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!