Southerners, particularly those of the outdoor persuasion, are quite familiar with snakes. Down here, old No-Shoulders slither about pretty much year round. I've even stumbled upon the occasional rattlesnake sunning near its den in temperatures as low as 40-plus degrees.
A few of us, of course, adapt pretty well to this phenomenon and develop a live-and-let-live attitude of vigilant avoidance. Others, however, have a difficult time getting past the feeling of sheer terror a legless reptile can induce.
A person who is truly afraid of snakes is usually devoid of logic and quite nonspecific in his thinking. It makes little difference to him if an individual snake is venomous or non-venomous, potentially dangerous or utterly harmless. His attitude is a snake is a snake is a snake. Period.
My childhood friend Ernie, for instance, became evermore petrified over the mere thought of all things "snakey" the day a large gray rat snake showed up inside his overalls. The fact that Ernie was occupying the overalls at the time made it that much worse for him. The fact that I put the snake there in the first place made it pretty bad for me as well. Ernie was always an ill-tempered sort and prone to beat up on me for far less-serious infractions.
Snake haters all seem to have one thing in common. In the presence of a snake any reason they might otherwise possess completely escapes them. My buddy Cletus Monroe, whose common sense is marginal at best, is an example.
While fishing in a pond a few years ago, Clete and I paddled our johnboat beneath a bankside willow tree and accidentally dislodged a snake, which fell into the boat between us. Clete mistook the harmless brown water snake for a cottonmouth (not that it would have mattered) and snatched a fully-loaded .38 revolver from beneath his seat. He fired six successive rounds into the boat's flooring, scaring the unwelcome passenger out of its wits and back into the water.
Snake problem thus "solved," we next turned our attention to our bullet-riddled and sinking vessel. Instead of sharing a boat with one offending serpent, we soon found ourselves sharing a pond with untold dozens.
Snakes have other ways of conjuring up excitement during outdoor excursions. One summer morning Clete and I were settled on a creek bank, happily catching and stringing up a fine mess of bluegills, redbreasts and bullheads. My buddy unhooked a hand-size bream and reached for the rapidly filling stringer between his feet. As he lifted it from the water, he discovered a three-foot water moccasin (for real this time) with its teeth imbedded in one of our previous catches.
In uncharacteristic fashion and with incredible calm and cool bravado, he reached down and grabbed the "trespasser" behind its ugly sinister-looking head. I looked on in astonishment as he tightened his grip and in vise-like fashion slowly and deliberately choked the snake to death.
Tossing the would-be fish thief aside, Clete calmly arose, gathered his gear and said, "Let's go."
Too dumbfounded to reply, I picked up my own equipment and followed him back to the truck. When I was at last able to speak, I said, "I'm still not believing you did that."
"Why?" Clete asked. "You didn't think I was gonna let that sorry son-of-a-gun take our fish did you?"
Back at the truck, Clete continued to act as if the whole thing was no big deal. He was still quite collected when he said, "Old buddy, you know that pistol you made me leave in the glove compartment today?"
"Uh huh," I replied.
"Reach in there and get it."
"I want you to take it and shoot me right between the eyes."
"What? Man, you're crazy!"
"You got that right," Clete avowed. "Way yonder too crazy to be runnin' around loose!"