Snakes Alive!

by Calendar Hacksaw


I was up to the Lake Arrowhead Resort last week for a one-day conference, and passing through the small community of Blue Jay along the way I remembered an interesting experience I had up there during a weekend camping trip about 15 years ago, or more.

My grandson, Alpo, was still pretty young, and had never been on an overnighter without Betty and Persephone coming along, so we decided this trip would be a "guy" thing; just the two us out roughing it and trying to fend for ourselves; comb our own hair and tie our own shoelaces. You know the drill.

The campground we chose was small and secluded, operated by the U.S. Forest Service rather than State Parks or BLM or the County. The Forest Service runs the best camps, as far as I'm concerned, or at least they did back then. Amenities and rules are few, and it takes a lot of wrongdoing before a ranger will get in your face.

That campground isn't there anymore. It was closed permanently shortly after Alpo and I checked out, and if you finish reading this column you'll find out why.

So we pitched camp and settled in. A young fella and his son came along and set up next to us, and they turned out to be a pretty good pair. Alpo and the other boy got along fine, and his dad and I commenced to drinkin' and swappin' recipes.

Early the next morning a ranger-led hike was scheduled, so we decided to tag along. Just after dawn, about a dozen of us gathered at the appointed spot, where we were greeted by "Ranger Bob," who commenced to tell us about the hike we were going to take. Ranger Bob was older than dirt, and his brief speech went something like this:

"Good morning. I'm Ranger Bob. I've been up here for 35 years, and I'm about to retire in another month. At the same time as I retire, the Forest Service is going to shut down this campground permanently. And I'm going to help 'em do it.

"You see, the area around this campground is very special. In these two acres lives a small snake which never grows longer than about 12 to 17 inches. It is a very secretive, anti-social snake, and there are only about a dozen of 'em left in here. They're found no where else on this mountain; just here. The habitat is crucial to their survival, and I have been here protecting them for 35 years. Now it's time for me to move on, and closing the campground is the only way the snake population can be protected. The last thing I will do here, in about another month, is to obliterate any sign of the trail upon which we're about to hike.

"We are going to hike right through the snakes' domain, but I promise you that no one will see the snakes except me. You don't know what to look for, or where to look. And that's just the way I like it."

So we hiked for about an hour and I never saw a snake. And the ranger retired and the campground is closed now, forever. End of story.

* * *

After we broke camp the next day and started heading home, I decided to take a detour and drive through Crest Park for no particular reason. I have no idea why I headed over there; there's nothing to do or see. At some point, I made a U-turn and started heading back toward Highway 18.

I was driving down a steep curving grade when I saw two young boys on bicycles ahead of me, pedaling like crazy. They were going about as fast as I was, maybe 30 mph, and I knew they wouldn't be able to make the next curve at that speed. So I hit my brakes and we watched helplessly as the smallest boy's bike went out of control. To say this kid ate asphalt would be an understatement.

Well, I pulled over to the side of the road and got out to assess the damage. The boy was down and crying, but the only visible injury was that he had added a new joint between his wrist and elbow. A nice, clean compound fracture of the radius and ulna.

There were no houses or cabins around, so I told his buddy that I would take Phractured Phil to the fire station in Crestline, and asked him to go fetch the lad's parents, who were attending a marijuana tasting party in a park somewhere. With that, I loaded "Speedy" into the cab with Alpo and me, and off we went on the 15-minute drive to find the paramedics; one kid cradling his broken arm with his good arm and trying not to cry from the pain, and Alpo sitting up ramrod straight avoiding any view of the injured party.

Upon our arrival in Crestline, I honked three times and the fire crew came out right away. They called for an ambulance and began administering first aid. About 15 minutes later, the boy's mother and her boyfriend-of-the-week showed up, all ticked off at the kid for screwing up their day. They never said a word to me, and I was glad to get out of there.

The next day at work, I told the story to my boss, and he berated me for my stupidity in transporting the boy to the fire station. "Just think of the liability! You could get sued!"

What would life be like in Walker Basin if people thought like that?

* * *

So, I guess there are two morals to this story, if I can stretch it that far. First off, if you own property up here, you are a caretaker of the land. You would do well to be like Ranger Bob; protect it for as long as you can, then destroy it and get the hell out of town.

Second, never listen to your worthless boss.

You were maybe expecting something with deeper meaning?

Calendar Hacksaw hangs out at, and he finds it interesting that the snake in question is equipped with a "spur" or "claw" hidden amidst its scales, used to grasp and immobilize deer mice while smothering the life out of them. A technique not unlike the outstanding riding skills, winning smile and glowing personality typical of any seriously dedicated Princess candidate intent on meeting her ticket sales quota.

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