Crotalus atrox

Western diamondback rattlesnake
Peter Garcia


About Time


Sliding smoothly over stone, pebbles, dried leaves, and broken branches, the Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) moves through grasses, bitterweed, the shadows of Evening Primrose. Resting from time to time in the shade of Pincushion Cactus, Juniper, and Mountain Mahogany, the rattlesnake shifts herself from side to side leaving S-shapes on the ground stretching forward. Smoothing the ground, she’s casting stories like seeds. Some grow. Some get blown away.


Cruising across, around, beneath the stones, crevasses, cliffsides that Coyote (Canis latrans) cruises beneath, Rattlesnake moves across and around like Coyote does when Coyote does stuff like that. Like Coyote does, he crashed into a pile of rocks some person left resting on the edge of a large flat stone. Probably thought it was pretty. Nobody reads signs any more.


A large flat stone where Auntie was trying to sleep finding a cool spot out of the sun.


Suddenly, you could’ve heard the wind shake.


It sounded like the wind was shaking. Coyote heard the wind shake and now he was shaking.


Whispering to the snake with a shaky voice Coyote tried to sound contrite.


“Sister. You know… you know who it is? It’s me.” He then added, “It’s me, your little brother, Coyote.”


As if she didn’t already know.


“Before I heard your voice I knew it was you. Only you can make as much trouble as those pesky two-leggeds.”


“How d’ya know it was me and not one of them?”


“You don’t smell as bad.” Remembering that she was annoyed, “Tell me what made you think waking me was good idea?”


“Uh I didn’t… Uh, I didn’t think.” Cowering up to the instant he blurted defiantly, “Why do you need to sleep? You lay on the ground all day!”


Hearing her rattle shake the air again he regretted this brief and totally useless act of bravery. “I mean, when I see you when you ain’t just laying around all the time I see you I just see you dancing. Moving your hips…” apologetically adding, “if you had hips… from side to side.”


“That’s what I do!” the rattlesnake presented as her defense. “I’m the time keeper of these Sisters. These Mountains. Their storyteller.”


Turning away, annoyed at being dismissed, the older sister hissed, “I mark time. When you see me ‘DANCING’, I’m marking time. I’m telling and singing the stories that I hear the Sisters tell and sing. That’s what I do.”




“Behind me, you see where I smoothed the ground?”


Her brother nodded.


“That’s a story. Each morning I have a new story to tell. I have to tell that story.”


“It keeps me busy. That’s how I spend all my time during the day. That’s why I’m tired. That’s why I need my rest!” She snapped. Continuing. “And the burden I carry on my back. On my back I’m carrying the history and map of these mountains.”


Coyote crouched down to get a better look. “Stay still and let me read it, Sister.”


“No, numbskull, it’s a living history so it’s changing but always the same. The map changes but it’s precise. The mountains change so each moment you will see the shapes on my back shift and roll as the light, the earth, the water here shifts and rolls.” The snake proudly explained while twisting and rolling for coyote to see cloud light reflected on each scale of the snakeskin—a sharp edge between dark and light or a pin of light deep from inside the dark geometric shapes.


Stretching her neck further into the sun and dancing /singing one of the songs the older sister sang one of the songs that made Coyote cry.


“That’s what I do.” She finished.


Wiping his tears and blowing his nose. “Where do these stories go? What happens to them?”


“Some are remembered. Some forgotten.” The older sister added, “Mostly forgotten.”


Overcome with sadness and having no shame Coyote began to whimper. “We’ll lose these stories, these songs…”


“We lose lots of things. Old houses, old churches, old people. They’re not lost. They leave behind falling down walls. Bones. Those tell stories, too.”


Slipping away into the light of the sunset washing the valley, the Western diamondback rattlesnake turned back and said, “Every morning there’s a new story to tell. Stories aren’t lost. Remember ones you hear and tell those again and again.”