Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Drivers go out of way to kill snakes, avoid turtles

I was headed down to prison early last Saturday – a not uncommon occurrence – and saw the saddest thing.

On a long deserted stretch of Highway 49 was a deceased raccoon, who had made it almost all the way across to the median, but not quite. Then at the edge of the pavement, halfway in the grass of the median, was a second coon, also dead as a doornail, but facing the first coon.  

It was as if the pair – a couple, maybe – had started across together, then when the behindmost one got hit, the front coon turned to go back to aid, or maybe just to mourn, its companion – and was fatally struck itself. I didn’t stop, but had to wonder if they were male and female, and probably mates. As I said, it was sad.

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We’ve been fortunate enough to raise a half-dozen baby coons, two of which I caught on the roadside after their mother had been hit by a truck. Raising a raccoon is sort of like raising a boy child; they seem to feel like they’re being graded on how much mischief they can get into.

A possum, however – and we’ve raised a dozen of those over the years – is fairly docile, tames easily, and cleans itself like a cat. Coons are smelly. Coons just have better Public Relations than possums; they get a reputation for being clean because they “wash” their food.

Truth is, coons don’t secrete saliva, so they take their food to water to aid digestion. We inherited four baby possums once when mother met her end in a roadside accident, and they were a lot of fun to raise; far less trouble than a coon would have been.

One of our inherited daughters (not the result of a roadside accident) was called “The Virgin Killer” because of her hunting prowess, and she ate at our dinner table for what seemed like decades.

Her Biological Parents always figured that I taught her to stop at roadkills to check for freshness (and accused me of not being too picky on that issue), so that the V.K. would be well-fed.  

This was not actually true, although I learned early on in raising hunting children not to question too closely as to the details of game they often brought to the family table.

Betsy and I were headed south one day last month (yep, another prison gig) and just a quick swerve would have secured a couple of fine suppers, for up ahead I spied a pair of Canada geese standing at the side of the highway.

However, they didn’t move, and I could see a road signpost, which blocked me from collecting them for the freezer. Then as we got closer, we both burst into laughter: the geese were looking up indignantly at a sign which proclaimed, “Speed Limit 65 MPH.” I reckon they resented the State’s intrusion into their affairs.

Nowadays the Number One Roadkill has got to be armadillo, with possum running a close second.  

Rabbits used to be common (which is wherefrom sprang the V.K.’s father’s claim of Roadkill Dinners), but we seldom see roadkill rabbits anymore, since fire ants have decimated rabbit, as well as quail, nests.

When our elder daughter was at Tulane, one of the Psychology Professors had his class do an experiment on I-10. Using invisible fishing line and rubber snakes and turtles, the students would hide at the side of the road and pull the fakes across in front of approaching cars.  

Seems like 75 percent of all drivers would change lanes to HIT a snake, whereas 75 percent would change lanes to MISS a turtle, proving once more the Genesis Precept, I suppose.

I was cutting across the back roads last spring, returning from – would you believe it? – another visit to prison (really, I’m state chairman of the Kairos Prison Ministry), and just past Will Green’s house saw a sho-nuff big moccasin crossing the blacktop.

I mean, if you can tell at 50 yards in the dusk that it’s a moccasin, that means it’s BIG! I stomped the brakes as I hit the snake, intending to lock and slide across its body, smushing the viper.

The Mercury just went, “Bump, bump” with all four wheels.  I stopped – no traffic either way – to back up and try again, but caught a glimpse in my rearview mirror.  That heavy car had just bounced across that snake, which was now coiling up, preparing to strike its attacker!

No roadkill snakes that night for me! A snake that will coil up and come after the car that just ran over it, is way too much snake for Uncle Bob to mess with!