Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Shotgun VS. The Water Snake and other stories.

copperhead close up and personal

Copperhead close up and personal

    It is almost spring in the mountain state and with the warmth of the woods and spring flowers comes reminders from the old folks that it’s about snake time again. As a child who really never had a “bad” experience with snakes, I never really listened to the warnings. But after the last twenty years of life I have gained a respect for where and when to watch out for snakes. I have even had a couple of encounters that were shocking to say the least.I have found that snakes in spring and summer are a basic topic of conversation in these hills and everyone has a story to tell. Some are lucky enough to have photos of the serpents and others only long arm recollections of the animal. But  so far I have not met a farmer who does not have a snake store of some kind.

    Some of the stories that get passed around are as old as the hills and are full of insight into the fear of having snakes appear in places that they do not belong… like  inside your house, car or barn.They also add the mythical quality to the stories and make snakes something to fear no matter their role in nature.Then others are newer stories about the general surprise caused by actually seeing,touching or stepping on a snake. These tails don’t usually end with the death of the snake just a jolly laugh about how they scared you and your friends that day.

   So here is some of the folk-lore that I have found in my area about snakes. Frist and foremost… don’t harass a snake during “Dog Days”. Ok, for those of you who are unfamiliar the term, “Dog Days” it is an astrological event that lines up the Dog star and constellation close to the horizon in the last of Aug. There are visible changes to the environment during this time of the year like the covering of water with a thick bubbly, slimy film, hot humid days and snakes beginning to shed their skin. It is widely believed that at this time of year snakes can not see well and the will bite randomly if bothered or harassed.The shedding skin is believed to thick and opaque for them to see through. I am pretty sure that this is not true but I am not going to hunt out a snake and harass it to see if the prediction is true or not.

   My personal favorite, “never burn a snake”. I am not actually sure where this one comes from but I am a believer in it. The saying goes that if you take a dead snake and burn it the next year you will see twice as many snakes on your property. My husband killed several black snakes one year in the barn. He dragged  them out to the burn pile and set the serpents a flame.My son and I warned him that was not the best idea but he continued his plan.The following summer was the frist time I got a close up look at a Copperhead as I walked my sons pony across the yard. I also found snakes in every out building on the farm, not a fun summer at all.

cooper head in the woods

cooper head in the woods

  Some of the other stories are about finding snakes eating things that seem impossible for a person to understand. People talk of snakes eating full-grown rabbits and chickens. But my favorite one is about how to catch at egg eating snake. We had chickens and at some point had a problem with a black snake eating our eggs. I started asking questions  about how to stop the invader with our neighbors and this is what I learned from Eugene Hicks the farmer next door. Eugene began with his thick southern accent,”place a glass egg at the entry hole where you think the snake is getting into the coop…and place another inside,on the other side of the hole and wait”. He went on to explain,”the snake seeing the outdoor egg will eat it swallowering it whole…as snakes do, he will then slither through the hole and find the second glass egg inside.He’ll then swallower the inside egg and with them deep in his belly will get stuck because neither egg with be crushed. He’s trapped by his own love of eating eggs and you can kill him at feeding time. He isn’t going far”. I never tried this to see if it actually worked,but we did let the dogs out to see if they could find the snake. The battle was over in few minutes as my dogs found and shuck the snake to death.

Don’t get me wrong I am not a snake hater, I find them fascinating and useful. Even my husband who used to  kill every snake that crossed his path is getting a bit more tolerant of the creatures. Mostly because the funniest snake story I know is all about him. I have relentlessly teased him into giving snakes a chance to fill their role after a hot summer day when a green water snake won the battle against him.

The property we lived on at the time was Seven acres of “L” shaped land in the rolling hill part of West Virgina. The “L” shape is divided almost into equal thirds by a creek and a run off  that would dry out in the late summer.One afternoon my husband walked from the middle of the property where the main house sat down the road to the lower right corner of the property.About half way down the road  he had to cross a culvert that housed our creek. The creek is only a couple of feet wide and at its deepest is around two feet deep. The little creek floods at times  and trash and debris float down the creek after a good storm. Well this day there was a shiny sliver tin pan in our creek a few feet from the culvert opening and on the pan was a very small delicate green snake sunning himself. Tom saw the snake from on top of the culvert and resigned himself to go back to the house and retrieve his shotgun to kill the beast before it  caused any serious damage to anyone.  He returned several minutes later with a fully loaded 12 gage shotgun and a pocket full of shells.

  I watched  him walking towards the culvert from his sisters front porch. We lived only a 50 yards apart on the farm. We could see  him slowly loading the shotgun and both of us wondered what in the world he was up to. Blam, went the first shot as Kathy and I  moved to the banister of the porch… Blam, went the second shot into the creek. Now we were really wondering what  he was killing  in the creek, then with in a half a second BLAM>>BLAM>>>BLAM…. something came flying back up out of the creek and landed within inches of my husbands feet. He jumped up and down, shooting the gravel road until the gun was out of shells. Finally he stopped shooting and started shaking out his shirt and twirling around in the road. By this time I was well on my way up the road to see what the hell was going on.

