A couple of years ago, Mike and I were walking down Brandywine Road and we stepped off into the lush grass of a neighbor's side lawn so that I could--uh--relieve myself. We hadn't gone very far when I heard something rustling between my feet. I looked down and saw a critter that looked like this:
Well, I launched myself about a foot into the air, the snake took off like he was late for dinner, and Mike just about wet himself laughing. "It's a harmless Black Racer," he said. "Don't be a sissy."
"I'm too young to die," I told him.
"One of those couldn't kill you," he replied. "They're nonpoisonous."
"Can they bite?"
"Well, of course, all snakes can bite."
"That's reason enough for me to steer clear of them," I said.
When we returned home, we Googled up some information on what are supposedly the four main poisonous snake species in our state, complete with pictures. They are--in case you aren't aware--the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake;
the Pgymy, or Ground, Rattlesnake (the guy whose hand is also in this picture is a flaming nut, IMHO);
the Cottonmouth, or Water Moccasin;
and the Coral Snake.
Up near our border with Georgia and Alabama, you can sometimes find the Timber, or Canebrake, Rattler;
and every now and then, the Copperhead.
"The first four of those," M informed me, "are the only snakes you really have to avoid around here."
"Oh, no," I informed him back. "I have to avoid all of them. Case closed. Can I hear an amen?"
He said my choice of words (the amen part) was a good one, because there happen to be groups of people in the states just to our north who use poisonous snakes as a big part of their religion. They actually pick them up and dance around the room with them, believing that if their faith is strong enough, they won't get bit. And that if they do get bit, they won't die. And they drink deadly poison, too, mostly something called strychnine. And quite a number of them have apparently died because of their beliefs. Well, DUH!
But the lure of snake handling (AKA "taking up serpents," after some Bible verse) is apparently hard to resist among more than a few humans. M went on to tell me about a man named Dennis Covington, who wrote a book called Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia.
During his reasearch in Scottsville, Alabama, Covington became so affected by what he saw that he briefly became a snake handler, himself. Eventually he was able to let go of the practice--probably with encouragement from Mrs. Covington, who I'll bet said something like, "You can touch snakes or you can touch me--your choice, buster!"
I must admit that in the two years since I learned all this, I've often thought about the weird attraction of people to snakes. (I've also wondered what other bizarre secrets lurk inside human minds.) So it didn't surprise me to learn that Mike has been thinking about it, too. He recently finished a slideshow video to dramatize the subject--and to set it to music, with the help of a country and western duo called Pinkard & Bowden. We hope you enjoy it--or at least find it educational.
To view it in its original format at YouTube, click here.