The Snake That Cried
A guest post by David Peterson
Well, you have to blame Leo if you don’t like this story. He insisted that I write it down, even after I insisted I couldn’t do that kind of authorship. He really wanted to hear the story of the crying snake, again. At least it sounded like crying.
I am no stranger to writing, having spent the latter half of my working life as an attorney. Attorneys are the original spin doctors, even law degrees are juris doctorate. Attorneys write to convenience someone of something in spite of facts to the contrary. Why else would you pay someone to bend, twist, or interpret the events as they actually occurred ? Like I said, that is a different form of writing, but this happens to be all story. And all of my stories are true. Not trying to convenience you of anything, not selling a thing, I just want Leo off my back. Not that I mind his gentle folksy way of encouraging me. He wants me to learn to write like I want him to learn Spanish. But he can be annoyingly persistent when he spots an opening. You see, Leo’s a published author and believes that everyone has a story or two.
So I acquired a snake. Not just any snake, a ratter is what I wanted. A snake to hunt and eat the rats in my barn. Especially since the barn was where I then resided while the maloca was being built. My friend Bazon had just the candidate. A one meter long arco iris, the naturally beautiful rainbow boa. The snake had just finished a gig at my friend Bazon’s home, had all rats gone in about a month, having slowly devoured the entire rat population. Now he was hungry. The snake, not my friend.
Did I tell you that I live in a rural farm town up the Amazon River from Iquitos, Peru ? We are only a few degrees below the equator, tropical, hot, steamy. I live on 2 ½ acres at the edge of town and grow lots of stuff, mostly for family consumption. My property, a large garden really, was overgrown and abandoned when I acquired it. The first few buildings were all wood with thatch roof. Now, thatch was its advantages, like not transiting the tropical heat to the inside of your house. But, the downside is that you never own the thatch, you share it with an ever growing collection of creatures. Sure they start few and small, like mosquitos hiding out in the day. Or a few caterpillars looking for a rain free place to cocoon. Then arrive the creatures that eat them. Like small lizards and spiders. And then the creatures that eat spiders and small lizards. And so on up the food tree till you have mammals and the things that eat them. Now, you can forego roof maintenance and the low grade thatch lasts 2 years or so and then you replace it, bugs and all. With proper maintenance the roof lasts 3 years before replacement. Having the snake cruze the roof was a way to extend the useful life of the roof. Nothing more. Plus I had never seen such a beauty as the arco iris. Thought it would be kind of cool to live with a free range snake that hung around eating rats and not bothering anyone.
The snake arrived one morning in a costale, a kind of gunny sack. When I opened the sack the snake remained coiled in the bottom and made no move to leave. My dear sweet wife inquired about my intentions for the snake. I explained that I planned to hoist the snake to the rafters and give him free room and board for a month or so and then pass him on to the next needy family. Nothing like a community minded snake. My wife’s reply was entirely too fast, and obviously emotional, such that I could not fathom the words but basically the meaning was something akin to “not in my lifetime” or perhaps “only if you want to sleep alone”. After a roiling day long discussion my wife remained unconvinced and adamant the no snake was going to fall out of the roof onto her dining room table. My wife had carefully done her research and spoken to Bazon’s wife at the marketplace that morning. The table falling had in fact happened several times during the snake’s previous assignment. My lovely wife and I finally agreed to continue the discussion the next day, which was the best I could do for the moment.
Before heading to bed I secured the snake. It seems someone was concerned the snake would escape in the night and inflect mortal wounds on the unsuspecting somnambulists. The snake had remained quietly all day in his costale so I merely checked the top coil of twine. All secure. I put the costale into a cardboard packing box and taped it closed. I then put the box inside the area of the barn that was our temporary warehouse. The warehouse was separately enclosed on top and all sides, locked. No one, even the rats, would bother the snake during the night hours. Tomorrow we would decide what to do. I doused the last of the lamparines, those kerosene lights used in place of the more expensive candles. I crossed the few meters to our bed, made sure the mosquito net was arranged properly, blew out the last light and jumped into bed. “Are you sure the snake is safe ?” asked the wife. “Absolutely” I lovingly assured her.
