July 2009
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

Summer is in full swing here in the Deep South and it’s promising to be a hot one. I took my daughter fishing the other day and I have added two very important items to my tackle box: a sling blade and a shotgun. The sling blade is to cut down weeds and tall grass from our favorite fishing holes to make it a less "snake-friendly environment" and the shotgun is in case we fail. I find myself constantly having to remind my 14-year-old daughter to watch out for snakes. As I begin to see more and more children her age, I am convinced children today have no natural fear of snakes. I have come to the conclusion it’s from one of two things, either we live in an increasingly urban society that doesn’t expose its offspring to snakes or the whole television world of animals has convinced our children snakes are nothing to be afraid of now days.

I believe we are each born with an innate dislike of snakes or at least we should be. I say dislike instead of fear because I personally do not fear them, but they do surprise me when I come upon one unexpectedly.

I have heard the low buzz of an Eastern diamondback warning me to stay away and have calmly taken his advice. I have watched what we call a rat snake do some silly things with no fear at all. I stepped on a water moccasin once and still can’t figure out why he didn’t bite me; but he’ll never bite anything again.

My father had a definite absolute, deep and total terror of snakes. His avoidance of them almost ruled his entire life. Dad had a chance to become a pilot in the U.S. Navy and I am convinced he was probably willing until he found out he would have to take survival training and actually kill and eat a snake. That meant actually touching one, and I’ll bet he passed on that career decision.

There is an old family story involving my uncle, dad’s brother-in-law. My uncle was an instructor at a naval aviation survival school in Florida and occasionally he and his fellow instructors would make forays into the local woods to round up snakes to use in their school. One trip, he came home straight from the field. There was some family get-together at my mom and dad’s house, so my uncle came straight there. As he walked up to the front door, my dad noticed he was carrying a burlap bag. Dad knew what that bag meant and he headed out the back door. Sure enough, my uncle had a bag full of snakes and he had brought them with him so they wouldn’t get too hot. My brother tells me this is the only time he saw my dad ready to whup up on my uncle.

Dad was of the opinion there were only four kinds of snakes, "big ones, little ones, live ones and dead ones."

And he was afraid of all four. It didn’t matter they might be good for rodent control, it didn’t matter they might be endangered, it didn’t matter they might have a unique social system and laid golden eggs; they fell into the category of "The Four Kinds of Snakes."

I think dad was so afraid of snakes I only remember actually seeing him kill one. It was a big South Baldwin County diamondback and he ran it over with my mom’s ’74 Impala. He made me get out to see if it was dead.

I think I inherited my feeling about snakes from my grandmother. She had a healthy respect for them, but as long as she had her hoe, she didn’t fear them. She would cross the road to whack a snake with her hoe. She kept her hoe in a particular spot on the carport and there was trouble if you moved it. She wanted to be able to walk out the door and place her hand on it without looking. She was a sight scooting across her yard after one of "The Four."

My brother followed in dad’s footsteps. I won’t even get into some of his antics when a snake is involved, and we’ll just end this part about my brother right here.

My daughter came out of the blue. As I said, she watched too many animal shows where "snakes are fun" and didn’t get many encounters out in the woods where they could scare her. It just drives me crazy that I warn her to watch for snakes when we are fishing and she just seems unconcerned about them. I really get concerned when I think about the fact the main snake she is going to find near a pond is a cottonmouth.

Personally, I also think these "snake wranglers" are nuts.

I feel, as far as snakes are concerned, I am willing to live and let live as long as they stay out of my sight. I do not like close encounters with them, but I won’t run from them either.

Grandmother had her hoe, I have my 12-gauge shotgun and, when I have it, I have no fear.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.