a saint appeals to my imagination a bit more than dry scientific rationales like, it’s too cold for them there.) Your face to face encounter with a hunting short eared owl must have been a thrill.

  • Libby

    Could this be nature’s way of wooing you back to So. California?

    • Alison

      Libby, I’ll admit that this possibility has crossed my mind. Especially in light of all the love I get drenched with when I visit Southern California, especially Trabuco Canyon.

  • Dana Whitson

    When I was 20, a friend and I took a 5 month backpack through the ranges of the western states. While this included many memorable/exhilirating experiences, it is the more subtle, less memorable moments that I treasure the most. Sitting quietly, meditating or just listening to the sounds of the breeze through the upper reaches of the trees, the creaking of the trunks, the voices of the various critters (jays, owls, squirrels, frogs, crickets…). There is just a rhythm, a soundtrack. To me it was spiritual, to me it was/is God. (it didn’t hurt that I was really into reading about the Findhorn Garden!)
    I still love going into the mountains but have realized that there is plenty of nature elsewhere. A local arboretum, a lush backyard garden.
    There was a large beautiful tree outside one of the ICU rooms where I worked. Many patients commented on how that tree gave them strength. Pressed, they would acknowledge a spiritual connection to it.

  • Alison

    Beautifully said, Dana. I agree that the subtle elements of nature, including the background sounds, can be the most entrancing, the most memorable. I too believe God is right there. We’re having a direct encounter with the sacred at that point, sometimes without knowing we are. I love that you helped your ICU patients identify that the large, beautiful tree was a source of spiritual strength to them. You sound like a healer. Just sayin’.

  • Jeremy (J.R)

    That was a great experience! I’m glad I got to share it with you! Love you Auntie Alison!

    • Alison

      I love you too, Jeremy. It’s great how being in nature drew us closer together. I’m also excited to have learned what a good photographer you are. You have a gift with the camera. I’m interested in publishiing some of your photos here at Diamond-Cut Life, and then bragging to everyone that I was the first to discover you :)

  • Aubrey_Alexandra

    That was something I will never forget! That was the best experience with nature I have ever seen! Those rattle snakes were apart of nature I could have never seen at school, or just anywhere, but spending the time with you made it even better! I love you so much Auntie Alison!

    • Alison

      I love you too, Aubrey. Just think, when I’m 75 years old and you’re, let’s see, 35, we’ll be hanging out drinking wine together and one of us will say, “Remember when we saw rattlesnakes mating?” And we’ll get excited all over again by talking about it and reliving it. By the way, I’ve heard a rumor that you’re considering starting your own blog. And I wanted to offer my services as a consultant. The only cost would be that I need you to cook for me and Thor again the next time you visit us here in Portland. I like your cooking :)

  • Erin

    So many nature moments, but I was just telling my friend about The Swifts in NW Portland. He just moved nearby, and I was trying to explain the drama and suspense, watching the birds gather and circle–threat of the hawk. All at once they decide to dive and swoop into the chimney. I love living in a place where so many people choose to go outside and watch nature.

  • Erin

    I changed my website name!

    • Alison

      “Opening our parachutes” is excellent, Erin — lovely imagery. Parachuters have graceful control over where they land once they’ve opened their billowy travel-vehicles. And graceful control is exactly what a job-seeker wants.

      Concerning your first comment, I’ve been to see the swifts here in Portland, too! Such interesting phenomena, both the swifts that swarm together, and the humans who swarm together to raptly observe them. Creatures fascinated with fellow creatures. So enlivening. Thanks for sharing.

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