If you need a different form of conflict to distract you from the current national and international chaos, you could do worse than concentrate on Nature. Living in a rural area, as I do, I receive distracting threats from Nature, large or small, almost constantly. A recent example: my two dogs, a large German shepherd and a small Yorkie, began a wall-shaking uproar in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room, a disturbance that most often indicates the close proximity of deer. Or squirrels. Or crows. Or anything foreign on the lawn or in the field beyond.
When the noise continued, I finally went in to be sure nothing unusual was happening. No sign of anything on the lawn or in the field. Then I glanced down. Stretched across 3 feet or more of my front porch was a huge rattlesnake, one of those that makes your adrenalin not just pump but flood like a tidal wave. Wicked, diamond-shaped head set on a slender neck that grew into a massive body that tapered into a tail with more rattles than I had time to count.
I don’t automatically kill snakes. I’ve herded several non-poisonous ones off my porch or out of my garage or off the lawn in the years I’ve lived here. But I draw the line with rattlers. You let a rattlesnake hang out on your porch, and the next thing you know, he’ll be coiled in your recliner, watching the evening news. And nudging him gently away with your foot, as I’ve done with less dangerous snakes, is not an appealing solution. That’s why, when a much smaller rattlesnake tried to join my wife on the same front porch several years ago, I blew him away with a .38. This time, I thought a 12-gauge shotgun might be better.
Unwilling to blast a hole in the slate tiles on the porch, I followed the snake until he, or she, slowly poured over the edge and onto the ground. Unfortunately, by the time this happened, the head and front of the body were already out of sight under low-growing shrubbery. I estimated the location and fired, blowing away a lot of the bush and throwing the snake into a brief spasm. I fired a second time, and then my target writhed its way completely under the shrubbery. I patrolled the area for half an hour. Never saw the snake leave, but I chose not to bend down and peer under the bushes. If he was not dead, I thought, he would be one highly ticked-off snake, and I saw no reason to upset him further by going nose-to-nose.
While I don’t enjoy killing living creatures of any kind, I regret not being able to report with certainty that I killed this snake. In my defense, however, I will point out that I successfully confronted a mass of camellia foliage that will never harm anybody again.
When I came back in the house, my German shepherd was upset that I wouldn’t let her go outside and tangle with this new addition to her enemies list. The Yorkie, who hates any loud noise except barking, had been unnerved by the shotgun blast and had disappeared. I eventually found him hiding behind a clothes basket in the laundry room.
Mother Nature feels no inclination to give you a break between jolts to your nerves. Later that night, in semi-darkness in the kitchen, I reached to remove what I thought was a bit of trash that had fallen into the kitchen sink. I stopped just before grabbing a rather large scorpion. This time I opted to forgo the shotgun and just run him through the garbage disposer.
The German shepherd hadn’t bothered to warn me about the scorpion. Possibly she was still annoyed that I had made her stay in the house while I challenged the snake. No matter, though. As long as she alerts me to rattlers on the porch, I’m willing to go head-to-head with scorpions.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of “Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage.”