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Watch Your Step

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;

abstain from every form of evil.

I Thessalonians 5:22, NIV

This time last year, Regina and I moved from Fayetteville, Georgia about an hour and half south to Fort Valley, Georgia. That 80 miles may not seem like much, but it is, really, and in some tangible ways.

We're now very much in the heart of a rural, agricultural community. Most of Georgia's peaches, and a bunch of our pecans, are grown within a twenty mile radius of our home. I'm looking out my back window at a large corn field, and this spring we were surrounded by beautiful fields of canola with its bright yellow blooms. And there may not be much of anything that is more spectacular than our cotton fields when the stalks are covered in the white bolls so that it looks like a field covered in snow.

There's a downside to our agrarian utopia, though - this place is home to an abundance of rattlesnakes. Now, I'm not talking about the "rattlesnakes" that many people see. You know the folks who declare that every snake they've ever seen is a rattler or some other venomous variety of viper. If it's within a half mile of a pond, or a creek, it's a water moccasin, and anywhere else it's a rattlesnake. "Saw a big ole snake the other day," they'll tell you. "A rattler, diamondback, you know; sucker had to be a good ten feet long." Never mind that no one has spotted a rattler within 350 miles of their location, and that a ten-footer would likely be a world record. It was probably a two foot long garter snake, and completely harmless.

No, these jokers I've seen have the arrow shaped head, the diamonds on their backs, and the rattles to boot. I know, because I've stopped to look at them.

Now, before you go thinking I'm some kind of a nut, I've only seen them on the road and I've remained in my truck - WITH THE DOORS LOCKED AND THE WINDOWS ROLLED UP TIGHT! Yes, I'm scared of them, even if they've been smushed flat. A fellow can never be too cautious, if you ask me.

Last summer, I came across not one, but two, dead on a country road only about 50 yards apart. That means they were close enough to get together for a date, if you get my drift, which means that there might have been a batch of little ones somewhere in the vicinity. The worst of it was that they were both within less than two football fields of a house.

I know exactly what I would have done if I'd lived there. I'd have scooped those two dead snakes up in a shovel - after watching them a couple of days to make sure they weren't playing possum and just waiting for somebody to get close enough to bite. Then, I'd toss them in the woods where nobody could have seen them, called a real estate agent, and had a For Sale sign up before any more roadkill snakes could hurt my resale value.

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered my first live one, a three foot long fellow stretched out on a dirt road. Pulling up beside him, I checked my door locks and my windows and peeked down at him. That sucker stuck his little flitting tongue out at me, stared up with those beady eyes, and shook his rattle. You must be thinking you're a bad boy if you're three feet long and challenging something as big as a truck.

Since moving south and seeing my first rattlesnake, I don't even walk out in my driveway without watching where I'm going, unless it's below freezing outside. I'm even careful at the church, in the middle of town, since who knows if one of these creatures is going to go slithering uptown to get a taste of city life. Is this respect? Or abject fear? I'm not quibbling over semantics, and I'm doing my best not to step on, or near, anything with a rattle attached to it. I'll probably faint if one of the grandkids shakes a rattle in the house.

So, I recently read with great interest an article in Georgia Outdoor News about rattlesnakes by Brandon Adams (All About Timber Rattlers, Georgia Outdoor News, June 2023). He gave me even more to worry about - thank you very much, Mr. Adams! I learned that we have not one, but two varieties of rattlesnakes in our part of the world. We have the really big ones, the Eastern diamondbacks, and we also have the slightly smaller fellows, the timber rattlers. I learned that our snakes, given our mild temperatures, don't hibernate the whole winter. Instead, on warm, sunny days, they crawl out of their dens and soak up a few rays. Which means I've got to be wary even in January and February. I also learned they have an average of 6-12 babies a year. No wonder there are so many of them! And that the timber rattlers only eat three to six times a year.

They ambush their prey, seeking out choice hunting spots by smell. That's why they're often seen along trails since they are waiting on the critters who traipse happily by. Then, they "envenomate" (that's Mr. Adams' fancy scientific term for "biting and poisoning") their victim and track it by smell since it might run off a little distance before succumbing to the venom. Next, the snake swallows it whole and hopefully, now full, goes back to rest and sleep in its den for a couple of months until it's hungry again.

Mr. Adams helpfully tells us that timber rattlers can only strike 1/3 to 1/2 of their body length. That's good to know, since it means unless I'm within 5 feet or so of it, the serpent can't bite me. Many people, he says, only get bitten because they try to kill the snake, get too close, and the snake pops a couple of fangs into them. That decreases my odds of getting a quick trip to the Pearly Gates from the bite of a viper. Why? Because I have no interest in getting within 5 feet of one!

I also know that sometimes it's a dry bite and the victim is not "envenomated," meaning no poison, for some reason, was injected. I guess that improves my chances as well, though I'll probably die if ever I look down and see those two little fang marks on my leg, envenomated or not. Heart attacks are lethal, too.

I figure the best defense is to stay watchful, give snakes (especially venomous ones) a wide berth, don't go messing with them, and avoid them when possible. They can be dangerous, even deadly, after all, and our grandparents did teach us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I figure the same goes for sin as for snakes, which makes sense if you read the book of Genesis and learn a lesson from Adam and Eve. Stay watchful, avoid sin when possible, give it a wide berth, don't fool around with it, and if you do get near it, PRAY and run like crazy!

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