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
and daffodils in the bare spot where the irises and daffodils I planted
last year had died.
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.
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
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 into my shirt.
sure that I will ever fully recover from this epiphany.
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 legs as do all the other more respectable creatures.
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.
not to say that I don't 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".
"awesome" meant something
mighty, something inspiring, humbling even. Nowadays, as best I can tell
it means something like, "no kidding?"
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 you?
Well, it's not, so 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.
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
I was thinking about all
this the other day when I received this email:
I got a big chuckle out of the
Collie story. 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
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
I can easily put up with non-poisonous snakes.
There are four types of poisonous snakes in the Ozarks: the Copperhead,
Cottonmouth and two species of rattlesnakes, the Pygmy and the Timber
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.
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.
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 a
half-gallon of Roma) so I can't swear they were from the Ozarks,
as I say, I've little doubt of it because nobody could drive very far that
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
obvious parallel with gang members in the city.
Native Ozarkers tend
not to wander out into
the yard barefoot at night.
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 bed, etc.
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
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
I was once showing some land to a young couple from Chicago.
trying to sell property with a creek on it, you've GOT to show the
creek no matter what's involved, and you can't go whining about the
because then maybe they'll chicken out. (What's more important after all,
a slow painful death, or paying the rent?)
That's how I got to be down in
this humid, dark valley with these two, standing waste deep in some kind
broad-leaf weed that almost completely obscured the muddy black creek-bank
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 us.
I considered just dying right there on the spot, but I didn't want to
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
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 won't even need the cats, much
less the guinea hens who have the amusing habit of making their incredibly
raucous noise virtually every waking moment of each and every day.
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
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 about.