My dear friend Jim and I have shared many experiences that deepened our friendship. Some were arguments and debates, some moments epiphany, some the simple joy of having a good time, and once (just once) it was killing something together.
It happened when we spent a week working at Lylewood Christian Camp. Jim was the Director and I a counselor. The Director’s Cabin had yet to be renovated, so it was little more than a nice shack with no insulation and plenty of opportunities for wildlife to enter. One night, Jim woke up to discover a snake staring at him from an overhang within the cabin.
Jim is not afraid of snakes, but he didn’t simply go back to sleep. First, he took a confiscated water gun, filled it with bleach, and shot it at the snake, because, you know, that’s a sensible thing to do. I know this because he told me about the next morning.
“And that killed it?” I asked.
“I think so, I don’t really know for sure.”
“What do you mean you don’t know for sure?”
“I didn’t check.”
“You didn’t check?”
“No, I just went back to sleep.”
“Let me get this straight, you wake up, see a snake and instead of leaving it alone or just getting, I don’t know, a stick or something, you shoot bleach at it? And then you don’t even make sure it’s dead?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he laughed.
“So it’s still there?”
“Maybe we should get it. It’s hot and you do not want to smell rotting snake the rest of the week.”
“What just pick it up?”
“Sure, why not?” Of course, I now have several excellent answers to that question.
We went to his cabin. The metal roof was already overpowering the meager fan he had.
“Maybe we should make sure it’s dead before I go sticking my hand up there,” I said. I tried to make it sound more thoughtful and wise than too chicken to stick my hand up there.
We got a broom handle (and why didn’t he use that the night before?) and poked around the underhand near the ceiling. It didn’t take long to provoke the snake out of hiding. The snake stuck it’s head up and stared toward us. I was certain it was the same snake because the skin around its head was white, peeling and looked chemically burned. Its eyes were milky and it looked extremely ticked off.
“I don’t think it’s dead.”
“So what do we do now?”
I don’t go out of my way to hang out with them, but I’m not afraid of snakes, so I said, “I’ll just go ahead and grab it and toss it outside.”
Jim went to get a shovel, just in case, and I kept watch. Once he returned, I slowly reached toward the snake. The snake’s tongue darted in and out and it made a sound. A very distinctive sound. It rattled.
“I’m not going to grab the snake, okay?”
“No, I wouldn’t. You think it’s a timber rattler?”
“All I know is I’m not touching it.”
The snake calmed down when I moved away, but its head still tracked our movements. PArtially inspired by Jim’s bleach gun, I rigged up and pretty effective snake holder using some twine, the broom handle, and unbent coat hanger. We maneuvered our snake catcher into position and pulled the string. Oddly, it worked. This surprised us so much, we let go of the string. Oops.
The snake shot down the wall and out a hole.
“It got away!” I cried.
“You let it get away.”
“Whatever, let’s get it.”
We burst through the doors and maniacally charged down the hill in pursuit.
“I don’t see a rattle on it” I yelled.
“I don’t care.”
I managed to trap it with the rigged snake catcher and Jim finished it off with the shovel. With a primal, guttural cry, he hurled the snake’s head into the woods. We congratulated each other after the fierce battle and carried what remained back up the hill.
“What do you think it was?” I asked
“Maybe a copperhead. I think I saw heat pits behind its eyes.”
We had a picture made of our kill. In it, Jim is smiling. I am stone face. Because I am tough. We also nailed it to the door of the Director’s Cabin to, uh, warn all the other snakes. This became our undoing.
We enjoyed our tale of fighting with the venomous serpent. It was a good story. Then my father-in-law (long before he became that of course) asked, “Why is there a chicken snake nailed to the door?”
“It’s not a chicken snake, it’s a copperhead.” I said.
“How do you know?
“Because that’s scarier. How do you know it’s not?”
“Because copperhead have blunt tails, that one’s sharp so it’s just a chicken snake.”
“No, it’s deadly! BUt we took care of it.” I told him the story.
“Only non-venomous snakes fake being a rattler. Think about it, why would it need to convince you it was a different kind of poisonous snake if it really was venomous.”
“To confuse us?”
“More likely just to get rid of you.”
“No, it’s a copperhead,” I said, feeling less sure of it every moment.
“If it was, it probably would have just bitten you instead of running away.”
“Snakes, can’t run, they don’t have legs!” I said that because by that point I was almost certain that it was indeed a chicken snake, so I needed to be right about something.
We I reflect on that day, I feel pity for the snake that had the misfortune of crossing paths with to slightly overzealous men. Mostly though, I think about the picture of two friends holding it. We may ultimately not have been quite the heroes we imagined that day, but we did it together. That makes it a good memory, and one I cherish.
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