It's Not Poisonous, I Promise

Last year I was in Port Gibson, Mississippi doing a mural at a place called Mississippi Cultural Crossroads. I'm headed back to do second mural there this month, and wanted to relate this story before it gets replaced by a bigger better one. Port Gibson is right in the middle of the region Northerners think of as the 'deep south'. Originally a port, as its name implies, the small county seat now lies a couple miles east of the meandering river and a hundred or so miles north of the gulf. Below is a true life account of a drive home to our house in the woods, after a long day of mural painting...At the end of a sponge-soaked sauna of a day the three of us (myself, my assistant Emma, and an old pal Will who was teaching high school biology in Greenville) slipped out of Port Gibson south onto the [Natchez Trace][1]. It was still light as we left town, but got dark quick as we rode under the canopy of overhanging trees and kudzu that lined the old Indian trail. The twilight darkness coupled with steam rising from the wet roadway was beautiful and making it hard as hell to see very far in the distance. Ten or so minutes into our drive, a couple of deer appeared. They walked out into the middle of the two-lane road and stood there looking straight at us like they wanted to play chicken. We didn't take the bait, and slowed to almost a complete stop in front of them before they casually glided into the forest. We continued, but after only a few more miles, something else was in the road. In the beam of the headlights, it looked like a snakeskin cowboy belt without the buckle or a just plain old snake. It was big enough to warrant a turnaround, especially with a biology teacher in the car.We pulled off onto them shoulder to investigate. Up close, it was big, probably six or seven feet long with beautiful brown and ochre colored patterning. It wasn't moving much, but I knew it was just waiting for us to get within striking distance. Immediately I said it looked poisonous - a diamond shaped head, fat middle, and markings suggestive of all those rattler, copperheads, and water moccasins I'd seen in zoos and books. Will, the biologist disagreed. No, it's a common water snake, or some other kind of mean looking but harmless snake, he said. Okay, if you say so, but I'm not touching it. It may still have some spit left. Being not afraid since he was certain it was a common non-poisonous angry dying serpent, Will, the biologist, picked it up to pose for pictures. Emma photographed, while I went looking for the snake bite kit, meaning a sharp knife and a cell phone. There's Will kissing the snake, Will wrapping it around his neck, Will taunting it with his index finger, and Will measuring who's longer. The snake was a lot longer. By the end of the photo shoot, the non-poisonous snake was pretty much dead so we collected our CSI evidence and left the beast by the side of the road.When we got home, Will wanted to show off his herpetological stuff. Finding a book on reptiles, he thumbed through all the water snakes looking for his match. No match. Then he went through the bull snakes, hog nose snakes, rat snakes, and mud snakes. No dice. Emma grabbed the book and flipped back to the venomous varieties, just in case, and there it was, a perfect match. There was no doubt about it. What we had seen and Will had kissed was a very poisonous Canebrake Rattlesnake. ![][2] The next day after work we went looking for gators at the nuclear power plant cooling pond. No kidding. [1]: [2]:


Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 3 months ago

Ah, you're making me nostalgic for my childhood summers.

ApostrophesAnonymous 11 years, 3 months ago

...and me, nostalgic for a purse I once knew.

Aileen Dingus 11 years, 3 months ago

um- aren't rattlesnakes usually pretty obvious? With the rattles and all...

aeroscout17 11 years, 3 months ago

Sorry, your friend Will should leave snakes alone. I knwe right away that was rattlesnake from the picture (and although I used to teach biology, I am not a snake expert)!

Dave Loewenstein 11 years, 3 months ago

This time we were smarter. I'm back here in Port Gibson, and on our first night out on the Trace we saw, you guessed it, another sepentine critter lounging in the road. A brief inspection confirmed that those canebrakes along with the fearless armadillos are a couple of the most common roadside fare in these parts.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.