When I was in grade school (back during the Punic Wars), my father took my brother and me to a hunting class.
I cannot recall if he thought a gun safety course was a good idea or if the meddling hand of the state had intervened in our lives.
But there we were. Learning all about gun safety and respecting the wildlife we were about to put on our dinner table.
Most of the information is a blur -- with one exception. Buck fever.
I can still see the instructor telling us that even the best hunter will at one time see the perfect target and be so overcome with excitement that he will be unable to remember how to properly fire his rifle. I think he called it God's way of preserving beauty.
I wondered if our hunter-predecessors, the Coos, froze up on their bows now and then?
But I saw it happen only once. With a friend of my father's. Perfect buck. Complete brain lock.
That is until Monday night. I was closing up the house to head off to Mexico City. I decided to walk through the garden and out onto the malecon to see if the leaf cutter ants were preparing any encroachments. Like bad boxers, they telegraph their punches.
The ants have established a network of nest openings between the pavers -- leaving large gaps where there once was sand. In one of the larger gaps, my flashlight caught bright colors -- red and yellow. What looked like a large colorful worm about 8 inches long.
When I walked closer, I could see it was a black, red, and yellow body. A snake. But I could not see the head. But I immediately knew it was my first sighting of a coral snake or a scarlet king snake.
I started searching for rhymes. Was it "Red on yellow, kill a fellow" or "Black on yellow, kill a fellow?" And why do these rhymes have to be so unhelpful? "Red sky in morning, something something something."
Whatever it was, it was obviously hunting for prey in the cracks between the pavers. Probably a tasty lizard.
I rushed back in the house and grabbed my camera. When I came out, it was still there, but it was moving on to search for other prey. And my flashlight caused it to speed up.
So, there I was. With bare-toed sandals within inches of the snake's head; balancing my flashlight; remembering phrases like "related to the cobra," "North America's most deadly venomous snake," "high probability of fatality"; and trying to figure out how to turn on the flash while focusing. And I simply could not remember how to do either.
Snake fever, I guess.
This is the result. Not very satisfying. Even when you enlarge it.
The photograph may be blurry. But I suspect this is going to be one of those memories that sticks in my mind. It was one of the coolest animals I have ever seen.
It slithered to sanctuary under a treacherous maguey where it was protected by the spines. Even after I recovered from too much excitement, I still could not get a better photograph.
If nothing else, I learned not to go walking around at night with my sandals. It very well may have been a king snake. But the last thing (or one of the last things) I need is to startle a coral snake by stepping on it.
For those of you who thought you were going to be reading about butterfliues today, I promise tomorrow will be devoted solely to mariposas.