Saturday, May 27, 2023

'Or Why I Should Bruise Their Head'

I knew guys who wanted to be astronauts, baseball players and Marines. The only job I ever contemplated as a kid other than writing was becoming a herpetologist. I never felt revulsion for snakes and they never frightened me. Part of the attraction may have been the revulsion and fear of others, a sort of little-boy machismo. Snakes are beautiful. Like ants, they communicate using pheromones, another language we’ll never understand. They move using an elegant dance of muscles called undulant locomotion. I loved how quickly they could disappear under rocks and leaves. 

Now in Houston it’s lizard season. Green anoles sun outside on the window sills, driving the cats crazy. I saw the season’s first snake on Friday, a pencil-thin garter snake that slipped under the wooden fence behind the house before I could grab it. I had an instant memory of the musky stinking secretion garter snakes release from a gland near their tail when you hold one.


Karl Kirchwey has a poem about these harmless creatures titled “Garter Snakes”  (The Happiness of This World, 2007). It concludes:


“Through hazard colors

and heated julep shade,

I cannot now recall what was between us,

Or why I should bruise their head.”


I’ve lost the will to bruise the head of any animal. Like most kids I was a casual killer. That’s gone. The only exception I make is for mosquitos.

1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

In the mid-1960s, as a 4th-grader finishing the day at Blossom Gulch Elementary School in Coos Bay, Oregon, I could hunt for garter snakes in the blackberry brambles on the other side of the street. I could pin a snake in place with my foot and then pick it up in my jacket, and carry it home a couple or so blocks away. Mom could smell the snake before she saw it. Then I could let the snake loose in our yard. I wasn't taught to hunt the snakes; this just came naturally to me, while my sister had no interest in the same pursuit, then or ever. Coos Bay was a few dozen feet above sea level, I suppose, but in my imagination the snakes were "mountain slitherers."

Dale Nelson