Remember the old song by Jim Stafford “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes”? I’ve always agreed with that song. But whether we like it or not, spiders and snakes are part of farm life. I’ve had many encounters with both over the years. Mostly with snakes. We seem to have lots of copperheads and black snakes here. Though I was once chased by a coachwhip. According to HERPS of Arkansas, the coachwhip is a long, slender snake. Along with racers, these are the longest species of snakes found in Arkansas. In adults, the head and some of the body (usually about two-thirds) is solid black or black with white patches fading into shades of brown. The crisscross patterning found on the tail looks very much like the weaving of a leather whip. They are the fastest snakes in the United States and often confused with the common black snake.
I’ve never really been afraid of snakes. When I was small, Daddy had a king snake that lived in the barn under the feed box. When he milked, he would fill a jar lid with milk and slide it up under the box for the snake. King grew quite used to us, and became very social. Often we would see him laying about in the milk room sunning himself, and he would only move a few feet to get out of our way. He vied with the barn cats for the mice, and no one ever bothered him. My good friend Sabrina Deese and her children actually found a king snake today as they were taking a science walk for school. She has let me use her pic. I remember King looking a lot like this one.
Down at the chicken house was another matter. We had plenty of black snakes there. As a teenager, I seldom went to gather eggs without my .22. It seemed we killed a black snake nearly every week in or around the chicken house. Once we had one trying to get in with a mother and her new peeps. The snake started down a hole beneath the coop and being one of those teens who thought I was invincible, I grabbed his tail to haul him back out. Mother stood there screaming as I sat on the ground, feet braced against the coop, .22 tucked beneath my arm and pulled with all my might. At last the snake came out, turned on me, and I shoved the barrel of my gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Not my brightest moment. And it was only the hand of God that kept me from being severely bitten.
Occasionally we had snakes in the house as well. Ours was a very old house built sometime in the 1940s, set on stone pillars with no basement. The electrical wires to the plug-ins and light switches were on the outside of the walls and covered with a black cord, so many times we mistook a snake for an electrical wire. Once Granny was cooking and suddenly told me to go for the axe. Puzzled, but obedient, I brought her the axe from the woodpile and she hauled off and struck the wall, cutting what I thought was the electrical cord coming down to the stove. Then she swept the two halves of the black snake into a dust pan and had me throw them over the fence.
Earlier this summer we had a family picnic here, and I had a bit of déjà vu. My sister-in-law called to me from the laundry room, in which we have a toilet, and said I had a snake in there. Sure enough, I found it curled behind the mop bucket. Greg brought the hog catcher, caught the snake, and when he lifted it up, the mate was curled below. We killed them both, and poured moth balls around behind the washer and dryer as well as down the hole where the drain pipes come through.
As I’ve said, snakes don’t bother me very much, though I don’t like them. Spiders have always been another matter. That is, until my oldest grandson came along. Typical boy, Josiah loves all things creepy. Especially spiders. From an early age, he collected plastic and rubber bugs and spiders. He spends hours outside looking at bugs. And for his fifth birthday, he asked for a tarantula. And I had promised him anything he asked for.
So, off to the pet store we went and bought a very young rose hair tarantula. Bill is quite beautiful for a spider. She really is a pale rose color. On the way home I sat beside Josiah as he happily held the little plastic box with his new pet. “Look Mimi!” he cried and shoved the box in my face, “Isn’t Bill pretty?” And suddenly I noticed something: Bill was all huddled up with all of her legs over her face. Slowly she moved the legs apart just enough to look at me, then hid again. And I realized that Bill was just as scared of me and I was of her. And that’s when the fear of spiders began to leave me.
Josiah is now almost 12. Bill is 7, and can live to be around 20. Over the last few years, Josiah has taught me a lot about spiders. They really are fascinating creatures. And for the most part, if you leave them alone they won’t bother you. I still kill the ones in my house, but the outside ones I leave, note where they live, and respect their space. And I’ve noticed that between them and the chickens we have very few bugs and flies this year. No, I’ve never had the courage to hold Bill, but I have petted her a couple of times with one finger. And she’s not invited for Christmas or other visits. But when I go up to their house, I usually say hi to Bill, who has grown quite large now, and if Joe has her out of her aquarium I don’t panic. After all, what is a farm without a few spiders and snakes?