Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Be kind to snakes

An interview with the Nature Man
Photo of me after my first 
snake encounter

    I’ve made no secret of the fact that I really like nature. I’m interested in birds, trees, caged bears, a couple of rodents and a bug or two. No worms. Not a fan of the worm. I have issues with any creature whose head looks a lot like its rear. Come to think of it, I don’t like baboons, either.

    All other creatures interest the daylights out of me, and that’s the reason I chose to interview my favorite naturalist and newspaper columnist, Jerry Walls. If Jerry shared his bio with more people, his name would be chiseled above the entrance of zoos and nature museums all over the South.

And, get this, for 15 years, Jerry has been the Courier’s nature columnist. That’s the big reason I called him and asked if he’d agree to be interviewed by Kay and me on our “Hanging with the Hayters” show. (www.irlonestar.com) Jerry wasn’t all that crazy about the idea at first. For some reason people have trouble taking me seriously.

I told Jerry that he wouldn’t have to drive from his home in Florida to be on our radio show. I’d just give him a call from the studio. He could pick his topic. Well, the show aired last week at noon and Jerry chose to talk about snakes. Snakes, a frightening creature that I neglected to include in my first paragraph up there. Jerry said that with torrential rains we had been getting, there will be snakes a-stirring. But, not even a mouse. (He didn’t say that last part.)

Turned out, Jerry’s talk on “Snake Encounters” was very informative and helpful for all listeners and Kay. Jerry lost me at the very beginning when he said, “Snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them.” Give me a break!

    Hurricane Alicia, 1983, the power was off at the Hayter house. I grabbed the flashlight and rolled out of bed. My mission? Obvious. The minute my bare feet touched the floor, the light beam caught a two-foot long squiggly line dart from under the bed to behind the chest of drawers. In, oh, a nanosecond I was seated in the middle of the bed, practically on top of Kay. My knees were under my chin.

    Kay is a light sleeper. Her bony right elbow hit my left kidney with enough force to make me drop my flashlight. I told her it was me. She said she knew that. I told her that we had to sell the house… today. Fully furnished. You’ll have to go to the 1983 Courier and Villager archives to see what happened next. Not one of my prouder moments.

    I chose not to interrupt Jerry with my story. He went on to say something about the six venomous snakes in Texas. Three of ‘em are rattlesnakes. Pygmy, timber, and diamondback. Then you’ve got your copperhead, water moccasin and coral. He told us about the “red and yella, kill a fella” key to discerning between a coral and the other snake with red stripes. I think it’s a king snake.

    The fake coral snake is red and black. Jerry told us to remember “Red and black is okay, Jack.” He apologized that he knew no idioms about snakes that used female names. I like naturalists who have a sense of humor.

Jerry said that if you’re out and about and encounter a snake, you should just walk away. Snakes do not chase people. They generally strike only when cornered or threatened. The guy obviously didn’t see the movie “Anaconda.” I was getting ready to bring that to his attention, but, from across the table, Kay read my look. She gave me the international sign for death. You know? The slit-your-throat sign?  Kay’s always been good with signs.

    I don’t know if you noticed back there, but I mentioned “venomous snakes,” not “poisonous snakes.” Jerry said that all snakes are non-poisonous. (Except those with heavy bacterial issues.)  Instead of poison, they have venom. Venom is good for curing illness. Especially, illnesses caused by venomous snakebites. Again, I didn’t get to share that info with Jerry or our listeners.

    We were educated as to the many benefits of snakes. Did you know that many house fires are caused by rodents chewing through electrical wires? I had no idea. Snakes eat rodents, ergo, they have prevented many a house fire. Instead of Smokey the Bear, it should be “Smokey the Hog Adder.” Yes, I kept that to myself.

    Rats were responsible for the Black Plague in Europe. Had they had more snakes, perhaps there would’ve been no plague. Saint Patrick thought he was doing a big favor to Ireland by running out all the snakes. That could well be grounds for de-sainthood, you ask me.

    One story that Jerry neglected to share was the one in the newspaper awhile back. The story is out of Bangkok. And, I’m not making it up. It reads:

“A Thai man is recovering from a bloody encounter with a 10-foot python that slithered through the plumbing of his home and latched its jaws onto his penis as he was using a squat toilet.”

Turns out, it took his wife and a neighbor 30 minutes to unclamp the jaws of the snake. I’ve got so much more I’d like say about that, but Kay proofs my articles.

    Our time with Jerry Walls ended too soon. I’ll beg him for another interview in the near future. One thing I want you all to remember from this. -- The next time you’re out and about and see a snake, remember to – Just walk away, Renee. – And, that’s a rhyme about snake encounters that uses a girl’s name. – Next time.


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