I wish Steve Campbell was here to see the publication of “Herping Texas,” as Clint and I draw on recollections of Steve in more than a few stories we tell in the book. Steve passed away six years ago, and he was a wonderful and funny friend to many of us. In the chapter on the Cross Timbers I talked about the western massasauga rattlesnake, a small rattlesnake that was once common in prairie habitat west of Fort Worth. One of the stories in which Steve played a part involved a massasauga:
“One other observation of a massasauga’s behavior helps explain why people may claim that one or another venomous snake chased them. On a spring night out on the road near Weatherford, Steve Campbell and I came up on an adult massasauga. It was Steve’s first encounter with this species, and so we got out and lingered over it for a couple of minutes, admiring it. The snake remained motionless on the caliche road under our lights, and we talked about the intricacies of its pattern. At some point I wanted to see it in a different position, and I nudged it with my snake hook. It exploded into movement, heading straight toward where Steve had crouched to look at it. He, of course, also exploded into movement, and in my memory it is always something close to a back flip that I witnessed, although I doubt he was that acrobatic. In any case, as he moved out of the way, the snake continued on past him and toward whatever spot it may have considered to offer shelter. There was no chase, and no attack – the snake was simply racing for cover, with no thought of who might be in the way.”
Herping Texas: The Quest for Reptiles & Amphibians, Michael Smith & Clint King. Texas A&M University Press (release date November 5).