Last week I begrudgingly agreed to do some gardening with my mother, who'd been nagging…um…suggesting that we get her strawberry patch weeded. "If you want to have fresh strawberries for breakfast AND have a place to sleep tonight, you'd better get to weeding," she suggested. Considering I was three hours away from my house, I quickly found myself on all fours, plucking all of the various species of plants that had taken residence in our strawberries. When a garter snake cruised across the ground directly between my hands, I was slightly alarmed at first, but then noticed he was just traveling through. Moseying along, he was just performing the snake's equivalent of a Sunday stroll, so I let him go about his daily rounds. I felt it important to bring his presence to my mother's attention so I pointed to the ground and calmly said, "Snake."
The reaction was impressive to say the least. She started by jumping up and down several times with both legs going so high in the air that her knees almost touched her ears. Each time she vaulted there was an accompanying short barking sound, akin to a karate yell. The performance then took on a more artistic appearance when she began bounding in exceptionally long strides out of the strawberry patch, her feet touching the ground for approximately .003 seconds during each step. After making it about twenty yards, she made a magnificent leap and clung to a low hanging branch of the old oak tree with her sun dress hanging down like she was trying to catch a wind and sail the tree out of the backyard. I was stunned. Never would I have believed that my mom had that kind of talent for the triple jump. I left her hanging there to go call the Olympic Committee for a tryout.
Snakes and I have usually had a much rougher relationship. It's not that I really have anything against them; they just seem to sneak up on me at the worst times. It doesn't help that I've never taken the time to learn to identify the poisonous species from the non-poisonous, but when you're out fishing at a farm pond, and look down to see your foot descending on a snake, you rarely have time to whip out an identification chart.
Around the part of the country I grew up, black snakes seemed to be the most prevalent. I'm not sure if these snakes are technically listed as "aggressive," but the ones I encountered seemed to have the general attitude of a teenage girl who's had her cell phone taken away. Not outwardly aggressive, but you didn't want to provoke them. Even though black snakes aren't venomous, they can get fairly long and tend to coil around their victim once they've grabbed hold with their mouth. I'll explain how I learned this.
It was one of my jobs around the farm to gather the eggs from the chicken coup every evening. Usually, this was not a big issue. You just opened the pen, walked into the building that had all of the nesting boxes, and put the eggs in a bucket. Sometimes, the only difficult part was if a hen was still sitting on her eggs and didn't want to vacate the box. Then I'd just lift her out and try not to get pecked too much. Easy as pie.
This all worked well and good, until the fall when the days got shorter and I was getting home later due to football practice. That's when I had to gather eggs in the dark. On this particular night, I headed out of the house to do my chores, which started with the egg gathering. The flashlight that we kept on the back porch had been rendered useless because I'd left it turned on from the previous night, so I decided to just go out in the dark. Heck, I'd done these chores thousands of times, and a little darkness wouldn't hurt me.
I'd gotten into the chicken coop and was feeling around each nesting box for the eggs when I reached in one box and heard something hiss. I tried to jump back, but it was too late. The black snake in the box, which was obviously unhappy about having his supper interrupted, bit onto my hand and coiled around my arm.
Under the circumstances I felt I handled the situation fairly well. I started by emitting a high-pitched scream that sent chickens flying about in all direction and caused one of the hunting dogs to faint. Then, sensing I needed assistance, I burst out of the chicken pen and headed straight for the house, all the while trying to shake off the snake and hollering like a weaned calf.
My parents had been relaxing in the family room, when I flung open the door and ran in towards where they were sitting, still waving the snake and making a ruckus. My mother had the supportive reaction of leaping behind the couch, grabbing the shotgun, and screaming, "GO OUTSIDE WITH THAT THING!" Dad was somewhat more helpful by dispatching the snake with a hunting knife and bandaging my arm up. For quite some time after that incident I couldn't even look at eggs without getting the chills.
