By Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
Mowing the pasture after the remnants of Hurricane Isaac spurred a regrowth of what had before that looked to be dead Bermuda grass, I was having to go slow because of the height of the grass, and saw a telltale disturbance ahead of me as I got to the end of a round and prepared to turn around at the Mammy Grudge ditchbank. I am not bad about mowing snakes, but have learned through unfortunate experience that mowing BIG snakes does not always terminate the targeted serpent — matter of fact, sometimes it antagonizes said target into being the aggressor while sharing a ride on the mower with the bent-on-mayhem driver. I therefore slowed my machine of destruction to see what was emerging into the mowed ends.
This was a small snake — I mean, like eight inches long and not as big around as my little finger. It was brown, a little darker than the usual copperhead, but this was a juvenile anyway. I steered around the snake to check it out; I try not to kill the non-poisonous ones, unless they are big enough to make you hurt yourself if you walk up on one unexpectedly. If this was a brown garter snake, he was safe from me.
But it gave itself away: when I circled, the little serpent took offense, coiled up, and inflated its head and neck to threaten a strike — it was what’s known Down Heah as a “spreading adder,” or “puff adder,” but is pictured in the herpetologist books as a “hog-nosed snake.” It grows to be a thick dark snake, with the unusual ability to inflate its head and neck like a cobra (which we have so few of Down Heah) and thereby scare the bejeebers out of an unsuspecting stroller — or turkey hunter!
Okay, a non-poisonous snake which can fake being a real viper is in the wrong business to be practicing at Brownspur.
I mowed him, no regrets.
Only a few rounds later, I glanced at the swath I had cut on the previous round, down on the end by the Swimming Hole, and lo and behold, there was another dead-and-newly-mown juvenile puff adder, the same size. I did not mourn, but when I got back to the ditchbank, detoured briefly to check the final resting place of the first baby adder. Its mown remains were still there.
As I was getting into the short rows over by my neighbor’s fence, I once again witnessed the disturbance in the weeds ahead of me, and slowed my mower. A third juvenile adder broke cover in a mad wriggling dash for the nearest cedar tree — maybe word was getting around in the resident adder family — but he wasn’t quite fast enough. However, this time I dismounted to confirm the victim’s identity, then made a cautious circle on foot around the rest of the pasture, to see 1) if there were any more baby adders about the premises, and 2) if there was any sign of Daddy or Mama Adder, who might be overwrought by the loss of their three kids — I had to assume that this was prima facie evidence of an Adder Hatchout.
Three times in my life I have experienced the unfatal heart trauma of being unexpectedly threatened by a close-enough-to-strike puff adder. Two of those times, when the large dark hissing snake was not in clear view, it took what seemed like a half hour to get situated to roll away from the strike (I had been napping on the riverbank) or to get my hand on a loaded shotgun with which to dispatch at close range the coiled snake. No fun, especially to a guy who has been struck four times by the real poisonous snakes anyway!
On the other hand, my son and another of The Jakes once captured a fair-sized spreading adder, named him George, and determined to raise him for a while in a glass aquarium (dry, of course) on the back screen porch. I thought George was taming quite well until the morning the screen atop the tank was ajar. We never found George, but maybe I mowed his & Miz George’s progeny!!