I went out for my usual Tuesday after-work bike ride with a few riders from work. It was a sultry warm afternoon, in the mid-80s. Not too uncomfortable for a moderately-paced group such as ours.
We hadn’t gone far yet — just a couple hundred yards or so up the nearby paved bike path that I often walk during lunch (see Phoebe on a Fencepost for a related story). There was a woman running ahead of us in the same direction, and as we approached her – me in the lead – she quite suddenly looked down toward the side of the trail. I followed her gaze to what appeared to be a small branch lying there.
Except that it wasn’t a branch at all.
As I passed, I saw the spade-shaped head, the diamond-back pattern, the darting tongue, and the rattle itself; I counted seven buttons as I rolled by.
Being in the sun, perhaps the bike path was too warm for this 30-inch buzzworm, a pit viper species common to California and known to biologists and Latin scholars as Crotalus viridis oreganos, or Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. While apparently sluggish from the radiant heat of the asphalt, he seemed alert to our passing, yet was stretched out to his full length and hence not coiled to strike; neither was his signature tail sending a warning.
Nevertheless, a rattlesnake at close range is still a rattlesnake. We momentarily swerved and picked up our pace, all pointing at the reptilian spectacle — rider and runner alike. Still, Mr. Buzzworm could have easily gone for a little nibble on our ankles as we passed. It’s a wonder that he didn’t.
But we didn’t stop to ask why.