Daryl Plays Catch-up

A Tale of Two Trash Snakes Part 5

Read: A Tale of Two Trash Snakes Part 4

What would a downpour do to Carol’s scent trail? It’s already been a couple of days since she passed over the ground here – did Daryl miss his chance at love, at least for now?

Carol, female Rock Rattlesnake, resting.
Carol, female Rock Rattlesnake, resting.

The ground is still damp in the morning, and Carol is still at the water tank. I poke around the garden, but could find not sight nor sound of Daryl. It isn’t until afternoon that I catch a glimpse of him at the garden gate as he slips into a bush that he passed through multiple times yesterday. Inside he coils– to rest and cool, maybe? I don’t think he had seen me rediscover him. I memorize some landmarks around Daryl to be able to zero in on him from afar, and periodically check on him.

Carol seems to be getting antsy now, as I find her exploring around the base of the water tank; each time I peek she’s in a new spot. The groundcover is sparse here, so she’s easy to monitor from afar, but Daryl has moved and stopped and then disappeared again. I was only able to keep track of him for an hour and a half.

Carol, female Rock Rattlesnake, hunting on a pine stump
Carol, female Rock Rattlesnake, hunting on a pine stump.

Carol makes her move. She heads downhill and finds a small pine stump that must smell of a lizard she’s not yet eaten and sets up to hunt. For us, it is a relief that she is staying put, in the open, where we can monitor her from a distance and focus on finding Daryl. But she doesn’t stay long at the stump and begins moving downhill again, away from the house. We leapfrog her with cameras, keeping still as she passes by. As long as we don’t lose her, we think our chance of seeing Daryl again is good (provided he ever tracks her down!).

It’s late in the afternoon when Carol seems to stop in a thick clump of grass. I leave Melissa to stand watch as I lug camera gear back up to the house. Thunder is rolling around the valley, and I don’t want it to be caught in a downpour. As I approach the house, I spot Daryl just below the water tank! On this third day of his search, he’s missed her by only a couple of hours. I watch as he appears to intercept Carol’s fresh track, but follows it in the wrong direction and up to the water tank.

While Daryl moves in and out around the water tank, surely finding a Gordian knot of Carol’s enticing scent trails, she has disappeared in the grass and seems to have stopped moving. Melissa maintains her post, but in the failing light it’s hard to tell if Carol has moved on or is staying put.

Daryl seems invigorated by the discovery of fresh Carol scents. At last he finds her trail downhill, following it over the stump, and makes his way across the firebreak as she had just hours before. Today is his third day of searching for her, and this is the hottest the trail has yet been.

It’s just about dark now, and Daryl is making good progress as we follow him with a dim flashlight. But a thunderstorm rakes across the hill, and Daryl’s capabilities diminish in the downpour. His initial response is to climb, but the grass collapses beneath him. He finds his way to the base of a tree for a moderate amount of shelter from the rain, but he looks miserable.

Eventually the rain lets up, but Daryl doesn’t. He’s lost Carol’s trail, but he’s still intent on his mission. It’s chilly now, and he’s moving slow, but he continues moving about the wet ground, tongue flicking very deliberately along this twig and that rock. If he’s picked up a trace of her scent, it’s not obvious. With his body cool, he is not the graceful beast he was before the storm. He reminds me of a spent marathon runner, wholly focused on the finish line but willfully ignoring the protests of the flesh.

Before now, neither Carol nor Daryl had exhibited activity after dark, which made it easier for us to keep track of them. But how strong was my resolve? I desperately wanted to see the conclusion of this saga, but I was tired, and the idea of watching this poor snake smell every twig on the hillside seemed like too much. At midnight, I thanked Daryl for his visit and enduring our prying eyes, and bade him goodnight and good luck.

Read: A Tale of Two Trash Snakes Part 6