I actually rather like snakes. As a young boy I had kept snakes in terrariums along with assorted lizards, horny toads, salamanders, toads and the occasional frog. My mother was not alarmed at this fondness for retiles and amphibians; she herself had been raised with four brothers. I was first born and my mother considered snakes just part of being a boy. Her entire life she just took things in stride with her calm Midwestern way. My mother was raised on an Ohio River valley farm and not much fazed her. My wife, on the other hand, was raised in a rural town, but was herself a townie, a dweller of streets and lights and shops. Big difference. My father was nonplused about my choice of pets, and we often built their enclosures together. I only recall one unsettling event: Grandma’s visit. We were living in Phoenix at the time, the time of my fourth grade and half of fifth grade, as was my paternal grandmother. One afternoon she drove over for a visit, being sure to arrive after 3:30 when school would be out for the day and she could visit her grands, of which I was the oldest. Mom was getting the roast ready, it needed several hours to cook before Dad got home from work. When the door bell sounded Mom yelled for me to answer the door. I had been cleaning the corn snake’s cage and he rested across both of my shoulders with one coil around my neck for hanging on traction. I bellowed ok, only slightly annoyed at being interrupted, and without another thought headed to the front door. The screen door was locked as was the wooden front door, uncustomary closed to prevent escape of my baby brother who had just learned to walk like a penguin.
I pulled open the wooded door and yelled, for benefit of the entire family, its Grandma, and made to unlatch the screen door. Grandma, being Grandma, didn’t notice the snake until she took her first step up into the house, holding the screen door open with one hand and the other ruffling my hair. When she got to the snake part she shrieked and tried to run back to her car but she tripped over the baby who had just toddlered out between her legs. Poor Grandma fell, landing on the newly watered grass which was much softer than the concrete sidewalk. The baby stared wailing because he was trapped under Grandma’s wet skirt but upright. Both of them crying and yelling. I bent over to try to free the baby and the snake fell off my shoulders onto Granma’s lap. When Grandma finished slapping away my hands from her skirt she stood up and the snake tumbled to the ground which prompted more shrieking and running to her car. Too upset to drive away, Grandma was finally coaxed back to the house with multiple assurances from my Mother that all the snakes were outside and that I was guarding against their further assault. Over the years that story was shared by my Mother and I to immense laughter which no one who had not witnessed the event could well appreciate.
No way would I repeat that childhood disaster with the rainbow boa. He was secure for the night. But in the middle of the night my wife shook me awake. “Do we have a puppy ?” she asked. What a dumb question I thought, of course we don’t have a puppy. “No dear, no puppy. Do you want one ?” “I want to know what is making that noise” she says. Now I heard it, a high pitched wine, sort of like a very young puppy crying for his mother. The single note was plaintive, longing, verging on panic, seeking help, needy of assistance or food. I couldn’t imagine what it was. I also could not ignore the plea, something needed help. I had heard many strange sounds at night: the sharp bark of a zorro, the snuffling of a carachupa, too many to count insects, rustling leaves, but never this. The neighbors raise pigs and a puppy in the sty would be quickly eaten. No neighbors on any other side for a ways. I got up as quietly as I could, wife holding her breath, slipped on shoes and grabbed the flashlight. The noise was coming from the opposite end of the barn, and as I approached, clearly from the warehouse. It could only be the snake, but it was the first time I had ever heard a snake cry. I went back to bed without opening the warehouse door. “It’s just the snake crying” I told the wife. She seemed satisfied and went back to sleep. Somewhere in the wee wee hours of the night I stopped hearing the snake crying. But I couldn’t help wondering why the snake would cry, and how did they do it. In my years as a snake handler I had never heard such a sound, or any sound, from a snake. Maybe it was a South American snake thing.
