Snakes and human are not wonderful companions. Nobody would call a snake "man's best friend." Don't get me wrong. I'm no snake hater and I'm not even particularly herpetologically-phobic. I just think snakes belong where they belong and I belong somewhere else. So imagine my displeasure when the following sibilant creature showed up in my dining room this week:
Yes, displeasure. That's what I'm going to call it now that the event is a few days past. Who would not be displeased to find a three-foot snake in their home, a snake that was foreign to a girl from Michigan who can only identify the common garter snake or the occasional harmless corn snake? So, yes, I was displeased, and I calmly called to my husband to let him know there was a freaking enormous snake IN OUR HOUSE! And yes, would he please remove it. Thankfully, my father-in-law was visiting and between these two brave, brave men, the snake was removed and sent back away where it belongs, away from my house. I took a picture beforehand (as evidenced, of course, by the above photo), and calmly (read: in a panic, fingers trembling, breathing shallow, mindful of potential snakes slithering across my feet) got online to send the picture to any person who could assure me I did not just have one of Tennessee's four venemous snakes in my house. A very, very, very kind man - the director of the herpetology department at the university - responded quickly.
Black Rat Snake, he said. Not venemous, but liable to attack if cornered. Thankfully, while the snake threateningly showed its fangs, no attack occurred.
And here are other comments I received from those I sent the image to:
"Great photo, btw!"
Yes, who doesn't want to be complimented on their photographic skills when the fear of death by snake is upon them? But this is Appalachia and silly me for finding these responses inappropriate.
This is snake-handling country which is no sideshow but a religious tradition of proving ones faith in accordance with the following bible verse from Mark 16:17-18:
"And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
This is it - the justification for taking up snakes and drinking strychnine (which is a fabulous word, onomotopaedic with its hard k and somber n's).
And there are plenty of dangerous snakes to choose from here - four venemous snakes in all: the northern and southern copperhead, the timber rattlesnake, the western cottonmouth, and the western pygmy rattlesnake. Want to take up a serpent? Take your pick! Behold the wondrous variety available to you!
Michigan has one venemous snake, the Eastern Massasagua Rattlesnake, an increasingly rare breed only found in the lower peninsula of Michigan. 'Just the one and there are no holiness churches calling for its members to pick it up. No sir. We Michiganders leave that snake alone. It likes it that way. We like it that way.
But I'm stuck in Tennessee for a couple more years where snakes forget their rightful place, or maybe it's us humans who have. Either way, I move around my house differently now. I have no desire to prove my faith with any snake-handling encounters, but I will say, with all the prayers of protection I've got going up, that snake may have done its work in bringing me a little closer to God.
(Sidenote: "Salvation on Sand Mountain" by Denis Covington - a smart, personalized, journalistic foray into snake-handling. Read it. Damn. It's good.)