I don’t believe I’ll ever run out of material for this column because if I ever need to reach for something to write about, I can reach, with trembling hands, into the bag of perilous terror of living in Central Florida. Today, I pull out a very real scene of me, on my front lawn, watching a snake slide out of our drainage grating. My wife’s already assured me it’s a black racer, that they’re not venomous, and I should not be such a sissy pants about the whole thing. Yeah, big words coming from inside the front door!
In this moment, I imagine I’m a slightly more handsome Indiana Jones. Ironically, I’ve just read The Yearling, a timeless classic for young adults on the sheer horrors of living in Florida. As I remember the story, it’s about a farming family fending off black bears, rattlesnakes, raccoons, dogs, rats, bugs, heat, and palmetto fronds to the face. There’s something in the book about a boy adopting a motherless deer and learning something about something and spending a lot of time contemplating that something. But as I watch the snake rise from the grating like a cobra, I have no idea how the boy in the book found the time.
The snake’s head weaves back and forth as I creep nearer. As I crawl, I remember an anecdote in Swiss Family Robinson, where the father kills some sort of reptile by hypnotizing it. So, cool as a cucumber can possibly be in Florida, I begin to swing my machete back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Wham! I get him. Right on the noggin.
Now, reader, if you are sensitive to violence, I suggest that you should not have read the sentence above. I also feel for you, for while being a rugged, intellectual, Indiana-Jones type, I’m thoroughly in touch with my emotions. There’s a tear on the page upon which I wrote this, and now, my eyes glisten as I transcribe, thinking of any sort of violence, in particular the kind done to me.
Back to the snake. Soberly ecstatic that I have almost bopped the poor guy’s head off, I sprint around the house with him to the back, where my wife is behind a computer trying to make a living in the modern world – otherwise known as checking Facebook. I, who truly brings home the beans by protecting our quarter-acre lot, hold up my kill and roar like a man. She isn’t impressed. My coming-of-age daughter says, “Oh, Dad, you’re gross!” This is the way teenage daughters show affection.
Then, my coming-of-age daughter makes me feel even more manly by asking me how I got the snake, stroking his skin and muttering and grunting with me about fire, rocks, and big sticks.
In looking back on this impressive scene, I was a little torn about sharing it in this column. I know I might have found a more humane way to kill the snake, which, being a black racer, keeps rodents away and is quite useful if you don’t mind being bitten every once in a while, screaming at the top of your lungs, and running around your cul-de-sac until you pass out in the heat. But I’m sure that even if you are sensitive to taking the life of a snake that is threatening you, you agree that it hurts less to protect yourself than allowing snake fangs to sink into your eyebrows or pinky toe.
I’ve also learned some valuable lessons from this snake encounter. First, while I live in a comfortable suburb with tennis courts and other boring stuff, I should never be duped into thinking I’m safe. In front of my house, I can cheerfully chat with a neighbor about how he should keep his clippings on his side of the property line for crying out loud, while in the back I can be fighting off a pack of turkey buzzards that have finally gotten together and decided they’re tired of eating gross stuff and want something fresh. Of course, my daughter would inform them that I am indeed gross, but as a rule, turkey buzzards don’t listen to teenage girls. Buzzards have spent too much time observing teenage girls in high school courtyards across the state.
In sum, I’ve lost where I was going in this particular article. Sorry. As I type, I look through our back window at lizards skittering around while butterflies, bees, deer flies, and mosquitoes dominate the heat-hazed air. I listen to my daughter roam around the house calling stuff gross. And I thank my lucky stars for air conditioning, doors that lock, and books, which I’m finding to be way more useful than I ever thought.