I’ve had it. I’m at the end of my rope.
It seemed like a change of scenery might do Roo some good, what with how bad she’s been feeling, so I remembered a lake half an hour away and drove her down there. She was glad for the change of pace, and maybe the Rimadyl is starting to help a little. She perked up a bit and did better than yesterday. She even ran a little, and she didn’t limp. Maybe Junior is just coming down with arthritis.
There were a lot of people at that lake and when a few women walking together came up behind us on the path, I stepped aside to get out of their way. A few minutes later we caught up with them. Except for one of them, who was keeping some distance, they were standing around looking down at something.
One of them said, “Sir, would you know what kind of snake this is?” The first thing I did was notice that two of them were wearing flip-flops and two of them sneakers. Bad wardrobe choice for standing next to snakes. But far be it from this Manhattan yokel to start mansplaining snakes to anybody.
As soon as I heard “snake” I clipped the leash to Roo. I asked the woman who was standing away if she would hold the leash to keep Roo away while I had a look.
The snake was about two feet long and dark, between a grayish green and black, and thicker than the slender racers you see all over the country. When it moved, I saw hints of yellow bands near its belly.
“That might be a cottonmouth,” I said. “But I don’t know. I just got a snake wrong the other day. I wouldn’t take any chances.”
“I thought it might be a diamondback,” one of the women said.
“I bet you know more about it than I do,” I said. “But if it is a cottonmouth, they’ve got one of the most dangerous bites there is.”
“Do you think I should kill it?” she said. By this she might have just been politely saying, “Kill the snake, will you?”
I knew that what I was about to say would be the same as interrupting Bible study to ask if anyone else like wearing lace underwear, but I said it anyway: “I don’t kill ‘em. There’s more where that one came from.”
“Duh,” she said, “but there’d be one less.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m not saying no one should ever kill a snake. I just don’t do it."
The women had all stopped looking at the snake and were looking at me. I knew at that moment what it must have felt like to be placed in a chair in a village square in France at the end of World War II to have my head shaved publicly for having slept with a German soldier during the occupation.
“Hm,” the woman said. “I think I’ll go ahead and kill it, then, especially if it is a cottonmouth.”
“Well,” I said. “Just, if that is a cottonmouth and you tick him off, there’s no telling what he might do. He’ll be mad, though.”
Never underestimate the ability of a snake to know when its fate is being bandied about like that. It stood up for itself by sticking its head about six inches in the air and opening its jaws wide and hissing. Man, that thing had a bigger mouth than Rush Limbaugh, though everything it said made more sense. Inside, everything was as white as cotton. If you ever see this, you’ll know why they’re called cottonmouths. I guess they could have called them snowmouths, or cloudmouths, or but cottonmouth is spot on. Except that the white doesn’t look dry like cotton. It’s as shiny as a well-oiled killing machine. More like a milkmouth, but ‘milk’ is too comforting. Cotton is either something you have to pick in a hot field or are swabbed with by doctors.
“Uh-oh,” I said. “So much for whether it’s a cottonmouth. That snake is starting to get fed up. It might be a good time to back off, gently.”
Cottonmouth bites are extremely venomous. I saw a snake handler on YouTube talking about it. He was out there picking them up in some swamp and getting all sweaty and nervous and talkative as he enjoyed the enormous risk he was taking and saying the whole time how stupid he was for doing it because if the cottonmouth nailed him he probably wouldn’t have the time to make it to an ER before he died in a fit of spasms and misery. I wish I had never seen the first snake video, but it was inevitable once Roo was bitten and there was a period when I watched about 50 of them in a row. If you only learn one thing from this blog, it should be: Don’t get on a snake video-watching YouTube jag.
That was it. The snake left without getting killed. That was one coolheaded snake. It didn't hurry or look back over its shoulder. But as far as I was concerned, everything was ruined. My mood was about the same as it would be if I drank ammonia. There’s no more denying that the snakes are out in full force. They’re hungry. They’re in the mood for some action after a harsh winter. I kept Roo on the leash and walked her down the center of the road and wouldn’t let her so much as poke her nose in the grass all the way back to the car. The old feeling of terror is back to join all the other ones. It’s all going to hell.
We would leave tomorrow if we could, but what to do? Roo is not feeling well and is in the middle of all this testing with Dr. Stokes. I can’t just drive off and hope to find another good vet in some other place and pick up where we leave off here. Dr. Stokes has been following the case, thinking about it, ruling things out, hearing about all the symptoms. There’s still no answer from the lab on the question of tick bites. Dr. Stokes says they sometimes take up to four days, and now it’s the weekend, so that will stretch it out until at least Monday. Heartworm was negative, and liver and kidney and urinalysis suggest nothing about hormonal diseases like Cushing’s, which might otherwise account for her weight gain.
So, we’re stuck in hungry snake country, at least for a few more days.
* * *
If anyone out there has one of the million empty houses I see all over the country and would rent it cheap, please let me know. It is near impossible to find a rental that wouldn’t terrify Roo. She can’t live anywhere where she can’t see the things making noises. She can never get used to sounds and spends the entire night terrified. Anything, even a TV or music, if she can’t see her, make her tremble. Apartments are out. Places near a road are out, especially if headlight beams reflect on walls, which send her into a panic. She’s so scared of lights that — try this sometime — I have never been able to use a flashlight around her, while camping for more than two years. We need to find a place away from snake and Trump country.
We’re both going insane in this crate. And now, with the snakes out in force, we have to get out of here. I have to find someplace where the snakes aren’t what get in the way of Roo being able to exercise. This place ain’t it. Anyone with any ideas, please let me know.
And if you have no ideas, here's one: Become a patron of the black snake arts at Patreon. You decide how much, as little as a buck, and it's just like leaving a tip.