THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Yesterday, when I went into the hen house to collect our half dozen or so0 eggs I found no eggs at all.
Instead, I discovered a couple of black snakes coiled in two nest boxes.
One of the snakes was clearly a black rat snake. They’ve lived just about everywhere I have and are helpful to have around because they eat rats, mice, and squirrels. But our hens get upset when anything that’s not a chicken (or me) comes into their home, so the rat snake had to go.
I poked it with the handle of an old mop I keep for this purpose, and the snake slithered down to the ground, left through a hole in the wall, and continued out of the chicken yard.
No muss. No fuss. No problem.
The other snake was another story.
It was longer than the first one, and its blackness was mottled. Not only did the second snake not like being prodded, it kept raising its head and showing the inside of its white mouth—and striking at me.
The mop handle kept me out range, and the snake moved slowly, probably because it was digesting whatever had made the bulge I saw about a third of the way down its length, so I felt pretty safe. I tried to explain to the irritated invader that I didn’t want to kill it, but the snake didn’t answer except to strike a couple more times.
“All right, then,” I said finally. “If that’s how it is…”
I got a long metal shovel from the hay shed. Returned to the hen house and poked to see if maybe the snake had changed its mind.
Nope. All it did was bare its fangs.
“Sorry,” I said, and with a sigh I whacked the snake on the head so hard that the handle of the shovel snapped in two.
But the snake just reared up and struck and miss me yet again.
I got closer than I wanted to and whacked it once more with the newly shortened shovel. The job appeared to be finished, but to make sure I used the edge of the shovel to try and cut off the snake’s head. I couldn’t get all the way through but came close enough.
Gwen the Beautiful, my wife and best friend, watched all this activity from outside the fence. Snakes—and spiders too, for that matter—creep her out.
“They just don’t feel like they belong here,” Gwen once told me. “It’s like they’re extra-terrestrial tourists, visiting from space. Or, worse yet, invaders.”
Seeing me with the snake yesterday, Gwen pointed to Dixie, our six-month-old golden lab puppy. The puppy who’d become part of our family because, well, because she’d called out to me in a way only I could hear one fine spring morning.
“Hmm,” Gwen mused, “think Dixie might’ve called the snakes?”
I couldn’t say no. Although we’ve seen many snakes in our woods we’d never had any this close to the house before. And Dixie was hanging close to the chicken run, watching the action with bright eyes. I brought the dead snake out. Showed it to her.
“Meh,” Dixie said. “It’s not moving. Can’t play with a snake that doesn’t move.” And off she ran.
Throughout the day my thoughts kept going back to the second snake. I felt angrier and angrier about the fact that it’d made me kill it instead of leaving peacefully, like the first one.
Looking for a reason, I called my old friend Roy the Reptile Wrangler back in L.A. Roy’s an expert who supplies deadly reptiles to film and TV companies. I told him what’d happened. He asked for more details and then sent me to a website where I found an answer.
The snake I’d killed wasn’t a rat snake. It was a Western cottonmouth, AKA a water moccasin. Right up there on the poison scale with rattlers and copperheads. Why would it even think of giving ground?
A cottonmouth. Striking at me. Again and again.
I’m thinking that next time a situation like this arises I ought to play it smart and check out what I’m messing with before I start messing. Then go straight for the 12 gauge.
Or better yet, I should play it even smarter by bringing in someone like Roy right away and staying outside the danger zone like Gwen.
Nah, can’t do that. No way.
Life without danger—what fun is that?