Throughout the years, it seems that I have become a magnet for upset snakes. Whenever I come across one, something has happened to put it in a bad mood and I become the target of its aggression.
One particular incident happened during a warm summer day, when my buddy Jay and I were going fishing at the lake in my dad's old aluminum boat. We pulled Dad's truck with the boat loaded in the back, into the Zippy Trip and began filling up the gas cans when Static, the town's resident "Old Codger," ambled towards us.
"You boys planning on goin' fishin'?" he inquired.
"Yep. Thought we'd try and catch some crappie out at the lake," I piped up.
"Well boys, that's mighty fine. It's awful nice you boys getting to go fishin' while I'm stuck here in town without a ride to the lake. Yuh see's, I ain't got my gov'ment check in yet, and I can't rightly spend the gas money to get out there, so I sure hope you boys have a good time. Let me know if yuh's catch anything cause I might be need'n a meal since…"
"You want to go with us, Static?" Jay said.
"SHOOT FIRE! I sure do. You got an extra pole?"
Once we got onto the water at the lake, it was clear that Static's idea of fishing was far different from ours. The first clue was when he asked what kind of stink bait we'd brought. Since we were out to find crappie, we tied on a jig to his line and hoped he'd get the hang of fishing without a chicken liver and a bobber the size of a hubcap. For most of the day, he sat in the middle of the boat vowing to show us how REAL fishing was done and looking bored.
We'd just pulled the boat into this beautiful little cove with submerged timber and started catching some fair sized fish when Static said, "Look at them water snakes playin' around over there." Sure enough, about twenty yards away a pair of snakes were out cruising on the water, but they didn't seem to be causing any harm, so I didn't give them another thought.
After a few minutes, Static said, "Let me see your tackle box, youngster." So I handed it over to him. The next thing I know the boat rocks violently, and I hear Static holler, "GOT ONE". Looking to the end of his line, I immediately recognize that offering him my tackle box was a mistake. Apparently, he tied on the biggest, ugliest, four treble hook lure in my tackle box and set out to snag a snake with obvious success.
As Static reeled the snake in, he was laughing like he was having the time of his life. Every once in a while he'd interject with a comment like, "He's a FIGHTER, boys!" The younger occupants of the boat had taken on a much different stance on the situation, and as the snake got closer to the boat, the commotion created by the "Non-Snake Anglers" increased accordingly.
In the front of the boat, Jay began to frantically search for a knife to cut the line; I tried to be helpful by blurting out every curse word I'd ever learned up to that point. Before Jay could find the knife, Static had pulled the snake right up to the boat and the snake, recognizing the cause of his discomfort, lifted his head and crawled in, seeking out some retribution.
After the commotion died down, Jay stood in the front of the boat with a shattered oar in his hands and a thoroughly bludgeoned snake at his feet. Static was still laughing like a madman, and I was curled up in a ball on top of the outboard motor, sucking my thumb. That's when a seam in the boat floor, where Jay had been pounding on the snake, gave way and we began to take on water.
Thinking back, the swim to the shore wasn't so bad. Aside from Static's grotesquely inaccurate account of his "Savin'" us from the "Killer Snake," it gave me a chance to clear my head. Of course, there were TWO snakes on the water when I first saw them and the thought of the other snake seeking revenge did cross my mind. That's probably why I reached hydroplaning speeds during that swim.
Yes, snakes and I have always had a rough relationship. That's why I just don't understand why my mother would have such a strange reaction to a garter snake. It just doesn't seem like he was meaning any harm…"
"Uh…Hello, United States Olympic Committee? Yes I was wondering what I needed to do to get my mother a try out for the triple jump event."
Copyright © 2004 John S. Jones
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J. S. Jones tells his hilarious stories at the web site of The American Outdoorsman, a Hunting & Fishing TV Show devoted to bringing the best in Outdoor Entertainment. Their site features hunting & fishing tips, pictures, video clips & downloads, recipes, games, travel locations and guides, and more! Visit www.theamericanoutdoorsman.com today!