There are times when the pukah do not like me, and there are times when we coexist barely acknowledging each other. This is a tale from way back in my childhood, where I swear the pukah were trying to get my attention.
It was one of those golden days of early summer – and I’m pretty sure this isn’t just my memory turning the light a beautiful shade of amber, the leaves a dying shade of yellow, and most of the ground not covered by last year’s brown leaves a golden shade of sand. We lived in the East Piney Woods of South Texas, and after the spring rains have moved on, things tended to be hot and muggy. This was one of the unusually dry days, with a humidity around 45%. And it was cooler than the rest, probably in the low 90’s. However, being from the area, this felt like perfection. Add to that, school had recently let out, and so long as I could get outside to play, I would have counted any day as perfection.
Grandma was inside watching her daytime soap operas, and I had grown bored with raking leaves into house-like floor plans to play in. The air had grown still, which mean I no longer had to worry about the shaped piles being disturbed, but it also meant things were feeling a little stuffy. I decided to get a little closer to the tree tops where I could still hear the breeze rustling the leaves, and so hefted myself into my newest outside toy – a tire wedged into the split trunk of a Holly tree. It was a great arrangement – the trunk split in three when the tree was little, and a standard car tire was wedged in about four or four and a half feet up. There were wood blocks nailed underneath the tire to ensure it didn’t tip, which gave it a little added bounce and stability. That left almost six feet of climbable room to explore and play in, along with some hefty branches higher up to sit on and watch the world go by if you wanted to rest, or pretend you were on a ship sitting in the crow’s nest.
I don’t recall everything I did that day, I just know that I was up in that tree for many hours. When Grandma called me in for supper, I was quite ready to get in out of the heat, and sit down to play cards with her. And, that’s where the fun really began.
I dropped down to the tire, not paying much attention to where I was. Who would have expected to stare a snake down nose-to-nose in a tree? I sure didn’t! I stuck my feet through the center of the tire, and braced my arms to let myself down, mindful of the trunk’s crotch at the bottom of the drop. I glanced down to make sure my feet would straddle the obstacle, and when I looked up, the only thing I saw was a gray, scaly nose with a forked tongue flickering at me.
I admit I was young, and this was a totally unexpected sight. However, I would swear that snake’s head was three inches across!
I managed to hold onto my senses, and not panic.
Carefully, oh so very carefully, I eased myself back onto the tire across from the unexpected visitor. That was when I noticed that the head was attached to a body that wrapped around the inside of the tire at least as far as I could see. Probably a good three feet. THAT is when I let loose a blood curdling scream of fright. That scream caused the entire family that lived on the eleven acres we held in total to come swarming to my aid. I did manage to remember to not just send out the sire’s call for help, but also include why I was screaming, and from where. Not bad for a five (or was it six) year old child.
I don’t know for certain how long I sat there screaming “Snake! In the tree, in the tree! Snake!” until my uncle arrived. Grandma got there first, but she wasn’t tall enough to really register. My uncle was almost six feet, so when he arrived slightly out of breath from running, I saw him out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t move, except to keep screaming, and I didn’t take my eyes of that snake. It had worked another six or eight inches out of the tire, still staring at me, flickering that tongue at me the whole time.
Here’s the part that makes me think the pukah were involved in this bit of fun.
There are snakes in that part of Texas that can climb trees, with that particular marking and shape head. I’ve looked them up. And, when you have that type of fright, every minute detail is acid etched into your memory, so I knew what I was comparing it to. It is called a “tree rattler”, and it is indeed, a member of the rattle snake family. Not one of the more aggressive ones, but a member – and even the non-aggressive are still pushy. However, this one waited until I was out of the tree to coil and start rattling its tail. With the hullabaloo I was making, there is no reason why it didn’t coil up earlier in warning.
Once my dad arrived on the scene, I felt a hand clutch my shoulder, and my uncle quietly said in my ear, “you are doing good, we’re here. Relax, I am going to lift you out of the tire. You won’t fall, I’ll catch you.”
With a gentle tug, he tipped me back, off the tire and into his arms. Just as carefully, he helped me get my legs over the edge of the tire and out from under the snake’s chin. I managed to stop screaming, and stayed as relaxed as I could. To be honest, what I remember during these few minutes is a quick snatch, pull, and bolt by my uncle. But, again, the mind plays tricks when you’re in a petrifying situation. I’m sure if he had actually caused me to move that suddenly, the snake would have struck.
I don’t know for certain what happened to the snake – I was hustled into Grandma’s house and mom gave me a thorough inspection from my shoulders to my toes to make sure I hadn’t been bit. When she was certain I was unharmed, she poured me a glass of iced tea, and then kept me inside until the rest of the family came in.
I had to recount the encounter a couple of times, though the last run through we all had a good laugh. One of the menfolk mentioned that “with as loud as you were screaming, I think you stunned the snake. I always knew you had a good set of lungs, this just proves it.”
In looking back on it after all these years, I think the pukah meant to have a bit of a laugh by startling me with the snake, but when things started going wrong, they made sure I didn’t get hurt by keeping the snake placid. I can’t think of any other explanation for why the snake stuck its head out at me, but never threatened me while I was being “rescued”.
What do you think? Pukah, or just really bad coincidence?