“I’m afraid of all snakes, and some sticks,” my friend Margaret says.
I thought this was a funny expression until I ran head-on into a copperhead last summer. Literally.
My husband was walking ahead of me on a popular hiking trail and our two dogs were racing pell-mell through the woods. I just happened to look up at a tree limb hanging over the path and noticed a thick, brown snake coiled on the branch. The same branch my husband brushed by a moment before, mere inches from the snake.
I yelled at him to stop. Then I commanded him to stay. I spoke firmly, in the same tone I use with my dogs.
Ignoring me, he took another step toward me and I pointed at the snake, still wrapped around the branch. He quickly took a step backwards.
The snake had a brown and tan pattern on its back, and from my post three yards away, I detected an angular, arrow-shaped head. I knew I could tell if it was poisonous or not by the shape of its pupils. Poisonous snakes have elliptical pupils; nonpoisonous snakes have round pupils. But I wasn’t looking for the whites of the eyes.
However, I know what an arrow looks like, and that copperhead’s neck jutted out and ended in a terrible point.
I took a picture with my cell phone, but you can barely make out the reptile because I’m so far away. I extended my arm straight, leaned as far away from my phone as possible and pulsed my thumb rapidly, hoping I’d hit the shutter button.
The snake never moved.
I didn’t know snakes climbed trees, although I’d heard horror stories about people tubing down the river and snakes falling out of trees right on top of their heads. This actually happened to my friend, Elizabeth Duff Woods. She was in a canoe going down the Hiawassee and one dropped down right between her legs and immediately crawled back under the big chunk of Styrofoam in the back of the boat. They bailed, screeching and panicking, right into the icy water, fearful that snake and more were writhing around right under them.
This is probably a universal fear: a snake free-falling on top of your body, getting trapped between your knees or tangled in your hair.
If my husband and I had been walking side by side, one of use would have bumped shoulders with the poisonous reptile, forcing the serpent to strike us, probably right in the temple.
Just a few days later, I saw a huge thick grey snake coiled in the middle of the road. I could see his triangular-shaped head clearly as I drove past. A few yards away, there was a group of children selling lemonade, and I turned my car around, intending to run it over. Instead I stopped in the middle of the road, right by the snake to contemplate killing him. He raised his head and struck my tires viciously, over and over, until I drove away.
I stayed away from the trails for a few weeks. Margaret would only walk with me on the main road, which suited me fine. I didn’t tell her this was the same road where the rattlesnake had attacked my car. We walked smack dab in the middle of the road, barely moving out of the way of cars, both of us scouting for snakes.
Both of my dogs have been bitten by poisonous snakes. I actually saw the last snake stretched out on the road, but I thought it was a fat stick. The big dog ran toward it, then recoiled as soon as the snake readied itself to strike. The little dog, who can’t see well, charged right into the snake and it struck him right in the eye. I poked a Benedryl down my dog’s throat then flew to the vet. He survived, but he almost didn’t.
I keep him on a leash now but I don’t really need one. He stays right by my side, and I stay right by his. And the only walking we do is in the yard.
(Ferris Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.ferrisrobinson.com)