One Angry Rattlesnake

June 26, 2009 at 11:33 am 4 comments

I’ve been hiking in southern California for a couple of years now. Recently I met up for the first time with one of our most notorious forms of wildlife: a rattlesnake. One very angry rattlesnake.

Matilija Canyon Ranch sign

My gentleman friend and I went hiking one sunny afternoon in Matilija Canyon Ranch, a secluded little canyon not far from Ojai, California. As usual, I took along my digital camera to take pictures for my paintings.

The Matilija Canyon hike started out on a dirt road but soon turned into a small narrow trail. We thoroughly enjoyed the hike, which crossed the stream several times. Usually I’m not too keen on stream crossings, but this stream had lots of boulders making the crossings quite easy and even kind of fun. Considering we’re in a drought, the stream had quite a lot of water. Here’s a view upstream that I shot while standing on some boulders halfway across:

Matilija Canyon Stream

Being a trail in a canyon, it’s a there-and-back kind of hike rather than a loop. So after a while we decided we’d gone far enough and turned back. We met the rattlesnake on the return leg.

We were on a particularly narrow part of the trail, where the canyon is very narrow and steep-sided. The path was hugging the left wall of the canyon, the stream some distance down to our right. My gentleman friend was in the lead on that stretch.

A sudden violent hiss erupted from the underbrush to our right, and we both instinctively leaped away from it. I shouted “rattlesnake!” as I scrambled backwards on the path. My companion leaped forwards. That left the unseen rattlesnake somewhere between us, hidden in the underbrush next to the path. Great.

I’ve seen rattlers on TV before, and I’ve seen them snoozing quietly behind glass at the zoo, but I had never experienced a live, angry rattlesnake doing its thing before. As it turns out, it’s not so much a “ch,ch,ch,ch” kind of sound like you make with a baby rattle, but rather a continuous “SSSSSSSSHHHHHHH.” It’s LOUD. And it just goes on and on and on without a break.

I’ve read the books. You know, the ones that say “the snake is more afraid of you than you are of it” and “if you leave it alone it’ll just go away” and “rattlesnakes only strike if they are cornered.” Right. Well, apparently this snake hadn’t read the books. It was pissed off and it wasn’t going to move!

We of course backed away from it. A long ways. We each had to retreat a good 30 feet away before the snake stopped its rattling. Then we assessed our options. My companion was safely away from the snake, but I had to somehow make my way past it to get out of the canyon. The canyon was too steep to consider leaving the trail to go around the snake. My only way out was on the path, past the snake. And that snake didn’t want me anywhere near it.

We waited a while so the snake could calm down and, we hoped, just go away, but it wasn’t having it. It was apparently in no mood to “just go away.” As soon as I got closer than 20 feet it started rattling again. I backed away again until the angry sound subsided.

We waited a while, then once again cautiously ventured closer, but the snake was still there and still very pissed, and it started its rattling again. We backed off.

I realized that the only way I was going to get out of there was to make a run for it. Scariest decision of my life. I edged closer to the snake until it started rattling again, then made a dash for it, all the while expecting it to strike at me as I passed.

It didn’t, and I got past it safely. In fact, I never did see the snake. But boy did I hear it!


Entry filed under: Hiking.

Fun Times in La Jolla “Yellow Square” painting


  • 1. Bryan Hughes  |  June 26, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Good story. It sounds as if the snake was in a position where it couldn’t easily back up, such as up against the base of a bush. When they get into a defensive position, it is common for them to retreat while holding pose, whenever possible. Thank you for not killing the poor thing, as many others on the trail would have done without thinking.

  • 2. Fred  |  June 30, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Yikes!! I presume Jesse wasn’t there! I always worry about that, given the size of my Cody—I don’t think I could run him to the vet in time!

  • 3. barbarajcarter  |  July 2, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Hi Fred, yes, I didn’t have my dog Jesse with me on this hike. He’s getting older and slower so we’ve stopped bringing him with us on hikes. With rattlesnakes about, it’s just as well!

    Hi Bryan, Thanks for stopping by! I love all forms of wildlife, including snakes which I mostly find quite fascinating. Killing the rattler never crossed my mind. I was just trying not to GET killed!

  • 4. Baby Lizard « Barbara J Carter  |  September 15, 2009 at 2:31 am

    […] you may have gathered from my angry rattlesnake story (not to mention my sojourn into the uncharted territory of county fairs) I’m quite the animal […]

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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