Snake In The Grass

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Anyone for hidden objects? Can you spot the serpent in the twigs? 3/4’s right and center height, laying atop the thin and spindly light beige brush. If not, best to not go in the water. Nor am I picking it up to be certain what it is because I’m thinking Water Moccasin, other-wise called the Cotton Mouth Moccasin. We have three varieties of non-venomous water-snakes in these parts, Banded, Brown and Green according to the FWC. web-site, and it is not always a simple thing to tell one from another, or from with a more venomous attitude. The thickness at the tail and overall charcoal-ish cast of this one warns me to keep my fingers off!

The photo is of a small run-off ditch that empties into the Indian River Lagoon and as a youngster, it was a common occurrence to find my bare-footed self traipsing along any number of similar seams, mosquito control canals, lake and estuary waters. Encountering one or more of these wigglers amongst the border grass of any body of Florida water, be it fresh, or of a higher saline content was also an everyday affair.

On days more rare, one might come across a colorful Copperhead flowing with the current along an overgrown canal, or an Eastern Diamondback along the bank. In those times it was not uncommon to find a Rattler stretching to five, six feet and longer. Like most venomous reptiles, the Rattlesnakes of Florida were hounded into receding into the most inhospitable parts of swamps and stagnant waterways so that they might survive man’s thirst for killing off the competition.

As bull-dozers and other heavy equipment moved into an area, tearing out the trees and native shrubbery that might offer habitat and camouflage to scaled and slithering serpentine Floridians, those species sans legs were forced to flee as best they could. This flight often brought them into the vision of and deadly contact with, migrating northerners wielding shovels, axes and automobiles.

I recall one very rare spring day when my older brother invited me and my bow to go hunting with him and a group of his friends. Wielding Daisy BB guns they led the way while I, the solo archer, shored up the rear. After an extended march along an utilities easement bordering a control canal our tally stood at a paltry pair of Cotton Mouths. Being mid-day this really wasn’t too surprising as most of the snakes lay motionless and difficult to detect. Our next encounter however was in no way difficult to spot.

Retuning home along a stretch of recently paved road as yet without houses to market, from a distance it appeared a small tree had fallen across the road to form a bisecting Y axis to complement the X. Drawing closer, Daisy rifles began bouncing BBs off the hide of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake that was head and tail stretched off either side of the ten foot wide span of pavement. The longest on record I believe, captured alive was 15′ including rattles. I think the one we boys encountered was quite possibly a family member.

Sunning itself blissfully in Spring rays, the reptile just lay like a lazy log and there was not one amongst us who thought it a good idea to hop over the critter to get to the other side. Knocking a ‘roughing’ arrow drawn from my quiver of three, I took aim and fired. Skip-striking my target mid road-way and approximately mid length along its body, my arrow rebounded from the thick dry hide and fell with a clatter on the pavement.

Stunned, amazed and more than a little perplexed, I stood and stared aghast at my failure. But then it moved. Only a twitch at first as the leviathan began to awaken, then more, like a ripple of energy moving from one end to the other as the entire torso appeared to come to life. As I watched, the snake began to slide. Inch by inch it began to disappear as it moved forward, slipping ever-deeper into the tall tangle of brown grass and greenish red black-berry briars flourishing along the roadside.

As I recall, not a word was spoken during the entire event. Even after the tip of the serpent’s tail vanished from sight, the five boys standing and staring in awe could only manage to offer each other slack-mouthed chagrined expressions of disbelief.

In those days, Florida was a willful creature that could bless you with the unbelievable or turn on you with vengeance, as it would. Serpents roamed the land and water-ways that would easily dwarf this creature this morning encountered. I refuse to judge if this overall, is a gain or a loss, but it is I somehow feel, worth mentioning.

SSMatthews Barefoot Poetry April 26 2016

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