A River of Dust Runs Through It

Yesterday evening, on a ridiculously hot day so late in September, I went for a hike at Fremont Older in the Cupertino foothills, not far from where I grew up. I used to catch blue-belly lizards there in my youth, using a make-shift pole with a bit of fishing line dangling from the end in a gently tied slipknot. A friendly humane noose. They never saw it coming. After catching a blue-belly, it was a fine art removing it from the line without damaging its scales (or worse), especially if you set the line a little too hard, easy to do when you’re an excited angler. You had to be patient some times, with your finger work. And some times you had to resort to a bit of unbelievable magic: gently stroking the blue-belly’s belly. No joke. It puts the wriggly scaly beast to sleep, and before he knows it he’s free. At least he’s no longer cinched about the throat by invisible thread. I thought about the old times as I ascended the steep fire trail to the ridge and wondered where all the lizards were. It was dry and dusty and so bloody hot. I was alone save for my shadow, which jovially bounced along before me and would soon turn me a great favor. Remarkable, really. Having climbed to another ridge on the outskirts of Stevens Creek Park, I began to make my way back down to the old orchards when I saw, not a blue-belly lizard, but a snake, what I thought was a juvenile gopher snake. I stood over it and very nearly picked it up when I realized that the hint of a jowl-like edge on the side of its head meant that a baby rattlesnake lay before me. I didn’t pick it up, wisely. About 10 minutes later, I saw another one, but this one was much bigger, bigger in length and girth as it had just eaten its fill and was sluggishly, even helplessly, moving across the finely-powdered dust with a distended belly. It slowly crossed the path, leaving behind an eerie furrow like a sailing stone at Death Valley. I continued on my way, down to the lower ridge where the old orchard trees once grew. Then it happened. In a moment of carelessness and out of the corner of my eye, on the outer edge of my foot, right as it struck the ground, I saw a rattler or something that looked like a rattler, and a muscular explosion like an electrical jolt travelled through my leg, and I leapt very high in the air, like a figure skater in a death drop. And were it not for my shadow, still before me, I would never have known that I possessed such strength and agility and grace of movement. I even marveled inwardly: what a shame to get bit when I move so well. I landed with a muffled puff and quickly looked back at my launching point and saw a thick root nudging lengthwise out of the soft brown dust.

Postscript. Next three posts will be on Out Stealing Horses by Per Peterson. Then Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. And then probably Chekhov, Camus, and Nagel, with some reflections on absurdity. And Wharton, always Wharton.

In other words, back to books…

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4 Responses to A River of Dust Runs Through It

  1. Good one Kevin! You got me. I presume you’ve read Ambrose Bierce’s The man and the snake… That story has never left me …

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