My family lives in rural South Carolina.  In fact, we live right in the heart of rattlesnake country.  Fortunately, our otherwise useless pack of dogs does one thing fairly well; they apparently move around and make enough noise to keep the snakes away.

So I was surprised last week when I came home and my wife informed me that her father (who lives on the same driveway as we) had killed a rattler with a golf club.  Jan had ridden past the snake and was afraid the children would be bitten.  So, my father-in-law dispatched it for his little girl.

Upon discovering the news, I did what any good South Carolinian might do.  Grabbed two kids and went off to find the body.  It took ten minutes of poking in the bushes to find the 2.5 foot snake, whose markings made it incredibly hard to see (and disturbingly easy to walk over).  It was still writhing reflexively, but it’s head was crushed.  I didn’t need the .410 shotgun we had brought along in case the aluminum driver had failed to live up to its promise.

We decapitated the snake with a hoe, and took it home.  There, using a skinning knife I had used on several occasions in Alaska, we removed the rattles and skin.  It continued to move, rather sadly in a way. See, I don’t like snakes, but I hold no particular animosity toward them.  I understand their place in the eco-system.  However, I have cared for some bad rattlesnake bites and I don’t want my dear wife or any of my children to experience one.

As we skinned it, the children all gathered round, put on rubber gloves, and touched it.  They were enthralled.  Its heart was still beating in its long, narrow chest.  Its nervous system, wondrously sensitive, made it continue to try to strike us even once it was beheaded.

Its lungs were as lacy as any human lung.  Its stomach was empty, apparently not having eaten in some time.  The kids and I discussed anatomy and snakes in general.  We discussed skinning and caring for the removed skin.  And when all was done, I had removed the lovely snakeskin from the lovely snake, and tacked it onto a board to dry.  My youngest boy asked that I bury the snake; he’s sensitive to things like that.  (Though if I were thinking, I’d have pan-fried it just for the kids to have the experience.)

In the end, it was a great lesson in what not to fear.  The things that seem the worst to us often are only shadows cast by smaller fears.  That old snake left us all a lesson in how even something dangerous can be, in the end, just another living thing trying to get by in a hard world.  It seemed less terrible as we opened it, touched it, took what we could use and then put it back into the earth.

The rattle is still scary.  The skin is drying well.  And we’re all less afraid, and more respectful, of rattlesnakes than we were before.

It was a good day, the day of the rattlesnake.

Sorry, Mr. Snake.  Thanks for your gifts.


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