Archive for the ‘Snakes’ Category

“They Shall Take Up Serpents” Mark 16:17-18

May 18, 2012


  Have you been wondering if global warming would make an encounter with rattlesnakes more likely in our neck of the woods?  Me too!  Wrong question turns out.  There has long been a resident population – and bites and deaths – but they’ve all dwindled significantly due to loss of habitat.  In fact they’re protected in many Iowa counties.

  Timber, Prairie, and Massasauga rattlesnakes live in Iowa with the first by far the most prevalent, though still far from ubiquitous. Sylvan being the preferred nature of their environment, the fact that logging is here no longer a major industry provides a clue as to their demise.

  Many of the trees harvested to make all of the paper we waste grow in the thick forests of the south and around them writhes a healthy population of crotalids.  As you probably know, some of these find there way into church.

  Snake handling as worship seems at first a wacky way to try to meet the Lord, but upon reflection one realizes it has sure thing potential.  Anyway, the practice has an American past far older than the collieries of Appalachia.  Snakes play a role in religious observances of most if not all Native American tribes.     

  The Snake-Antelope dance of ancient Hopi tradition for example, was undertaken to summon a divine rain.  Once every two years, the head priest would initiate the proceedings by gathering snakes, purifying them in a bath of yucca suds, and then lead secret rituals as prologue. 

  Then, during a late summer public spectacle, with the snakes in their mouths, dancers would circle the central plaza four times before releasing them. Soon thereafter they’d be gathered up again by priests to be sprinkled upon with cornmeal by women of the snake clan.  Serpents’d be then set free in the four directions on their mission to send back rain.

  Think I’d rather go thirsty.  Here in Iowa there have been more than seventy recorded deaths from snakebite with the last having occurred in Bellevue in 1944.  Most victims seem to have been young, old, or infirm because most assailants were Timber Rattlers which are not among the most venomous of serpents.  Bites survivable.

  But painful, serious, and no joke though and likely accompanied by some tissue morbidity**.  So, deep in a remote wood one warm summer day should you find a viper attached to your leg don’t try to cobble together an old fashioned snake bite kit, ie sharp blades and suction.  They do more harm than good.  And waste time.

  Nope, get yourself to a hospital and anti-venom.  Rattlesnake venom is largely comprised of digestive enzymes which will foment and seethe until neutralized.  Dr Brother tells me that Fougera’s CroFab** is the only widely available efficacious treatment and that adequate dosage is probable not far away.      


*cf posts of 1.15.10 and 8.7.09 for more about snakes.  The latter has a photo of me holding a Timber Rattler

**Notice in the photo above, guy on the right is missing an arm.  No way to tell, but…

*** – Watch the video


Know how stupid the average guy is?

January 15, 2010


  In the highly esteemed journal Nature this week was a report of recent research indicating that men have evolved more rapidly than women*.  The study compared the Y chromosomes (the bit that makes a man male, (you know XY instead of XX) of chimps and humans. 

  Chimps are our nearest living relatives and over the last six million years our genetic codes have only diverged about two percent.  Except the Y chromosome which is some thirty percent different.  That’s a big change in a relatively short period of time.

  There are several possible explanations for the Y being “such an evolutionary powerhouse”.  One is that since the Y is a loner and not part of a pair like all of the rest and thus can mutate more easily.  Another has to do with the randy attitude of female chimps in heat.  Since they seek out many partners, there is huge evolutionary pressure on the males to produce the most and best sperm…

  I probably should support my own team and heckle the laggard other, but while reading the piece a George Carlin routine came to mind.  “Know how stupid the average guy is?  Just think – half of them are stupider!”  For proof, just check out the Darwin awards which are given annually to the nuttiest manner by which people have removed themselves from the gene pool during the previous twelve months.

  A woman has only won first prize once.  A random perusal of the site** turned up the story of a drunk twenty year old Californian dude who caught a rattlesnake.  Snake slithered its tongue to whiff the environment and get its bearings. (Snakes’ tongues are involved in their olfactory process)  Genius stuck out his tongue in response into which snake sunk its fangs.  Tongue swelled up choking the poor dumb guy to death***.

  Or take the first words the masterpiece of the great French poet Charles Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil):

Stupidity, delusion, selfishness, and lust
torment our bodies and possess our minds,
and we sustain our affable remorse
the way a beggar nourishes his lice

  Now, I certainly don’t feel that way all of the time and am dang glad I don’t have to go to hen parties, but will admit that I am an easy and logical target for regular self deprecation.  Wife agrees.



***If this reminds you of anything you’ve previously read in this space, please don’t tell anyone.  (7/7/09)

****cf post of October 9, 2009

Thanks Bro!

August 7, 2009

  Few years ago I joined my wife at her artist-in-residency at the Buffalo National River near Jasper, Arkansas.  It is a spectacularly beautiful place.  And much wilder than I’d imagined.

Arkansas B

  Her lodging was an apartment above a remote stable used by the NPS to effect backcountry patrols.  One evening she heard a dog barking outside.  She loves dogs and having finished dinner went onto the balcony*  and threw out a few scraps for her visitor.  The moment she did so a bear rushed from the woods in contest.  It won.  Tough neighborhood.

  Our anniversary fell during our stay and so late that day we had a glass of wine and headed in town for dinner.  On the way I spotted a snake along the road and of course had to stop to investigate.  Didn’t take long to see that it was a rattler.  Timber Rattler.

  I quickly grabbed one of the ski poles we had in the back of the car and ran up to the snake before it could slither off the road into the bushes and away.  It wasn’t big on the idea, but couldn’t mount much of an offense because I kept it from coiling.

  After a short pas de deux, I had it draped over the pole and held it in the air to show off (umpteenth time – one day I’ll impress her…) for my bride.  “Get a little closer, stupid, so I can get a good picture” she said.

Arkansas snake

  While maneuvering about, I thought to myself that it seemed sort of sluggish, that I could probably safely grab it just behind its head and make it bare its fangs for the camera.  Dad taught us the procedure on a bull snake forty years ago and I’ve had lots of practice since, though never with a viper.  Indeed  pet bull snake Beulah was about the size of my new friend.

  Just as I began to choke up on the pole, a conversation I’d had with my MD brother came to mind.  While talking about Dad and snakes, he asked me to guess what the description of a typical snake bite victim might be.  I can’t remember if I guessed it or he told me, but the answer is “drunk white guy”.

  Had that memory not come up I’m sure I would have gone for it.  But not wanting to embarrass myself (also for the umpteenth time) I put it off to the side of the road and soon it disappeared.  We went on to have a fine evening.

  Upon return home I did a little research and found that Timber Rattlesnakes aren’t really all that venomous.  Given another chance I might give it a try.  I am 100% certain that my brother would agree that our father would not have hesitated.   He’d have been 82 today.

*From which was taken the photo above.

**Recent research (WSJ 5/12/09) indicates that those scary snakebite kits – complete with razor blade and suction device – might not be the way to go.  The trauma wrought by the incision does more harm than good and an application of suction by itself is ineffective.  Get bit by a snake just head to the ER ASAP.