When I approached I found my husband with his eyes cast at the ground,confused and sweaty. I calmly looked at the bee bee pierce tin pan on the ground and asked what had happened. Thinking to myself,”a  tin pan was not really scary enough to shoot three times at close range”. He replied that” he had seen a water snake in the creek and went to shoot it so it would not bite the kids. Then… the damn thing had flipped up and landed on the road”. I took a moment to look for the dead snake and I began to laugh uncontrollably. Not only had he  missed the 5 inch green snake in the creek, he had scared himself so bad with the tin pan flying up from the creek, that he actually shot it three more times to make sure it was dead. Their was no sign of the little water snake anywhere, no blood, no guts, no green skin. Just a tin pan sitting alone on a gravel road full of holes. Tom was still visually shaken when I started to laugh,he really didn’t see the humor in the situation,  he was still sure that some how that damn snake had landed on him or near him. As my laughter grew I asked him, “was that little green snake was worth 5 shots and not killing it”. That was when he also saw the humor in what had happened and we talked the rest of the day of just leaving snakes where you find them, alive and safely away from him and his shotgun.

black racer hidding in the grass

black racer hidden in the grass

 I have also had my own frightened moments  from hidden snakes. In our barn they were constant visitors in the hay bales.So you learn to live with them, but I  have a problem if those same snakes wanting to go back to the house and hang over my front door.I am not accustom to having 6 foot snakes at or around the house.  This big boy was just lucky that I let him live the day I found him on our porch.

black snake at the barn

black snake at the barn

    This happened just about  3 years ago and I had already quit  my day job to stay home with my little Christopher who was about 2 at the time. I was preparing our lunch one afternoon and I saw something moving around on our front porch. Through the dinning room window I saw a black skinny thing waving around. That was nothing new, as I had placed an old water damaged buffet on the porch for my plants to sit on and a large bowl of cat food for my  black and white farm cat.I just thought it was the cat’s tail wiggling on the buffet while she eat. But something more caught my attention the tail was sliding up the window. ” Holy Crap”, was the frist words out of my mouth and Christopher wanted to know what was wrong. I made something up and continued to get him seated at the table to eat as I watched the big black snakes head disappear up over the top of the window and its body dangle below the frame somewhere on the buffet. As calm as I could, I told Chris that I needed to go out back for just one second and slipped out the door, around the back to the front porch. To my horror the snake had slithered across the top of the window frame across to our front door jamb and stopped to rest with about a foot of length hanging down the window frame. At this point I realised that he was around 6 feet long and about 5 inches around  the middle and didn’t seem likely to move. My heart was racing in my chest. I didn’t want Christopher to see this and was not going to remove it with him on the porch. I went inside to telephone my sister-in-law, who as you  already know lived across from me, on the farm. Her husband answered the phone and I asked him if he could help me remove the snake while I watched Christopher.In responce they were both out the door, down the road and up the drive in a matter of minutes.

 John carried a hoe up the drive and I put cartoons on the TV for Christopher and headed out the back again. The snake had moved some and was now hanging across the door like a wet noodle. The head hanging over a foot and tail hanging down the back about the same. John asked me from the ground in front of the porch” why haven’t you reached out grabbed that one” ( I have been known to pick up baby snakes) and I replied “that one is not a tame snake and I think I would just piss him off”. John stepped up on the porch with his hoe and I followed to “Help”. He reach out and tried to push the snake off the door frame. It just opened its huge white mouth and hissed at us… freaking me out, I stepped back to the edge of the porch. John reach up again, this time more aggressively twisted the hoe and hooked the snake, pulled him off the wall. The big black thing hit the porch with a thud of a 5 lb weight.The snake curled its self up lied still as we all leaped off the porch. I found this too funny, grown men and woman jumping off a porch away from a non-poisonous snake. As we talked and laughed on the stoop the snake hid himself away behind my wicker furniture. Before I could get back on the porch and open the front door to see Christopher sitting quietly on the floor watching cartoons the snake was gone. He lived around our house for several years taking up residence in our cellar house. We would see him and his shed skins off and on. I was glad when he finally found better hunting grounds and left, but I still have vivid memories of him.

