Mason County News
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Snakes Alive
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 • Posted June 11, 2008

When I was a kid (1965 – 1978), Jerry Clower was THE comedian. His jokes were clean, loud and, for the most part, funny. I’m convinced most of his jokes would still be funny, if you could find someone in the United States who hadn’t already heard them (statistically unlikely).

My favorite Jerry Clower story was the one about some large steel balls his brother gave him. The best part of that story is how Jerry started it. He said, “My brother, Sonny, played hooky from school. Helped ‘em build a highway one year.”

Which is probably what my 14-year-old son, Paden, would do, if he could get away with it. He did, at least, get a job for the summer, and he’s learning construction. Most of the time.

Last week he was working at a house next door to a fellow who feeds birds. This fellow, who we’ll call Jerry, keeps a pellet gun handy to perforate snakes when they come around to eat the birds. Like it or not, birds are higher on the Human/Animal Compatibility Scale than snakes.

So one day last week Paden looked over and saw Jerry with his pellet gun, about to use it on a rat snake that was currently trying his best to hide about 15 feet up in a huge oak tree. Paden decided he wanted to save the snake, and maybe skin it later and save the hide. So he asked Jerry to let him catch it. Jerry didn’t mind, so long as the snake left his birds alone.

So Paden climbed the tree after the snake. His immediate boss, a fellow named Bob who doesn’t seem to care much for reptiles, came over to help. Bob’s help was not what you would call extensive, but he did run his tape measure out and try to run the snake toward Paden, so it wouldn’t get away.

That worked just fine, and the rat snake went toward Paden as planned, which was what he wanted. Sort of. Sitting 15 feet up in a tree with a 3-foot snake coming toward you sounds like a desirable event, I guess, until it’s actually happening.

But Paden wanted to catch the snake, so he got ready to grab it, and then it cheated. It had a hole in the tree, and started into its lair. Paden, being a quick thinker, realized the snake was making his escape, so he grabbed at it, caught it about the middle, and started pulling.

Of course, snakes don’t like to be pulled backwards out of their holes just when they’re going in them, and Paden knew that. He figured he’d get bit when the snake’s head came back out of there, so instead of trying to secure the critter while sitting up in the tree, as soon as he got it out of the hole he pitched it toward the ground.

Unfortunately, he threw it on Bob. Later, Bob told me he thought the snake looked like a boa constrictor, which is considerably more dangerous than a rat snake. Granted, this one was only a few feet long, so even if it had been a boa it would not have been all that deadly. But if you already aren’t too fond of snakes, having one thrown on you from a tree is not a pleasant experience.

So Bob did what you would have done. He grabbed the snake and threw it, without regard for which direction it was going. He just wanted it to be somewhere else besides on him.

Unfortunately, another fellow, who we’ll call Ronnie, had come by to see Jerry, and was standing nearby, leaning against Bob’s Suburban. When Bob threw the snake, he threw it directly at Ronnie.

Ronnie has professed no particular aversion to snakes, but that doesn’t mean he wants to wear one any more than Bob does. So when he saw the snake coming, he moved out of the way. Which left the way clear for the snake to go right in the window of Bob’s Suburban and crawl under one of the seats.

Bob, for some reason, was opposed to sharing his vehicle with a snake of the reptile persuasion, especially since he evidently still harbored doubts that this one was harmless. He had that boa constrictor thing still in his head, I think. So he told Paden, who was still sitting in the tree, to come down and force the creature to vacate the premises.

A Suburban is a fairly large vehicle, with lots of seats, and lots of places for a snake to hide. Plus there are lots of little things for a snake to wrap itself around, under the seats and such, when it doesn’t want to be evicted. But Paden finally got it out of there, although he was bitten several times in the process.

Which just goes to show you, things never change. Snakes hanging around in trees have been getting man in trouble since the beginning, and they still are . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker whose wife took the rat snake to their house and turned it loose. It promptly crawled under their vehicle and up into the engine compartment. It’s probably still there. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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