It has been five years since I've been here, but I can not remember an Idaho summer this green. It is impossibly green for July, a green so thick and heavy that in some places the mountains appear nearly black, especially early in the morning or in the evening as the sun sinks into the reservoir west of the city. My corner of Idaho, the place I was born and raised, is a brown and yellow expanse of land, broken up by rolling hills and small mountains, heavy black chunks of lava rock and vast flowering potato fields. It is somehow desolate and comforting all at once.
My mother lives south of Pocatello on a nice chunk of land that backs up against the mountains. Her backyard is a mountain, dotted with tall clumps of sage and wide stands of juniper, with deep washes that run down either side of the property. Normally a visit this late in the summer finds the tall grass long since yellowed and crisp, the flowers faded and a bit wilted and the air sharp and hot in the lungs. This year, unlike any year I've known, heavy rains have fallen nearly every day, prolonging Spring and cooling what is typically an unbearable July, keeping the air fresh but dry, fragrant and easy on the nose. Everywhere I look I see green, tall and limber, as alive and tender as May.
Several weeks ago a massive storm gathered near The Gap, the place my mother lives where two mountain ranges come together, creating a narrow valley. Storms often move through the valley and meet these two enormous walls of land and rock and back up on themselves. But this storm swirled and grew in force until it erupted in one of the most fierce microbursts mom has ever seen. Flash floods raged all around as water spilled down the mountains and into the washes on both side of the house, flooding her backyard and running down into the street, which became a river.
Last night after Duncan and I arrived, tired from a long day's travel across Wyoming, we were warned to stay off the mountain because the flood pushed the snakes down lower than usual. My mother, working her amazing gardens and flowerbeds has encountered several, and the neighbors have reported killing rattlers. Duncan has never been to Pocatello in the summer,and his only experiences on the mountain have been in the deep snow. He loves it up there and I've been promising him we'd trek all over. Mom and Kevin's warning was more than a little disappointing.
This morning before I took Duncan for his walk, while mom was getting ready for work, she warned me again. "I wouldn't take him up there," she said. "He's just so curious and I'd hate for him to poke at a snake, especially a rattler."
I nodded and listened, but once she was gone, my dog gave me that look and so we grabbed Zeus, the friendly Shepherd pup from across the street and went up the hillside, running through the juniper, staying out of the sage where the ticks lurk, up and down the hill, back and forth. Duncan was ecstatic and it was all I could do to keep him close. I could stand and watch him run and explore for hours. His enthusiasm and appreciation for all things, old and new, is remarkable.
The morning eventually began to wear off and the sun grew hot. We climbed back down, south of the house to the road, where we walked down the middle, Duncan admiring the stink bugs scurrying for the grass line, and me admiring him.
And then there it was, spread out right in front of us, a long thin snake, tan with black diamonds on its back. I froze, gasped and being terrified of snakes, did a full body quiver. Duncan stopped and stared at the horses, oblivious to the snake directly in front of him. I tightened my grip on the leash and pulled him back close to me. I had no idea what kind of snake it was, and although I was pretty sure its tail didn't have a rattle, those diamonds made me nervous. The snake, of course, did not seem to even notice us. Its tongue spiked out once and only reacted when I moved my hand, sending a shadow across its field of vision, it reared back and looked right at us, capturing Duncan's attention. He bent forward and sniffed it's thin tail, nudging it with his nose, causing the thing to slither a few inches forward. Duncan's tail exploded in joy and he looked ready to pounce.
Duncan was convinced he'd found the ultimate stick, and before I could react, leaned down, scooped up its tail in his mouth and prepared to trot away. I yanked hard as the snake coiled up, startling him. He dropped it and leapt back, his eyes never leaving it as it slithered across the gravel and under a tall clump of lavender.
I could hardly wait to tell mom that the danger was not on the hillside but right in the middle of the road where she'd urged us to walk.