Summer has arrived in Alabama. The snakes are out.
Snakes are never really “in” in most of the state. I suppose they go through some form of hibernation, although I have seen them sunning themselves on rocks in December and January on warm Winter days.
Once while hiking in the woods I looked down and found I was standing next to a water moccasin. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I wasn’t really expecting snakes to still be above ground. My boot was right next to his coiled body. I was fortunate that it was cool and his cold reptilian blood was thick, or I would have been bitten. He was alert enough, even in his sluggishness, to show his true nature and intent: thick black body coiled, spade-shaped head back in striking position, mouth open wide, revealing his fangs and the inside of his cotton-colored mouth. Needless to say, I was displeased both with his presence and his attitude.
One of us did not have a happy Thanksgiving.
I generally have a “live and let live” philosophy about snakes. I am even tolerant of poisonous ones, as long as they keep their distance. I make one exception: the cottonmouth water moccasin. I will go out of my way to kill one. I could kill the last one without hesitation, sending the species into the oblivion of extinction.
I have spiritual justification for my bias. There is no doubt that the cottonmouth was the snake that deceived Eve in the garden of Eden. A careful reading of Genesis chapter two reveals this. God made a garden for Adam and Eve, and in this garden He planted two fruit trees, one of which they were instructed not to eat from. You know the rest of the story.
But what you may have missed is that the trees were planted by a river. Clearly, moccasin habitat. I rest my case.
The cottonmouth is the most aggressive of all the snakes in Alabama. They are territorial and will actually advance toward you (other snakes, like most wild animals, have the good sense to flee at man’s approach). I don’t like aggression in my fellow creatures. I meet it in Marine fashion: “with extreme prejudice.”
Some of my hatred of the cottonmouth moccasin is genetic. My ancestors have been at war with this snake for generations.
When I was a boy, I lived next door to my grandparents. They in turn lived next to a steep-banked creek (which we referred to as “the ditch”). The creek bed was probably twenty feet down, and the banks were brushy. It was cottonmouth paradise.
The only memory I have of my maternal grandfather was going next door to sit on the back steps with him each morning while he drank his coffee. I must have been three or four years old at the time (he died when I was young). While we enjoyed each other’s company, there would be a big pot of water slowly coming to a boil on the kitchen stove.
When he finished his coffee, we would walk over to the ditch and pull up a long cotton rope, at the end of which was a wire minnow basket.
Most days, the trap would contain a large, angry cottonmouth moccasin.
The basket was laid in the driveway, where the moccasin would thrash and strike the sides of his wire prison. My paw-paw would go into the house and get the pot, which by then contained boiling water.
We would then dispatch the evil viper to moccasin hell, where I’m sure there is weeping and gnashing of fangs. One less snake to slither up and bite an unsuspecting three year old.
No pardons given. Swift and terrible execution by scalding. Good triumphs over evil.
You must excuse me if I end the story here. I think I’m going down to the creek to do some hunting this afternoon.