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Hold the Venom, Thanks

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Hi. Mind if I live in your garage? Well, in fact, yes, I do mind. Nothing personal, but today is Moving Day for you.

On his blog, Bill of the Birds has told a wonderful story of his late-night encounter with a copperhead.

I couldn't do it better. He's got that jittery snake thing down real good.

The snake tongs I used to catch it were the best $50 I've ever spent. Three feet long, lightweight aluminum, with a gentle but firm gripper on the business end and a pistol-grip handle on my end, they sit by the garage door, just a couple of feet from where I found Bill's copperhead the morning after their late night pas de deux. Wearing only underpants and a digital camera, I strode out to the garage for my date with destiny. I felt that snake's presence, and there it was, coiled in a corner, the first place I looked. It was a cinch to grasp the snake around its fat middle and gently lower it into a joint compound bucket for transport to an uninhabited bit of woods about two miles away. Here it is, considering its new location. Such a lovely little thing.

It feels odd for naturalists to be attempting a very local extirpation of a rare species. But we're forced to do it, by the fact that they're too dangerous to have in our dwellings, and transporting the snakes to nearby good habitat seems the only thing to do. We find most of them right by that darn garage door, where we come and go at all hours. I imagine I've transported as many as 14 copperheads in as many years. Four, I was forced to kill, and I was bummed out about it for days, but they were just striking too actively for me to get hold of them. That was before The Tongs. I used to pin their heads with the crossbar of a shovel handle, then grab them by the tail and hoist them into a bucket. Dicey, not fun, and damned dangerous, especially when the snake is aggro. One snake struck and struck at the shovel handle. Venom ran down in rivulets. After I'd disposed of the animal, I grabbed the shovel to put it away. My hand touched the handle and instantly went numb, up to the elbow. It stayed that way until midday the next day. Wowwww. Venom is weird, weird stuff.

I have been bitten, and gotten off lightly, but that's another story.

Most copperheads are really docile, but the two that were ferocious were also the biggest ones I've ever seen. The smaller of the two I found by the popping sound of its jaws as it struck at me in the dark. I was spreading dried blood in the flowerbeds to deter rabbits on a lovely summer night. (You may voice a quiet DUH! here.)

Pop! Pop! Pop! What's that? Pop! Pop!
It was a copperhead, throwing its entire length at my shin, again and again, and just barely falling short. So much for their purported docility. This thing was out to get me. Only dumb luck prevented a real good bite.

One female was in excess of three feet. There I was, holding her by her tail, and she's raring back up her own length to try to sink her fangs into my arm. Kids a terrified Greek chorus, witnessing the whole thing. Now what do I do? Fling her as far as I can, and chop her head off, that's what. Oh, I just hate doing that. I shake like a leaf and cry the whole time. But the thought of having a snake like that sunning on our sidewalk where the kids play just doesn't fit in my world view. Living deep in the country, we are forced to draw some lines with the wild things, even when it's the last thing we want to do.
A painting from my upcoming book, Letters from Eden.

And so I have taken them away, these snakes. Venom is fine, used for killing mice and rats, but I can't have it where we live, work and play.

Which reminds me: I have, most reluctantly, begun to screen the comments that come in. It was inevitable, I guess, after almost 42,000 hits, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier. The amazement is how few negative comments ever come in. For that, I thank you all. My blog is a happy place, full of beauty, wonder, light, and joy--things this weary world badly needs. It's freely offered, for no other reason than that it's worth doing. By the vast majority of its readers, it's accepted with gratitude, grace, and understanding of the effort that goes into it. I promise to keep it that way for you.


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