Tastes Like Chicken

Posted on 2011 August 1

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If you see one of these, back away.

Someone called the Ventura County Fire Department to my building to remove a four-foot rattlesnake that had wrapped itself around a stair bannister next to my mailbox. When I arrived around 6:00 p.m. to check my mail, I found a large fire truck parked in the driveway and a trio of firemen in shirtsleeves surrounding the remains of the reptile. They’d beheaded it and were deciding what to do next.

Both head and body still writhed. The rattles curled skyward, useless now. The head’s jaws kept opening and closing. One of the firemen struck the head with a long-handled spade, trying to quiet it. Another firemen used a pole to lift the thick body; he examined it as it contorted, its muscles flexing rhythmically as if it were trying to get away. Back when I was a Boy Scout, I’d eaten cooked rattlesnake meat during a campout; I said to him, “It tastes like chicken!” He made a face: “I sure don’t wanna find out what it tastes like!” For a moment I had the urge to reply, “No, really, refrigerate it! A little wine, it cooks up great!” But I’d already expended my humor quotient; no sense overdoing it.

The fireman with the spade scooped up the snake head and set it down on the sidewalk, where he proceeded to take a picture with his cell phone. “For my son,” he explained. The man holding the snake body obligingly laid it out next to the head. Everyone seemed cheerful, if slightly nervous. It was clear rattlesnakes are dangerous even after they’re dead. But no sense missing a photo op.

They decided to take both parts and toss them over the fence and into the densely wooded creek just south of the building — where, presumably, only animals and bushwhackers dare to tread. The man in charge of the snake’s body used the pole to flip it in a high overhand arc; the body landed in the branches of a tree and hung there. We held our breath, hoping it would drop and not cling to the branch like some hideous death flag. Finally it slipped free and fell away, out of sight. No doubt the crows would make a feast of it.

Apparently the fire department doesn’t have facilities for processing dead snakes. I wondered whether there was some sort of machine that grinds them up, venomous fangs and everything. After all, those heads amount to hazardous waste. The county has animal-control centers whose personnel must know what to do. But this was after 5 p.m., so perhaps the fire department takes on the evening’s wild-animal duties, improvising. Still, this is a foothill community where snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions abound; I was surprised the firemen seemed uncertain. For my part, I’d have been satisfied if they’d merely captured the beast and hurled it back onto the hillside. But that wouldn’t have satisfied the residents, who would likely blame the fire department if the same or another snake slithered back for a visit.

Either way, it was nice to have the rattler off the bannister — much better than fangs in a leg.

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