Comes the dawn. We are early risers, normally rolling out of bed with the cry of the rooster, always at first light. Wife is starting breakfast, I drink my coffee, and we finally decide to release the snake. He is still welcome to eat rats, just not live above our heads. We eat, have a laugh about the crying snake and try to imagine what it must be like to when an arco iris drops down onto your plate and slithers away. The two farm workers arrive for work, grab a quick breakfast while listening to the snake stories and add a few of their own. First order of business after breakfast is to release the snake.
The warehouse is opened and there inside is the cardboard box. When the box is lifted for transport to the barn door, Manual, one of the farm workers, remarks that the box feels empty. He sets down the box and carefully opens it, peeling off the heavy duty tape I had used to close the box. After checking inside, he lifts out the coastale, clearly as empty as the box. We inspect the sack, we look for holes in the box, search for trick mirrors, or whatever the snake is doing to make himself invisible. No snake. We search the inside of the warehouse, looking under every hammer, shovel, rake and nail, the rafters and floor. No snake. Defeated for the moment we exit the warehouse.
My wife turns from the sink and wants to at least see the snake before we release it. I have to break the news that the snake has departed early and not bothered to say goodbye. This results in great consternation and frantic searching in the remainder of the barn while my wife stands outside, like a crime scene investigator waiting for the body. The snake is eventually located behind the stove and apparently had been in close proximity to my wife throughout breakfast preparation. This did nothing to endear the snake to my wife.
The snake seemed to content to hide and was presenting difficulties in extracting him from his hidey hole. My wife was insisting on extraction by chunks if the snake didn’t cooperate. I had a plan. Moving everyone away from the stove I sat on the floor and did my best to imitate a baby puppy, except for the movements, just the winning cry. After a few minutes the snake emerged and slowly headed for the barn door. Even the snake didn’t want to hear my puppy imitation. I stood up and the snake stopped. I called outside to my wife to hand me one of the short stout sticks we use to carry the macaw. “Be sure to wack him good” yelled my snake-phobic spouse. I leaned over to pin the snake’s head. I had seen this on TV lots of times. And true to form I pined the head, carefully grabbed the snake by the neck just behind the jaw, and lifted him to eyelevel for a good look and goodbye. While I am looking at him, the snake surged forward using his body to propel himself by pushing off against my hand. Before I could respond by gripping tighter, the snake bit me on the ring finger of the hand holding him, and as I release him drops to the floor. He coiled up near my feet and looked up at me, not angry or resentful, just wonderingly. What could I do, what could I do ? I asked him if he wanted to go out, and then picked him up by the middle of the body. He coiled around my arm and I carried him out, with no further injury, to an unimproved area under some rather large trees, lots of woodland debris. I sat on a log fall and slowly the snake uncoiled but made no move to leave my lap. I lit a puro, those local jungle cigarettes, and just watched the snake. With almost imperceptible movements he gradually worked his way to a nearby clump of bushes and curled up under some fallen leaves, about half a meter in front of me, just watching me and not moving. After a while I returned to the barn where the order of the day was snake jokes and biggest snake stories. But I knew one snake that was able to cry.
I don’t know if it is the same animal or not but I have from time to time seen an arco iris around our place. Never says a word, since everyone knows most snakes don’t speak, not to humans anyway. And I think the reason most people have never heard a snake cry is that the snake has no reason to cry. But they can cry, and do, given a reason.
Now I hope Leo will be satisfied, having the whole story down.
The Snake That Cried
A guest post by David Peterson
David Peterson has some suggestions to help you survive when you arrive in the jungle. Be sure to stay safe by reading; Dave’s Top Ten Rules For Walking In The Jungle;
For inspiration on how to write blog articles like David Peterson, click this link to; A Dark And Stormy Night;