Friday, January 12, 2007

Snakes on the Brain

By Alan Burkhart

Last night my son, Chris and I watched "Snakes on a Plane." I'm usually the last one in the family to see the current "hot" DVD release, but this one had my curiosity aroused. I love a good creepy movie. S.O.A.P. delivers big time in terms of creepiness, scares, thrills, gross-outs, and a ton of raucous humor. We had a great time with it.

After my boy and I had gone our separate ways and I had retired for the evening, I found myself thinking back over some of the “creepy critter” moments I’ve had whilst traveling about the country. I’d never really thought about the totality of my life experience in this vein, and was a bit surprised at just how many times I’ve had encounters with critters that bite, sting or devour human beings. Here are the highlights for your reading pleasure...

Snakes in the Leaves...
In early Spring of 1980, my ex-wife-to-be and I were heavily engaged in cleaning up the back yard. We had a thick stand of bamboo that grew along one side of our yard next to the fence. I was down on my hands and knees with one of those 3-pronged rake gadgets dragging the bamboo leaves out so my wife could gather and bag them.

I’ve no clue as to how I didn’t see the snake. I heard my wife gasp rather loudly and looked up to see her holding a double arm-load of leaves and engaged in a staring contest with a small Copperhead that had evidently just come out of hibernation. That’s the only reason I can think of for it being slow and sluggish.

She dropped the leaves and gave me room to hammer the thing with the rake gadget (what do you call those?). We found about a dozen more Copperheads before the day was done. Scary, when I dwell upon the fact that my aforementioned son (he was a toddler back then) had roamed freely about the “safe” fenced-in yard through all of the previous Summer.

Scorpions in the Bed...
In 1984, I was in Sweetwater, Texas at the (now defunct) Union 76 truck stop. The place had a trucker’s motel upstairs and I was looking forward to sleeping somewhere besides the truck for a change. I was bone-tired.

I spent a full half-hour in the shower, and dragged my now-relaxed body to the bed. I don’t know to this day what made me look down as I was pulling the covers up over my head. Perhaps Providence. Maybe just blind luck. Whatever it was, when I looked down towards my feet I saw a scorpion scuttling along the mattress. It was almost up to my knees and traveling north.

As you might imagine, I just about wrecked the building getting out of bed. I grabbed my big old Buck pocketknife and staked the thing to the bed, then carefully shook out my clothes before getting dressed. Sleep? After that? Not hardly. I was angry enough that I kept the little monster on my knife and went downstairs to present him to the motel clerk. The folks there were quite happy to refund my money if I‘d just shut up and not tell any other paying customers. It was about 3 years before I even entered that building again, and I never again stayed in the motel after that little encounter.

Gators in a Jar...
In 1987 I had just loaded a trailer full of bulk peat moss in South Florida bound for Texas. The peat moss farm was near the Everglades and a number of small creeks flowed through the area. There was never a shortage of alligators at this farm. The gators generally kept to the creeks, lying along the banks and just doing whatever large reptiles do.

I was traveling up the dirt road that led out of the farm when a baby alligator scurried out into the road. I had an empty big-mouth Gatorade jar sitting in the floor of the truck. No, I don’t know why I decided I needed a baby alligator. I stopped the truck and hopped out with jar in hand. The little guy took off for the creek that ran alongside the road. I caught up to him just as he reached the bank. I went down on one knee and brought the jar around with the idea of the gator running inside it (yes, I’m a genius).

In my haste I had failed to notice the pair of eyes watching me from the water. I’ll never know if this was Baby Gator’s momma or not. All I knew was that I was suddenly running in the opposite direction with a 10-ft alligator roaring out of the water to give chase. I jumped back in the truck and left in a cloud of dust. Nowadays if I want to watch the alligators, I visit the zoo.

The Mystery Critter...
In about 1996 I was traveling through South Texas between Houston and San Antonio. It was about three in the morning. This area is the beginning of the Southwest. The deserts of West Texas and New Mexico are to the West, and the famous Texas Hill Country lies to the North. I had stopped in a primitive rest area (no restrooms) and walked out to the back fence to answer nature’s call. This, by the way, is something I only do at night. It’s uncivilized to do it in broad daylight right in front of God and 10,000 motorists.

I was still outside a few moments later, walking around and stretching my tired muscles when I heard something moving in the scrub brush farther away from the road. It was a brilliant night with lots of stars and nearly a full moon so visibility was good.

I looked around and spotted a dark shape running through the scrub. Toward me. Really fast. I couldn’t see the critter itself except for a vague shadowy shape, but I could see the scrub bouncing around in its wake. I didn’t wait around to see if the critter was friendly. The passenger door was locked, so I had to run around to the other side of the truck to the driver’s door.

BOO!!!My skin was absolutely crawling. All of my instincts were screaming at me to get to safety. I grabbed at the door handle and missed, then caught it the second time and gained the driver’s seat, slamming the door behind me. Shivering. Cold sweat. Stuttering. I whirled around to see if I was being pursued by a mountain lion, or maybe a bear, or perhaps one of those hideous sidewinder rattlesnakes.

And there it was, lumbering out of the darkness. It was sniffing around outside the truck and obviously hungry.

It was an armadillo. Go ahead and laugh at me. I did.

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