Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Clouds, Wind, and a Rattlesnake

5" x 7" Oil on Panel
What a difference a day makes. The evening I wrote about in the last post had been such a pleasant experience. The very next day was... different. The painting that starts off this post was made the very next day.

I set out with a small paintbox expecting the weather to be just like the day before, but found instead very windy and cloudy conditions. Disappointing, but not reason enough to stay out of the mountains. Arriving at the place I had been the day before, I decided to leave the trail and head up the steep mountain slope several hundred feet to an area of outcrops, cliffs, and cliffrose. The weather, however, wasn't showing much concern for my painting aspirations. The wind was at times blowing perhaps forty miles an hour. Dust in the air made distant scenes look gray and washed out. A grimy film coated my skin and clothing. There was grit in my teeth.

I explored around, stopping to consider several painting possibilities. I also thought I'd try a little free climbing on some of the smaller limestone cliffs; ones only around ten or twelve feet high with ample handholds. I'm not a climber, but since I'm in the mountains a lot, a little practice could come in handy someday if I ever find myself in a situation where I absolutely have to do that sort of thing. Besides, it was a little fun.

Making use of a large crack in one cliff face to find handholds and foot placement, I climbed to the top of the twelve foot high cliff. Before hauling myself completely onto the top of the little precipice, I made a quick scan of the immediate area to be sure I could do so securely. With a surge of horror I suddenly realized I wasn't secure. A few inches from my right hand was a coiled rattlesnake! With a gasp I jerked my hand away from the snake! I hung there on the edge of the cliff, breathing hard and staring at the rattlesnake to see what it would do. My immediate concern was that it might flee for cover into the very crack I was using to hold onto the cliff. The rattlesnake did... nothing. It hadn't struck at me and was now staying perfectly still. It was a small rattlesnake, about a foot long. It was in fact the cutest little terrifying sight I ever did see. After regaining my composure, I could see no safe way to continue past the rattlesnake so I quickly and carefully climbed back down.

This is the guy I'm talking about!
Finding another way up around the cliff, I then hiked back down to the cliff's edge and found the baby rattlesnake still there. I snapped a few pictures of the snake and crouched, examining it. As I hovered over the rattlesnake, it slowly began to move. It first crawled into the crack I had earlier used to climb the cliff. Then the rattlesnake came back out of the crack and headed up slope. I followed it for a short distance, then let it be. This wasn't my first encounter with a rattlesnake. I've seen dozens of them. But it's the first time I've known myself to be within striking range of a rattlesnake, and the thought was unsettling.

After walking a few dozen yards away, I set up the paintbox and painted until sunset. I hiked back down after dusk, tired, dirty, and with rattlesnakes on the brain. What a difference a day makes.


David King said...

I'm glad you didn't get bit James. It's easy to forget this is rattlesnake country. When I was hiking and painting up near the Mount Olympus trailhead last week the thought suddenly occurred to me so I stepped carefully, eyes on the trail ahead and ears open for rattlers! Maybe I should add a snake bite kit to my backpack. In spite of all the challenges your painting turned out great!

James Gunter said...

Thanks, David. This one was a real "cliffhanger!"

I'm thinking I should start researching snakebite kits, too.