I walked outside this morning to find my front yard filled with purple
crocus flourishing in this balmy 60-degree version of February. This
inspired me to perform actual work, planting irises and daffodils in
the bare spot where the irises and daffodils I planted last year had
As I was doing this, happily engrossed in my work, I looked up to
see something across the yard which I had never seen in my whole
entire life. A sight which made my blood run cold.
What I saw was a large black-snake climbing up a tree. Almost
straight up it in fact—it looked like he must have Velcro attached to
his disgusting snake belly.
"Snakes can do that?" I marveled to myself.
That led to a very, very troubling interlude while I pondered the fact
that I have been walking under trees in the Ozarks since I was old
enough to walk, and it has never once occurred to me to look up and
see if there was a snake dangling from a limb overhead while
contemplating doing a half-gainer down my shirt.
I'm not sure that I will ever fully recover from this epiphany.
Let me make one thing clear. I do not like snakes. In fact, I am
completely opposed to anything that doesn't have enough integrity to
get up and walk on its legs, as do most all the other more respectable
Yeah, yeah, I know about them catching and eating lots of field mice
and other rodents, but I would gladly catch and eat rodents myself if
it meant that the world would be free of reptiles of all kinds.
Maybe you’ve noticed that people often associate human traits with
snakes and vice versa. That seems appropriate to me, because I have
plenty of problems with humans as well. One of the things that irks
me about the human race is the way they mess around with the English
language. I've never fully recovered from what the kids have done to
the word "awesome".
Time was, "awesome" meant something mighty, something inspiring,
humbling even. Nowadays, as best I can tell it means something like,
Well they've done the same damned thing with the word "snake". Be
honest now, I'll bet when you saw the title of this piece, you thought
this was going to be about used-car salesmen or IRS agents, didn't
Well, it's not, and you don't need to expect any stories about Eve
being offered an apple by her divorce attorney, although you'd have to
agree that it would be just as plausible a story as the original.
Still, humans may be pretty bad, but they don't sneak into your tent
and bite you with venom-injecting fangs. That's just a fact, so
calling people "snakes" even hate-radio jocks, is just a dilution of a
perfectly good word.
I was thinking about all this the other day when I received this
I got a big chuckle out of the
I don't have a dog (yet) but do have 2 cats. I love dogs but can't
keep one where I live.
I hate snakes (actually I'm terrified of them) but will have to get
used to them or find excellent ways of keeping them away besides
cats. I've read guinea hens work well, but are really noisy, and that
pigs like to eat them.
Do you have any idea what the copperhead and rattlesnake population is
like there? Not actual numbers (who'd want to count them?) but more
like what are seen on occasion or frequently noticed?
I can easily put up with non-poisonous snakes.
There are four types of poisonous snakes in the Ozarks: the
Copperhead, the Cottonmouth, and two species of rattlesnakes, the
Pygmy and the Timber Rattler.
That's what I get from my reading anyway, in an entire lifetime of
bumbling into nasty, snake-y looking places, I've never encountered a
rattlesnake in the wild.
I'm absolutely certain that they're out there, though.
One of my clients found one in her backyard one evening, and seemed
quite agitated over the experience for weeks thereafter.
I also recall a particularly colorful neighbor who was fond of
prodigious quantities of cheap wine who once brought a matched pair of
rattlers into town where he was photographed displaying them for the
local paper. He handled these specimens by means of strings that he'd
tied around their necks. (Like I say, colorful.)
He confided that he couldn't recall precisely where he'd found them
(evidencing one of the characteristics of drinking a half-gallon of
Roma) so I can't swear they were from the Ozarks, but, as I say, I've
little doubt of it, because nobody could drive very far that drunk.
Copperheads are the most plentiful of our poisonous snakes, but you
won't see much of them either. They tend to stay hidden under
something during the day, because they dislike the sun's heat and the
light of day, hence the obvious parallel with gang members in the
Native Ozarkers tend not to wander out into the yard barefoot at
The truth is, unlike that clown who comes on the TV screaming about
detergent right after you've fallen asleep in your chair, snakes are
even more afraid of humans than vice versa, and you can step on a
snake without being bitten - probably.
When I started out in the rural real estate business, I decided that I
was just going to have to get used to the idea of snakes, and forget
about all those years of nightmares I'd had about finding them in my
Well, forty years later, I've been in some of the most
God-awful-looking places imaginable, and I don't have even ONE set of
fang marks to show for it.
Cottonmouths have to reputation for being the most aggressive snakes,
but I'm here to tell you that even they will turn ummm... tail and run
given the opportunity.
I was once showing some land to a young couple from Chicago.
When you're trying to sell property with a creek on it, you've GOT to
show the customer the creek no matter what's involved, and you can't
go whining about the snakes, because then maybe they'll chicken out.
(What's more important after all, a slow painful death, or paying the
That's how I got to be down in this humid, dark valley with these two
innocent bystanders, standing waste deep in some kind of broad-leaf
weed that almost completely obscured the muddy black creek-bank from
While we were standing there, while I was busily engaged in trying to
look like someone who wandered into places like this all the time, I
noticed a spot about ten feet away from us where I could see all the
way down to the dirt. There's no telling what little surprises the
rest of that 20 acres held, but it was in that particular square foot
that I saw the characteristic blunt, charcoal-gray tail of a
cottonmouth about as big around as my arm, wriggling away from
I considered just dying right there on the spot, but I didn't want to
upset the lady, so I never said anything, answered all their
questions, and briskly escorted them out of there with what I hope was
not obvious haste.
They didn't buy it.
To answer your questions Chris, I think you'll find the cats will do a
bang-up job of keeping snakes out of the yard.
Frankly, though, if you plan to mow the lawn every so often, you
probably won't even need the cats all that much, to say nothing of the
guinea hens - who have the amusing habit of making their incredibly
raucous noise virtually every waking moment of each and every day.
I'm not sure whether you meant pigs like to eat the snakes or the
guinea hens, (although I'm certain both statements would be true) but
what they'll do to your rhododendrons is even worse than the noise
from the guineas.
So here's my advice on the best way to deal with snakes in the Ozarks:
Fuggedaboudem, it's politicians and televangelists you have to worry