Monday, June 10, 2013

SNAKES ALIVE!

From The Beast Beelzebufo
A few weeks ago I talked, via telephone, with my ten-year old grandson Joel who lives in southern California and learned that he had added a new pet to his menagerie of two dogs, one cat, and sometimes frogs – a corn snake! I have known about Joel’s reptile obsession for several years and even wrote a rhyming picture book, illustrated by my young friend, Ben Blanchard, entitled The Beast Beelzebufo, a story about this prehistoric devil frog in Africa that was identified by scientists as the largest frog on earth.
I suppose that I could be accused of fanning Joel’s interest in herpetology and shouldn’t complain about his newest pet. But pictures of the coiled red corn snake that I saw online gave me a good case of grandmother willies and sent me scurrying for references on this reptile. Although the corn snake is actually a harmless snake, he looks sinister to me. Joel says that his pet can grow as tall as five feet (just my height) and has a life span of ten years, and he hopes that I can see him one day. However, I'm not anxious to visit while he's raising this pet.
The corn snake’s colorful skin attracted Joel, and I understand that the belly scales resemble maize, or, in our lexicon, corn. Early settlers often found these snakes coiled in their corn fields and corn cribs and surmised that they were eating corn, but they were really eating the rats that threatened their corn crop.
"16 inches long he
stretched, by far..."
 I think that Joel’s snake has red-to-orange coloring, but I really didn’t question him too closely. I wondered if he was feeding him tree frogs and lizards, two of Joel’s favorite reptiles, which are included in the snake’s diet. I think that he may be feeding his pet rats bought in frozen bulk. The procedure for feeding is that you take the rat from the freezer and allow it to defrost at room temperature, then use tongs to pick up the rodent by the tail and hold the prey in front of the snake so he can strike at it. Sometimes quail eggs can be offered for dessert; however, not on a regular basis. Come shedding time, after the snake’s eyes clear from the white sheen he’ll develop before shedding, Joel will have to soak the snake in warm water – probably in the same bath he once housed the wooden snake where I bathed. This warm water bath enables the snake to shed its skin within 24 hrs. I can visualize stepping on the newly-shed skin, and, no, I won’t be visiting anytime soon. I calculate that this nameless snake won’t die before Joel reaches the age of 20, so Joel will have to travel to Louisiana or Tennessee to see me. However, I may not escape the infamous corn snake. I read that some of them can be found on the salt dome islands near Cote Blanche Bay, some of my favorite haunts when I return to Louisiana every year.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to read about snakes.  I did write a poem about the new acquisition and have included it, along with pictures from The Beast Beezlebufo – I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a picture of this addition to Joel’s family.

A CALL FROM JOEL

I should have known when I gave him
a wooden snake at age four,
an object that he would leave
on the floor of my nightly bath
and under my bed on Via Tranquilo (?) Drive,
he would one day buy a corn snake
to wrap around his loneliness.

It runs in the family,
this reptile obsession,
his great-grandmother kept a pet garter snake
in a primitive encampment of the Dismals,
sport for a Golden Eaglet scout,
telling the story enough times for snakes
to imbed themselves in the consciousness
of three generations.

But what a multi-colored snake will do
for the heart, I do not know,
except that both great-grandmother
and my grandson were lonely,
tend to tell all when conversing
with anyone,
and silent snakes make good audiences.
Or perhaps both Dorothy and Joel
trusted that living with a harmless snake
posed a lot less threat
than encounters with human beings

coiled around their innocent play.
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