Out in the woods

My Pam is here this weekend, and this morning we got to laughing about snake stories. When you grow up on the last street in a neighborhood backed by miles of woods, snakes and other assorted critters are just part of life. But snakes can really catch you off guard.

My first snake story was traumatizing, but in an unusual way. Handsome Eddie Gassaway (who lived in the neighborhood and was my first kiss, but that’s another story) and I found a worm snake in the woods. He explained that they were harmless and I thought it quite cute, so we carried him home and the snake became a pet. I put him in a fishbowl with a rock and dirt and named him ”Wormie.”

Worm snake in the grass

Wormie would wind in and out of my fingers like some exotic piece of jewelry that moved. I was quite fond of him. So fond that I took him to school one day (it was sixth grade at North Heights Elementary, Mr. Harper’s class) for show and tell and general principles.

Lots of people wanted to hold him. I knew better in my gut, but at 11, peer pressure is strong. So he spent time chilling on other people’s desks. Then, suddenly, he was missing. I was in a panic. (Actually, non-snake lovers were probably in more of a panic.) Some of us got on our hands and  knees to look for him, crawling under desks, rears in the air, soles of the shoes facing up.

Then I spotted him – on the bottom of Kelly’s shoe in a very flattened state. I was crushed, but he was crushed worse. That was the end of Wormie.

But the snake stories we were reminiscing about this morning dealt with close encounters of the poisonous kind. Occasionally in the woods a snake would dart across our paths – no biggie. But coming upon a rattlesnake, no matter how small, is a shocker. (And actually, the smaller the snake, the stronger the venom.) That happened to us twice in junior high.

The summertime encounter was frightening but not that unexpected. It was summer in Arkansas. We didn’t expect to see it on Pam’s driveway, though. One or both of us (we can’t remember) screamed so loudly the snake turned into a series of ZZZs, instead of the usual slinky curves. You had to see it to believe it. Pam’s much older stepbrother came out and killed it, we thought. In general, I’m against killing all things wild, but there were small children around.

Awhile later, several of the small children were gathered around, bending down and looking and poking at the snake. Being the older, responsible babysitting sort that I was, I stomped my foot very hard and told them to leave that snake alone. Before I could even explain that it could still be dangerous, it leapt straight up at me – I literally looked down it’s venomous throat. Someone handed me a baseball bat, and I pulverized the snake, who’d been playing dead all along.

And split that Louisville Slugger in half.

I actually apologize to bugs when I kill them these days and explain that they shouldn’t be in my house (just flies, those big icky wood beetles that plague historic homeowners and ants. Most others I carry outside, but roaches get stomped, no apologies). So I’m not proud of admitting snake murder. But he was in attack mode.

The other time, Pam and I decided to take to the woods in December to find tiny Christmas trees for our bedrooms. That’s why I was carrying a small axe. It was a warm day for winter and the sun was toasty, but the last thing we expected to see was a midsize rattlesnake sunning himself in a coil on a log, rattle in motion. I was actually about to step on the log and hadn’t noticed the snake until Pam started screaming, then yelled, “Snake!!”

I looked down and froze, leg in step-up mode, axe in mid-air, like the Tin Man in need of his oil can. A few long seconds later, after the snake skittered inside the hollow log, I snapped out of it and chopped the log to smithereens. The snake had disappeared, so he didn’t get chopped. Pulverizing the log was just stress release.

We did get our tiny little Snoopy trees and a great story to go with them. But we learned that even in the wintertime, we were never completely safe out in the woods.

Gola koo panga, ooh gola koo pala …

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