People change from childhood to adulthood, and as one grows older, the things that don’t change become more and more important. Hobbies, friends, houses and neighborhoods come and go, and those that don’t become more integral to who we are as people. In my life, these constants have been few and far between, save one. I have had a lifelong love for and fascination with snakes.
When I was about five, my parents purchased a home and 15 acres of property in rural Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. It was isolated, and in the middle of a pristine maritime forest. Church creek bordered the rear of the property, and Maybank highway bordered the front. Many Civil war- era artifacts had already been recovered from the property, and my father had a man come out and search the property with a metal detector. I followed them into the woods where we soon encountered a juvenile red rat snake. The man yelled out “Copperhead” and swung his shovel over his head, chopping the snake’s head off. Twenty years later, I still correct people who confuse these two species.
I was inconsolable following the killing of the red rat snake. My father–who once killed a mule deer with a bow and arrow and vowed to never kill another wild thing—must have felt bad about the snake. He came home from work one day with a baby red rat snake in a wooden and screen cage my grandfather had been persuaded to build. He subscribed to the biblical view of snakes.
When my mother was pregnant with me, she and my aunt found a 6 foot long Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake in the blackberry patch behind my grandfather’s house. By my mother’s account, my grandfather calmly drew his revolver from his hip and shot the snake’s head off. Eastern Diamondbacks are now a protected species. They don’t get that big in the wild anymore. My mother showed me the picture they took in an attempt to dissuade my fascination. I guess it didn’t work, because my Eastern Diamondback (I named him Booger) will be 6 feet long one day, and when he is I plan to release him on my family’s property on Wadmalaw Island.