Cattails and Snakes

Cat tails grew along the ditches on the long drive home from Billings, MT to Denver and my mother would invariably make my dad stop the car so she could cut some to make a bouquet at home. It was a little bit of an expedition that involved “You kids stay in the car. There are snakes.” She used a long handled dandelion digger as a snake stick with the idea that the sharp little “V” in front could go over the snake’s neck.

At this point in my life, having had a lot of exposure to snakes of different kinds and having had a couple as “pets” I’m pretty skeptical about that dandelion digger. That little “V” would have done OK on a stunned and skinny garter snake but anything bigger? I think the snake would have laughed. Among other things, the snake would have had to hold still for my mom to complete her operation.

Still, the dandelion digger was useful as a stick to move the snake out of the way and move the brush away so she could see where she was going. AND my mom gave me sterling advice for hiking in rattlesnake country. Pound the ground so the snakes know you’re there. There is no better warning system for these beings who don’t want to meet up with us, either.

Now, of course, I’m not running up and down narrow trails in snake country. I miss the hills and definitely miss running, but otherwise? It’s nice to be able to see where I’m going.

Cattails are a wetland plant, so they are a big part of my world now. As the dogs and I walk along the ponds out at the Refuge I think often of how the early humans living here used the cattails for baskets and sandals and who knows what other things. The only snakes I’ve seen out there (so far) are skinny little garter snakes, most of which have been run over. I’m sure there are other guys out there but it’s OK with me if I — well this one is tough. A rattlesnake you see is far less dangerous than one you don’t.

It’s lovely to watch a blackbird — red-winged or yellow-headed — perched on a narrow reed, windsurfing and calling out.

22 thoughts on “Cattails and Snakes

  1. I’m thinking dandelion digger would likely be fatal if effective at all. The sound of a redwing blackbird means summer to me. They are also highly territorial and seem to consider me a threat just riding by.

  2. Back home in Jersey, we use to light cattails–kept the bugs away–but we always called cattails punks.

      • There was a swampy woods across the street from my house, so we used anything and everything to keep bugs away. Not sure it worked, but young kids with matches…we had fun!

          • One experience with mosquitos?!? Now that’s the voice of a westerner. When I managed apartments in California, one resident wanted me to call an exterminator because she saw a mosquito on her patio. I told her the next time she saw that mosquito, she should do this – and clapped my hands once. (I hope she realized that I meant on the mosquito.)

            • I’m just a person mosquitoes aren’t that attracted to. In China, believe me, I had my mosquito experience. Mosquito nets at night, opening windows to let the mosquitoes OUT… Here out at the Refuge they are a plague but the deer flies are the scourge. One of the lovely things about CA was NO MOSQUITOES.

  3. I enjoy nothing more than encountering a rattlesnake. I think I see a lot more than most because I have this little “identify snake” routine running just below my consciousness where it doesn’t interfere with other things. If you aren’t looking for them, you won’t see them unless they are basking in the open.

    I’ve seen dogs walk right over rattlesnakes and not notice. Snakes don’t have a lot of scent and dogs cue mostly on motion. Most of the time the snake freezes and as long as the dog doesn’t step on the snake nothing happens. Rattlesnake venom can put a world of hurt on a dog but a coyote or wolf will kill it long before the venom takes effect, so there no point in striking unless the snake is attacked.

    • I’ve walked over rattlesnakes, too. BUT three of my dogs died of snakebite. One out in the chaparral was attacked to the smell or sound and went right into a nest. He sustained 18 bites. The other two were in my yard in Descanso. Both sustained a fang to the eye. After that I signed up for snake avoidance training for my dogs. That was very effective. It was no biggie to see snakes on the trail — which I did almost daily — but if they were hiding in gopher holes in my yard? Gopher snakes moved in and dealt with the mice in my woodpile and attic 😀 .

      You do get tuned to where they might be along a trail. I figured every day from February through November I could expect to see a rattlesnake out there, usually only one so I called them my “Snake du Jour.” Once I picked up a rosy boa who’d been dropped by a raptor and put her in my pocket (cargo shorts). She slowly regained her snake-ness and I let her go. I was lucky up in the Lagunas to see a Laguna Mtn. Kingsnake.

  4. Cattails are edible – you can make a flour out of them (the roots and the pollen) and the green catkins can be eaten like corn on the cob! As for snakes, I believe in the live and let live rule. I’d prefer not to disturb any venomous snakes but knowing where they were would be better than stumbling on one and both of us being surprised!

    • I only had one close call and it was because I didn’t have time to look down before I got my dogs out of the way of some mountain bikers. BUT all went well. I put my stick between my dog and the snake and the snake toodled off. I can live without them,

      • I grew up in the Okanagan Valley. We (my brothers and I0 would trek up into the clay hills behind our house. We’d go up there often. We sat down for a minute and suddenly hear it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my brother move that fast, lol. It was funny as a pre-teen but I learned to be careful and look first lol.

        • I had to look up the Okanagan Valley. WOW!!! Beautiful. The first rattler I saw I was with my dog, Truffle (first dog). She was a puppy. I RAN back down the hill to the car. Truffle followed. The NEXT time I saw it (same snake, same place) I was ready (talked to my mom) but Truffle had been trained from our first experience to run back down the hill to the car! And she did! 😀

          • Yes the Okanagan Valley is so beautiful. We had two ffabulous lakes to swim in and believe me, I did, not to ention an abundance of every variety of fruit tree possible of which we embibed. And the odd rattler but it was hot 100 in the summer to 2 feet of snow in the winter. Good on you Truffle for knowing what to do. lol

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