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In Search of Snakes

March 2, 2015

Dinero, Texas

In search of snakes, I’d been informed that a particular steel piling in the ground next to one of the pasture gates-sometimes-had a snake in it.  Desperate for a subject, but not expecting to find anything at all, I pointed my flashlight into the blackness as my imagination took over and conjured my solo heroic rescue of a feisty, hissing, hungry, twelve-foot rattlesnake trapped for days at the bottom of the pipe.  While half my brain embellished the reptile rescue fantasy–my heart skipped a few beats as the left brain informed my eyes of an actual THING sitting at the bottom of the pipe.  There was something down there—not the scaly diamonds I was hoping for, but the telling stripes and spots of the obnoxiously elusive Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis)—a lizard that had mocked me and my camera for weeks on the other side of the property.

Portrait of the lightning quick Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis).

Portrait of the lightning quick Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis).

I’d spent countless hours; days really-camera in hand-lying on the ground, decorated in cammo,  pretending to be a rock strategically placed next to various lizard burrows.  My disguise was an utter failure.  Dirt was kicked my way;  leaves were strategically moved over holes and occasionally the end of a tail flicked in my direction.  I did not have one clear shot of a lizard-any lizard-and I’d long before given up on the Whiptails.

But now, I had one.  My dilemma:   how to get a lizard faster than lightning out of a three foot deep, six inch wide vertical rusted pipe with nothing but a 12in x 12in container to help me (alas, the fearless snake hunter with no snake hook).

The rescue began; plastic container in one hand;  long skinny stick in the other.  Unimpressed with my presence—the animal looked up as if in challenge: ‘go ahead and try it lady.’  From side to side it jumped as I lowered the branch in to the chasm; the lizard could not, as hard as it tried-get up the rusted walls of the pipe. Stick lowered and in place,  I gently coaxed the lizard onto the branch while at the same time trying to push it up the side of the pipe without impaling it.  After several attempts at launching itself head first back into the abyss, the Whiptail gave in and took the free ride to Rubbermaid incarceration. Proud of myself-I secured the lid and took a closer look at the reptile through the plastic.  The lizard looked a bit thin, it’s skin saggy and dehydrated; but, it’s face was stunning-nothing short of prehistoric.

I didn’t want to stress the animal any further.  But, in trade for immediate freedom-I wanted a photograph. I put what I knew to the test.  I readied the macro lens—I wanted details and scales-I wanted personality. I turned over the container-laying it flat on the nearest rock, slowly sliding the lid out from under it. Down on my knees-one hand on the bin, and the other on the camera, I focused on the end of the container—once I lifted the bin-I needed to be ready to fire.  My experience is that when a creature is covered – there is a several second window after you lift the container before the animal realizes it’s free.  Battling for balance and steadiness I focused and held my breath.  Ever so softly, I lifted the container and pushed my finger into the trigger.

The shutter rattled.

The lizard froze.

I got closer.

Barely thinking, my eyes scanned the edges of the frame which I filled with lizard head, foot, and scales-careful not to cut anything off.  I focused again, and pressed again.  Finally remembering to breathe, I instinctively looked up and over the camera – as if a timer had gone off, and I needed a more personal connection with the animal.  The Whiptail slowly turned its head, eyes locking with mine; ‘are we good‘? it seemed to ask.

It then looked to its surroundings.  Freedom beckoned.  With one last glance my way, the lizard nonchalantly walked down the side of the rock.

“Thank you little guy,” I called out loud, as I always do to the animals that allow me a moment of their lives.

And perhaps it was my imagination at work again, or just the rustle of leaves on the wind, but I could have sworn the lizard gave me a quick nod of that beautiful dinosaur-like head, and whispered ‘No, thank you,’ right back at me.

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