My little friend Robbie and I stopped in at the barbershop to get caught up on the latest news. Everybody knows that that’s where you go to get the inside info.
When we went in, the discussion was about snakes. One man was telling about this 12-foot diamondback rattlesnake he had killed or seen or something. The old geezer over in the corner mumbled something about there not being any diamondbacks north of Barber Barber County and that the longest diamondback on record was a little over eight feet.
He was ignored. And the man said that the snake was, oh, “this” big around, holding his hands to show. “Must have been a boa constrictor, the old constrictor,” the old man whispered.
Oh no. The speaker knew a diamondback rattler when he saw one, but this was the biggest. It had grown to 13 feet by now.
I think he was the same fellow who killed four birds on the rise…with a .22.
Somebody started talking about how aggressive cottonmouths (water moccasins) were. I don’t doubt it. Little Robbie’s eyes got as big as saucers. Law me, those snakes were dangerous. I have to admit that I’m scared of them, too, especially when one drops off an overhanging limb into the water right by you when you’re creekbank fishing.
Ah, me, the old man sighed. He opined that they’re not all that aggressive and that 75 percent of “cottonmouths” turn out to be non-poisonous brown water snakes.
Nobody paid the slightest attention to his mumblings.
We covered all the familiar territory about snakes – like that copperheads are also known as highland moccasins and rattlesnake pilots, the theory being that if you see a rattlesnake pilot, a rattler is nearby.
People talked of being chased down a corn row by a coachwhip and/or a black racer.
Nobody there had seen one, but one fellow had a second cousin who had a friend who knew somebody who had narrowly been missed by a hoop snake. It barely missed the man, but it hit a tree on the way down the hill, and the tree promptly withered and died.
And this one I can personally verify. There are such things as snakes with legs, and I have always been taught that they are the most dangerous of nearly any creature. And I came so close to one … I still shiver when I think about it.
We were set-hook fishing on Yellow Creek one night. We had baited hooks attached to poles along the bank. We had a fire going. Most of the time we sat around and talked about girls and other important things. Once in a while, somebody would get up and go check the poles to see if we’d caught anything or if the hook needed re-baiting.
We’d say we were fishing for catfish, but what we usually caught were eels. Eels can tangle up a line in ways you can only imagine; and they’re slimy. Hey, I had something here. I was just about at the edge of the firelight, visibility not too good. But as I pulled my catch in closer … Oh, my. There were legs on that thing.
I did what any legged-eel-hating country boy would do – I flung pole, line, sinker, bait and especially that hated creature clean across the creek, into the woods on the other side.
We didn’t try to retrieve anything. The bones of that hideous thing may still be over there.
The old man snorted, “Humph. T’werent nothin’ but a salamander, a big spring lizard.”
Well … He didn’t see it up close in near darkness as I did. Shudder.
I often wonder how any of us managed to grow up, with so many dangerous animals around. And we didn’t even get to panthers and black bears and armadillos and all the things that are growing in the Everglades … and expanding their range.
Anyway, little Robbie was so taken in by the talk about snakes and stuff that he decided there on the spot that he would go to college and learn how to be a snakeologist.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.