Making Friends with Rattlesnakes

•October 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment


When I was an under-graduate student at the University of California, Irvine taking my first field class in Desert Ecology, I had high hopes of learning from top professors. My enthusiasm dwindled rather quickly when upon arriving at our desert cabin, the professor first warned students about the rattlesnakes and then proceeded to shoot and kill two rattlesnakes on the way to the cabin. I was in SHOCK. This was Population Ecology-how were we to accurately study populations when we were killing one of the species?

Angry and upset, I refused to sleep in the cabin with the rattlesnake killing professor and students. I took my sleeping bag out to the desert floor to sleep with creatures who did not intentionally go around killing another species for no particular reason. I was warned that I would end up with snakes under my warm sleeping bag as the desert got cold at night. Sleeping with snakes who were trying to stay warm seemed a lot more authentic and safe than sleeping with people who justified murdering an animal who had committed no crime except to exist.

In the morning I could feel two thick long bodies under my down sleeping bag that were not there when I went to bed. It was early- about 5:45 am- and the air was still cold as the sun was rising in the East. I slowing slipped out of my bag, knowing that the snakes would be too cold to move around much yet and proceeded up the rocky cliff to meditate. As I hiked up the rocks I suddenly startled a large diamond back who was just starting to slowly move to a sunny place on a rock to warm itself. It jumped with all it’s might and rolled down a few feet looking like a bicycle wheel. I felt terrible to have caused it to waste so much energy to escape simply because I was not careful where I was stepping.

FILLED WITH TEARS. from my emotional anger at the professor and now my empathy for all rattlesnakes, I sat down on the rocky cliff and looked into the black eyes of the snake. I apologized for the ignorance and aggression of humans toward rattlesnakes. The snakes lay rather still, only moving to send its tongue in and out to sense me. Its eyes locked into a shared awareness with mine. Neither of us had any fear for the other. We just connected. Thoughts raced through my mind and I was filled with the tremendous emotion of sadness. Why could not all biologists feel this way with all species? Why does fear exist? How was it that I felt so connected with this creature? I had to find out how I was accessing the feelings, thoughts and overall awareness.

My mind chattered like a fast movie; WHY DO PEOPLE FEAR US when we have developed a rattle to warn other creatures not to step on us? ¬†Where was this all coming from- my own consciousness? That of the snake? Or even someplace else? How was it that I could sense questions and answers on top of each other as though I was watching a scripted movie in my head? I took a deep breath, smiled at the sun with tears still in my eyes and spent the next 30 minutes sitting on that rock with a rattlesnake friend next to me in a form of “EXTENDED COMPASSIONATE AWARENESS”. I was able to sense the life cycle of the rattlesnake, the difficulty it had to warm up in the morning, the cognition of the snake to make decisions, the feelings of living without appendages and feeling my body as one long muscle.

From that moment forward in all of my future field studies ¬†from California to Wyoming; Colorado to New Mexico, I’ve loved and respected rattlesnakes. My intuition would let me know when I was in their habitat and they were around me so I could be careful not to disturb them. I lived with them under my trailer in Wyoming and climbed down rocky cliffs safely while listening to rattles all around me. I even had one large friend who would routinely come along with me to check my live trap line.

The Intuitive Scientist

•January 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Science and Intuition are often considered opposite ends of the spectrum, but in fact most scientists use intuition to help them define theories, discover new answers, and solve problems, they just don’t admit it. Why? Because the scientific method clearly tries to take the “subjective/intuitive” opinion out of the equation in favor of the “objective” data obtained.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE science, but the methods we use in science need refreshing to meet modern challenges. Humans are connected to all of life in more way than one, and ignoring or pretending we are separate and an objective viewer in the first place is limited thinking by cognitive standards today.