Yesterday I went running around the house. I live out in the country, way out in the country many would say, though it is not nearly as far out in the country as it was when I was growing up on these same lands. After my father and mother retired and moved to the city my wife and I bought the same home and lands on which I grew up.
Even though this territory is not nearly as rural as it once was, it is still bordered by forest on nearly every side. And so it is safe to say that it still remains a sort of rural oasis, especially from my point of view. Nevertheless even paradise has her serpents.
As I said, yesterday I went running, and after making the laps around the outer edges of the yard bordering the woods I had run about half a mile. Not quite that far but pretty close. About 3/8 of a mile is about as far as I can accurately reckon it with the instruments I have. Anyway I ran that distance in 3 minutes and 5 seconds. Not a huge deal you might say, and you’d be very right, when I was a kid I could run faster. About a mile in six to six and a half minutes, given the course, the roads, and how much of the length was uphill, etc. I ran a lot as a kid, and over long distances, and got very good at it. But later on I was seriously injured including breaking my lower back, and screwing my knees up, and after then running became torturous and eventually I gave it up. I still have trouble running and hadn’t done it much for nearly a decade or more. But recently I had taken up training with the P90X program (or my modification of it) and through that program I had built my back muscles up to the point, and had improved my general conditioning so much, that I had become curious if I could run again. I was throwing discus and my training had made that easy, and I was feeling little or no back strain from the effort. And even though I love throwing the discus, before my recent training the effort could often cause me back spasms. Not so recently though.
So over the past month or so I’ve been running, really running, and building myself back up again as a runner. At first all I did was jog, extremely slowly, letting my body get used to the pounding that distance running puts on your skeletal system, especially considering my age and my prior injuries. But every day I could run a little farther without strain, a little farther before the lactic acid kicked in, and a little faster and with slightly better form. And since I have been running in the heat of summer (usually around 2 or 3 in the afternoon), I was also daily improving my aerobic conditioning.
Which brings me back to yesterday. Well yesterday I went running with my stopwatch on, really running the course hard to see what time I could make. After running that hard and going that distance I was making good time all things considered, but I had to pull up short after going a little under half a mile because I took on a terrific cramp. So I stopped running, walked it off a bit, and then went and sat down on the trunk of an old tree that I had cut down last year and dragged to the edge of our southwestern woods by a mini-CAT. While sitting there huffing and puffing, with all of my systems returning slowly to normal I happened to glance down at my feet. Three inches from my right heel lay the coiled body of a large copperhead. (For my foreign readers, and for those not familiar with the breed, a copperhead is a venomous and mean snake with a powerful and very poisonous bite – one likely killed one of my very large dogs a while back, and he weighed the same as a small man.) I flinched and then stood up and as calmly and quietly as I could strode away but the snake was watching me the whole time and God only knows why it hadn’t struck me. It was a very fortuitous and happy accident, or God was watching out for me, or both, but if it had struck me and sunk those fangs in deep then chances are, given how hard my heart was beating from the run, how hot and sweaty I was, and how hard my lungs were working, it could have sent me into shock almost immediately. And I’m sure that the toxin from the bite would have raced through my bloodstream and to my heart extremely quickly and before it could have been counter-acted, at the very least causing long-term heart and tissue damage.
So I went inside, got my Mossberg 12 gauge, loaded four shells on the way back down and went out to where I had seen the snake. Part of it still seemed exposed, but barely, though I was also still having trouble seeing because I was not fully recovered from my run, and sweat was pouring down my eyes, and it was well camouflaged given the terrain and background. Nevertheless I let go with two blasts at where I thought the snake was most exposed. It had apparently though slithered under the log by the time I set to fire and I doubted if I had hit anything. It had apparently made a nest underneath the tree trunk, which was too big to move, but I stepped to the far side of the log and fired two more blasts at the area where it seemed most likely to have built a nest (the area I would have chosen had I been a snake). But I couldn’t really say that I had hit anything. I went out to the log three times later that evening, hoping it would show again so I could ambush and kill it, but, no such luck.
Today though, about eleven o’clock in the morning I went back out to the log and found it sleeping in pretty much the same position where it had coiled near my leg the day before. I went inside and loaded my shotgun and went outside, took aim, fired, and … nothing. Nothing at all. I cleared the shell and mounted another and fired, and … nothing. I tried two more shells with the same effect. It had been firing perfectly the day before but nothing now, even though I could hear the pin snapping against the shell. (I still don’t know why it wasn’t firing; I gotta take it apart later.)
Thoroughly angered and thinking I might miss my best shot, hoping it had not heard too much or at least had not realized what I was doing, I went inside and got my .38 revolver and my 9mm semi-automatic. I went outside to find the snake again and although it had flexed out lengthwise making it harder to shoot, it had not fled and seemed oblivious to me. I got within about six or seven feet, took aim with my revolver and shot. I couldn’t see exactly because of the grass but it slinked against the log and disappeared. When it was gone I could see blood on a leaf and knew I had scored. I kept firing at the small space between the ground and the log base hoping to scare it out. I heard some pine needles and leaves crunch and walking around the other side of the trunk and into the woods I found it coiled at the base of a small tree, apparently my first shot had mortally wounded it, nearly slicing it in half. (I am well practiced with my revolver but hadn’t expected to do it that kinda damage with my first shot – snakes are hard to hit with bullets, especially lengthwise.) Nevertheless I emptied the clip on my 9mm and kept firing til the body didn’t even twitch when taking rounds.
Then after a few moments I went and picked the corpse up and laid it out on the log. It was dead, it was female, and not only that several of my shots had dislodged baby snakes, maybe 8 to 10 of them. The lower abdomen was huge and swollen, filled with snakelets, and one shot had torn the placenta open exposing snakes about to be passed. So not only was she a big snake, and nesting within 30 yards of my house near the woodline, but she was about to brood all over the place. I could have counted on several very deadly babies cavorting around my rear yards.
Now personally, I don’t like to kill anything. I like life, I like living things, God made everything for it’s own purpose, and generally I agree with living and let living. But when I do run across something so dangerous that it needs a good killing I’m the first one to stay on that thing and to hunt it to the ground, and to kill it good and proper. To make sure it is dead, and ain’t never gonna hurt anyone else again. Had that snake hit one of my dogs, or God forbid one of my kids, it could have possibly killed them. Had it hit me after just running it could have killed me as well. Had it laid a clutch I could have had a whole mess of dangerous copperheads slithering all around my yards.
She was a pretty snake, for a copperhead (I don’t like the ugly head of those snakes though), good coloring, big, well camouflaged, and to tell you the truth I probably would have never noticed her had she not been so close to my leg (and that might very well be why she didn’t strike me yesterday, she was either preoccupied with, or worried about taking a chance with her young), not that is unless she had bitten my dogs or my kids. But she needed to be killed, especially filled with baby snakes, and once I discovered her I was gonna stay on her til she was finished. Nothing that dangerous gets away from me if I can possibly kill it.
So after I killed her I laid her body out on the tree trunk, took some pictures, then took my machete and cut the body into pieces, especially around the lower abdomen, making sure I had cut out and exposed all the little ones. Making sure that she wasn't close enough to still deliver something viable. A couple of times the lower part of the body coiled and twitched, but since one of my shots had snapped the spine I deduced that it might have been the young still alive in the body. So I hacked all of those out. Just to be safe.
It just goes to show you that no matter how tame you think your lands are, they are never really as tame as you expect them to be, and will never be any more tame than you allow them to be, or make sure they become. So I had a lucky accident and ended up taming my lands just that little bit more. Til the next time anyways.
Enjoy the photos folks.They’re free of charge.