Thursday, December 27, 2012

Another Life Has Passed

We all lose friends over the years.  Family Members, whether
adopted or natural, tend to hit us a little harder.
Everyone and everything has its time on Earth.    

And then it's over.

Losing a loved one this time of year is not easy.  A family member is especially tough.

Adopted family members are almost as difficult.

In 2003, I adopted a friend.  This friend would live under my roof, be fed on a constant basis, and bask in the warmth of the care I could provide him.  

I awoke this morning to a strange smell in the room.  This smell was similar to a decaying mouse.

No, I've never had a mouse as a household pet.  I don't like mice.  They bite, they crap, they piss in their water bowls, and they don't even display any type of beauty.  Sorry Mickey, even Stuart Little couldn't spend a night in my house, unless he wanted to play with my cats, Faletame and Gabriela all night!  That would be something to watch!

I slide the glass back, carefully lifted up the hide rock, and underneath found my adopted household friend in a somewhat still position.  No prodding would create movement.  Indeed, my friend was stiff as a board.

As life would have it, all era’s must come to an end.  
There's no reason to shed tears!
Life must continue for the living.

In the mid 60’s, I was playing Army in my grandfather’s back forest with a friend of mine.  As I was running across a clearing (and being shot in the back with BB’s) I jumped over a fallen tree.  As I landed, I felt something hit the back of my leg.  Thinking I’d flipped thorns up (and still being shot with BB’s) I ran another step before stopping.  I’d felt something flop against the back of my leg, and needed to investigate.  

Just as I looked down, I saw a copperhead remove itself from the back of my leg and strike again ... and again.   I could only imagine my leg starting forward as it first struck and being carried by the motion of my leg once the fangs entered my calf.  

I spent a couple of days in the hospital that time.    While there, relatives would come by and make statements that I’d never go back in the woods again as I would develop a fear of these animals.  Instead, I developed the need to face my fears and learn all I could about these creatures.

In the late 70’s, a friend of mine, in South Africa, was raising venomous reptiles for research.  I opened a container that held some Cape Cobra (naja Nivea) eggs.  One of the eggs was pushing against another in an attempt of the occupant to hatch.  So, I reached down and adjusted the egg’s position to allow this to happen much easier.

I didn’t know that one had already hatched from the bottom of one of the eggs and was underneath the substrate.

The neonate cobra attached itself to the side of my right hand, little finger and wouldn’t let go.  Such is the life of a feeding response.  It pumped every bit of venom it had into that finger until I could manage to remove it.

After a stay in a South African hospital (and three days on life support), I found that finger to never be the same.  The internal necrosis had eaten away cartilage and tissue which would forever give me the “tea drinker’s” pinkie appearance.

Since that time, I’ve owned upwards of fifty types of venomous reptiles.  My collection has included some of the most venomous species in the world at times.  I’ve had a couple of more bites from slightly venomous species, but never returned to the hospital.  

Then the laws started changing.  

Suddenly it was illegal in the state of Kentucky to own these.  In addition, the city had created its own laws that were even more strict about the keeping of exotics.   My landlord even started including a clause in the lease about them.  So, I either sold or gave away my collection.
I never took a picture of my friend for some reason.
This is one identical to my specimen.

All except one.

The Western Hognose snake has been declared slightly venomous in the last few years.  It won’t kill you, but you can sustain major swelling and possible muscle damage from it’s bite.  However, none of the city or state regulations lists it as venomous as yet. 

It was my last specimen.  My last reminder of the era I’d spent getting pure adrenaline rushes from dealing with death on the end of a snake hook, or in extracting venom days, in my hands.  They provided me a reason to travel many countries of the world I would have never done otherwise, as I hunted them in their natural habitat to supply venom labs with specimens for extractions necessary for the making of antivenins.  

Imagine, being able to hold a living creature that has the ability to kill you with one bite in the flash of a micro second, and surviving!  Oh, I’ve dealt with gators, venomous lizards, and other creatures that could kill you, but there was something so sinister, yet, beautiful in the patterns they wore, as venomous snakes.

