Snakes On the Move

The Rabbit is fresh back from four days wandering through the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone in northern Yellowstone National Park. Trips like these present unforgettable images and along the way everything turns to metaphor. The path, the descent, the climb—though there were no real mountains involved, just a short climb through a low divide near the imaginatively named Turkey Pen Peak—the parade of thunderstorms and the brilliant double rainbow that followed, the scattered elk bones, the aging colony of marmots that we’ve visited several different times over the years; all seem to have larger meaning when thoughts are transported on hiking boots. The most memorable image, one that stands symbol for a dozen interpretations, was the rare sight of a weasel, this one stretched out freshly dead in the center of the trail. It’s eyes had already been claimed and a few large ants were coursing its lush fur looking for an in. The coat was glossy and somehow looked damp. When I bent for a closer inspection, a nearby rattlesnake made itself known with a buzz. Had we happened on the same scene by coincidence? Or was the snake the cause of death? (I’m told rattlers often wait nearby after a strike until their prey is well dead.) Did the damp coat mean the snake had tried and failed to ingest its prey? Rattlers have been common the last years down the Yellowstone Valley but their presence in the woods of the Park, here at its lowest reaches (approximately 5,500 feet above sea level), is something new in my experience. An effect of global warming? Or just a population surge? We saw several garter snakes on our 20 some mile hike and even a lizard. Prickly pear cactus are common in the dry flats around the Rescue Creek Trail and a rattle snake warning had been posted at the trail head. But to see a rattler far into the woods near a creature whose very name suggests cunning and deception–I once saw an ermine on the neck of a bunny that was twice its size–our mind leapt to the battle between small and great evils, big fish swallowing smaller, the hunter hunted, the poisonous future. It’s the blessing and curse of poets to see everything in images. What does it mean?—Cabbage Rabbit