- Not actual Family Members (Far as I Know)
After a couple of days, I had recovered sufficiently from the horrors of swamp fishing (Part I) with my grandfather. My cousin, let’s call him J.D. (everyone else does), asked if I’d like to go fishing at the stock ponds on the farm where he sometimes worked. He said the fishing was always good, and since it was on a farm and not in the middle of a deadly swamp, I readily agreed.
I didn’t know J.D. well (I didn’t even know what J.D. stood for; Jay Dee, maybe?), but to me he seemed a younger version of my grandfather: a fearless swamp rat, completely at ease in the backwoods of Louisiana. In any another environment, J.D. might have seemed a trifle odd, definitely out-of-place and perhaps somewhat simple. In the Louisiana outdoors, however, J.D. was a man who commanded respect; he definitely knew his way around a swamp. He was, at the time, a catfish poacher by trade (who knew there was such a thing? Apparently there are rules in place to ensure the safety of scum-sucking bottom feeders in Louisiana; it is, therefore, a good place to start a law practice). J.D. was a dangerous dude and, unlike my grandfather, who was almost eighty, less likely to fall over dead at any moment. If I were to venture out into the deadly Louisiana Wilderness again, he was the guy I wanted to hide behind. I went along this time with the confidence of one who knows that if things were to go bad, there was someone braver and stronger who knew his place and would therefore willingly die first.
The drive went quickly enough and the stock pond looked promising. It was small, less than an acre, in the middle of a meadow of sorts, so I wouldn’t easily be ambushed by six hundred pound feral pigs looking to gnosh on my testicles, or inbred swampbillies looking to do the same. This might actually be fun, I thought as I found a spot along the bank and cast my line into the water.
The fishing was very good. I had a stringer of keeper sized Crappie (so named for the way they taste; I hate to admit it, but though I love to catch fish, I won’t let any part of them, no matter how cleverly prepared or disguised, anywhere near my mouth, because they still taste like, well, fish) in half an hour. I caught another and, as I lifted the stringer out of water to add the latest catch to my haul, shrieked in terror as a large Water Moccasin hung off one of the fish I had caught. Despite my girlish cries and my violent shaking of the stringer of fish, the snake would not let go. Soon J.D. ran over, along with his friend, both no doubt intrigued by the chance to save an heretofore unbeknownst woman in distress.
“Cottonmouth! Ah’ll show ya whut we do with one o’ them.” I already knew what you did with one of them. You left it alone. J.D. reached down and, apparently relying on the snake to maintain its focus on the fish, grabbed it just behind the head and picked it up. The Moccasin tried to bite him, but he held it fast and firm, its mouth opened wide to reveal its fangs and the white color that gives it its name. It wrapped itself around his waist and legs as he held his grasp. I stood horrified at his stupidity, yet transfixed by the battle between man and serpent. As he maintained his hold behind the snake’s head, he used the other hand to straighten its body by pulling downward from head to tail.
Now, I am a Christian man, and as such believe in God as creator of all things; to me, that the universe (humanity aside) exists in perfect interactive balance suggests a perfect creator, and that randomness, even with the crutch of nearly infinite time, is a much sillier proposition. There is, however, something to be said for the evolutionary theory of natural selection (whereby organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and therefore breed more); in the microcosm of back woods Louisiana, J.D. may have been top of the food chain. Clearly, though, my cousin was an idiot and not long for this world. There would, as a result, be fewer little J.D.’s around to die prematurely in the Louisiana wilderness, and eventually this particular strain of abject stupidity would die out.
Finally, J.D. had the snake completely stretched out; it was almost the equivalent length of his wingspan. He held the tail and began swinging the snake in a vertical circle, then snapped it like a lion tamer using his whip. The snake’s head went flying over my left shoulder; J.D. tossed the body at my feet. It wriggled for several minutes before going still; I bet that J.D. would do the same were his head snapped off in like fashion.
“That’s what ya do with a cottonmouth.” (No, that’s what you do. I scream like a little girl until someone as dumb as you comes to help). “Stay away from his mouth; he can still bite ya even tho’ he’s dead.” Dang it! Really? I was going to put my boys in there as a personal dare.
With that, J.D. and his buddy stripped down and went swimming in the pond. The pond that had the snake in it. unbelievable. I thought about checking his pants for his truck keys, because if either man were bitten and poison needed to be sucked out of them, they would, of course, die and I would have to drive myself out of there. I had seen enough; I gathered my things and went to wait for them in the truck. As I sat there, I wondered who the first hillbilly was that tried that little trick, and how many died before they got it right? It’s like the first fisherman that caught a lobster and decided it was edible; how hungry must he have been, and at what point did it become a food staple?
They took some time getting back to the truck; apparently there was a four-foot alligator somewhere on the farm that they were “lookin’ ta wrassle.” They couldn’t find it.
As we drove back home, I resolved to decline the next time I was offered a chance to fish or otherwise put myself at unnecessary risk. As if on cue, J.D. mentioned that they were going “coon hunting” and would I like to come along?Frankly, I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that, but either derivative didn’t appeal to me and so I regretfully declined.
I hope I don’t come off as being too condescending. I respect J.D. for being a man’s man, and by that I mean the type of man another man sends to willingly die in his place. I admired his fearlessness; he would have made a great foot soldier. J.D., if you’re reading this, you obviously went back for more schooling. I pray that with age came wisdom; hopefully there were a couple of J.D. , Jr’s to do your back woods bidding for you.