Categories: Folk tails, snakes | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

knock the snow off the anvil and get to work

Tom greeting Marshal Woofters mares after the long winter

Tom greeting Marshal Woofters’ mares after the long winter

Tom is gearing up for the busy season of his farrier business again. Early spring is  problem time. We will receive a dozen or more calls about lameness and have already gotten one call this week about a lame donkey. Outdoor horses are the most  susceptible and those that would rather stand outside in the mud rather than in a shed or stall suffer lameness the most. So now that the temperatures are getting up in the 40’s and 50’s the rush will begin. Tom will work his day job and work in clients as he can on weekends over the next couple of months until he is able to get a few done in the evenings after work starting in June.  

Most of the spring lameness we see is a mixture of soft hooves in wet muddy conditions. Sadly no horse owner can really avoid mud at this time of year.  Today was unusual because the ground was still frozen while Tom worked on three friendly Paint/Quarter horses.

The three amigos at Crossover Creek farm

The three amigos at Crossover Creek farm

Tom triming a mares feet in the snow

Tom trimming a mares feet in the snow

  This chilly day was a wonderful time to visit Crossover Creek farm their was no rush to get to the next farm and next group of horses. Today we talked and laughed and got caught up on the local news. A Farriers job is shoeing and trimming horses hooves, but in reality he is also the local story collector, much like a bar tender who hears all the gossip. Tom sees and hears the stories of people’s lives, their animals and families. He watches children grow and marriages end. He sees farms being built and others sold off over years that he stops to care for a favorite pet or show horse. Since horses should have regular trimming  he builds a bond with many of the families he works for. This family and their horses are no different.

Marshal  and I have been friends almost 12 years, he is a Vietnam veteran  who has farmed off and on his whole life. Time and injuries have made it almost impossible for him to take care of a farm now. Even walking on the snow this day kept him in his truck. At one time he owned 21 head of horses,a  couple of dozen cows, took care of three farms and several hundred acres. He loves his horses but is unable to ride them anymore and is now just the owner of three friendly pets. He still maintains them to the best of his abilities but needs some extra hands to do the work these days. That’s where the whole family comes in.. Christopher and I usually spend our time with Marshal in the barn or house as Tom and his wife Donna  do the physical labor.  We are a team, working together for the animals and for him. It is really is something wonderful to help a friend and a horse out at the same time. I am so happy that my husbands love of  horses has brought us closer to our friends and helps us stay in touch with people all over the state.

Chris and Cooper play as Daddy works on the horses

Chris and Cooper play as Daddy works on the horses

Crossover Creek historic sign,

Crossover Creek historic sign,

 As we left  Crossover Creek farm and said our goodbyes Tom suggested that we stop for lunch at a local hotdog shop. As soon as we walked in the door a voice came from the corner of the little cafe… “Your just the man I needed to see” came the voice addressing my husband. It was one of our oldest customers at 85 he is still active and holds his donkey and horses that  need trimmed every few months..”I have a friend who is 78 and just got a horse and I told him about your work” said Estel. “I hope you don’t mind ?” This is how our daily lives go… from farm to farm, from friend to friend… so advertizing is really unnecessary as the word of mouth keeps us hopping. As long as a horse needs a trim and a farm needs a farrier I am sure Tom will be their.

Categories: Farrier work. | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Wild Wonderful West Virginia

The Powers family, Cody, Jolynn, tom and Christopher

The Powers family, Cody, Jolynn, tom and Christopher

It is from my last Blog site that I start fresh again. This is a good move and I hope to keep sharing what it is I love about my little home in a forgotten state. If you are new here “Welcome” and if you are already a follower then, ” Thank You” for your continued support and interest in “Mountain Mama”.

I hope to share with all of you more about the family and our rural life. How we raise a garden and our kids together knowing that both are better off together. The superstitions and traditions of these mountain people like, planting by the signs,how to stop bleeding with just words and Water Witching.I am sure to throw in a few recipes and some stories about funny Hill Billy foods… “pickled eggs” anyone? I will show off my favorite photos of old building and my love of two-line roads… of course you must hear the song ” Take me home country roads” at this point just for the full effect.
We will hunt, fish and forage our way through these mountains.. so if you are a little squeamish about guns, eating deer or dead fish, you need to be advised, that this is our way of life and it is natural and honest.It may not make a bit of sence to you and may not seem pleasant but I will write about it and take photos of it. I will try to give every reader fair warning of my topic but I will at times forget that not everyone likes to see what the men folk killed for dinner.. so forgive me now.
Well that about coves it, other than meeting the members of the family whom I will be writing about. Me of course, Jolynn ( aka “MaMa”) Tom my husband ( blacksmith and DOT employee) my Oldest son Cody(Gas company tech) and the little son Christopher who is now 4 and 17 years younger than his brother. Cody’s wife Jamie( stay at home mom) and my 2-year-old grand-daughter Paige.Did you get that my son is 4 and my grand-daughter is 2… funny stuff already right?.. but we will get to that story later. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. It is an old dusty road full of bumps and mudholes so let’s get started into the hills of West Virgina.

 

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Categories: intro | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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