It is almost spring in the mountain state and with the warmth of the woods and spring flowers comes reminders from the old folks that it’s about snake time again. As a child who really never had a “bad” experience with snakes, I never really listened to the warnings. But after the last twenty years of life I have gained a respect for where and when to watch out for snakes. I have even had a couple of encounters that were shocking to say the least.I have found that snakes in spring and summer are a basic topic of conversation in these hills and everyone has a story to tell. Some are lucky enough to have photos of the serpents and others only long arm recollections of the animal. But so far I have not met a farmer who does not have a snake store of some kind.
Some of the stories that get passed around are as old as the hills and are full of insight into the fear of having snakes appear in places that they do not belong… like inside your house, car or barn.They also add the mythical quality to the stories and make snakes something to fear no matter their role in nature.Then others are newer stories about the general surprise caused by actually seeing,touching or stepping on a snake. These tails don’t usually end with the death of the snake just a jolly laugh about how they scared you and your friends that day.
So here is some of the folk-lore that I have found in my area about snakes. Frist and foremost… don’t harass a snake during “Dog Days”. Ok, for those of you who are unfamiliar the term, “Dog Days” it is an astrological event that lines up the Dog star and constellation close to the horizon in the last of Aug. There are visible changes to the environment during this time of the year like the covering of water with a thick bubbly, slimy film, hot humid days and snakes beginning to shed their skin. It is widely believed that at this time of year snakes can not see well and the will bite randomly if bothered or harassed.The shedding skin is believed to thick and opaque for them to see through. I am pretty sure that this is not true but I am not going to hunt out a snake and harass it to see if the prediction is true or not.
My personal favorite, “never burn a snake”. I am not actually sure where this one comes from but I am a believer in it. The saying goes that if you take a dead snake and burn it the next year you will see twice as many snakes on your property. My husband killed several black snakes one year in the barn. He dragged them out to the burn pile and set the serpents a flame.My son and I warned him that was not the best idea but he continued his plan.The following summer was the frist time I got a close up look at a Copperhead as I walked my sons pony across the yard. I also found snakes in every out building on the farm, not a fun summer at all.
Some of the other stories are about finding snakes eating things that seem impossible for a person to understand. People talk of snakes eating full-grown rabbits and chickens. But my favorite one is about how to catch at egg eating snake. We had chickens and at some point had a problem with a black snake eating our eggs. I started asking questions about how to stop the invader with our neighbors and this is what I learned from Eugene Hicks the farmer next door. Eugene began with his thick southern accent,”place a glass egg at the entry hole where you think the snake is getting into the coop…and place another inside,on the other side of the hole and wait”. He went on to explain,”the snake seeing the outdoor egg will eat it swallowering it whole…as snakes do, he will then slither through the hole and find the second glass egg inside.He’ll then swallower the inside egg and with them deep in his belly will get stuck because neither egg with be crushed. He’s trapped by his own love of eating eggs and you can kill him at feeding time. He isn’t going far”. I never tried this to see if it actually worked,but we did let the dogs out to see if they could find the snake. The battle was over in few minutes as my dogs found and shuck the snake to death.
Don’t get me wrong I am not a snake hater, I find them fascinating and useful. Even my husband who used to kill every snake that crossed his path is getting a bit more tolerant of the creatures. Mostly because the funniest snake story I know is all about him. I have relentlessly teased him into giving snakes a chance to fill their role after a hot summer day when a green water snake won the battle against him.
The property we lived on at the time was Seven acres of “L” shaped land in the rolling hill part of West Virgina. The “L” shape is divided almost into equal thirds by a creek and a run off that would dry out in the late summer.One afternoon my husband walked from the middle of the property where the main house sat down the road to the lower right corner of the property.About half way down the road he had to cross a culvert that housed our creek. The creek is only a couple of feet wide and at its deepest is around two feet deep. The little creek floods at times and trash and debris float down the creek after a good storm. Well this day there was a shiny sliver tin pan in our creek a few feet from the culvert opening and on the pan was a very small delicate green snake sunning himself. Tom saw the snake from on top of the culvert and resigned himself to go back to the house and retrieve his shotgun to kill the beast before it caused any serious damage to anyone. He returned several minutes later with a fully loaded 12 gage shotgun and a pocket full of shells.
