"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Nov 18, 2011


This is a garter snake:

It is not dangerous to groundskeepers. It is an attractive animal, and its venom does negligible harm to humans. Some people keep them as pets. The garter snake is often ground up in the blades of lawnmowers, or run over by children on bicycles. This can be inconvenient for property owners, but they rarely lose any sleep over the proximity of a garter snake. You can also routinely find this snake dead, in the middle of roadways. They share a fondness for the shenanigans of suicide squirrels. When frightened, a garter snake releases a strong musk from its cloaca. This musk has a fearsome stink, but that's probably the only thing scary about a garter snake. Raptors, corvids, crayfish, raccoons and other snakes feed upon garter snakes. Baby garter snakes are a snack for shrews and frogs. Very few groundskeepers have nightmares about garter snakes.

This is a copperhead:

It also known as the death adder. It is not a garter snake. It is not as commonly found in yards and lawns, or upon golf courses and roadways, as the garter snake. Perhaps it is a more intelligent serpent. Copperheads are extraordinarily talented camouflage artists, and prefer the woodlands and forested hills of North America. They have been known to climb trees, in order to hunt. Unlike garter snakes, who prefer to take shelter in lawn mowers, copperheads are ophidian ambush experts. When approached, they "freeze," or become very, very still. Remember, they are exemplary practitioners of camouflage. Sometimes stupid hunters, and other people who do not belong in un-Enclosed woodscapes, discover to their woe and chagrin that copperheads are right under their feet. And that they will, when cornered and threatened, bite. Unlike garter snakes, a copperhead's bite can cause discomfort. And pain. It is a fact that stepping upon a copperhead is bad for one's health.

This is a cottonmouth:

As with the copperhead, the cottonmouth is a pit viper. It is also known as a water moccasin, or a water adder. Cottonmouths are quite at home in swamps, riparian zones and watersheds, streams, lakes and ponds. The cottonmouth, who will even foray out to sea, is a world renowned swimmer. The cottonmouth is also not a garter snake. When threatened it will stand it's ground and show its fangs. From thence, comes its most common name. For, in showing its fangs, it flashes the milky white interior of its mouth. Can you picture it? You're a groundskeeper and you're just walking along, swinging your cattle prod, enjoying the autumn air, and you encounter a cottonmouth, head held high, fangs exposed, white mouth gleaming, standing its ground. You might even reconsider your career choices, if you were a smart groundskeeper. Because, the cottonmouth delivers a nasty bite. It can be very painful. And when left untreated, fatal. A person intruding upon the cottonmouth's natural habitat should be careful not to threaten this wonderful creature. For example, land developers and golf course designers might take some precautions when traveling in cottonmouth country. Or, they could bugger off entirely and instead try their hands at selling country club shares in the antarctic.

This is a timber rattler:

It's taxonomical name is Crotalus horridus. Garter snakes are occasionally heard complaining about timber rattlers. Rumor has it that the timber rattler has developed a taste for the garter snake. Poor, poor garter snakes. They should cower beneath tool sheds, where they feel safe. The timber rattler, like its viper cousins, the copperhead and the cottonmouth, is wise enough to pack venom when it goes on its travels. The timber rattler may in fact be the most dangerous snake in all of North America. It has very long fangs. And a "high venom yield." The timber rattler has such a "fearsome reputation" that past revolutionaries turned it into a symbol of their willingness to fight:

It's not that the timber rattler is an aggressive animal. It's not, really. You just shouldn't try to make it obey. The timber rattler is not a pet.

This public service announcement brought to you by the letter S.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I've run across water moccasins and rattlesnakes before, but the only copperhead I ever saw was a little baby on a walk with the family when I was a kid.

And believe me, it's not like I didn't spend my youth looking for snakes. It's why I joined the Boy Scouts!

Anonymous said...

Something about this series tells me Crow is not extolling the pleasures of amateur herpetology.

Justin said...

A common problem for garter snakes is that they sometimes imagine themselves to be vipers or rattlers. Legend has it that garters can actually become vipers or rattlers, so maybe that is the source of their confusion.

Jack Crow said...


A traveling companion and I believe we were treated to the company of a cottonmouth in Mississippi. But, all we could do is speculate. It could have been a copperhead, or some other variety of ophis I'm too incompetent to identify. Garter snakes, copperheads and timber rattlers, definitely. Thanks in large part to the Scouts.


You would be right. Let it be said, all the same, that there's nothing wrong with pleasure or amateur herpetology.


Mustn't fault the garter snake. Plus, whilst lacking fatal venom, it can still bite. It just has to learn to stay away from lawn mowers.

Justin said...

I don't, but it takes more than mental power to become a viper, and it takes more than raising awareness of itself to ward off the lawnmower.

Soma said...

My father fears snakes. I tell him not to put out snake away, because they eat rats, and there are always more rats in the woods than there are snakes.

The stream running through carries with it cottonmouths all summer long, as well as a few black runners but those aren't worrisome. Of course, seeing a pair mating on the porch was not something I wanted to enjoy with a morning cigarette; a snake boner is grotesque.

But in either case, it's good to have snakes around. They have vermin to kill.

Jack Crow said...


I'm not sure it matters about mind, in the end.


Rats can be befriended. It's the unfriendly ones who always seem to stumble into snake pits.

Randal Graves said...

Getting ready for Whacking Day?

Jack Crow said...

I guess I don't watch enough televsion, Randal. I had to google the reference.

Cüneyt said...

I really dig what you're saying here, but my personal experience blinds me to any comment about the garter snake (or black racer) versus the vipers; I have often, almost always, lived among those who kill all snakes on sight. Makes my blood boil.

I'm sure there's a metaphor there, as well. Sigh. Garter snakes are helpful to any garden, but the groundskeeper in charge is a drunk and he's careless. He's the type who never weeds without pulling up shrubs. He's the type who stomps through flowers to get to the hose. He's the type (and this is a true story) who spreads rat poison outside multiple homes to kill a single, well-behaved mouse who never so much as approached a door.

Justin said...

Only in so far as self-awareness allows the garter snake to see itself for what it is, its limitations and its role is.

Speaking as a garter myself...

Jack Crow said...

Justin, Cuneyt -

Metaphors, of course, may inflect meaning, and comprise the bulk of our personal imagery, but they are all the same limited by the rules which bind them to their subjects.

The dry and deadening language of theory has the advantage of a somewhat more persistent addiction to the soporific of the myth of truth, and though it compels its users to de-humanize even shitting and farting, its fascinating monomania can reveal what the metaphor only hints at, and coyly.

Jack Crow said...

And I have the same implied fondness for vermin, varmints, pests and other agents of anti-lawn, anti-property chaos, Cuneyt.

Mark S said...

As a boy, I ferried a captured garter snake home to Illinois from Minnesota and kept him in a terrarium with a fitted screen top held down with a rock. He hissed. He struck and tried to bite me. He had babies (and was hastily renamed), six or seven live-borns, slightly smaller than pencils. They died.

One day I found the snake limp and exhausted, head under the rim of the screen cover, nose bent downward under the metal lip -- and the jaws offset so that one row of upper teeth pressed into the middle of the lower jaw. It was fine again within hours.

About a week later it did finally manage to land a bite, right between my thumb and forefinger. It didn't break skin, but it did hurt, and it packed a surprising amount of force.

Not long after that, I took it to some woods along a lake that was the wildest place I could get to on my bike, and let it go.