8/9/14 Grass, Moccasins, and Venom

Water MoccasinThere is not enough grass to mow in the world. This is doubtlessly one of the root causes of political strife and unrest; I am convinced. Just take a look at the Middle East, Northern Africa, or even the US Southern border: There isn’t much grass there, consequently, there aren’t many water moccasins (agkistrodon piscivorus), or Cottonmouths as we call them here. The end result is that people have too much time on their hands to brood about the inferior nature of the religious professings of others and the ascendance of their own. If they were busy cutting the grass, they might be more willing to adapt a somewhat more laissez faire.

That is not to say that Southern Texas doesn’t have its share of venomous snakes. In Texas there may be plenty of rattlesnakes, but they give themselves away with a bunch of racket. They are not stealthy like Cottonmouths, which are far more aggressive than the lazy Copperhead, which only moves fast if you mess with it. It’s the Cottonmouths that deserve the most attention.

If there were only more grass to mow. And I mean the kind of grass that I have around my house here in Mississippi, where we look forward to the first frost as sort of a liberation day…the Bastille day of freedom from oppression. The Independence Day where we throw off the yoke of bondage imposed on us by nature and breathe free. Thinking of it, I suppose not enough grass to mow is the cause of urban violence, too.

It seems the hotter the weather, the more violent people become, except in those areas where the growth of grass is as relentless as the summer sun. Then, you don’t have time to worry about anything other than constantly keeping the grass cut down to manageable levels, lest you find unwelcome guests at your doorstep. The unwelcome guests I am referring to get both barrels of 12 gauge 3” Magnum #2 shot just as soon as I can carefully persuade them to get off the carport. Of course, a long handle shovel will do the job, as will a kaiser blade, but an axe has a handle far too short, for a swing and a miss is as likely to make an angry Cottonmouth come towards you as away from you, then one discovers in a panic of soiled clothing and fanged strikes that the axe handle is not nearly long enough for such work.

The grass here does not rest in the summertime, until about this time of year, when it gets a bit drier and it slows its growth a bit. Folks with a manicured lawn resort to sprinklers and irrigation. Folks with a large yard breathe a sigh of relief, for there is a huge difference between maintaining a lawn and cutting the grass. Suburban folk maintain lawns. Country folk cut the grass, and don’t believe for a single minute it is because they want to…they simply have to.

In addition to unsavory reptiles far too close to your house, there are ticks and redbugs hanging on every stalk of the grass grown up. Ticks and redbugs are far too savvy to hang around on mown grass so they have to latch on the the bottom of your shoes; no, they have been programmed by nature to cause the maximum discomfort by migrating to the unmown grass, where they can instantly be swept onto your pants leg, or your bare leg, as you pass by, already halfway to tender parts they prefer as their new home. And waist high grass is to be avoided at all costs.

But waist high grass is as far away as one rainy weekend where you can’t cut grass. By the next weekend, your grass is has grown with reckless abandon and the chiggers are calling out your name, thinking fondly of you, having heard in their tribal myths and legends of the warm-blooded giants that frequently pass by, just waiting for their chance for their big meal ticket. They have also heard horrifying tales of the whirling bladed, organic-petrocarbon powered machines that pass from time to time, scattering all their arachnid cousins and in-laws to kingdom come.

If you want to keep your yard looking good, there is no choice but to mow it twice a week, particularly if you have the malevolent strain of grass known as Bahaia, since it grows faster than fungi on moist deadwood, and almost as fast as the claimants revealed at the end of a collapsing ponzi scheme…it just springs up overnight, growing an inch of more every day. You can see where this might be a problem, since a week’s growth is liable to be as much as ten inches. Two weeks? You may as well move your whole household to a safer locale.

This time of year we enter our typical dry season which will last until November. Unless we have a hurricane, tropical storm, or tropical depression, our rain will be limited to those hot-day convectional thunderstorms that are spotty but can drop two inches of rain in fifteen minutes. While the grass likes the water, so much of it runs off that it’ll be dry again two days later. The grass gives a surge of growth, but settles back down unless you’re so unfortunate to live in the spot where the furious but fickle spotty thunderstorms choose to drop their two inches every day, which can happen. I’ve seen it. Right now, that spot is somewhere besides my house, and my grass is turning a nice tannish-brown, which is not nearly as handsome as the lush, tropical green it was just two weeks ago, but has a beauty all of its own since it gives me some of my life back, but only just a little bit.

