Tales of snakes I've known all too well.
|“Snakes I’ve Known”
If you are one of those people who think snakes make good pets, I am not one of you. If you are one of those people who like to touch, hold, or let snakes curl around you, I am not one of you. If you like snakes in any fashion, you should stop reading my story now and consider extensive therapy.
I do not know why I dislike snakes so much. Perhaps it comes from the Biblical account of Satan in the form of a snake in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps it comes from my grandmother’s story of herself as a small girl living many miles from the nearest town or doctor, and her brother being bitten by a rattlesnake, nearly dying.
The people most influential in my life did not teach me to fear snakes. My Uncle Roy and my grandfather both pointed out the advantages of many good snakes; how they kept the rats and mice around the farm under control. But Gramps might have inadvertently added to my fear, when as a boy of about twelve-years-old, I would take my .22 rifle out on Gramp’s farm and kill snakes. Now Gramp was a very serious, truthful man, but I suspect he stretched the truth, probably in an attempt to discourage my snake hunting, when he told me he had heard if you kill a snake their mate will hunt you down. It did not stop me from killing them; I just tried to kill a second one as soon as possible, hoping it was the mate.
But really, I believe the fear came from looking at the slimy, beady-eyed, tongue darting, hissing, slivering things.
Uncle Roy’s hunting dog might have had a hand in my apprehension also. The big redbone hound loved to kill snakes. But the way he killed them could be nerve racking. The hound weighed about eighty pounds; he would egg the snake into striking at him, and then grab the snake by the tail, shaking it violently. He then released it in mid-shaking. If you were within twenty yards of this scene, the still alive snake might come hurling at you, and this could go on for quite awhile until death gave the poor snake his relief.
One of my jobs on the farm was to gather the eggs. Early in the morning it was always an eye opening experience to slide your hand under a hen, expecting to feel several fresh laid eggs and instead lay your hand on a slimy, black snake who was also having two over easy for breakfast.
Uncle Roy, who was quite an outdoorsman, told me he could smell when a snake was near. I knew he was good, but at sixteen I was pretty sure he was pulling my leg.
He made me a believer out of me. He was driving his tractor across the farm, with me riding beside him on the fender as I loved to do. He said, “I smell a copperhead close.” Almost instantly, a copperhead crawled from the grass, stopped, and looked at the tractor, then struck at the tire as we went by.
It has been my experience copperheads are not like other snakes. Most will flee at the sight of people or vehicles, not copperheads. They just lay there with that “I dare you” attitude.
A few days later on a hot August morning, we were hauling hay in a creek bottom. Fats was driving the truck; Uncle Roy was on the truck stacking the hay, and I was picking it up off the ground and tossing it on the truck. Again, Uncle Roy said he smelled a snake. “Yeah,” I thought, “you were just lucky last time,” as I grabbed the taunt wires holding the next bale, lifting it with the help of my right thigh to toss it to the bed of the truck. I felt a slap on the left side of my thigh, and just as quickly a slap on the right. I dropped the bale, rolled it over with my foot, and there it was – a copperhead held tight by the wire and hay. The snake never had children again. But for the next forty years, I always rolled a bale before picking it up.
Now I did not intentionally teach my family to fear snakes; it just happened.
When my son was in his early teens, we had bought a farm that had a small pond. The pond seemed to have only perch and bluegill in it. The neighbor had a pond just across the fence that was overstocked with bass. Late in the evenings, my son and I would cross the fence and easily catch a stringer full about the size of your hand and relocate them to our pond.
About dark one evening, we had our stringer full. I grabbed the poles, and my son grabbed the stringer. As he pulled the fish from the water and started up the slick bank, a snake came out right behind them. He was convinced the snake was after him! The harder he tried to scramble away, the more he lost his footing. Amid my laughter at this sight, I finally got out the word to drop the stringer. By this time the snake decided to do without a fish dinner and slipped quietly back in the water.
When my son began driving, he made it home from school one day before I arrived home from work. As I pulled in the drive, he came running up excitedly to tell me as he was about to open the door, he saw a rattlesnake lying in front of it. Sure enough, it had been a rattlesnake. I found about fourteen separate pieces of that snake chopped up on the sidewalk. The hoe was ruined and to this day, thirty years later, even though the house was blown away in a tornado eleven years ago, you can still see the chunks of a concrete out of that sidewalk where Mr. Rattle Snake tangled with Mr. Will. I wish I had been there to witness it.
Down our red dirt road, neighbors help each other when the need arises. We don’t always like it though. My neighbor was out working, when his wife called me with extreme fear in her voice. She had gone into the well house to prime the water pump. In a shaken voice, she told me in her well house was the hugest snake you could imagine. I asked her how big it was and she relayed, “Huge.” She was sure you could not reach around it with both hands. Now I was getting a little shaky, but a neighbor is a neighbor. On the way over I reached the conclusion it must be a giant boa constrictor, escaped from captivity. We have no snakes of that size around here. I can’t begin to tell you my anxiety as I eased the well house door open with one hand, shotgun ready in the other. Suddenly, relief flashed over me as I saw the problem. Yes, it was a bull snake lying along the wall. But all you could see of it was the portion that was behind the gallon jar filled with water for priming the pump. The optical illusion of the jar and water made it appear the snake was as big around as the gallon jar.
Another interesting encounter happened early in July. I know this because my children and I were popping firecrackers in the driveway. We had a small drip from our drain under the kitchen sink, and I had put a pan to catch the drip. As I reached under the sink to dump the pan, I saw what appeared to be a small black snake curled in the pan of water. My problem was, if my wife and daughters knew there was a snake in the kitchen, I might be living alone or have to move. Quietly, I pulled my son aside and explained the problem. We decided to get my 22 pistol and some shot shell which have very little power and just make a pop about like a firecracker. Hoping the girls would think we were still shooting fireworks; I would shoot it and then quickly sneak it out. The shot only stunned the snake, but I had no choice. With a gloved hand, I grabbed the “Little Snake”. But as I pulled it out, it was longer and longer. It wound up being about five feet long, and I did not succeed in sneaking it by my wife. Thank goodness, she said very little. Probably, she did not want to alarm the girls.
Several years later, we built a new home on the farm with a beautiful, rock lined flower bed all across the front. Now I, being the kind of a guy that if you can’t sell it or you can’t eat it believe it is pretty much a waste of time, convinced my wife to give up some of her flower bed, and I would put in a strawberry patch. She was reluctant, but conceded to my wishes. The next year we had a lovely strawberry bed with luscious berries. One June morning as I carefully brushed aside the lush foliage and reached to grab a delectable strawberry, only inches from hands and nose was a copperhead. He also had that “I dare you” look in his beady eyes or maybe years ago I had killed his mate.
I never picked strawberries the rest of the year with gloves on, and that’s not easy. The next spring I kindly consented to my wife’s desires and expressed how nice I thought flowers would look in that bed.
Fear is a good emotion. It causes us to be more careful. I just wish it wasn’t so all consuming at times.
This story is dedicated to those people in my life who acted more like snakes than people.