Creekside Drama

The other evening a couple miles up on my (near) nightly ramble in the Rattlesnake I reached a spot creekside. It was a gorgeous fall evening, and I decided I wanted to grab a picture — it’s one of my favorite spots that, while definitely popular, doesn’t get near the traffic other sites do — before climbing a steep hill and returning to the trailhead. As I approached the bank, I thought to step out onto some flat rocks so that I could be farther out into the water for a better photographic vantage point. I took a step, heard a splashing at my feet, and lo and behold —

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This snake had a fish firmly by the tail. Up out of the water, the fish’s gills were still flexing steadily, but not quickly. My immediate reaction was to want to rescue the fish, which is strange. Yeah, I have learned a deep affinity for fish as I’ve become a more avid fisherman (how’s that for a contradiction?)(I’m certain other fishermen, and hunters for that matter, can relate), but why should its life be more important than that of the snake? So I left them alone, and sat back to watch the struggle unfold. I was transfixed, and found it oddly emotional.

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At one point a couple other hikers approached, with dogs, and I stood from my perch on a rock to try and keep the dogs away. The two hikers — young women — eyed me with looks of mild concern before ascending the hill I had intended to climb. I didn’t want the dogs to mess up what the snake was trying to accomplish.

The snake worked the fish around and positioned its jaw at the fish’s tail, clearly with the intention to swallow the entire thing. How it hoped to accomplish that I don’t know, but I trust it knew what it was doing. I could have remained until darkness watching, fascinated, but I had to return to Missoula and pick Julia up after work. I was pleased to witness it, though. Something I’d never seen before, and possibly never will again.

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The next night I returned to the spot, curious to see if there were any signs of what had happened. No dead fish, no bloated and belching snake, nothing. No one ever would have known what had happened there. Who knows what DID happen there. Maybe the snake pulled off its feast, maybe a dog — or bear, for that matter — came along and swallowed them both. I’ll never know.

I took the opportunity to take the pictures that I hadn’t the night before, though.

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I explored a couple little side trails on the way back that I hadn’t hiked before. Looking upstream I could see clearly that someone had built a cairn out in the flow, but there weren’t any obvious paths to access it. After some bushwhacking and finally some wading out into the current, I got a closer look.

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There were a couple cairns, which were cool enough, but what amazed me is that someone had taken the time and no small amount of effort to make little redirections of the stream so that it flowed over rocks, creating little pools and waterfalls along the way. It was like some guerrilla zen garden of some kind, and I loved it. Again, I could have stayed for hours. The pictures I took don’t do it justice.

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It made me happy. It proved that how we humans choose to disrupt nature doesn’t always have to be shitty, that sometimes we can actually make beauty. It was good to be reminded of that.

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Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

9 thoughts on “Creekside Drama”

  1. Hello….found your blog through another. Wish I’d found it before, but now I have some back reading to do this fall. I’m 120 miles east of you in Butte, retired and fish, travel some.
    That’s a good size brookie for that snake to eat, but it can do it.
    Cheers,
    Mike

  2. When I first saw you post this pic I wanted to ask you a Q and then forgot about it. Now that you’ve put up a full post, you answered my question. But it’s still an interesting conundrum – the desire to save one thing and realizing it’s both interrupting the circle of life and doing so at the peril of the other. Snake’s gotta get his, too. I’m not surprised you had that instinct, however.

    Brought back memories of me fighting a house cat in a vacant lot next to the house I was building. I was in shorts in 20 degree weather, had just run out to check something. If it had been anything other than a well-fed house cat torturing this mouse I would have let it go. As it was, an epic struggle ensued. I won, but who knows if I even did that mouse a favor. He was gone when I later checked the bedding I left him in but ???

    A pretty amazing struggle you saw and I’m certain you’re right, not something most people ever get a chance to encounter. I’m generally of the opinion that I love the circle of life but don’t want to see all of it in action in living color, but when you come across an event like that, tough not to watch and also think about that greater circle. Cool stuff.

    Anyway, loved this post, and really enjoy hearing and seeing your trail travails. Keep ’em coming.

    P.S. Love the “new” site!

    1. Thanks, Lauren. The site is in a bit of transition, but it isn’t going anywhere. As for this:

      I love the circle of life but don’t want to see all of it in action in living color, but when you come across an event like that, tough not to watch and also think about that greater circle.

      You summed it up perfectly.

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