Snakes Just Hanging Around In Tennessee

by Belle Waring on January 12, 2007

Henry’s post below reminds me of one of the 50,000 completely ridiculous things that have happened to my sister in her day. She went to a Christian day camp in Sewanee one summer when she was about 11. They all set out for an overnight camp-out, and decided upon a meadow of tall grass. The camp’s faithful golden retriever promptly got bitten by a copperhead. Now, for the benefit of our European readers, I will disclose some wisdom from the South, and that is, where there’s one copperhead, there’s another. The only solutions are either to get the hell away, or, if it’s your own yard you’re talking about, stalk around nervously with a gun until you’ve shot both of them. (I did once watch my mom chop the head off a snake with a hoe and some vigorous action, but that was only a rat-snake. It had just swallowed “Quing-Quack”, my newborn duckling friend, who unfortunately did not survive. The life of a hippie farm is not necessarily a placid one.)

One of the camp counselors set out to carry the dog to the vet, but left his fellow counselor and all the children behind to get on with setting up the camp. Wholesome fun in the out-of-doors! Naturally the second counselor was bitten himself not long afterward, and I am sorry to say that he did not think of the children and grit his teeth, stoically assuring them all would be well. No, he thrashed around on the ground screaming his head off. “Oh my god I’ve been bitten by a snaaake!”, that sort of thing. I have never been bitten by a snake and am told it is very painful, but I hope I would do better, because that’s pretty sorry-ass right there. Having handed over the dog, the other counselor came back to find the camp in disarray. I think it took some time to round up all the ten- and eleven-year olds, who had scattered into the woods in a panic. (I’m not quite sure what my sister was doing; I think she was just waiting around in a tree. She is completely imperturbable in any case. For example, during the same summer, she saw an unusual-looking snake in the woods near her grandmother’s house. She caught it and popped it into her purse, so that she could take it down to the University and ask them whether it was poisonous.)

I tend to think the counselors had taken some “just keep trying your best” Sunday school songs too much to heart, but at last they gave up on the expedition, and, fashioning a rude crutch for the pale and blubbering snakebite victim, they made their way back to town. They decided on an indoors camp-out in the basement of one of the campers’ mothers, where the children had a nice evening eating popcorn and watching…Indiana Jones: Raiders of The Lost Ark.

For those who haven’t seen it recently, I offer a few quotes from the imdb page:

Indiana: There’s a big snake in the plane, Jock.
Jock: Oh, that’s just my pet snake Reggie.
Indiana: I hate snakes, Jock. I hate ’em.
Jock: C’mon, show a little backbone, will ya?

[Upon opening the Well of the Souls and peering down into it]
Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indiana: Give me your torch.
[Sallah does, and Indy drops it in]
Indiana: Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?
Sallah: Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.

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Easily Distracted » Blog Archive » Snakes. I Love Snakes
01.12.07 at 7:51 pm



Anderson 01.12.07 at 9:21 am

Hey, I used a hoe in similar fashion on a copperhead in my back yard in Mississippi once — heard the dog barking its fool head off, and for once, it turned out he had a good reason.

The head was handy for extra credit in 8th-grade biology, tho it turns out kerosene only preserves a snake head for a couple of days before the skin flakes off & clouds up the jar.


SamChevre 01.12.07 at 9:31 am

A machete works fine for killing copperheads. (I do have to wonder if our mothers knew one another; I was born on a hippie farm near Shelbyville TN, and grew up an hour from Sewanee).


John Emerson 01.12.07 at 9:39 am

Someone should do a book about post-hippie kids. (They have, I know, but I mean a **good** book). What I see in my son’s generation is especially a.) involvement in the arts, and b.) non-involvement in left politics. Most seem more competent than their parents.


Doug 01.12.07 at 9:40 am

And I’m a Sewanee grad with a sneaking suspicion I used to date one of Belle’s cousins. Small internet, isn’t it?


ingrid 01.12.07 at 10:06 am

thanks, Belle, for making me laugh. I’m glad we have no snakes around here, tho.


Doug 01.12.07 at 10:52 am

What, St Patrick went to the Netherlands as well?


Russell Arben Fox 01.12.07 at 11:48 am

Never have had any encounters with copperheads. A couple of rattlesnakes while growing up out West, and then cottonmouths a few of times while we lived in the South. Rattlesnakes are less intimitading, as they announce themselves; the cottonmouths, on the other hand, unless you happen to look in the right direction and spot their wake, will scare you right out of the water.

(And Sam, your comment makes me wonder–the parents of one of my sisters-in-law moved to a farm somewhere right around Shelbyville, TN, a decade or so ago, where they raise goats and llamas. I’ve only met them once, but my wife’s brother and his wife and kids go visit them all the time, and their kids have a blast. I doubt they consider themselves “hippies,” but you never know.)


Ken Houghton 01.12.07 at 11:58 am

Just feel glad it wasn’t Last Crusade, which opens with River Phoenix revealing why Indy was afraid of snakes.


dearieme 01.12.07 at 12:05 pm

When we lived in Queensland, the cats would bring snakes to the back door. I’d dispatch them with a spade, though my wife thought that it might be wiser to dispatch the cats.


