Column: Spring has sprung, and now the snakes emerge

Lisa Versprille Burkett [Courtesy]

SANDBRIDGE — Spring is the time of year for our friends in the snake world to start rising from their winter dens and venturing into our neighborhoods. Every year, you can read personal accounts of a run in with a snake, with some folks snapping a picture they put online. Some people cringe at the pictures and comment, “Eek!” 

Many of us are leery of snakes. One reason is the mostly poor reputation they get from movies. Then there is the way they move. The coiled position they get into when they are threatened doesn’t exactly make one comfortable in being around them. The fact that some of them have a poisonous bite adds to the fear and mystique.  

Growing up at my grandparent’s house on Lake Smith in Virginia Beach gave me the opportunity to see quite a few snakes.  

My grandfather didn’t like them one bit.  

He would get his rifle when he saw a water moccasin. I guess he didn’t want them around his grandchildren when we were playing outside.

He warned us to watch for them when we were picking grapes or running through his vegetable garden. My brother would tell a story of seeing a huge cottonmouth lounging on a lakeside tree and my grandfather approached it with a shotgun. When the snake opened his cotton mouth, my grandfather stuck the rifle there and, well, moved the snake off the branch. “Turtle food,” my grandfather would say. He was old school.

I had a friend in the Bayside section of Virginia Beach who heard a strange noise in his attic right after moving in. He said it sounded like two kids playing tag. Upon investigation, he was surprised to find a cottonmouth chasing a mouse. He climbed downstairs to get a fireplace poker and a garbage bag. Climbing back up, he thought he’d take a picture of it with his phone. The snake lunged when he tried. A popular image of that moment circulated around his friend’s phones for a while. Anyway, he swung at the snake with the poker and hit it in the head.  

Keep reading, please. 

This turns out okay for the snake.

The snake went limp. My friend pushed it into the bag and walked the snake around to the water behind his neighbor’s house. Thinking the snake was deceased, he carried the bag on his shoulder. The snake jumped. He dropped the bag where the snake, with the mouse in its throat, quickly slithered down to the water.

I do not condone violence to snakes. Living in Sandbridge, I have had the opportunity to see many of them, and I am now more fascinated than afraid.

I stopped a young man from poking a small water moccasin with a stick at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I played “super ranger” and instructed the young man that the snake was moving slow because they are cold-blooded and it was still pretty cold outside. Warm weather equals faster snake. Poke him again in a month, and you’ll be sorry.

I came face to face with a water snake last year. I saw him swimming at my neighbor’s dock. When I couldn’t see him anymore, I went over to the brush next to the dock to look for him. I parted the first part of the tall brush to be met with a snake face and flickering tongue. I yelled and fell back on my bottom. The snake fell off the small limb and into the brush.

I guess we both scared each other.

I feel bad for water snakes because they look somewhat like water moccasins but are harmless. People kill them by mistake anyway. I guess some folks don’t take the time to notice whether the snake’s head is round or pointed. Pointed equals viper. 

I suppose the moral of every snake story is to give them space and leave them alone. Seriously, every decent herpetologist says the same thing. Unless they are in your house, there is no need to mess with them. 

Snakes do not try and pick a fight. 

Remember that this spring. 

The author is a new grandparent who lives in Sandbridge.

© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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