Look at the size of that Snake!

Rob, one of my brothers, was pointing from our crappie boat toward a rock jetty at the lake shore, his voice a little louder then the idling boat motor. I couldn't see the snake myself; but folks that had been fishing the rip-rap cove from the bank began to grab cane poles, kids, buckets, everything they had, and were scattering like quail on a covey rise. Turns out, they hadn't seen a snake either, it was only a piece of driftwood. Few words can move folks into action like the word, "SNAKE". I'm convinced had my brother said "Tornado", everyone would have stood around ten or fifteen minutes staring at the funnel cloud, awestruck by the beauty of it. Then, some guy would have grabbed a video camera, hopped into his car and drove in a little closer to get some good film-footage. The same guy sees an oridinary black-rat snake though, and he can't get out of there quick enough. To a lot of us, there is no such thing as a "harmless snake". It's just not possible for some to correlate the word harmless when snakes are mentioned. Conservation Departments can print thousands of brochures describing all the non-poisonous, harmless reptiles; but, for little good. I keep hearing the same comment, "a snakes a snake, and the only good one is a dead one". I'm not advocating we start hugging snakes and I won't be keeping a copperhead around the place for the sake of promoting wildlife diversity. I've never wanted to keep a snake for a pet, either, though I've known individuals that keep them. That's just not me; but I will say I've never been afraid of snakes, even the handful of pit-vipers that call the Ozarks home. That doesn't mean I lack a healthy respect, it just means I've never felt panic when around snakes. On the other hand, there have been several times in my life where I've demonstarted full-blown, bounce-off-walls terror by doing something as simple as opening a well house door. For me, nothing raises goose bumps like staring into the face of a plate-sized, "red wasper" nest with all hands on deck, locked and loaded! The reason I break out in a cold sweat around wasps is clear and simple........I've gone to bed with them and they're not cooperative about sharing the sheets. When I was a youngster, our family tore the old house place down during summer school-break to build a new home and we moved into an old "shed" while we built our new home. Everything went fine until fall began to approach. Some may not know that wasps love to spend the winter in sheds. At the age of ten, I didn't. The first time I slipped under the covers only to be nailed by a wasp was horrible. I mean, what the devil! It was no less terrifying the second time, or the third! To this day, whether it's my own wasp-free house or a spotless motel room, I won't pull the sheets back without a thorough "wasper" search. I'm talking about a lifelong, imprinted lesson here. When the movie, "The Godfather" came out and it had this scene with the horse's head in problem for me, I didn't even blink an eye. I just knew it was going to be a little wad of red wasps, wings buzzing like helicopter blades. Now that would have raised the hair on my neck! I've never had the problem of being surprised by a rattlesnake i my bed, so what's the big deal about snakes? As a float fishing guide, I see hundreds of snakes each year. There are a few basic rules that I attempt to communicated to folks when out fishing with me. First, don't panic! Acting in terror is more apt to cause harm then a snake bite. In a state of panic, a person can break a leg, have a heart attack or drown. I should also say that I personally know six different individuals that have been bitten by a poisonous snake. Three were bitten by Copperheads, two by Cottonmouths, and one by a Timber Rattler. All six are doing fine and living normal lives. When bitten, they didn't panic, they just went to the hospital. A quick search for venomous snakebites in the United States reveals an average of 8000 each year. From those 8000 people, there will be an average of 12 snake bite fatalities and 95% of those fatalities are bites from Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The same search reveals that approximately 50 people die in the United States each year from insect stings. I feel better now, knowing I've got solid proof on those red wasps. A few years ago, I was guiding a young man on a stream in mid-Arkansas. We were near the end of the trip, and while the young man was out wading in weeds where he couldn't see, he stepped on a cottonmouth and was bitten. He didn't panic, in fact, he insisted on continuing to fish. Naturally, I hustled us along on the float trip to the take-out vehicle and he went on to the hospital for treatment. His leg swelled, and he was sick for a spell; but he soon went home and recovered just fine, even though the charge for the hospital stay and the anti-venom amounted to more then $30,000. His insurance helped on the expense and despite his unfortunate experience with the Cottonmouth, he can hardly wait until his next float fishing trip each year. Rule number two, pay attention and don't do anything stupid, like not watching where you step when wading through weeds. Most folks won't believe me; but, I've been wade fishing on small creeks close to where I grew up in Southeast Missouri and have seen dozens of Cottonmouths in a day's worth of wade fishing. Ozark streams typically have hundreds of ordinary water snakes per mile of water, we just don't see them. Perhaps 99% of them are the "harmless" varieties, yellow-bellied water snake, broadbanded, diamond-backed, northern water snake, and so on. To a lot of people, of course, they're all "water moccasins" and are about to attack. Nothing could be further from the truth; but, who cares about truth when it's a snake, right? Well, do you recall rule number one? A little knowledge actually helps in preventing panic. A little experience doesn't hurt either. I can recognize a Cottonmouth the second I see one and have absolutely no problem wondering whether or not it could be a diamond-backed water snake or vice-versa. I'll share one little trait, learned from experience, that's a dead give-away for identifying a Cottonmouth; and no, it's not the "white mouth". Take an ordinary piece of Styrofoam and throw it on the water and you will notice that it floats as light as a feather. When you see a Cottomouth on the water, that's exactly how it will look. Their entire body floats on the surface (as does all pit-vipers) just like it was made of balsa wood. The ordinary "water snakes" will be swimming with just their head out of the water. With that information and 50 cents you can still get a cup of coffee in some places; but, it is that kind of insight and observation that can help a person remain calm when snakes are encountered in the out-of-doors. If you love being out on the water, it's inevitable that you will see snakes, after all, it's their home, too. With some knowledge and a little more experience, you too, can learn to share the outdoors with more confidence and comfort. However, when you go out to the shed to get your boat paddles or the garden hoe, keep a sharp eye out for those "red waspers". And, along the river, give those hornet nests a wide berth!