how to pronounce missouri, The Collie Who Tried to End It All, Snakes in the Ozarks, Autumn Olympics Living in an Old Chicken House horse sense Snake snapping turtle story

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 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.

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 creatures do.

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, “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, 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 email:

Dear Neil,

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 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.


Dear Chris:

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 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 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 rent?)

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 view.


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 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 on your property in the Ozarks: Fuggedaboudem, it’s politicians and televangelists you have to worry about.



  1. i was just thinking about moving to the ozarks , , now i may change my mind , i am looking for some cheap land to homestead on if you can help me find some or put me intouch with someone who can i would greatly appreciate any info , my email is not .com

  2. Snakes aren’t poisonous. They’re venomous. Poison denotes ingestion and no snake will kill you if you eat it.

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