A few days ago Violet is strapped to my chest under a fiery western sun. Its high afternoon and we are on the upper rim trail at Dog Canyon following behind Max and Milo. I sing a little to Violet as we roll. COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN (all six verses with a first verse reprieve) into the first few lines of SCENES FROM AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT.
"A bottle of red (I squeeze her finger)....a bottle of white (i.s.h.f.)...any kinda mood you're innnnnnnnn to-night(I get a finger squeeze back!)"
Other song fragments blow through our hike like windy trash. MONEY TALKS (AC/DC). SHOTGUN WILLIE (Willie Nelson). A little RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER because it is now forever ingrained in my conscious.
So through the woods we go, care-free and whimsical; shall we take the trail by the creek or shall we throw a stone at a tree? What we do is our business, thank you very much. We are settlers of the west awash in summertime liberties. Milo eats some sage brush and gags. The west can be cruel.
We slip down by an old gorgeous aqueduct and I read Violet the historical marker that stands beside it. She makes spittle with her lips to show her massive boredom. Under the canopy of cottonwoods Max chases some yesterday scent. A squirrel or a quail maybe. Nothing comes of it. The dogs run ahead toward a small crick for a drink as the kid and me are singing some GUESS WHO (NO SUGAR TONIGHT); we start down a short hill and snake!
Snake. Big one. Three feet. Four? My heart considers yesteryear's light cocaine abuse, 80,000 cigs, the mozzarella sticks of my long drawn out adolescence. My heart has every right to M80 itself right now. A decent firecracker popping off in a plum. But she doesn't somehow and thank God 'cause I'm not the type who's gonna have a coronary and still be able to eek out one last hero's crawl up a mountainside so someone can rescue my baby. I go down, she goes down. I'm certain of that much.
So, snake. Bastard is long and right now very very still. Parked smack dab in the middle of the trail. I look around for another hiker so I can be all mountain man and tell 'em there's a snake here.
"Woman, there's a snake here. A got-damn'd diamondback as long as this musket. Poison drippin' off it's fangs like a melted stalagtite. Stay the hell back, woman...I'm gonna pick it up."
There's no one around though. And there's no rattle on the snake. Still, I'm jazzed on outdoorsy adventure. I decide I should use this opportunity to practice with my wise dogs. How would we fare if she was a big mean rattler?
Somehow, the dogs have already passed the snake without any of the three beasts seeming too interested or bothered. I let that little nugget pass me by.
I call carefully for Milo. He begins to come my way. Good boy, Milo...over here: i use my arm to veer him away from the snake. Max joins Milo out of curiosity. They are now Ponch and Jon in super danger. Milo's tongue hangs low and wet; his face is happy goofball. I steer him from afar with my voice and my arms. My dogs are crafty, I tell myself.
Milo comes on like a high school linebacker closing in on a half-keg in the woods. He steps directly on the snake's face.
Max does it too.
I am, of course, devastated. But also, I feel ill. And frightened. And I'm pondering deeply why the snake hasn't bothered to bite or hiss or even move at all. Still on the trail, still unmoved. My experiment having failed miserably, I shoo the dogs away, check to see that Violet could care less, and spin us all around.
Maybe the friggin' thing is dead, I think.
We go around and come back a different way five minutes later. The six foot long coral snake of death is gone.
What kind of a serpent lets good-timin' dogs trot all over his face?
My kind, buddy. The good kind.