By Charles Towne
I must have been about twelve years when it happened.
I was walking along through the tall grass, not going anywhere, in particular, just wandering as boys are prone to do when I jumped over a log and landed right smack dab on top of a big old snake.
For a moment there I couldn’t breathe but that didn’t keep me from moving plenty fast jumping backward to the top of that log a lot faster than it takes to tell about it.
Snakes have never bothered me but coming on that big fellow the way I did and considering its size and all, I must admit to some surprise because that snake was heart-stopping big.
After a few minutes when my breathing had returned to normal and my heart had settled down a bit I realized that the snake was a harmless bull snake but it was big, even for a bull snake and I guessed it to be all of ten feet long at the time.
Two things surprised me about that snake. One was that bull snakes were rarely seen on the islands preferring the high ground on the mainland, and the other thing was that it hadn’t moved even with my rudely stepping on it. There was no movement at all other than a nervous little twitching of the tip of its tail and then I realized that the snake would never move again: it was dead. But what had killed it? What had happened in that quiet spot?
I could see that the snake had bled from several slight wounds, none serious enough to kill such a formidable adversary but then I looked closer at its head and there I saw the cause of its death.
Something had bitten through the snake’s head, probably piercing the brain. I carefully glanced over the battleground.
That a battle had taken place was evident by the crushed grass, and there, in a small spot of black earth, just as sure as if the animal had signed its name was a single tiny footprint. It was then that I noticed something else, a musky odor, unmistakable to anyone that has smelled it before: mink!
From what I could see the mink had most likely approached the log from the small end. It had leaped to the log and loped its length as it had probably done many times in the past for mink are creatures of habit, routinely retracing their tracks every few days.
That day a surprise awaited the mink. When it leaped off the log it landed smack dab on top of that old bull snake just as I had, surprising the both of them.
Reading the sign it was obvious the snake had thrown three coils of its powerful body around the mink but the mink, desperate, fighting for its life, had lunged, carrying the two of them rolling across a large anthill which had been crushed in the struggle.
Hundreds of carpenter ants were frantically working to repair the damage, but there, quite obvious and easy to read were the three grooves pressed into the anthill by the snake’s body.
This was an unequal struggle, sure to end in the mink serving as a meal except for one thing, the mink wasn’t about to say quit.
Lunging, fighting for its life, the mink had obviously, perhaps with waning strength, bitten into the snake’s head, piercing the reptile’s brain.
Dead snake, live mink, such is the way of nature.
I stretched the snake out alongside the log and made marks where its tail and its head were so that when I returned I would have an accurate measurement as to the snake’s size.
When I returned the next day the body of the snake was gone, most likely dragged off by a scavenging possum but I was surprised when I measured the distance between those two marks on the log. Eight feet nine inches! Much longer than I was tall at the time.
I guess that is what reading the signs is all about, observing, and paying attention to what we see.
The snake was gone; the crushed anthill was entirely repaired. All that was left was a faint odor of mink musk on the air and soon even that would be gone. All that would remain would be my memories, and I have them still.
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
“Dear Father God thank you for helping me to read the signs. There have been so many times that I have been surprised by that old serpent, the devil, but you have always been there to keep me from permanent harm. Thank you for guiding me watching over me and for protecting me as I have walked through this life. Help me to be more aware of you in my life than I am of some of the things that distract me from you. Help me to remember that in order for you to be in my life I must invite you to accompany me. Help me to remember the importance of prayer, and that genuine prayer is communication with you as a close dear and loving friend. Bless me with a desire to read your word, for there I can learn your will for my life and realize that I am entirely dependent upon you. In Jesus’ Wonderful Blessed and Holy name I ask it, Amen.”
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.