© Copyright Chuck Bealke, 1999
Though I felt lucky to have blacksnakes around our barn and sheds to keep the mice in check, I just never could get as comfortable with any snakes as my younger son is. He loves the cold blooded crawlers and once kept a few as pets - to the great dismay of his mother. My lightning unease when startled by one around the farm has a few times been numbing. On one such occasion in my early teens, I had taken a break from a hot mowing job and knelt on one knee in a barn nearby to position my mouth to get a cool drink from a yard-high frost proof water hydrant. As I had my head awkardly twisted sideways and was drinking from the stream from the hydrant, my left eye caught a slight movement on the wall not far away. In a milli-second I realized that I was positioned about two feet away from being nose to nose with a snake. His front third was protruding my way, suspended from a waist high hole in the wall facing my hydrant. Without any thought process, I jumped up and back a good ways, propelled by the one bent leg. I was just as shaken as a fellow whose car just barely beats a fast train through a crossing. When my heart ceased trying to pressure test the rest of me, I got to feeling very silly for having been so unnerved by a harmless blacksnake. Then I realized how lucky I had been that no one had been around to witness my spineless flight from a potential pet for a five-year old.
We did have some venomous snakes on our place, but the only ones I saw were Copperheads. These are not as deadly as some others, but definitely potent enough to be unpopular. Many summers ago, one of them evidently decided to spend some time by the bushes next to the front step into our house. I barely missed stepping on him while hurrying into to the house one afternoon. Altering my path, I went through the back door and got my shotgun. Though I was careful in the woods, I almost stepped on another Copperhead one day when walking on a path through the pasture. The serpent I gave the widest berth was the Water Moccasin. A neighbor had a pond fenced for his mules to drink from and some wet ground between this pond and the woods. He commented from time-to-time about the Moccasins that frequented this place. When walking through his farm (which was the quickest way for young feet to get you to a country store with great candy and soft drinks) I often passed the pond - but never carelessly except in Winter.
Though I later lived in two states that have annual rattlesnake hunts, I never thought much about eating snakes for food. But one day I got to talking with an old lady that had memories of stories she heard as a little girl about the Civil War. She spoke of area (Confederate Texan) soldiers that went through periods of terrible hunger, and said that some of these would carry dead snakes in their coat pockets for food.
Like deer shedding antlers, snakes leave their skins laying around to remind you that they are about the place. You are further reminded of their presence if you cut and bale hay - you will always bale up at least one or two in any big hayfield in mid-Summer. It may be memory originally stretched by youth, but Blacksnakes seemed to get incredibly long. It was amazing to watch them move up and down trees. Seems like a lot of the small, green guys that folks called Garter snakes must have been young blacksnakes before they changed color. Copperheads got thick instead of very long, and unlike a Blacksnake, could be very hard to see when they lay unmoving on a tan or brown background, especially in poor light. If you walked about in our area enough, you would eventually come across a snake with a mouthful of frog in the beginning stages of the one way trip to becoming a meal. Like all wild critters, snakes have their place and are a part of the grand mosaic of the living earth. It would sure be a duller place without them.