There’s nothing like a rattlesnake in the garage to make you say, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Maui anymore.”
“Yep, that’s a diamondback, all right,” said the ranger at Sabino Canyon in the Coronado National Forest when I showed him the photos on my phone. “Looks like you really pissed him off.”
Regular readers of this column know that I’m doing it long distance from Tucson, Ariz., where we’re spending the fall with our daughter’s family, including grandkids ages 7, 5 and 3.
We’ve house-traded for a place in a new subdivision in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, whose sharp, cactus-covered ridges turn pink and golden at sunset, casting purple shadows in their valleys.
Dusk is a magic time in the desert, or was up until my wife, Karen, saw the snake slither into the open garage.
“Get him, gwampa!” cheered the kids, watching wide-eyed as I started casting garden tools, paint cans and carpeting aside trying to find da buggah. Had I been sure that it actually was a rattlesnake — the scariest critter alive back when I was a Boy Scout — I might have had second thoughts about securing the garage by myself. But with a broom in one hand and a powerful flashlight in the other, when I found it, trying to disappear behind a large-wheeled garbage can, I just started whisking with the broom.
“Get the watosnake!” squealed the littles as I dislodged the creature, which started hissing loudly as I broomed it down the driveway, shooing the kids back at the same time.
It came to a stop on the sidewalk, where it went into a figure-eight coil, still hissing.
We flagged down a car driving by, hoping to clarify what exactly we were dealing with. But inside, instead of a red-state redneck toting a handgun folks are allowed to carry here, the car contained a middle-aged couple clad in the traditional garb of India.
“Oh yes, that is a rattlesnake,” they agreed, joining us on the sidewalk. “Do not kill it, though!”
Apparently there are phone numbers you can call — sort of 911 for reptiles — and someone will take it away, if you can wait that long.
Instead, we left it coiled on the sidewalk and went inside. When we came back later, it was gone.
Consulting with the rangers at nearby Sabino Canyon a couple of days later, they identified it from the photos by its markings and the shape of the head. The bearded, Santa Claus-looking ranger said when he encounters them in his backyard, he dispatches them with a “nine-millimeter.” A hipper, younger female ranger said, they don’t kill them in the park — rattlers kill mice and are beneficial in other ways.
A bite can be very dangerous for a child, because of its body weight, but few folks — other than those “acting like doofuses” — actually get bitten. I was outside that demographic, she said.
The snakes are not naturally aggressive . . . unless they’re threatened, or getting swept down a driveway.
So snakes — like sharks in Maui waters, like grizzlies in Montana, like the Beast in “Beauty and . . .” — are destined to being the misunderstood villains in our fearful fantasies, despised due to circumstances beyond their control.
Sometimes, though, there’s a silver lining.
I made prints of the phone photos for show-and-tell at preschool.
“And you got a good story to tell,” said the park ranger with a smile.
Meanwhile, closer to home, happy birthdays, Shep Gordon, Colleen Welty, Virginia Sandell and Pat Simmons!
And congratulations to Pat — Maui’s favorite Doobie Brother — and Cris Sommer Simmons’ son, Pat Simmons Jr., for making the Grammy nomination ballot in five categories for his album “This Mountain.” You can hear it at patsimmonsjr.bandcamp.com.
More kudos to Bruce “Wheeler Dealer” Wheeler for being inducted into the East Coast Drag Racers Hall of Fame last weekend, and to his wife, Kolleen Wheeler, for her social media and crowd-funding prowess getting them to North Carolina to receive the honor.
And another nod to writer-director Brian Kohne for adding the Santa Cruz Film Festival Audience Choice Award to all the other prizes for his Maui-produced “Kuleana.”
For all the things Facebook does bad — like cultivate narcissism and undermine self-esteem and American democracy — one thing it does well is birthdays. On your birthday, it’s your best friend, or more precisely, all your best friends, making you feel like the king of the world with a few simple keystrokes.
It also comes in handy for someone trying to write a local column from 2,900 miles away.
* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at email@example.com.