Animals, Humans, and the Climate

As a young man, I lived for a short while in the arid countryside of New Mexico, in the American Southwest. From that glorious summer:

Molly and I didn’t plan to stay the winter, so we didn’t build a house. Instead, we built a bed out on the very lip of the mesa, with a hundred foot drop right at the head of the bed. We suspended a clear plastic sheet over it to keep out the rain. At night, we’d lie in bed and look over the edge of the mesa. The thunderstorms would walk right up to us in the night. From our bed we could see them coming for miles. They’d get closer and closer, with the lightning fizzling and snarling, then break over us in a great crashing wave of sound and rain and light. We’d lie in bed under the clear plastic and drink in the fury of the storm.

Ahhh, the madness and sweet folly of youth … Molly, wherever your life may have led you, you have my profound thanks. But I digress.

Today I stumbled across a most amazing and insightful Twitter thread from someone yclept “oldeuropeanculture”. The thread is a charming explication of the intersection between animals, humans, and the climate in the American Southwest. The website of the thread’s author is here, well worth a visit. The original thread, reproduced below, is here. Other than a bit of minor editing and fixing of typos, this is all his work.

w.


Thread: Horned Serpent petroglyph, Barrier Canyon, Utah, USA…Pic by Brian C. Lee.

In this thread, I will explain why the “mythological” horned serpent of the Indian tribes of the South West of the USA isn’t mythological at all. It is actually real … a complex animal calendar marker.

The horned serpent is an animal hybrid, with a body of a rattlesnake and horns of the desert bighorn sheep…

So what’s it all about? Well, let’s first have a look at the mythology of the horned serpent.

The horned serpent is believed to be the guardian of water and is associated with rain, thunder, and lightning. Its wavy curves symbolize flowing water…and its depictions are most often found on river canyon walls…Pic by udink.

Sooo … Rattlesnake-Bighorn sheep hybrid guarding water…Why? What does it mean? Well, to understand this, we need to have a look at the climate in the Southwest of the USA and the annual lifecycle of rattlesnakes and bighorn sheep… 

This is a climate chart for Arizona…That spike you see in Jul/Aug/Sep is the monsoon…Only the most important annual event, the one that makes corn agriculture (and life) possible in Arizona…And the rest of the Southwest…

In this post about the Hopi Indian “god of agriculture and rain”, I explained that he had bighorn sheep horns…because the mating season of these wild sheep, characterized by violent ram fights, coincides with the Southwestern Monsoon season…

And so the bighorn sheep became an animal calendar marker for the Southwestern Monsoon season:

When are the rains going to arrive father?
When bighorn sheep start banging their heads my son…Now shut up and go to sleep…🙂

Eventually, this animal calendar marker became deified. And we ended up with the Rain God with bighorn sheep horns…To whom people could pray for rain…It’s kind of hard to pray to a sheep. 

So this solves the horn part of the horned snake, the mythological being associated with rain, thunder, and lightning, the protector of flowing water … BTW, a lot of the canyons where horned snake petroglyphs were found are dry, except during monsoon season. 

So let’s have a look at the reproduction lifecycle of rattlesnakes … cause animal calendar markers most often mark the mating and birthing period of the depicted animal. 

In the Southwest of the USA, rattlesnakes are active between Mar/Apr and Oct/Nov.

But they are most active during the monsoon season (Jul/Aug/Sep). In just a few short months, they need to shed their skin (at least once), give birth, find mates, mate… 

Which makes Jul/Aug/Sep the most likely time to be bitten by a rattlesnake…

I don’t think that this would have gone unnoticed by the local hunters/gatherers/corn farmers… 

Soooo…The monsoon thunderstorms arrive when bighorn sheep and rattlesnakes start mating/giving birth. What do you think? Is this why in Southwestern USA we find the “horned serpent” as the guardian of water associated with rain, thunder, and lightning?

I think so… 

BTW, the horned snake from the original tweet is just a part of a larger petroglyph panel, depicting a “spirit” (???) with a horned snake (guardian, bringer of water) on one side and the sun on the other. As opposing forces??? Pic by flickr.com/photos/rlngstr…

This petroglyph is one of many made during the archaic period (6000 BC – 100 BC)…Here is another one from that period. I love the horned snake with hands spewing water…

Oh, and there is another “spirit” (???) there too…

Picture Source

Apparently, no one knows what these “ghost” like creatures with “tails” could be. Well, the monsoon rains, which arrive with the “horned snake”, look like this … hmmm … “ghost” like creatures with “tails”???

Consider this petroglyph panel, also from the archaic period (from Thompson, Utah). Compare this image to the above pic of monsoon clouds spewing water onto the dry ground…

In the middle of this panel is this horned dude, with what looks like Bighorn sheep horns. Just like our Hopi friend Alósaka, the Bighorn sheep god of grain and rain, whom I mentioned earlier…

The Utah horned dude also has no legs and looks like one of those monsoon downpours…

Which apparently have a name: microbursts…or…rain bombs…Like this spectacular one…


As I said, a most insightful thread. It’s relationships, concepts, and images like this that are the reason that I truly love studying the climate.

My best to everyone, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, humans, and all creatures great and small.

w.

via Watts Up With That?

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June 1, 2022 at 12:15PM

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