Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Mexico: Rattlesnakes

Rattlesnake, American International Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

New Mexico seems to have a fascination with rattlesnakes.

Truth be told, I think the entire human race has a gut relationship with snakes in general. In Caucasus Georgia, there is a lot of fear associated with snakes, with a history of superstitions about their ties to evil. In the Old Testament, of course, Satan seduces Eve in the guise of a snake.

Growing up in Missouri, it wasn't uncommon for me to hear people note matter-of-factly that they kill any snake they see.

I kind of like snakes. Or at least, I feel no enmity toward them. I don't want to run across a poisonous snake, but that's my only concern, and even there, I know that most poisonous snakes will leave you alone as long as you leave them alone. (OK, those gigantic Burmese pythons are a different story.) Spiders on the other hand ...

But back to New Mexico.

There's the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque, which I visited a few years ago and took these pics (no flash):

Rattlesnake, American International Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico


Rattlesnake, American International Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Alamogordo used to have what they called the Alamogordo Rattlesnake Round-Up. I'm not sure when it ended, but I'm thinking the last one was perhaps 2006. From the description of the Alamogordo (and other) rattlesnake round-ups, the participants were not examples of humans being their best selves, and I'm glad they ended, though in comparison with other round-ups, Alamogordo's seemed relatively mild. The Sweetwater, TX, round-up appears particularly egregious. I don't see any entertainment or educational value in covering one's hands in rattlesnake blood and then making a bloody hand print on a wall. (As Nely in Rustavi says, "not all of our traditions are good ones.")



In looking up rattlesnake lore, I was surprised to learn that the famous American admonishment, Don't Tread on Me, features a rattlesnake. I just thought it was a generic snake.

Gadsden flag. Credit: Wikipedia.
The colonists used the rattlesnake to depict the original colonies. Benjamin Franklin described the rattlesnake's "character" as follows:
"I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?"[5]

All the more the pity that some of us demean an honorable American symbol in activities such as rattlesnake round-ups.

Some interesting rattlesnake lore here.

In Alamogordo, there's a guy who owns what he calls a trading post on Highway 82, just east of Florida Avenue. Moore's.

Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.

One of the maintenance guys at my apartment complex, who I'll call Javier, told me Mr. Moore keeps rattlesnakes at his place, and for a price, you get a balloon on a stick, and you put that in front of the rattlesnake and wait for the rattlesnake to strike it and pop it. Javier thinks Mr. Moore collects the rattlesnakes in the spring and then turns them loose again in the winter.

I went out there the other day to see these rattlesnakes. Sure enough, there they were.


Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.


Seventeen of them. Kept in a two-part, very large rectangular pit. There was water.


Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.


There were a lot of popped balloons down there. The snakes were coiled and still. Dusty looking.

Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.


One or two, though, when visitors spoke, would rattle noisily.





I wish I would have asked Mr. Moore questions about the rattlesnakes he keeps, but I didn't. Maybe I'll go back later and ask.


Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.


How are Mr. Moore's conditions where he keeps "his" snakes different from those of a person who keeps snakes as pets? Is the water clean enough? The space large enough? Do they get enough to eat? Is sticking balloons in the rattlesnakes faces better or worse than what other snake pet owners do? Are the snakes in good health? I don't know the answers to any of those questions.

In one of the rooms of his store, there are terrariums, almost all of them empty, but with cedar shavings and some sticks or a rock or two. I'm wondering if Mr. Moore winters some of the snakes in these.

Other than the snakes, Mr. Moore has a curious store. Note the oryx.

Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.


One room was filled with a pile of camo clothing. 

Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.


There was an imposing mannequin in another.

Moore's Trading Post, Alamogordo, New Mexico.


Buying a screwdriver was on my list of things to do, and lo, there was one for 50 cents.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hope you didn't take mr. Moore's last screwdriver, because he sounds like he has a screw loose. . .

Mzuri said...

*Smile.* I don't know about that, but I expect he's a man with stories to tell. I did stop by his place toward the end of winter to see if the snakes were there, and they weren't. He said he releases them for the winter, then goes out and collects snakes again in the spring.

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