From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Snake Stories

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in Christian County, Kentucky...



Since seeing the snake in the hollow branch this morning, I've been thinking about snakes ever since.

I've had several interesting snake experiences here. I've told the story of one of them already today (in a comment at the above link), and here are a few more.

About ten years ago, we planted a long row of shrubs to grow into a hedge along our property line. I was trying to keep the grass down in the hedgerow because the shrubs were so small. I had mowed around the little shrubs as much as I could, and I was clipping along with a pair of grass shears when I suddenly realized that I could see a portion of a large snake just a few inches from my hand.

After a moment of horror, I realized that he was obviously kin to a blacksnake and thus harmless. I went to get my garden hoe so I could pull him out and see just how big he was, but when I came back he was gone.

I had several close encounters with him in my garden. One time I was picking beans and there he was, gliding along under the bean plants. I kept telling my husband and kids about him, but no one else ever saw him. Dennis started calling him "Fred".

One day, I found a six foot snake skin at the edge of the garden and finally I had proof that Fred's length was not just my imagination. A few days later, Dennis came in the house and said he had decided to postpone mowing one part of the lawn. He had been mowing around and around in an ever-smaller circle, and when there was only a little round patch of grass left... there was Fred in it!

One time Keely was collecting insects for a middle school science class. The deadline was near and she didn't have enough insects yet, so Isaac and I were helping her. It is surprisingly difficult to catch some types of bugs. It's also surprising how few different species of bugs you can find when you're looking for them.

We finally developed an odd technique that worked fairly well. When we saw a desirable bug, I slapped down the mesh kitchen strainer over him. Isaac scooped him up a big spoon as he tried to escape around the edges, and Keely operated the jar.

I said to the kids, "Let's roll over this rock and see if there's any bugs under it." We all knelt on the grass around the rock and assumed our positions -- strainer, spoon, and jar ready. I rolled the rock over and we all screamed in unison. There was a snake, of course.

It's a good idea in Kentucky to wear leather gloves when picking up rocks, branches, bales of straw, boards, and anything else that a snake might be under. That's a rule we were breaking when we were bug collecting. Fortunately, it was just a little non-poisonous snake.

When I meet small snakes in my garden, I try to relocate them. I know they're in the garden to eat bugs, but I just don't like snakey surprises. I get a 7.5 gallon bucket (deep!) and my shovel. Usually by the time I get back with these tools, the snake is gone, but if it is still there, I lift it as gently as I can with the shovel, place it in the bucket, and then release it in the woods along our lane.

We have never seen a poisonous snake on our place, but there are both copperheads and timber rattlers in this part of the county. A trash fire got out of hand and burned a few acres about 1/2 mile from here several years ago, and a big copperhead was killed somehow as a result of it. I don't remember whether it was hurt by the fire or it was killed by the firefighters. I do remember that they hung it on the barbed wire fence for everyone to see its size.

I wrote the following in 1997 for a now-defunct internet bulletin board that I enjoyed for several years:

I thought this might be interesting to some. It certainly gave me a strange chill to hear about it. A farmer neighbor who came in the place where I work told me this today.

This afternoon, the farmer was tending to his "dark barns"--which are the barns in which dark tobacco is hung and cured. A fire is kept smouldering on the dirt floor of a dark barn to fill it with smoke.

Tobacco farmers get slabs and sawdust from sawmills to burn in their dark barns. Slabs are the portion of a log cut off to square it up enough that boards can be cut, so they are rounded with bark on one side and flat with wood on the other side. Slabs don't stack well, so they are sold by the bundle. Farmers haul them all year around from the sawmills because they're hard to find during tobacco season.

This afternoon, this farmer opened up a bundle of slabs that had been brought early this spring to an isolated barn in a backwoods "holler" a couple miles off the highway. To his horror, when he cut the bands on the bundle and it fell open, he saw that it was squirming with copperheads. He killed 23 copperheads out of that bundle of slabs--two adult snakes that may have been two to three feet long judging from the length he indicated with his hands as he was telling the story--and 21 little ones.

I realize that snakes have their own important place in the ecosystem, but I don't blame that farmer for killing them. He didn't want 23 copperheads looking for a new home around his tobacco barn.

He told me that he has found copperheads before in bundles of slabs, but usually just one or two. This is the most he's ever found or heard of anyone finding.



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2 comments:

Wrkinprogress said...

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! I hate snakes, no matter their place in the ecosystem.

However, thank you for explaining about the smoke in the tobacco barns. I've only lived in this part of TN for 2 1/2 years, so I've not had many opportunities yet to learn about tobacco procedures. The first time RunawayImagination & I took a drive through the country in the fall and saw the smoke coming out of said dark barns, I thought it was a FIRE fire, and thought we'd have to call the fire department. But after a few minutes, and seeing people around the barn, clearly not agitated, we realized it must be some kind of curing method and went along our merry way. :) Cool to know about the slabs now -- at least I know from where the smoke originates!

WIP

Genevieve said...

Many newcomers wonder about the smoke coming from the barns and think of calling the fire department. And sometimes the barns do catch on fire, so if you see flames, by all means call 911!

I don't know if I'm done telling snake stories yet or not. More have come to mind. :)

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IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
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