Today, my hognose snake died.

The burial was a garbage bag in the trash.  No, I’m not that sentimental about it.

But, for me, the era of venomous snakes is over ... completely.  

My years in dealing with them taught me to always face my fears and never allow fear to rule my life.  That followed me through my times of sky diving, skin diving, stand-up comedy, marriage, and even two years ago when I took a high performance driving class and raced around a sports car track at speeds exceeding 150 mph.   Fear will only hold one back.   Only when you face and overcome these fears will you have an experience to talk about that many others only wish they'd enjoyed.   Healthy respect is always recommended, but fear is nothing more than a hindrance to success and feeling the rush life can truly offer.

I have decided to no longer replace my reptiles, as my wife would be lost in tending for them should I pass on, too.  

It’s another phase of my life that has passed.  Sad, in a way, as it was one that provided many challenges and experiences that I can recall with enthusiasm and cherish for the rest of my life, as my years pass by all to quickly, 

So, now I must find something to replace it.

Time to check out bridge bungee jumping!


  1. Holy Moly! You are one brave man. I won't even get near reptiles. I've been close to copperheads, but not enough to get bitten, thank goodness. Maybe you should play it safe and get a turtle...or a dog. :-) Great post!

    1. GK - I've never proclaimed to being brave. lol In fact, there were many times that I felt a change of underwear might be necessary. I just never wanted to be one of those old coots, sitting on the back porch with their great grandkids, talking about all the things they'd wished they'd done when they were able. I always investigated and learned all I could about whatever endeavor I was about to attempt. Knowledge can be a great weapon against fear. I'm seriously considering bungee jumping from a bridge. It's kind of the last great thing in my life I have yet to do, as I've afraid of heights ever since jumping off the roof of a two story house when I was young. (That's another story, lol) Thanks for commenting! (Oh, there's an exact copy of this post below this one, so I'm going to delete it.)

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  3. Richard, I was waiting to see who passed away and then got to the end to see it was your snake. Great post, but am with Gina on this and this is just something I cannot for the life of me ever own or want to go near!! Thanks for sharing and very sorry for your loss, but I admit I am just not a snake person!!

    1. Janine - Good to see you here today! I tried to build up the suspense a little. lol Funny thing is, I've never loved snakes either. They do exhibit tremendous patterns and colors at times, but I've never been one to pick one up and kiss it. I guess that's why I always kept venomous ones ... you're not tempted to do things as such. Are you ready to bungee jump? : ) Many thanks!

  4. Crap. You keep snakes?! Wow...who knew. How does that work with cats? And by golly, what are you going to replace it with???

    1. Julie - I "used to" keep snakes. As of today, that's no more. : ) I always kept the snakes in a separate, secure, locked room in the house (my bedroom). Faletame is the only cat I've ever had that was curious enough to follow me in there and peer in the cages. It was always a hobby, but I built up quite a reputation among herp (reptile) circles over the years. I always purchased professional cages (no aquariums with clip on tops. It cost me a lot more, but in thirty years I never had an escape. I'm really contemplating bungee jumping for my next adrenaline rush. Join me? : ) Many thanks!

  5. I am sorry about your Richard--I am not a snake kinda person, but I have friends who are---I am amazed that you chose to deal with snakes after being bitten so many times--

    1. Audrey - As most that keep venomous know, "It's not if you get bit, it's when you get bit." My first was an accident, the cobra stupidity, and the others accidents (while trying to capture and relocate copperheads instead of having people kill them, and getting bit by a second one I hadn't seen while going after the first). I knew I was pushing the limit after my heart attack several years back, and the blood thinner prescription that followed. So, I said then when this one dies, that's it! I never really loved them, as love goes, but I did find the patterns and colors beautiful, and the danger element thrilling. I'm one of those idiotic people that need a little danger in their life to feel as though they're really living the moment. Thanks for the great comments and your kind words!

  6. Rich
    Sorry about your loss, but love reading your articles. I have often thought about the stories you told me about the snakes when we were working together. The stories were always interesting, but I could not understand why you were so involved with the snakes. This story explains the why. Hope you have a good day.

