Field Hazards: A Two-Copperhead Tuesday

It’s hot, dang hot here in Georgia. It’s so hot, you wish somebody would hit you in the head with a wet squirrel and cool you off!

As a 56-year-old registered surveyor/party chief/instrument man/rodman/cad tech and office cleaner, I’m tired, hot, mosquito bit, chigger infested, and Grand-Central-Station for all of the ticks trying to get out of the woods (must be a tick convention going on somewhere).

Oh, for the days of giving instructions to field crews and then having another cup of coffee as I watched the survey trucks pull out of the parking lot. Heck, some days I would have two cups of coffee—and a donut. Those days are long gone for me, maybe for the rest of my life.

Since I’m back in the field all of this hard work will either prolong my life or cut it short due to the many trials I now encounter each day, one of which is poisonous snakes.

Recently I was driving to a job site when I spotted something long, fat, and ominous in the middle of the road. I clicked on my flashers and got out to get a closer look at the very large copperhead that was sunning itself. I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of snakes in my decades of working and enjoying nature—rattlesnakes, water moccasins, coral snakes, and copperheads are the dangerous ones here in Georgia.

This particular copperhead was the largest I had ever seen. He/she (I don’t exactly know how to check the gender of a snake, and I’m not lookin’ to learn) was over four feet long and as round as my bicep. You may ask yourself, “How does this goober know the snake was over four foot long?” Simple, I measured it from a distance using my very calibrating left eye.

Looking at the predicament this magnificent specimen was in, I realized the old fella was probably doomed. I was parked in the middle of State Hwy 23, between the cities of Suwanee and Buford, Georgia. A busy road, with lots of big trucks, and the occasional carload of, “Hey, ya’ll watch this” kind of people driving at high rates of speed.

There was only one thing I could do—catch the snake and deposit it in the woods on the side of the road it had been aiming for when it decided to do this suicide-crossing mission. Now comes the important question you may be asking yourself, “How is this idiotic surveyor going to catch a large poisonous snake and not get himself bit?”

A fine question and believe me, I was asking myself the same thing.

I decided on the old pin-his-head-to-the-ground-and-grab-him-by-the-neck trick. I would not suggest anyone do this unless they are Austin Stevens, Steve Irwin (bad example since he is no longer with us), or a member of the “Pass the Snake All Saints in the Mountains Holiness Church.”

I am none of the above, but I have watched a lot of Austin Stevens and the Crocodile Hunter on TV. I figured if they could do it, I could too.

I really didn’t have any trouble. I pinned the big snake’s head, picked it up, and waited for an opening in traffic. After walking to the edge of the woods, I tossed it to safety. Mission accomplished. I felt good about myself and kinda puffed out my chest. Then I realized no one witnessed my incredible bravery and at 56 it really hurt to puff out my chest, so I deflated the air from my lungs and the puffiness slunk back down to my stomach.

There, I still felt good about myself and my stomach muscles didn’t hurt.

I thought that was the end of the snake story. I saved a snake and no one saw or cared. Sounded about right to me, so I got in my truck and went to the job site.

Once there, I prepared to get topo shots of a nasty pond. The dam I was on had large granite stones on it. I had set up my robot and was ready to start taking shots. As I was walking along the dam next to the water’s edge, I was having a hard time keeping my balance. Sometimes I had to jump from rock to rock, picking my way along the dam. I had just made a jump from one rock to the other when I spotted another large copperhead. My foot landed eight-tenths from this coiled up, fat, tongue-flicking, venom-loaded snake.

You know how sometimes things go into slow motion when you are about to have an accident, like falling, wrecking, or being bitten by a large snake? Okay, that did not happen this time.

What did happen was I really looked like a goofball falling, screaming, and flailing my arms. Somehow as my adrenalin kicked in, I made the wrong move and jerked my foot back so quickly that I lost my balance and started falling toward the large pit viper. Luckily the snake must have gotten word from the other snake I had saved earlier that day, perhaps over the local “copperhead, who-did-you-bite-today snake radio station.”

The snake slithered under the rock just before I fell on the spot where it had just vacated. I stood up looked around to see who might have witnessed my embarrassing fall. Again, nobody. I was relieved … except that meant no one saw this new snake encounter either.


Maybe karma was on my side. You know, the belief that if you handle things right then you will be rewarded with the same treatment. Hm. Maybe there’s some truth there. I’m glad the snake didn’t bite me … although, if it had, what a story that would make. And I could stay in the air-conditioned office, whimpering over my injury … Okay, now I’ve gotta start this article all over.
Caption for above: This picture is of me in the pond where this incident took place. This was a different day and shows how hazardous our job is sometimes. And yes I did find a place that was over my head and thought I stepped on an alligator (dang log!).


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