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MONDAY, JANUARY 29, 2007
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A funny snake story that wasn’t funny at the time

Speaking with a friend this week about the cold weather we’re having in North Alabama, I agreed that at least we don’t have to worry about insects or snakes.

That wasn’t the case one winter, however.

I used to be a police officer, and while visiting a Decatur elementary school, my timing was absolutely perfect — they were cleaning the pet snake’s aquarium. Of course, to do this, they had to move the snake from its home temporarily and place it in a large pickle jar.

The teachers, children and administrators at the school knew I love the outdoors. So they asked me to serve as a backup unit should something go wrong. I gladly accepted the job as everything appeared to be under control — or so I thought.

When the person cleaning the aquarium, who was wearing leather gloves, tried to put the diamondback water snake (non-venomous but very sharp teeth and about 2 feet long) in the pickle jar, the snake had a different idea.

After biting the handler, the snake escaped and made a quick attempt to get away. With the snake moving fast across the carpet, I couldn’t help but notice teachers and custodians screaming as they either ran away or leaped on the school office counter. Luckily, there were no students in the office at that time.

I laughed at the adults who wanted nothing to do with Mr. No-Shoulders. I stopped laughing, however, when I saw the escapee heading full steam ahead toward the cafeteria, which was full of kindergarten and first-grade students.

I had been given a left-handed cotton glove in case I needed it at the beginning of this adventure. Knowing it wouldn’t help any at all, I had no choice but to pounce on the snake as it got within about 10 feet of the cafeteria.

As you might guess, the snake was biting me on the hand when I picked it up. I remember someone asking me if it hurt and my response was quick but polite. Either way, I won’t repeat it here.

I rolled the snake up into a ball of sorts and placed it in the pickle jar. The move was effective, and 15 minutes later, the diamondback water snake was back in its home, which was nice and clean.

For the rest of the school year, if I walked by the snake, it would coil up in a defensive position like it was fixing to strike.

The creature didn’t do that to anybody else — just me. I was considered a snake expert after that encounter on a cold winter day.

I get asked several times a year about my snake stories. It’s true that I usually have some kind of run-in with snakes at least once a year.

Most of the encounters were harmless, except for the time when a water moccasin fell into my boat while fishing under a bluff on Wilson Lake. And there’s also the time I almost stepped on a water moccasin on Wheeler Lake near Point Mallard.

At the time, it wasn’t funny at all, but looking back, I now consider the whole episode to be hilarious.

More snakes

While reading a news release this week by James Altiere, regional hunter education coordinator for the state of Alabama, I noticed another funny/not-so-funny episode involving a snake. Altiere wrote recently about snakes commonly found around houses.

While working as a conservation enforcement officer many years ago, he received a nuisance animal complaint regarding a water moccasin that was in someone’s home in the toilet. According to Altiere, the snake was spotted during a baby shower.

An expectant mom was in the restroom when the encounter took place.

When he arrived, nobody could find the snake. While looking at a skin that the snake had shed in the yard, Altiere heard the homeowner yell, “There it is.” Altiere ran back inside the house and found a 6-foot-long gray rat snake (non-venomous) climbing out of the toilet. The snake was captured and released unharmed in a suitable habitat away from human development.

I think it would be safe to say that the expectant mother did a thorough toilet inspection before taking a bathroom break.

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Paul Stackhouse
Outdoors
Paul Stackhouse

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