Monday, July 13, 2015

A clear and present danger ~ my column from Sunday's paper

One of the best self-help courses I’ve ever taken was “What Matters Most.” In that course, I learned that not everything that is urgent is important, and not everything that is important is urgent. I got a refresher lesson this week.

Jilda and I had family and friends over for the holiday this week and I was spent by the time they all left. The kitchen was a mess and we refuse to go to bed with a messy kitchen, so I washed the big stuff by hand while Jilda loaded the dishwasher with the smaller stuff.

Once that chore was done, I decided to dump the salty slush from the ice cream freezer. Salt water is no friend to plants, so I had to think where I wanted to dump the slush so I wouldn’t kill a tree or shrub. We have wisteria taking over the world on the lower side of our house that I’ve been fighting to keep within reason for some time. I actually think it’s related to kudzu.

Stepping to the edge of the light cast by our front porch lamp, I sloshed the contents out of the bucket and onto the vines. Holding the maple bucket upside down for a few moments, I let the contents drip. As I turned to go back inside, I saw movement out of the corner of myeye. Somewhere in the sympathetic nervous system deep inside my brain, I received fight or flight instructions at lightening speed.

In an instant, I realized that it wasn’t a harmless chicken snake or black racer, but a poisonous copperhead as big around as my forearm.

Reflexively, I swung the bucket with all my strength, making contact to the reptile’s midsection, but the beast crawled off into a tangle of vines only a few feet away from where we walk every day.

Each day, my niece Samantha and her son Jordan jog down the path by our backyard fence and on through our garden.

Cleaning up that area of the yard has been on my to-do list since early spring, but I never seem to find the time.

I mentioned the encounter to Jilda when I got back inside and she was freaked. Neither of us slept much that night.

A clip of the snake biting someone I love went viral in my head and was on a continuous loop. It was like a news clip of some tragedy that plays over and over.

The next morning I was up early and headed to my shed for tools. I had an urge to do some yard work because I knew I would not rest until it was done. With an ax and long-handle rake, I started pulling the vines off the sweet gum tree and raking a tangle of dead vines from around the trunk.  After about 15 minutes of cleaning, I raked up a pile of dried limbs and leaves. The snake had been hiding under the pile and crawled to escape deeper in the brush. He didn’t make it because I sliced him in two with the ax.

Believe it or not, I hated killing that snake. Had he been somewhere else other than my yard, I would have let him slide (no pun intended). But the thought of the snake hurting a loved one because I didn’t make time to do my job kept me awake.

Even though keeping the yard clean isn’t urgent, it is important. That is a lesson I will remember.


  1. I freak out at a Garden Snake!

  2. Are they common where you live? I don't like it when an animal is hurt but on the other hand I totally get why you had to do what you did. Safety is needed and I would be freaking if I saw this in my yard.

  3. WOW that was larger than any Copperhead I have ever encountered and in an area where family and friend would, be you definitely done a good deed. I do honestly let most snakes 'slide' but there are times, and you had one. That was a bi sucker.

    Good on you .

  4. Unfortunately when dangerous animals invade your space you have to get rid of them. You have to make yourself and your loved ones safe first. We have to watch for rattlesnakes here.

  5. Anonymous2:15 AM

    I'm glad we don't have this problem!!

  6. It's so true about lessons learned. Sometimes we learn more than once before we get it right too. Hope there are no more around your place and if they were that they left for better hiding grounds.

  7. You are a brave man Rick. All I have ever encountered were garden snakes when I was a kid.
    You did the right thing. I certainly would be afraid that Jordan or anyone else for that matter would be bitten by such a poisonous snake. I'm so glad we don't have them around here.
    Job well done.

  8. Good Morning Rick, You did the right thing, we must kill those deadly snakes as they will strike at a child just running past it! I never feel bad when I kill them!!
    We mow and wack everything down on our property and try very hard to keep keen eyes for anything on the ground long and skinny.
    Blessings to you and yours...

  9. Oh YOWSERS. You were BRAVE. I remember your other snake column, with you holding up the critter. Not so with the copperhead. Oh gosh. That was a chiller. Susan

  10. When I was young, my gr-grandmother (whom I stayed with a lot), had no greater pleasure in life than when she encountered a copperhead in the garden and introduced it to the business end of her hoe. Our corner of WV was thick with copperheads and water moccasins. Those were the most common snakes I saw there. The fact that I saw them so frequently somehow made them seem less dangerous. Then...I grew up. YIKES!

  11. Like you, I would have regretted killing it, but you did the right thing to protect your family.

  12. This article really creeped me out. I am so glad you were able to kill it. We have corps property and a lake behind our house along with snakes and other critters. I have done the same scenario as you lying in bed seeing the things bite my husband or one of the grand kids.
    Good job.

  13. I understand not wanting to kill, but it's good you protect your loved ones. I have never seen a snake in Florida. They must be someplace.



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