Saturday, December 29, 2007


The first important thing to know about snakes is that they are not poisonous. Some of them are venemous, and that is sometimes inconvenient, but they are not poisonous. If you eat them, you will not die. If you don't know what you're eating, you may not even get sick.

Constrictors, especially, are good people. They eat rodents and keep rattlesnakes away. And bull snakes put on a great show.

Auburn, California, mid-1960s

I recall one bull snake in particular from when we lived in Auburn. We'd meet him from time to time on the dirt road leading into our "ranch" home. When we'd meet, he'd coil up and shake his tail just like the rattlers. But since he had no rattles, the effect wasn't quite the same. If you didn't run away when he shook his tail, he'd go over to plan B, roll over onto his back and drag his tongue in the dirt. Playing dead. If you turned him onto his belly, he'd flop right back over onto his back and drag his tongue in the dirt some more. Quite the little thespian. Big thespian, in fact, because he was a big snake.

One spring morning, Joanne, my wife, was returning from work in the afternoon. It was the first warm spring afternoon after a long dismal winter. She wore hose and heels, for such was the teacher costume in those days, and drove our 3/4-ton GMC pickup, the one with the dents and rust spots. And as she drove home she came across our friend the bull snake stretched out across the road. He reached almost from one side of the road to the other. Joanne stopped the truck, got out, and kicked the snake olut of the road with her pointy toed spike heeled shoes.

Next afternoon, same place, same snake, same truck, same woman. Same result.

But on the third afternoon when Joanne got out of the truck, the snake coiled and charged. If he could have talked, he would have said, "Not today, lady, godammit!" Joanne hastily leaped back into the cab of the pickup and the snake went victoriously into the tall grass by the side of the road. Bull snakes aren't venemous, but they have long, sharp dentures that would have certainly made some deep indentures into Joanne's leg.

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