A Tale of a Serpent and a Man in a Van

Nearby my apartment is a two-rut road that leads gradually uphill through ash and pine and magnolia to a power line easement. Turkey frequent the trail and deer and one day I satisfied myself that I heard a bear.

As you gain the top of the rise, if you look to your left, you see a pond down below, maybe a quarter-mile away. The power company has placed barriers in a path leading to the pond, I suppose to discourage people from driving down to where surely they would get stuck.

Out on a run, my dog, Mako, and I approached one of the barriers, which are log shaped and made up of plant material wrapped in black plastic mesh, and we spied a snake that was wriggling without going anywhere. About two feet long, it was ensnared in mesh cinched around the point of its greatest girth and was unable to go forward or retreat — like being caught in a Chinese finger trap.

I had nothing but a house key in my pocket. Seeking to free the small serpent, I was experimenting with the key to see if it would cut the plastic when there came a voice: “Hey, have you seen a little white dog ’round here?”

I turned then to see a fit black man in a garish green van emblazoned with “Big’s New and Used Tires.” I approached. The van’s occupant explained that a lady friend of his had lost track of her pet.

“It’s not a real dog,” he offered. “Not like yours. It’s kind of a Pomeranian thing. Likes to run in the woods. Name of Milla.” (Rhymes with pilla as in “cool as the other side of the pilla.”)

“I’ll keep an eye out,” I said. “Give me a phone number and I’ll call you if I see her.” He handed me a business card. Turns out I was speaking with Ollice J. Weaver. “I have my own business,” he said with apparent pride.

My thoughts reverted to the snake.

“By any chance, do you have a pocket knife?” I asked. “There’s a snake caught up in some plastic over by where you first saw me and I’d like to cut it loose.”

The cab of the van was chock-o-block with screwdrivers and paperwork and fast-food wrappers and FSU caps and surely there was a knife in there somewhere. Ollice knew right where to find it and extended toward me, steel first, a handmade bonehandled knife with a five-inch blade and a fine edge on it.

“Perfect,” I said, taking the weapon, or rather tool, as Ollice exited the van. We walked to the snake, Mako and Ollice and I.

“Shore enough,” Ollice said. “It’s hung up in there.”

I gave Ollice my dog to hold. Gingerly, I reached with the blade toward the snake, patterned in brown and the color of straw. It responded by coiling. I tapped it with a stick, causing it to uncoil, and deftly, I must say, I cut the mesh and the serpent, its forked tongue tasting the air, slithered off.

“This is the second time this has happened to me,” Ollice said as we traded knife for dog. “The other time, the guy decided he wanted to be a savior to a rattlesnake.”

We talked for a bit, Ollice and I. I learned that he grew up in Havana, or HAY-vann-ah as he says. We talked about the state-sanctioned bear slaughter of last October and other matters of import, and then it seemed it was time to part. Ollice headed for his van, then hit me with a parting shot.

“That snake you set free? Cottonmouth. Poisonous.”

Categories: Director’s Column, Opinion