A rattlesnake lived under our front porch that summer on the mountain in Temecula. We had to look before we stepped onto the stones, which held a giant prickly pear and enough heat by nine in the morning to draw the snake to bask. The presence and profusion of rattlesnakes on the mountain made me more alert than usual. R. and I lived together for the first time then; it was my first trip to California, my first earthquake. Life felt new, as if in coming here I’d become a person I didn’t recognize yet. As if, like a snake, I’d shed an old skin and left my husk in the loud oak leaves. I felt new-skinned, dangerous.
So much to fear on the mountain – fire, mainly. In fact, the whole place went up in flames a few years ago. Also: snakes. Snakes on the stones, in the woods, blending with the leaves, rattling, flowing like thin rivers into the tule pond where we bathed. The idea of being struck by a rattlesnake while I swam in deep water summed up all my fears – and that summer I swam every day. I learned that fear is a form of adrenaline, that <b>fear is a method</b>.