Back in 1994, I was working surveying for a living, and it was quite surprising the lengths other surveyors went to in order to avoid snake bite. And I was also interested in all the stories those guys who had done it for decades told the new guys. Every snake found within a mile of a mud puddle was a moccasin and every snake not a moccasin was a copperhead. I pointed out every chance I could that no one in the building had ever been bitten, and no one who had ever worked there had either. But that didn’t stop these people from putting on snake chaps, snake proof boots, and using powered sulfur like a ten dollar hooker uses perfume.
About that time, a friend of mine and her roommate moved into an old farm house in Brooks County. The irony was one day I would buy a house not five miles from there because I would change jobs and work nearby. But her fourteen year old son, who was an insufferable know- it -all, claimed he saw a five foot long rattlesnake slither under the house. She called me and told me the story and I was assured of a few things. The first was her son didn’t take time to measure the snake so there was no way he knew it was five feet long. Most people who call me and tell me they’ve killed a six foot long rattlesnake discover about half their snake was stolen from them by the time I get there with a measuring tape. “They shrink after you kill them,” I’ve been told more than once. The next thing I was sure of is the son in question didn’t know a donkey from a hole in the ground, much less snake identification. And last, but not least, he was a lad prone to being a stranger to the truth. I saw an opportunity to impress a couple of women with my fearlessness and skill at snake extraction. At worst, there would be a free home cooked meal.
The house is an old 1850’s wood frame thing made of real wood and long iron nails. The foundation is a good two feet off the ground and they’ve nailed sheets of tin up as underpinning. For reasons I cannot explain, the sheets of tin have been overlapped so getting one of them disconnected means another has to be unattached. There is one piece used as an entrance, and it’s on the opposite side of the house where the alleged snake, excuse me, the alleged five feet long Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake was seen along with a unicorn. So I go under the house armed with a garden hoe, a flashlight, and my trusty snake bag, which I assume will contain a rat snake or a water snake before the end of the day.
The crawlspace of this house is, in and of itself, worthy of some tale. The foundation consists of columns of red bricks, likely fired from local clay, and even likely laid by slaves in the 1850’s. The bottom support beams are massive creatures, rough hewn and long, some of them single pieces of thick wooden timbers that are over fifty feet long. There’s ancient cloth insulation, and newer plastic wiring, as well as old metal pipes and newer PVC plumbing. There’s AC ducts to climb over or slither under, and for a few minutes I forget about the snake. I pick up a nail that’s the size of my thumb, and easily a foot long, but its rusted and brittle. This might have been lost the day the house was built, and uncovered while the ductwork was installed. Who knows how this nail was made, and by whom?
There is no snake. I make my way to where the serpent was supposed to have made his way under the tin, and damn. There’s a piece of tin with a small gap at the bottom and it looks like someone dragged an oak tree through that gap. In the soft and dry dirt under the house is a track that I can lay my hand in and not touch the sides with my pinky and thumb. My mind scrolls through the likely candidates of who could have made a track like that in South Georgia and none of them make me feel good about being under a house with a flashlight and a garden hoe.
I follow the track about ten feet and it goes under a duct, and if I want to see what’s on the other side, I have to crawl over the duct. I shine the flashlight over the duct and just like in the horror movies, the flashlight dims suddenly, and threatens to die.
In my mind I can see me going over that duct and meeting the snake who left that track. “What’cha doing with that hoe…boy?”
It is time to get the hell out from under that house. I bang on the nearest piece of time and very calmly yell that I need to exit, forthwith.
“Why?” asks one of the women.
“Because there is a damn big snake under this house!” I very calmly yell.
“You knew that, didn’t you?” The other woman replies, “And wwe’ll have to take down two pieces!”
“We will discuss it later,” I say, with verve and no hint of cardiac arrest.
Now at this point, I may relate to you their version of this story is vastly different than my own. I was not scared, just concerned, but they claim, dubiously, that my voice rose with each sentence and I threated to kick my way out from under the house and went through a religious conversion, twice.
It may have been a snake, even a big snake, possibly a very large rattlesnake, but it was still just a snake. And I’m not under the house with it as I write. That helps.
I got the home cooked meal and more crow than I cared to eat. I also informed them that I was ill equipped to hunt a snake that big, yet I would give it thought, and come up with a plan, which meant I was not going after the snake under the house, ever.
The snake was never seen again, of course, but the legend of the hunt lives on. The Great Rattlesnake Episode has been repeated many times in front of many bonfires over the years, and now, at least you have heard the truth, in as much as such a thing exists.