Small reticulated pythons A white and a natural
Snakes have always been one of my fears. If one took so much as a glance at me in the wild I just knew he was measuring me either for how fast I could run or if I would fit in his mouth. So when my boss at the Observer asked me to interview “the snake man” I wanted to crawl under the desk or plead illness. But, liking my job a lot I thought, well how bad could it be? We would look at his little pets through glass windows and then sit and drink coffee while I obtained a good interview.
Coming up with a first question wouldn’t be difficult. Why in this whole entire world would anyone, and you look like a sane man, take up with such a career as this?” Snake handling? The study of snakes? Uh oh, research needed here so:
Herpetology (from Greek ἑρπετόν herpetón, meaning “reptile” or “creeping animal”) is the branch of zoology concerned with the study of amphibians (including frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians (gymnophiona)) and reptiles (includingsnakes, lizards, amphisbaenids, turtles, terrapins, tortoises, crocodilians …
None of these critters would make good roommates , but only a few of them frighten me. Feeling I was caught up on what Mr. Snake Man did, I gave him a call. He seemed anxious to show me around and tell me about his snakes. I arrived thinking I might get through this. He and his wife lived in a beautiful log cabin snugged into a cut in ragged bluffs.
I had my pad and recorder ready and settled down in a comfortable chair. That’s when I learned the awful truth. He expected me to interact with his snakes to obtain an interview. We had to go to the snake house first. He expected me to do so. So we walked up a slight incline back of his cabin to a building tucked into the bluff.
“These are reticulated pythons,” he told me and he opened the locked door.
I hesitated and in the silence of that Ozark morning I heard something coming from inside. Something he told me were his snakes breathing. Breath coming louder than the snake’s I took a step over the threshold on trembling legs. In the sunlight from behind me I saw, coiled all around each other on shelves around the room, huge, beautiful snakes. Oh, I’d seen them in movies and on television, but for real? And hearing them, smelling them was an all new experience.
Ranging in length from 15 to 30 feet, his pythons could swallow a whole goat. I thanked goodness I was larger than a goat.
“Touch them,” he said. “They like to be touched…” Even as I reached out, he added, “…and they’re not hungry.”
So, this woman who had once beat a poor garden snake to death, who literally went hyper when seeing one, laid a shaking hand on this living, breathing python, felt its life force, looked into the eyes that regarded me as if wondering as much about me as I did about her. Her skin was cool and though it appeared scaly it felt smooth.
He lifted the head of one. “Let’s take her outside.”
That seemed impossible. Were we going to talk her into going? She was too large to pick up or drag. His wife came out as if called and to my surprise that snake began to untangle from the others when she lifted its head and she walked out into the yard with it tagging along behind until its full length was stretched out in the grass. Then she sat and it crawled over her lap and around her shoulders.
Later back in the house she showed me some newly hatched white pythons, tiny replicas of the one we’d visited with earlier except they were a beautiful gold on white. He then took me to the trailer which he took on tours to fairs and shows all over the country. The floor was covered with hundreds of snakes and I stepped inside like a pro. They crawled over my feet and went about their business, whatever it was.
While he kept all manner of poisonous snakes he was the only one who handled them. On one of my visits he dumped a wad of cobras out in the yard and walked among them while they stood and did their weird dance. He said it was too cold for them to strike.
I wen’t several times to see “the snake man” when he’d acquire a new species but the most exciting visit came some months later when he called and said I should come out because the latest eggs were hatching and I arrived in time to watch one by one as they cut their way through the shell and poked their little heads out.
He cured me of my overall fear of snakes and he also taught me to respect those who could do me harm. Once a python swallowed his head and it took five men to pry him out. He tells the story with a great deal of humor, explaining that he handled some chickens he was going to feed them and they mistook his smell for food. I was glad he told that story long after my visit to the snake house.