Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lessons in Snake Handling

Auburn, California, mid-1960s. We had a five-acre place near the town of Auburn, east of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We fenced and cross-fenced it for our horses and cattle and had a great year-round stream running along the bottom.

We had an abundance of snakes there, bull snakes, garter snakes, and king snakes. But no rattlers. The rattlesnakes in that area are very shy and don't like to share their living space with dogs, cats or constrictors.

On this particular occasion we had some children present, possibly ours, possibly the neighbors' kids, or maybe neices and nephews from Southern California. They might have been total strangers, just passing through. Joanne was doing some yard work when she saw a lovely king snake stretched out in the primroses. She reached behind the snake's head to grab him and teach the children how to catch one safely. But she reached too far back and the snake managed to turn it's head and hemstitch her hand.

Joanne turned the spontaneous snake-grabbing lesson into a spontaneous leave-snakes-alone-if-they-aren't-bothering-you lesson. "You see, if I'd left this snake alone, like I should have, I wouldn't be bleeding right now." The kids were most impressed with the blood oozing from her hand, and I don't imagine very many of them became snake handlers in their adult lives.

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