What’s going on out here in Garrett County? It’s about time to call in a snake-charmer-wallah.
Okay, I know it’s nothing more than a coincidence, but I can’t help feeling a tad paranoid over the repeated sightings of serpents out here in the hinterlands of Garrett County.
If you’ve kept up with Appindie and perused a previous story entitled “An Appalachian Treasure,” you will know that I was recently hanging out with some old college chums over Memorial Day weekend. We gathered for a picnic at Panther State Park in southern West Virginia on Saturday, and after arriving home, there was a story in the Washington Post about an evangelical snake handler who met his demise from the venom of a rattler, at the same site as our picnic on the very next day.
Determined that his faith in Jesus would protect him from the bite of a poisonous snake, the Reverend refused to seek medical treatment, and he died in the same disseminated-intravascular-coagulopathic way as his father, who was likewise bit some thirty years ago. Did the recently deceased minister die from lack of proper faith? Or just as plausibly, were there bad vibes permeating the park where, just the day before, a band of heathens, ageing hippies all, alienated sacred spirits? Did these free-thinking infidels, joined together in a bond of secular apostasy, cause a backlash of satanic fervor?
Dear Readers, after learning what has happened here in Garrett County, you can decide for yourselves.
It all started when my loved-one of many years stopped by a local sports-outfitter shop to inquire as to the availability of any used canoes. Knowing that we live on the road where his wife had been biking, the proprietor showed Susan a picture of a rattlesnake that was spotted as his spouse rolled along the calm country road. “Do you know whose house this driveway leads to?” he inquired.
“Holy-moly!!” was the astonished reply that blurted from within Susan. “That’s my split-rail fence, and that sure looks like a rattlesnake to me.”
Granted, in reality, one big snake is no big deal. It is well known that there are timber rattlesnakes in western Maryland (Genus Crotalus horridus horridus, and horrid doubled certainly forebodes potential problems). Their numbers have dwindled in recent years, partially due to poachers, but an occasional sighting is not exactly a rarity. These critters hibernate in the fall when the temperature drops below a certain level, congregating in a den that is shared with other rattlers, as well as other snake species. When spring arrives, warm days and the lure of mating cause them to venture out in search of sustenance and snake-sex.
Fine and dandy, but a couple of days later Susan opened the door of our shed and was greeted head-on by another of these slithering creatures, this one smaller and curled up in a position of repose. Startled enough to shed her skin, she let out a yelp of “Oh my God!” and quickly backtracked from the reach of its fangs. The distinctive rattle-sound that emitted from the tail was unmistakable, and with camera and walking-stick in hand, I captured this image of beauty for all to see.
With only two varieties of poisonous snakes in Maryland, the timber rattlesnake and the more common copperhead, there are several distinguishing characteristics that help you identify a poisonous from a non-poisonous snake. The potentially dangerous ones have a head that is triangular and eyes that are elliptical like a cat’s. Not that you are likely to be close enough to see it, there is an indentation between the eye and nose that is called the pit, a heat-sensitive organ that helps to locate warm-blooded prey. (I think you can see the pit pretty well in the picture above.)
Rattlesnake number two. In a shed. In our shed. This was getting a bit disconcerting. We’ve lived out here in the middle of the woods for twelve years and have seen our share of snakes, typically black snakes, garter snakes, with an occasional copperhead thrown in the mix. Oh well, even a couple of rattlers don’t make that big a deal.
If you’ve never heard the sound of a rattlesnake rattle, I’m here to inform you that it is actually fairly loud and can be heard easily from fifty feet away. The rattle is at the end of the snake and the first part is called the button. Each time the snake sheds its skin, a new section is added below the button, so the longer the rattle, the older the snake. The noise comes when these sections are moved against each other, which is a good thing for humans who are nearby and don’t want to feel their fangs.
No one in our family has an exaggerated phobia of any type of snake, and we all know and appreciate their benefit in keeping down the rodent population. A few years ago Susan saw a huge black snake in our laundry room, just getting ready to slither behind the washer and dryer. Not wanting it to hide in the house, she quickly and adeptly grabbed it so she could move it to the outdoors. The only problem was that her hold was a little too far behind its head, and it swiveled around and grabbed onto her wrist, with its teeth well embedded in her wrist. Her gallant husband came running to the rescue (only after donning thick work gloves) and helped to unlatch its grip.
A black snake is one thing, but a venomous rattlesnake lurking in your shed is an entirely different matter. A call was made to the Department of Natural Resources, and they were kind enough to send a couple of workers to gather up the serpent and move it to anywhere else but here. Unfortunately, when the men arrived, the snake had out-smarted us and was nowhere to be found. The next day, the snake was back: same place, and even the same time of day. The DNR was called again and rode to the rescue, this time with success, using long sticks with snares on the end to capture the intruder and relocate it elsewhere.
An audible sigh of relief could be heard from both of us, and we definitely felt more relaxed. Relaxed, that is, until another sighting (now up to number three) of a different horridus on the county road, less than a quarter mile from our house.
