Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 5, 2010

No snakes seen on nightly patrol

It’s beginning to get weird.

I know that they are out there, lying in wait for me.

The Law of Averages says that.

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Almost nightly for the past six months I have patrolled the yard and pasture with a .22 pistol or shotgun, to rid Brownspur of the stinky varmints like skunks and polecats, and the digging, yard-ruining armadillos. Dozens of the pests have met their fate, day and night. Yet I’ve not seen one snake on my nightly patrols.

Hot and dry as it was this summer, our whole family made it a habit to spend as much time as possible in the Swimming Hole, where water comes out of my well at 68 degrees, too cool for snakes. The deep shade of Betsy’s High Place, or the swing and hammock under the backyard oaks, have been our non-swimming refuges from the heat, but I’ve not seen a snake enjoying that shade yet.

Betsy has a legendary Green Thumb, and the prolonged drought was not allowed to threaten her shrubs and flowerbeds, nor the beautiful St. Augustine grass yard.

We’ve got more hoses than Carter has little pills, and during his Labor Day weekend visit, son Adam compared the nighttime yard to a watery mine field, when he went out to retrieve something that had been left at the Swimming Hole.

I roamed the yard several times a day the whole summer and fall, moving hoses to preserve our greenery. Yet since April, I’ve not seen a single snake. Not one, poisonous or non-poisonous, excusing a single small red-striped water snake that snuk into the Swimming Hole, but was forced to the top by the chlorine and fell victim to my pistol quickly.

Earlier in the spring, I did shoot a good-sized moccasin in the driveway, and encountered three large chicken snakes while mowing the yard, one of which lost the last eight inches of its tail in the mower blades, plus another one got slung across the blacktop road in an exercise that produced a couple of spectacular falls for the snake-slinger, which would be me.

But in the past six months, no snakes.

I am no Woody Allen fan, but there’s a quote attributed to him that applies in this case: “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get me!”

I feel thataway. It’s like when the Indians have surrounded the wagon train, yet the pioneers only hear a few ominous bird calls during the night as they lie awake under the wagons with loaded rifles. 

I’ve been struck three times by poisonous snakes, so I know how sick it makes the victim, and how the meat rots out around the fang holes later on.  I do not want to experience that again, as long in the tooth as I am now.  I am very conscious about watching where I walk, day or night, around the yard, down by the Mammy Grudge, scouting for deer sign, hunting doves, or even around town.  In the Mississippi Delta, one grows up knowing to watch for snakes, so I do that.

So, where are they? The only thing worse than a poisonous snake you can see, is a poisonous snake that you cannot see, when you know without a doubt that one is lying in wait, coiled and ready to strike you. 

It doesn’t even have to be a poisonous snake: a large non-poisonous snake suddenly appearing in a threatening manner can make you hurt yourself.

I once almost mowed a copperhead, and my ensuing dodge of his strike resulted in tearing the cartilage and ligaments in my left knee, shattering the kneecap, and splitting thighbone four inches. 

Taking the strike would have been a lot less expensive than my total knee reconstruction. I’ve had to go down stairs sideways ever since.

It’s beginning to get weird.

I know they’re out there, lying in wait for me.

The Law of Averages says that.

I’ll probably get bit tonight, going out to get the paper. What a relief it’ll be.