Lane’s Spring in Miller County Georgia was once one of those places that was popular without being too popular. You had to know how to get there and paved roads hadn’t reached their tentacles out that deep when I was growing up around there. I lived in Early County, one county over, but I knew a few of the Colquitt gang, so it was okay for me to go there.
The Spring was a clear blue part of heaven that had sprung up right out of the ground thousands of years ago and become an oasis of coolness each Summer. The Spring created a vast cold pool that covered an acre or so of land, and deep down underwater was a cave, where the spring issued forth. There was an army of cypress trees surrounding the Spring, and there was one old stump near the middle where a wooden platform had been built. The water was incredibly cold. This was back in the day before houses were air conditioned, and most cars were without, too. Lane’s Spring, and other places like it, was as cold as a human being could get on a Summer day without magic. The water was as pure and it was cold. Because the water was moving so fast, and because it was so cold, and because of all the human activity, there were rarely any fish to be seen. As a consequence, there were rarely any snakes as well.
But I was always on the lookout for a snake to be saved, and one day, a Banded Water Snake managed to get too close to the human population and people freaked out at the sight of the poor creature. Back in the day, I was very rarely sober. This day was no exception but I also was incredibly fast, and I had exceptional eyesight. The snake was hiding in some weeds near the edge of the Spring so I reached down and grabbed it by the head while it was still underwater. This caused no small stir among my fellow Springers. Having a large water borne serpent in your hand near a crowd in South Georgia is akin to having just walked across the Spring without leaving a wake.
One young man, became terribly agitated and tried to convince me that what I was holding was the dreaded Cottonmouth Moccasin, a reptile much feared and reviled amongst the Springers. I went through my Litany of Identification; the pupils of the eyes were round, the double row of scales past the anal plate, and the lack of pits near the eyes that a pit viper would have. Some of the Springers were hearing me. A few of them began to come closer. But the one young man who would not be convinced by the facts stood his ground. Finally, I decided that action would speak louder than words. I put my thumb into the snake’s mouth and it bit down savagely.
A girl screamed.
The crowd murmured and backed away. The young man facing me thought for a moment, which was fifty eight seconds more than he was accustomed to, apparently. I could almost hear the cognitive dissonance destroying logic in his brain. It was the sound of a slow train wreck, all twisted mental metal, and cross thought ties. “We got to get you to a hospital.” He said in a low voice.
I would have bailed out of the situation entirely at that point but things became infinitely worse. A youth of about sixteen showed up with a shotgun. He and the wayward taxonomist began the violent preparation of my rescue. Time was running out and they had to hurry. One of them was to tackle me, they would shoot the snake, hold me down, cut my thumb open with a knife, suck the poison out, and then, at speeds that would become breakneck in a very real sense, use the back of a pick-up truck to get me to the nearest hospital. The only thing holding them back was me holding a snake. For the first time in my life, someone’s ignorance of a snake’s inability for harm was keeping me from true danger.
I can’t say that I was thrilled.
Just as I thought the situation had gotten as bad as humanly possible, two sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene. Everyone parked their vehicles down a little path a bit, so when the deputies arrives, they were told there was a man who had been bitten by a snake down at the Spring. They rushed down to find a youth with a shotgun. Nothing, nothing on earth, gets the attention of law enforcement quicker than a gun. Statically speaking, Law enforcement people are a lot more likely to be killed by drunks with guns than drunks with snakes. I don’t think they have to go to a class to learn this. The youth tried to hide the gun behind a tree but it fell, and fell directly in plain view. I was amazed it didn’t go off. My would be rescuer had already taken his knife out, so for once in my life, holding a snake made me third in line to draw attention from local law. I threw the snake, as hard as I could, as far as I could, to the part of the Spring that ran towards the creek. The snake, having been held by the neck much longer than it liked, fled.
The gun toting youth and the knife wielding paramilitary paramedic drew the attention and the ire, of the law. Their protests that I had been bitten led to an examination of my wound. It looked a lot more like a scratch then a bite. In fact, it didn’t look much like a bite at all. I hinted that perhaps they had imagined all of what they had seen, due to intoxication. Knives, guns, and too much beer with get you in a lot more trouble than missing snakes and beer, yea.
While the two weapon wielding rescuers were trying to talk their way out of being handcuffed, I made very good my own escape. I had managed to get a Banded Water Snake out of a bad situation, and managed to keep from being killed for my trouble. The story lost nothing at all in the telling, and from that point on, the drunk who was going to take me to the hospital, told anyone who would listen that I had, indeed, been bitten by a venomous reptile, and had lived to tell the tale. For years after that, people would ask to see the scar but there wasn’t one except, maybe, on the psyche of that poor Banded Water Snake.