The green, lush, well watered grass grows like a maniac, but it is tender, each blade a soft texture easily sheared by the whirling blades of a rotary mower. The parched brown late summer grass is a different story, as it is as stalky and tough as small hickory trees. You can mow it, and as you mow, you can look behind you and see the pithy stalks pushed down by the mower’s edge that refuse to stand up and be cut as the mower passes over it just spring up behind you, leaving you wondering if your mower still has any blade on it at all. Has the mean grass claimed them, or the redbugs, now at the point of starvation, taken to eating steel? And at this time, guess where the water moccasins go? Do you think they go down to the pond where there are frogs, fish, pollywogs, and all sorts of other good things to eat? No! They come straight up to my house to take up residence in any dark, moist place not already occupied by a rattlesnake or a copperhead.

I started out to make a connection between the horrible reports of the troubles in Syria and Iraq, as hundreds of thousands, even millions of people are being threatened by religious intolerance, and not just threatened economically, but are engaged in a life or death flight to save themselves and their families from zealots who commit murder as they shout, “Allahu Akbar”, which means that god is great. The god these people commit these acts in the name of has a small g. The entity they claim to revere is no capital G god. It can never be a capital G god. It is a god that men have made of themselves for themselves. We are vicariously witnessing via news media too terrible a thing that real people are witnessing in their faces to make a connection to something as mundane as cutting the grass.

But the grass is relentless, and it must be cut or the snakes will overtake you and the arachnids will consume you, and the fire ant mounds you can’t see in the grass will keep encroaching until your home is threatened. Then harsh measures must be taken. It is not pleasant. It is not part time. It is a full time unpleasantness.

If seriously confused people had grass like I’ve got, they wouldn’t have time or energy to expend in the nefarious activities involving human beings, they’d be too busy cutting the grass, which is a nefarious act only to nefarious creatures. If everyone had a large yard to mow, then perhaps they wouldn’t be hijacking cars. We’d perhaps see the hijacking of late-model lawnmowers, which, while still illegal, somehow seems less threatening to the hijackee and more threatening to the hijacker, since a lot of folks go about mowing large tracts of relentless grass armed with bug repellant, wasp spray, dust masks, and Cottonmouth-killing shotguns, and as far as the snakes are concerned, I am armed with a deadly lawn mower as no telling how many Cottonmouths I have killed in mid-mow. The thought of this causes me no discomfort. I do not regret that I am unmoved by my callous feelings about it.

I am always on the lookout for mower-jackers though. “Local Man Forced at Gunpoint to Mow Neighbor’s Lawn,” is an unlikely headline, but possible. I doubt that would ever happen in Mississippi, for any neighbor, of any ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identification, or marital status would only have to ask to his neighbor, “I killed a Cottonmouth right at my carport door. Can you help me get this out of control grass cut?” No one who could help would refuse. No one.

We are all in this pestilence pit together. And as everyone knows, when the grass is cut, the snakes are kept at bay, the ticks are far more remote, and the redbugs starve to death. I’m all for human beings helping each other rid themselves of these pestilences.

The problem with cities, any cities, especially large metropolitan areas, is that concrete and asphalt need no mowing, and the places where they have large patches of grass are maintained by the city governments themselves, leaving people with too much time on their hands and too much energy which must be expended on something when it could have been expended on cutting the grass.

I say the world needs more grass to mow, but the current most troublesome places in the world are those places where a dearth of water means that there is simply no grass, except for perhaps Ukraine. Of course, there have been horrible human tolls paid in lush areas, too, like Rwanda, Uganda, and Columbia. Some of those places have snakes far more deadly than Cottonmouths, but not nearly as loathsome.

Maybe we could export bahaia grass seed and water moccasins. If the UN developed a program for this, I’d let them come and extract all they needed from my house. So would my neighbors. But the nations the UN would be trying to inflict them on would be caught up in another humanitarian crisis, one of a different sort. If only the headlines could read, “World Comes Together to Battle Cottonmouth Crisis.”

We all know what to do with venomous snakes on our own door step. God bless everyone today who faces snakes of an even more malevolent disposition than a surly Water Moccasin who would claim another’s home as his own. At least if the grass is mowed here in my part of Mississippi, we can see snakes approaching.

In other places, there’s far too little grass and way too much venom.

I mowed yesterday, from daylight to noon. Today, I will sit a while on my from porch, observe the beautiful brownish grass with a pair of binoculars and dare a moccasin to appear within my sight. The Cottonmouths know this, preferring the cover of the tall grass, yet some are bold. It is their very boldness that will get me if I’m carefree, or get them if they’re careless. Sometimes, venom is disguised in a cloak of guilelessness, wrapped in a regal faux velvet righteousness.

I’d say that is the venom of the worst kind.

PS…Water Moccasin, Moccasin, and Cottonmouth are all used interchangeably to refer to the vile reptile known to herpetologists as agkistrodon piscivorus

©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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