    1. Gary - So very good to hear from you, my friend! I trust you had a great Christmas! It's so good to know that you're reading my blogs, as strange as they may be from time to time. lol Perhaps we can have lunch one afternoon and catch up. Yes, there was a reason for the madness. But now, perhaps, the sanity will return. Again, so very good to hear from you. Many thanks!

  7. Lunch would be great, lets touch base after we get though the holidays.

    1. Sounds great! I'll email you and we can set things up.

  8. I have two thoughts: first, I need to let spiders crawl on me or something because I completely flip out and convulse when one is on me. Second, I faced a horiffic fear recently: quit my job with no safety net in the middle of a recession. And I'm surviving. It's tight, for sure, but my worst fear was losing the house. I don't think that will happen. Phew! LOL. But I'm happily plugging along doing all my freelance stuff. Good post!

    1. Cyndi - As with most professionals, I seriously think my greatest fear is failure. One can only do the best they can and take each day's challenges in stride as they come up. There will always be challenges, so look for the opportunity to prove you can handle them and cast all other thoughts aside. You're going to do fine as I'm feeling a Type A personality more and more from you.
      Next in line is definitely heights. That's why I feel it necessary to face it. I used to sky dive without problem, but put me on a roof or looking over the side of a cliff and I become very nervous. Spiders and snakes don't bother me, as most animals don't. I don't know that letting them crawl on you is the answer, but really, there's nor reason to worry about them. Just keep your eyes open and take care of them when you see them. Remember, you normally don't see spiders crawling towards you, they're crawling away from you. You're the all powerful monster to them. : ) That should give you confidence!

  9. heard a quote once, 'fear is the only enemy'.
    I try to keep that in mind every day. It is not just the fear of the (potential of) danger or damage, the more insidious fear is the 'reasonable fear'... "hey clark, you can't do that!, you've never done that...they will laugh and you will fail" it is the matter-of-fact approach of that part of myself that would have me stay inside and play it safe that is the truly horrifying part of the human condition.

    Your story reminds me that the loss of any manifestation of our realities that we invest ourselves in, is 'painful', what the particular form of the manifestation is, is not the point, it is simply that when we relate to, (which is to say we invest a part of ourselves in something that is not part of ourselves) something and we loss that thing/person/idea/snake, the feeling of loss is painful.

    Not a fan of snakes, but I'm liking your style, Rich.

    1. Clark - That kind of goes along with the saying, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself". When I learned the strike zones of different snakes, it really helped out my nerves. Again, knowledge can eliminate much fear.

      I really didn't mind the snake dying. What it represented was more disappointing. That part of my life was now gone. So, do I stop and grow older in boredom, or do I pursue another activity and create a "new" phase? I'm going to do the latter. I don't enjoy complacency, and boredom doesn't please me either. I need the rush, so to speak, to be a part of my life. I've died twice already, so I really don't fear death. I'd rather go experiencing something new and exciting than sitting and slowly decaying. Many thanks!

  10. I knew you got bitten by a snake in SA, but I never knew you kept the things at home! You have one amazing wife right there Richard!! :) Sorry about your last little friend....but as you say, time for something new to take its place. P.S - There's one hell of a huge bridge here in SA to jump off of, I think it's one of the highest in the world...and it's in the Garden Route - Bloukrans Bridge. If you're ever this side of the world again!

    1. Melanie - I just looked up the Bloukrans Bridge. Seems there's a youtube video showing a gentlemen set the record for a bungee jump off of it at 216 meters.
      Are you trying to kill me, girl? lol You are showing a very sadistic side here! : ) I know, you're the type that when you have a toothache, everyone suffers, right? Just joking!
      Yes, I was one of those crazy people that kept things at home. My wife was nervous at first (scared to death) but got to the point she'd only jump when she was in the room and one would strike the glass front of the cage at her. I think the force that the Gaboon Viper hit the glass would have scared most people. Like I said in one of my previous blogs, I've put her through a lot and she's still stuck by me. Some people never learn! : ) Hope you're feeling better! Many Thanks!