Buzzed !

by Jon Hazen

This is no stroll in the park.

I am hiking alone, through thick streamside grasses, up ancient game trails that traverse steep shale slopes. At the top there is another thirty minutes of step-step-stepping from one footlocker-sized chunk of basalt to the next.

Then there is an hour of easy walking, weaving through the sun and shade of eastern Oregon sagebrush. This is snake country at peak season and I have been here before. It's a nasty surprise to walk up on one. I know. I grew up in southern Arizona.

I discovered this route years ago, 4 miles up and down and overland to a favorite high desert riffle and an isolated campsite in eastern Oregon. As I move, my gaze is locked on the toes of my boots and the four foot by six foot corridor that precedes them. When I want to look around, I stop.

I pick my way through waist-high sage and hear a buzz lasting less than a syllable. I know that sound and my auto pilot kicks-in to stop my feet in mid-stride.

Somewhere in front of me lies a cold-blooded creature with fangs, venom, and no great love of large mammals. Then I see him materialize, ten feet to my left, woven through the dried flora. Stretched full length in the shade-dabbled dust, his pose belies an interest in departure. Yet he is unsure.

Head aloft, he is patient for another footfall with which to measure his circumstance. He too, feels imperiled. His natural enemies are many. Together we acknowledge the other's presence with silence.

His sleek body carries three feet of thick oval belly centered between a triangular head and bony rattles. Cirrus clouds filter the high morning sun to buff his brown dorsal geometry to a soft luster.

Each of us holds his station, sharing the thought that neither wishes harm upon the other. A minute passes before he moves with quiet purpose into the underbrush.

Before continuing, I must regain my snake country mind. It is possible this snake did not sound the alarm, and the offended one remains concealed and still contemplates my presence.

This time the way is clear.

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