It pays to be alert for snakes in Hill Coun­try,

Pres­ence in Hill Coun­try en­dan­gers chil­dren and pets.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Mike Leggett

BUR­NET COUNTY — It all started as a pretty rou­tine call for help with a clink­ing air-con­di­tion­ing unit at our house.

Jones Heat­ing and Air sent out Michael St. Cricq, and be­fore he even got to the unit, he said, “I see what your prob­lem is al­ready,” point­ing to a short wire con­nec­tor hang­ing down and hit­ting the ro­tat­ing fan.

That was good news, since re­plac­ing a clang­ing unit or com­pres­sor fan wasn’t re­ally in the bud­get for this year, espe­cially after the fire we had in the spring.

He set his tool back­pack on the ground next to our big down­stairs unit and walked back to his truck for some­thing else. I stood there like a dummy, think­ing, “Man, this feels like a rat­tlesnake day.”

So I be­gan look­ing around, think­ing about the snakes we’ve seen hid­ing un­der bushes close to the house. This spot was in the morn­ing shade on the west side of the house, be­hind a small wooden fence off the front porch.

I looked around my feet and then moved my gaze back to the con­crete pedestals hold­ing the two units. The small one was clear, but ly­ing just un­der the edge of the large unit, within 2 feet of where I’d been stand­ing a moment be­fore and no more than a foot from the top of the back­pack, lay a pretty large West­ern di­a­mond­back, coiled and ready for ac­tion. Four feet of snake in a tight ball.

Warn­ing St. Cricq to stay clear, I went back in the house to get a shot­gun to take care of the snake. On the way back out­side, I grabbed a trekking pole I keep be­side the front door and went back around the cor­ner of the house.

“He went back un­der the unit while you were gone,” Michael said. “But I can still see him just a lit­tle bit.”

I looked, and there was ob­vi­ously a rat­tler stretched out along one edge of the unit.

I handed the pole to St. Cricq, who ad­mit­ted to hav­ing a healthy fear of snakes, and asked him to prod the snake in hopes he would come out of the hid­ing place. He did al­most im­me­di­ately. I caught him about mid­body with the bot­tom of the pole and dragged him out into the yard, away from the house.

He coiled up there in a de­fen­sive pos­ture, and the .410 shot­gun made easy work of his head. Only when go­ing through his death throes did the snake rat­tle, just a lit­tle buzz to re­mind us of what he was.

I’m still re­liv­ing that event, espe­cially the quiet way that snake was ly­ing there, ob­vi­ously look­ing for rats and mice scur­ry­ing past on the ground. That he crawled back un­der the unit when we got close also told me he’d most likely been there for a while, even while my dog and I were walk­ing past many times.

He could have spent the win­ter there with no prob­lems, pulling some resid­ual heat off the unit as it worked to keep the house cool and find­ing a ready sup­ply of ro­dents around the yard. Even though he was mostly black, the rat­tler blended in well with the gray con­crete pedestal un­der the unit.

That’s what makes rat­tlesnakes so scary in the Hill Coun­try. They live right in among us and can en­dan­ger small chil­dren and pets when they’re ly­ing in flower beds and shrub­bery and un­der bushes. They don’t want to bite us, but some­times they will just by virtue of be­ing afraid or sur­prised.

I know some peo­ple won­der why the snake had to die. We can’t have them liv­ing in the house or right next to it be­cause of grand­kids and dogs. Other­wise, I just let them go on their way and hope an­other one doesn’t come to take his place.

But the next time there’s rat­tling in my air con­di­tioner, I’m go­ing to look closely be­fore I stand next to the unit.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY MIKE LEGGETT

Rat­tlesnakes gen­er­ally aren’t ag­gres­sive, but they’re a dan­ger to hu­mans or an­i­mals near homes in the Hill Coun­try when they’re afraid or sur­prised.

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