In Alaska, where I live most of the time, the megafauna is what you watch out for: bears, of course, but moose can be just as dangerous. You don’t want to surprise these animals, especially moms with babies. A walk in a dense willow thicket is a matter of strictauditory monitoring, listening for the crashing of a quarter or half ton of maternal instinct in the brush.
The hazards of a walk in the desert are of quite a different type and heading the list are snakes with noisemakers. Zen masters whack their charges with sticks when, sitting in zazen, they nod off. Rattlesnakes, camouflaged and venomous teachers, can dole out a stiffer penalty for any lapse in focus. I search for signs of tortoise but always remain alert for serpents. This requirement adds spice to my morning walks. These beweaponed snakes are mostly nocturnal but a pleasant morning may conceal a coiled sidewinder or a sunning Mojave rattlesnake.
The break the desert walker gets is that the snake gives fair warning with that maraca on its tail. It depends primarily on its camouflage. I have no idea how many I have strolled right past but am sure the number is large. However, a rattler will announce its presence loudly when it feels that it is in imminent danger of being detected. When one suddenly does so this reporter sometimes finds himself airborne, propelled there by his internal machinery of survival, a system that bypasses the cerebral cortex.
I love these honest creatures and I love the requirement they impose: careful and constant assessment when I move through their homeland. Were I able to idle along listening to the hypnotic monologue of the little narrator in my head I would miss much that is amazing. Watching out for rattlesnakes leads me to many precious and non-venomous discoveries and for that I am in their debt.
Here is a story of the most amazing encounter I have had with one of these creatures, a Mojave rattlesnake that turned the tables on me: Trust Game
Here is a video to accompany the story: Mojave Rattler display
Respect but fear not these snakes. Please walk in the desert for I assure you that the drive to the place you walk is a hundred times more dangerous than the stroll you will take. Enjoy the attention you must pay.