My landlord, the rabbit and the rattler By Ron Baird
My landlord, Jack, comes by from time to time and more often than not we sit and talk. He’s in his early 80s and looks like the farm kid he once was, with thick arms, big hands and a chest that hasn’t fallen much to the ravages of time.
His shock of gray hair has usually been wet-combed across his head, kind of like Opie of Mayberry at 75 if he hadn’t gone bald. He favors flannel shirts, jeans and workboots and often has a pipe clamped in his teeth, puffing away without inhaling.
He talks about climbing Colorado’s mountains back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, when trips were made in old jalopies, the roads were narrow and winding and gear was primitive and heavy. He was at the University of Colorado then and he and a bunch of his climbing buddies scaled most of the 14ers in the state.
He graduated with a degree in some kind of engineering and has gone on to a full life of work and family here in Boulder. His wife is healthy, his kids are healthy and happy and have families of their own.
He’s building a steel-hulled boat in his back yard, has been for years, and fully expects to launch it into the ocean at some point in the future.
Jack is also a native of Boulder, grew up on a farm/ranch a ways north of town. He calls it a farm but I know that ground and there isn’t much that can be grown on it except cactus and wild grass and as it turns out subdivisions and mountain mansions. He was relating how lonely it was living out there as a kid.
I don’t know how we got around to it, but we were discussing rattlers, which were common back then. And he told me a story.
“One day when I was about 10, we heard the damnedest ruckus coming from the field behind the house and we went out to see what the hell was going on. When we got out there, there was a mother rabbit standing between a rattler and her babies, which were in a nest in the grass. I guess the rattler wanted to make a meal out of them babies and the mother was having none of it. When the snake started forward, she’d move towards it. The snake would coil and she would lunge, drawing a strike. At the last second, she would spin away and kick the snake in the head with both hind feet, knocking it away. The snake would gather itself and start forward and she’d do the same thing again. It was the damnedest thing I ever saw.
“Now, you have to understand that we weren’t very sentimental about such things back in those days. So we just watched. And besides, we’d never seen anything like that. Who could have imagined a momma rabbit would, or could, do something like that to protect her babies? But this went on for, I would guess, 20 minutes. Every time that snake started forward, she would kick it again. You could tell they were both getting pretty tired but the snake wasn’t giving up and neither was she. But the snake was bleeding from the eyes and mouth, and the bleeding was getting worse and worse. And it seemed to be disoriented and would lay there longer and longer before trying again. The rabbit would lay down, and its sides were fluttering she was breathing so hard. But when the snake got up so would the rabbit.
“Finally, the snake didn’t move anymore. I don’t think it was dead exactly, but it was dying. It’s head looked like somebody had hit it with a baseball bat. I wasn’t sure the mother rabbit was going to make it, either, but I’ll be damned if she didn’t finally she get up and hop to the nest where she had her babies.
“As I said, we weren’t too sentimental back then. We knew nature was hard. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how brave that momma rabbit was, so I went back to the barn and got a shovel and went out and cut that rattler’s head off, just to be safe. I think she earned that⎯not having to worry about that snake any more.”
Jack, even 65 years later, still shakes his head in admiration, as he finishes the story. “I’ve never stopped thinking about it.”
And now that I’ve heard the story, I can’t get the death duel of the momma rabbit and the rattler out of my head, either.