n a t u r a l  h i s t o r y 

 

 

To live in this place he lost everything but his diamond scaled skin, then he even shed that before a goshawk swooped on him with talons spread, the cool air rising up through the claw from the tiny rocks of Arizona, the rattle snake was muscle rippling through air, he was a small river coursing its way through the sand along the valley floor, his eyes were catatonic black glass, reptilian, old and bright, you cannot wander in without being mystified, I saw the rattle snake extend his mouth to the size of a rodent and consume that which he had poisoned, before that moment the rodent hiding in the sandy ditch, her well constructed daytime nest, a wary crazy eye, her nervous body the only thing she had apart from the desert she lived in, the poor hungry rattle snake consuming her, with his endless stare, the look one very hungry human being might have, when trying to consume a section of food the size of a plate, because we have to eat, the look in the eye says, ‘I am filling myself with food’ it is a mindless helpless look, a look with a one-track mind, I have to fill myself with food look, whereas the desert rodent has the I am dead look, I did not want to suffer and die, but now look what has happened look, I am gone into the rattle snake’s mouth, the scaly pink tail flicks good-bye, we are all relieved when the rodent’s body is eaten, and the rattle snake is full, we hope that he will not have to kill for the rest of the summer, and we hope he wont be killed by the hungry goshawk, everything is starving on the desert of Arizona, is setting out its dinner table, everything else wanders right onto that plate and loses its life, the snake is driven by hunger down into the valley to the hunting grounds, it might look graceful and almost spiritual, but the rattle snake is muscling its way towards filling itself up, so that it can go on, we are thankful that the snake only has to hunt once every three weeks, and the rattle snake is thankful because his effort and existence are at stake, with hunting there is the risk of food never caught, killed and consumed, there is the risk of death by hunger, with lingering hunger comes the trail to the dead world, the trail to death is being dug, the safe life is going in to dig at the first hunger pang, the desert sun reflects off the dry water of the ripple on the rattle snake’s back, the death valley is a food bowl ingested into rivers of life, towards winter the rattle snake makes his way back to the cave, muscling away from the hunting area at the valley’s bottom and up into the foothills, each year he shares the cave with other rattle snakes, he looks for a cave on the southern side, so the sun can warm the rock at the entrance, last year he was here, he rattled his way in past the other coils, including a poisonous lizard called a gilar monitor, he muscled past them and found a position, they all slept together for four months throughout winter, their heart beats quietened in the soft dry dust, every year they would all return to the same cave, from the refrigerator to the blankets, nobody knows about rattlesnakes and that they take the same path each year for the rest of their lives, or that with each year of their survival another notch appears on their rattle, making it stronger and harder so that it can shake itself at the sun, at the blunt-nosed wood pig who comes too close into a clearing, and at the tricky goshawk casting her shadow on the rock, we are sorry for the little rodent, yet we are pleased that his small rattle has another notch, that something is surviving and becoming stronger in Arizona.

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Coral Hull 1999

 

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