Stacy 01.12.07 at 1:04 pm

I watched Snakes on a Plane the other night, and all night long I had dreams about pythons eating people. I’m pretty sure I’ll never go on any expeditions into the rain forest now, even if, and I’m sure there’s no reason to think this, the movie portrayed snakes in a non-realistic manner and most people in the rain forest are not actually in any danger of being eaten by a python.

I grew up in Arkansas, and copperheads were the most common poisonous snakes encountered there, too. Fortunately they are pretty shy, and you generally have to get them upset before they are inclined to bite. Hurts like hell when you get bit, though.


Matthew Gordon 01.12.07 at 1:20 pm

Is this the same unflappable sister who went apeshit and narded some skeezy WWII reenactor? Or am I thinking of a different blogger entirely?


Jonathan 01.12.07 at 1:53 pm

I’d recommend shotgun over hoe for the water moccasins, personally.


W. Kiernan 01.12.07 at 2:20 pm

Man, you just try to hit a water moccasin with a hoe. Maybe you could do it in February. Ten months of the year here in Florida, when it’s warm, they’re so fast it’s unreal. To hit them with a brush hook or a machete they need to be backed in where it’s only clear for them to move in one direction, and even then, swinging as hard as you can, you have to lead them by a couple of feet.


engels 01.12.07 at 3:17 pm

I’m sure we’ve all gone apeshit and narded a skeezy WWII re-enactor at some point in our lives.


Jacob Christensen 01.12.07 at 4:49 pm

I have a feeling BW’s sister has all the fun: CT: Unusual hobbies, John&Belle Have a Blog: I Know You Think You Can’t Resist Her, But I’m Telling You Mister, Don’t You Mess Around With My Little Sister.

Snakes, WWII enactments, beating the s*** out of creepy WWII enactors.

My life seems tame in comparison. But I’m not sure that I would swap places.


Phil 01.12.07 at 5:51 pm

What happened to the dog?


ed 01.12.07 at 9:56 pm

A copperhead won’t kill you (although a venom injection is cause for concern) even if it does bite you which it doesn’t want to do, knuckleheads (also, most “copperheads” are misidentified, they’re usually the nonvenomous Northern, or “common” water snakes). Killing one probably makes one ultimately less safe, since copperheads eat vermin.


grant 01.12.07 at 10:03 pm

Um…In the transcript, I think “Jock” is supposed to be “Jacques”, maybe.


Belle Waring 01.13.07 at 6:21 am

I think the dog lived as well; as ed’s comment notes, poisonous snake bites (in north america) are rarely fatal to people. a big rattlesnake could kill a dog for sure. there are also coral snakes, which are very venomous indeed. there’s a little rhyme meant to allow a person to differentiate between them and (almost identical-looking) corn snakes. red on yellow–kill a fellow…red on black…hm, can’t be “keep back” or anything. I’ve always just kept the hell away from any little bright red/black/yellow snakes, so that evolutionary strategy is really working for the corn snake.

in other waring-family snake news, my grandmother once beat a snake to death with a poker after it fell down the chimney, apologizing to it all the while. she was a very small and proper person and the image of her saying “sorry mr. snake; this is just the wrong place for you” as she bashed it on the hearth has always amused me.


Isabel 01.13.07 at 11:18 am

“red on yellow—kill a fellow…red on black…friend of Jack” sez my American Husband.


terence 01.13.07 at 11:44 pm

sorry if I have just turned this into a who killed what snake with what competition but…

my friend’s grandfather – an Australian who fought the Japanese in World War Two – once killed a Taipan with his walker.

This always seemed pretty impressive to me but, then again, I live in a country that hasn’t had snakes since it broke away from Gondwana (sp?) Land


Belle Waring 01.14.07 at 2:33 am

terence, that is totally bad-ass.


Winston Smith 01.14.07 at 12:47 pm

In Missouri, the hoe was the weapon of choice against all snakes…and that usually meant some poor vaguely mottled critter that had been mistaken for a copperhead.

Personally, I prefer hoes to shotguns when it comes to snakes…though I do remember dad and my uncle breaking out a shotgun the one time we had a confirmed water moccasin sighting in the creek…

Killing a Taipan with a walker is freaking amazing. They’ve apparently been known to chase people down in order to bite them…and unlike most of our wimpy American snakes, them suckers apparently *will* kill you.


SamChevre 01.15.07 at 9:15 am


If it was a decade ago, my parents were long gone. I was born in Shelbyville, but the enterprise collapsed in ?1976, and my parents moved to eastern TN. A year later they were converted and joined a Plain church (so my father looks like an Amishman; he still, however, thinks like a hippie.)


Shawn Crowley 01.16.07 at 2:35 am

In the US a large number of snake bites happen during attempts to hack, bludgeon etc. the offending snake. Leaving them alone is usually best. And taipan (probably Vipera russelli) won’t chase but are known to bite when disturbed. Snakes seem to engender more fear and exaggeration than any other taxa.


zozazumi 01.16.07 at 12:57 pm

A former belly-dancing girlfriend used a snake in her act. It had the run of the house. It used to slither up to me and beg for gentle body massages. Or was that my girlfriend? It was so long ago.


Winston Smith 01.16.07 at 3:52 pm

Actually, they DO sometimes chase down their targets. See e.g.


Winston Smith 01.16.07 at 3:54 pm

Oops sorry wrong link.

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