I watched him walking towards the culvert from his sisters front porch. We lived only a 50 yards apart on the farm. We could see him slowly loading the shotgun and both of us wondered what in the world he was up to. Blam, went the first shot as Kathy and I moved to the banister of the porch… Blam, went the second shot into the creek. Now we were really wondering what he was killing in the creek, then with in a half a second BLAM>>BLAM>>>BLAM…. something came flying back up out of the creek and landed within inches of my husbands feet. He jumped up and down, shooting the gravel road until the gun was out of shells. Finally he stopped shooting and started shaking out his shirt and twirling around in the road. By this time I was well on my way up the road to see what the hell was going on.
When I approached I found my husband with his eyes cast at the ground,confused and sweaty. I calmly looked at the bee bee pierce tin pan on the ground and asked what had happened. Thinking to myself,”a tin pan was not really scary enough to shoot three times at close range”. He replied that” he had seen a water snake in the creek and went to shoot it so it would not bite the kids. Then… the damn thing had flipped up and landed on the road”. I took a moment to look for the dead snake and I began to laugh uncontrollably. Not only had he missed the 5 inch green snake in the creek, he had scared himself so bad with the tin pan flying up from the creek, that he actually shot it three more times to make sure it was dead. Their was no sign of the little water snake anywhere, no blood, no guts, no green skin. Just a tin pan sitting alone on a gravel road full of holes. Tom was still visually shaken when I started to laugh,he really didn’t see the humor in the situation, he was still sure that some how that damn snake had landed on him or near him. As my laughter grew I asked him, “was that little green snake was worth 5 shots and not killing it”. That was when he also saw the humor in what had happened and we talked the rest of the day of just leaving snakes where you find them, alive and safely away from him and his shotgun.
I have also had my own frightened moments from hidden snakes. In our barn they were constant visitors in the hay bales.So you learn to live with them, but I have a problem if those same snakes wanting to go back to the house and hang over my front door.I am not accustom to having 6 foot snakes at or around the house. This big boy was just lucky that I let him live the day I found him on our porch.
This happened just about 3 years ago and I had already quit my day job to stay home with my little Christopher who was about 2 at the time. I was preparing our lunch one afternoon and I saw something moving around on our front porch. Through the dinning room window I saw a black skinny thing waving around. That was nothing new, as I had placed an old water damaged buffet on the porch for my plants to sit on and a large bowl of cat food for my black and white farm cat.I just thought it was the cat’s tail wiggling on the buffet while she eat. But something more caught my attention the tail was sliding up the window. ” Holy Crap”, was the frist words out of my mouth and Christopher wanted to know what was wrong. I made something up and continued to get him seated at the table to eat as I watched the big black snakes head disappear up over the top of the window and its body dangle below the frame somewhere on the buffet. As calm as I could, I told Chris that I needed to go out back for just one second and slipped out the door, around the back to the front porch. To my horror the snake had slithered across the top of the window frame across to our front door jamb and stopped to rest with about a foot of length hanging down the window frame. At this point I realised that he was around 6 feet long and about 5 inches around the middle and didn’t seem likely to move. My heart was racing in my chest. I didn’t want Christopher to see this and was not going to remove it with him on the porch. I went inside to telephone my sister-in-law, who as you already know lived across from me, on the farm. Her husband answered the phone and I asked him if he could help me remove the snake while I watched Christopher.In responce they were both out the door, down the road and up the drive in a matter of minutes.
John carried a hoe up the drive and I put cartoons on the TV for Christopher and headed out the back again. The snake had moved some and was now hanging across the door like a wet noodle. The head hanging over a foot and tail hanging down the back about the same. John asked me from the ground in front of the porch” why haven’t you reached out grabbed that one” ( I have been known to pick up baby snakes) and I replied “that one is not a tame snake and I think I would just piss him off”. John stepped up on the porch with his hoe and I followed to “Help”. He reach out and tried to push the snake off the door frame. It just opened its huge white mouth and hissed at us… freaking me out, I stepped back to the edge of the porch. John reach up again, this time more aggressively twisted the hoe and hooked the snake, pulled him off the wall. The big black thing hit the porch with a thud of a 5 lb weight.The snake curled its self up lied still as we all leaped off the porch. I found this too funny, grown men and woman jumping off a porch away from a non-poisonous snake. As we talked and laughed on the stoop the snake hid himself away behind my wicker furniture. Before I could get back on the porch and open the front door to see Christopher sitting quietly on the floor watching cartoons the snake was gone. He lived around our house for several years taking up residence in our cellar house. We would see him and his shed skins off and on. I was glad when he finally found better hunting grounds and left, but I still have vivid memories of him.