When rattlesnakes leave their den in the spring, they don’t return to their same cold-weather home until the cool temperatures of fall arrive. They forage for food in relatively close proximity to the nest, generally no farther than a mile or so, but during the months devoted to breeding, birthing, and eating, they spend their time outside the den.
Sighting of number three was quickly followed by number four, as our son and his friends made a right turn from our dirt driveway onto the paved road as they headed for a day of whitewater rafting on the Upper Yough River. Its markings sure looked different from that of number three.
Rattlesnakes are reported to be fairly docile and not apt to bother a human who may be in their vicinity. That is, not unless they are startled or cornered. According to one website on the Internet, rattler research has shown that when they do attempt a strike on their prey, they are remarkably accurate, being right on target 95% of the time. This statistic goes a long way in raising your anxiety level when you realize that they have been hanging out in your shed and that up until now you have walked into that same shed very nonchalantly lo these many years.
Next day, the pattern repeated itself. Our son’s girlfriend drove out the driveway to head home, and this time turned left to go off the mountain, and there lay number five, smack- dab in the middle of the road.
What the heck is going on here?
We contacted an old friend from the DNR with this tale of tails with rattles, and a couple of explanations were offered by Mr. Ed Thompson, snake-specialist of western Maryland: “I am not sure what the explanation is for your sudden rattlesnake sightings. There may a couple factors contributing. You may be near a travel corridor where snakes move from their dens to their summer range. These travel corridors are often ancestral in usage. Perhaps this year a female ready to mate traveled near your house. Rattlesnakes are very scent oriented and if this happened there may be males following her scent. Individual female rattlesnakes mate about once every three years. Along with this is the possibility that the local population may be gradually increasing.”
Sounded logical, and perchance everything was adequately explained by Mr. Thompson’s theories.
Fast-forward to a couple of days later, and I’m out in our raspberry patch, picking a few pints in preparation for baking a scrumptious pie. All of a sudden, as Susan started to enter the shed (with walking stick in hand and preliminary tapping on the door and wall), she once again gave out the now-familiar yell of “Oh my god, there’s a snake.” I was in the midst of the berry bushes, at least 50 feet away, and could easily hear the now-familiar rattle of yet another horridus horridus.
We were now up to sighting number six.
Not knowing how they would respond to another call for “HELP,” the DNR was contacted, and yet again they made their now third trip to our house to capture and move this wriggly crawler. Success once more on their part, and I was left wondering how many more times we could call on them before hearing a message of “take care of it yourself.” Given that it is illegal to kill a rattlesnake in Maryland, perhaps they were more than willing to respond to our calls for assistance rather than risk that we would resort to offing the snakes.
Really, truly, I know that Ed Thompson and the DNR are the experts when it comes to these matters, but I can’t help but feel that there may some other more sinister explanation for what we have experienced. Bear with me for a moment, and connect the dots as I have, while contemplating the events of the last few weeks:
A group of people, well-known to be irreverent to the core, congregated in a state park. A respected man of God came to the same location the next day, got bit by a rattler, and God’s son failed to protect him from the treacherous venom. Subsequent to this, the most godless of the bunch returned home to be haunted by six rattlesnakes, six different days, in the sixth month of the year. Put these numbers together, as any numerologist worth his weight would do, and you come up with 666. And as any good evangelical Christian can tell you, this is nothing less than a message that we are dealing with the work of the Devil incarnate.
You need look no further for proof than by reading from the Bible in Revelations: "Woe to you, O Earth and sea! For the Devil sends the Beast with wrath, because he knows the time is short. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the Beast. For it is a human number; its number is six hundred and sixty-six."
I don’t know about you, but I’m totally convinced that there is something going on here, something below the surface; an ulterior motive barely believeable that explains why all of these serpents have suddenly appeared in Garrett County. Having had a godless person occupy the same space as the unfortunate preacher-man down in southern West Virginia is undoubtedly the proximate reason for why he drew his last breath, and the swarming of snakes in this secular Nirvana in western Maryland is sure as shootin’ a simple matter of God’s retribution, delivered in the form of venomous Satanic snakes.
Confident that this is the truth, and nothing but the Holy Bible truth, I have decided to take other measures to get rid of the rattlesnakes, rather than repeatedly calling the DNR and relying on them to save Susan and me. Not to mention the fact that if the Teabaggers have their way and our government is shrunk down to next to nothing, there won’t be any DNR to even ask for help. So in proper Republican fashion, I have decided to be self-sufficient and not request assistance from our government any further. Instead, as I write this story, I have ventured to the streets of Katmandu, Nepal, where training as a Snake-charmer-wallah is readily available at a reasonable cost.
Upon returning to the United States, I should be officially certified as a Charmer and will be able to incorporate rhythmic music and special body movements in order to lead the rattlesnakes away from our abode.
Any offers out there as to where I can relocate them? Give me a call and I’ll bring a joyful, writhing entourage your way.