Sonoma County has been buying old quarries and converting them into recreation ponds for fishing and boating, with surrounding trails going from Santa Rosa to the ocean. We were running on such a trail, with Skipper the Jack Russell terrier running ahead of us, when I noticed a snake crossing the path about thirty yards up. “Look,” I said to Shannon. Skip ran on oblivious and nearly tripped over it. He jumped back a couple of feet and waited until we caught up, laughing at his un-canine behaviour.
“It’s a king snake,” said Shannon. “Awesome!” It was about four feet long, with brown and white stripes. It rolled into a hypnotically winding coil and began to shake its tail, adopting a strike posture with its head. Skip looked on, panting — wary but curious.
“You’re sure it’s not a rattler?” I asked. “It’s shaking its tail.”
“They do that to make you think they’re rattlesnakes,” she said. “They’re not venomous.” I moved in for a closer look — sure enough, it had none of the telltale loose ‘rattle’ of skin on its tail. “You never see them that big,” she said. “Normally they get run over long before they get to this size.” She bent down to touch it. “In Native American lore they signify transformation and healing.”
As soon as Shannon touched it, the snake seemed to know that its ruse was over. It unwound and continued on its way, and we went ours.