“There were long walks through the woods to get to the far pasture to check the fence where the young cattle were pastured over the summer. It never failed that the kid who hated snakes the most is the one who came face-to-face with the black racer, those determined snakes who will come up off the ground to chase the humans away.”
— Rachel Peden, from The Land, The People
I recall lots of great stories around the campfire over the years. Those who loved to hunt always enjoyed telling their biggest, baddest hunting stories. Those who liked to fish always chimed in with great fish stories, and somehow, the subject always seemed to turn to stories of snakes.
Huge, scary, waiting-to-pounce snakes.
My own tale
When my sister Debi and I were still pretty young, I remember being sent out to husk a big batch of sweet corn. As we peeled the husk and the silk away from the corn, we would throw the husks over the fence to the pigs where they would root through it. To make the job more interesting, my sister came up with the idea that we could pretend each layer of husk was money. We were so rich that we were throwing away 100-dollar bills to those pigs, just for fun.
As we finished up our money-fest, we gathered up the sweet corn in our little red wagon and prepared to head back toward the house. Just as we made the turn with our precious load, one of us spotted a huge snake coming toward us. The screams and shrieks were so ear-piercingly loud that any smart snake would have found something better to do, but that snake, a big black racer, came up off the ground and appeared ready to wipe my sister and I off the face of the earth.
Off and running
We quickly abandoned the little wagon filled with corn so that we could run faster. It seems our little bare feet only hit the ground a few times as we ran several hundred yards back to the safety of the house, screaming all the way.
The memory of that snake chasing us is still so amazingly vivid. I am sure that it was 6 feet long and filled with venom just for the two of us. It made going outdoors in bare feet a thing of the past — for awhile, anyway.
It left such a huge impression that it changed the way we stomped around that wide open farm ground for the rest of that particular summer.
Critters down South, too
My friend Candy recently moved from Jacksonville, Fla., to Tampa, and her way of looking at walking around in her world has most definitely changed.
While having dinner with their new neighbors on one recent evening, Candy and her husband learned much more about their new home’s conservation area in their back yard — which translates to Florida swamp or wetlands.
“There are not only poisonous snakes and gators, but panthers and bobcats. I’ve already seen a deer in the backyard, but apparently it isn’t too uncommon for panthers to stroll through the backyards and between the houses.
“Our neighbors told us they had a panther on their front porch,” Candy writes.
As I fought the shivers running up and down my spine, I read more from Candy.
“One day Ron was walking his dog, saw a ‘cat’ in the backyard and went up to it — and it was a bobcat hissing at him. Pairs of deer go running through the yards. And I think I already mentioned one neighbor finding a 9-foot gator in her driveway.
“Sure don’t want to let the dogs out unleashed! There are no cats wandering the neighborhoods. Gee, wonder why … every house here has had at least one poisonous snake in the house, and we have been told we can expect to find them floating in the pool.”
Candy says that if they had moved to this Florida home straight from her Chicago home, she would be packing up to head north. Living in Jacksonville for several years sort of prepared her for some of this.
Always able to look on the bright side, Candy says that there are very few mosquitoes, which is a very welcome thing. “I suppose the 2-inch-long roaches eat them, or the Bufo toads that hide in your grass and are poisonous.”
If that doesn’t give you shuddering shoulders and shivers up the spine, I don’t know what will!