December 10, 2002

Rave: A sinuously good story

When writers avoid clichés, when writers use personal experience to add depth, when writers embrace wit, detail and style, then a story like this emerges (by Natalie Angier, in the Science section of today’s New York Times:

Venomous and Sublime: The Viper Tells Its Tale

Not long ago in Zion National Park in southern Utah, a couple of hikers — O.K., one of them was this writer — came upon a big and handsome Western rattlesnake off to the side of the trail. The snake was coiled on a rocky outcropping just below eye level, sunning itself, as ectotherms love to do. A dappled velvet cable at home on the checkerboard stage of the desert.

Soon, a throng of other hikers had gathered round to gawk, leaning in to take pictures and then squealing excitedly as the snake snapped its head toward a camera flash with a withering glower. When a park ranger arrived to see what the fuss was about and said yes, it was a real rattlesnake with genuine venom in its fangs, a teenage girl in the throng breathed out a sentiment surely shared by the group: "That is so cool! I've never seen one of these things outside a zoo before."

Is there anything cooler than a snake or more evocative of such a rich sinusoidal range of sensations? Snakes are beckoning. Snakes are terrifying. Snakes are elegant, their skins like poured geometry.

Snakes are preposterous. Just watch one galumph its jaws around a stunned hare or a chicken egg or even another snake.

Around the world, people dream of snakes more than of any other animal. As scientists learn more about the biology, evolution and behavior of these earthiest and most Freudianized of creatures, snakes just keep getting cooler, a fitting fate for a coldblooded reptile.

 Read the entire story

Posted by Tim Porter at December 10, 2002 08:04 AM