Some stuff you should never do

Each year as summer drifts gently into fall, Solano County’s lively rattlesnake population slithers into mainstream suburbia for a month or two.

For some reason, this tends to alarm citified yuppies who have moved here to get closer to nature – but not closer to noisy, venomous snakes.

So, being a responsible newspaper, we periodically tell people what not to do when they encounter a rattlesnake.

We try to keep abreast of all the latest rattlesnake-avoidance techniques as well as what to do if bitten by one of the playful but notoriously short-tempered reptiles, and to share the information with our readers.

Invariably, readers find some holes in our rattlesnake lore and call to tell us what we’ve left out.

(Things like, “When my uncle Elmo got back from the Ko-reen War, he figured out you could keep rattlers outta your backyard by tossin’ a grenade back there every couple of days…”)

I have to admit that I recently left out one very important tip when I presented the newspaper’s rattlesnake report this summer.

I neglected to mention that you should never, ever, play golf with them.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

I became aware of the golf-rattlesnake dilemma a few years ago while attending a fish fry at the old Benicia Arsenal.

A well-fueled individual there buttonholed me over a plate of smoldering smelts and, for no apparent reason, informed me that he loved golf but hated rattlesnakes.

It seems that the bourbon-addled Benician had been playing a round of wilderness golf somewhere near Ione earlier that month when he followed one of his balls into the rough and found himself standing in the middle of a rattlesnake den.

“I had my nine iron with me – not really sure why, old chum – and I laid into them with great vigor and purpose,” he informed me while bleaching part of my shirtfront with his breath.

“I was triumphant, with eight dead rattlesnakes at my feet and nary a bite.”

My 90-proof golfer explained that he was going to simply retrieve his ball and get back to the game when he remembered that people sometimes make belts and hatbands and wallets out of rattlesnake skin.

“A rattlesnake hatband would be deeeeee rigueur at Pebble Beach,” he related woozily.

“So I picked up the lot of ’em and tossed ’em in my car.”

As luck would have it, my newfound friend hadn’t exactly killed all the rattlesnakes with his trusty golf club and, before long, he found that he had a scaly companion with a bad attitude and a worse headache slithering around in his car while he attempted to negotiate a winding country road.

“I tried to reason with him, but you know how rattlesnakes are,” my new acquaintance declared in apparent exasperation before launching into a long diatribe about ditches, fence posts, roadside trees and tow trucks.

My bibulous buddy survived the reptilian confrontation, but his car didn’t.

There is, of course, a lesson here for everyone, and I should have brought it to readers’ attention long ago: If you insist on golfing with rattlesnakes, make ’em ride in the trunk…

Originally published October 5, 2003

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