“I wouldn’t step foot in that pasture again ‘til there’s snow on the ground if I were you” a concerned Floyd County neighbor told me recently. With the coming of warm weather “snakes hide in that tall grass. You’d better be careful!”
I could tell that fear and loathing of those creatures would make her an unsympathetic listener to my old snake stories. It seemed her feelings about snakes were not altogether different from those of the edentulous old gentleman who rolled down his truck window to ask just what was I doing in a wet-weedy ditch along the side of an Auburn, Alabama dirt road long ago.
“I’m hunting for snakes” I said, matter-of-factly. And as he quickly rolled up his window and sped away, he proclaimed “You must be in league wit da debil!”
I assure you, this is not the case, but there was a time even my wife might have thought so.
We were newly married. I had just started my first semester of graduate school, majoring in zoology. The herpetology class I was enrolled in awarded points for the different snakes, turtles, frogs, lizards and salamanders collected from the neighboring counties. I just happened to be listening to the twelve-noon radio swap shop one day when a caller announced he had a “big ol’ snake in a clothes hamper, if anybody wants it.” And of course, I did, and brought it home to our college apartment.
This particular gray rat snake was a stout one—five feet long, powerful but mild of temperament as this species typically is. Since it was a weekend, I would have to find room and board for the creature until I could take it in to the prof on Monday and register my easy points. So, I put it in a large Styrofoam ice chest in the closet of our bedroom, and with the lid slightly open and a couple of Ann’s huge pharmacy textbooks on top to hold it down securely, we went to dinner in town.
When we returned, my wife of two weeks discovered that, contrary to my assurances to the contrary, the snake had indeed been able to bench press twenty pounds of books. He was now somewhere free-ranging in our apartment! In the next instant, my newlywed bride was doing a little dance of dread in the middle of our bed.
Between gasps she told me “If I’d known. This is what. It would be like. To be married to. A biology major. I’d have married an accountant!” Our future marital bliss required that I find that snake right away, and so I set about the task, reassuring her I’d find it in three minutes. How many hiding places could there be, after all, in a one-bedroom apartment!
I looked high and low. There was no snake in the bathtub, and none behind the couch. There was no sign of it either under the bed upon which my bride bounced in hysterics. Fifteen minutes later and at the end of my rope, I wondered if maybe a flashlight would help. I went to the desk drawer to fetch it, but the drawer wouldn’t give.
Odd it should suddenly be stuck, I thought, and pulled again, harder. The third time, the drawer came open in one synchronized and awful motion as the leading third of a five foot snake shot up and out of the drawer, jack-in-the-box fashion, and stood upright like a cobra mere inches from my face. Confronted so suddenly, so unexpectedly and at such close range, even our brave, young snake-fancier suffered a jolt of sheer white terror (though it took him years to admit this.)
Removed from the drawer and securely tied up in a pillow case, our cold-blooded house guest left our apartment that very hour (this being the single stipulation of the marital or-else ultimatum) to reside in a sandy aquarium in the zoology building on campus. By the time I got back home, she had her feet on the floor again, still not fully convinced I hadn’t lost other snakes in our bedroom and never bothered to tell her.
Don’t be ridiculous, I probably would have told her. But come to think of it, I never did confess to the one that got lose in the Volkswagen. Don't know yet what happened to that one.