More Snakes!!

by Slim Price

 

More snakes. It’s a crisp summer day, like most of them are in southern Maine, when the wind is from the east, the scent of the ocean sharpens the senses, and when it comes from the west, the fragrance of deep, thick pine forest, laden with hundreds of years of humus penetrates my nostrils. I’m at York Harbor’s little amusement park, still in its infancy. The park is up and running and I’ve been here a while. I thumbed here from Coney Island on a whim, and had no idea this park even existed, ‘til I saw the sign on the highway and walked the couple of miles into the park along a rough access road.

 

Much of the property is still unused but the owners have dreams. In the center of the park they reserved a grove of trees with rocks and plants and created a path to make the place an oasis among the rides for just musing, or picnicking. For several days, there’s been talk of making a gigantic teepee, just to have some sort of a high attraction. As usual, along with being a ride operator, I’ve become the utility man, probably because I enjoy being involved with everything, and have never learned to shut my mouth. We've gone into the woods and cut several trees and trimmed them to make poles about forty feet long and now it’s time to raise the base, which is when I really get involved. The bosses called every strong back in the park to begin raising the teepee and the idea is to lift the thing up by brute force while it’s pushed up with poles and then walk it into place. When it proves impossible to do that, I open my big mouth and suggest that two of the poles be put in place, flat on the ground with small pits to “catch” them and the third pole be used to push up the other two. With an awful lot of heaving, it works! This is how I got to be sort of the unofficial straw boss of the project.

 

There was no single ladder in the park long enough to reach the top of the thing, so a couple of ladders were tied together, and up I went. At the top, wise coward that I am, I tied the ladder at the peak. The next couple of days were spent raising the other poles and putting in cross framing with me hanging to a hammer, the ladder, a huge drill motor, nails, and diminishing sanity, but finally it was done, except for the part where I had to cut the rope holding an increasingly shaky ladder. Up I went, hatchet in hand and in about one second flat, “lowered myself gently to the ground.” 

 

The next couple of days were spent waiting for the huge canvas wedges that would cover what was now a fairly imposing construction. Kathy, because she had Indian blood was, of course, conscripted to paint signs and symbols on the sides.  I wonder to this day whether any of them had any actual meaning. Secretly, I think we probably offended several tribes. At last the whole thing was done. It had been decided, somewhere along the way that it would be a snake exhibit, and the owners had ordered an assortment of snakes and reptiles from Ross Allen’s Snake Farm in Florida.

 

I walked into the park one morning to go to work and was told to go to the teepee where I found a pile of writhing burlap bags. In the interim, we had built inside the enclosure a “pit” which was something like today’s backyard swimming pools, and had rebuilt some pinball machine cases into snake display cages.  Blessed by ignorance and a thankfully cool morning, I began to open the bags, which were not identified in any way. The only thing I knew was that none of the snakes were venomous. The first bag I opened was filled with several snakes and without much ceremony I dumped them into the pit. So far, so good. I figured if they were all in the same bag they belonged together. A couple of other bags got the same treatment. I was getting good at this.

 

By now, the sun was warming the bags and the snakes were more active. There seemed to be some sort of inverse square law working with these bags; the smaller the bag, the more snakes packed in it. Work went well, although I seemed to be unusually alone. A couple of the bags produced larger snakes, which seemed to belong by logic to the cases we had arranged at the inside edges if the teepee. In they went. The next couple of bags produced two beautiful boas, one about six feet long and the other a nineteen-foot beauty. At last I’d found something I was familiar with. (I had been a “snake handler” on the road and at Coney Island.)

 

There was one more bag.  I had no clue of the content of the last bag, just like I had no clue of most of the snakes. The bag was heavy and seemed filled to bursting. Lifting it told me nothing except whatever it held must be big (I later found out that the snake was about 200 pounds!) I struggled it into a case and cut open the wire seal and what I thought was an ugly boa, torpid, opened up into a twenty-one foot Anaconda. Ignorant as I was, and too dumb to be afraid, I mauled this thing into place and closed the case. I occasionally handled it, even picked it up with no idea that it was dangerous to me. I found out after some struggling with it that if it could brace its tail against my leg it was okay to handle, normally a no-no for a snake handler. The bliss of ignorance. To this day, when I watch shows on television concerning Anacondas, I wonder what angel protected me.

 

As time passed I did some learning about snakes at York Harbor’s little library. After all, I was now “The professor,” and I made some observations; snakes are fun, sort of. A nightly ritual with the small snakes in the pit (there were about fifty) was to drop a handful of “Japanese Dancing Mice” (They had their own cage in the show and looked to be part of our exhibit) and in the morning pick up the neat little innards the snakes regurgitated.  We had a Hog-nosed snake that would play dead when it was disturbed after looking very menacing and puffing itself up Cobra-like, but never biting. I have since wondered if this might be a clue to the story of Moses and Aaron throwing down his staff and having it turn into a serpent.  Snakes are great weather-persons. I was able to tell when it would rain, from what direction, and how hard by the way the snakes in the pit postured. Many of them would face the direction of a coming storm, and rise up, low or high, depending on the degree of weather.

 

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