Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Down on the Farm 2

Taffy was a pretty golden cocker spaniel similar to the dog at right. He just showed up at the farm one day and stayed. 

When I came down in the summers, Taffy would go with me while I fished in the big pond. Very soon I came to realize that Taffy was no ordinary dog. He hated snakes. As I sat fishing, Taffy would, nose down and stub wagging furiously, scour the weeds along the pond. When he discovered a snake, it was over in a matter of seconds. Perhaps a short "yip," a spring into the air, and down he would come. When Taffy came up again, he would be seen shaking a snake to ribbons. When the victim was dead, off the dog would go hunting for more. And in that snake-infested region, there was always a fresh supply.

Since we both shared a pathological hatred of snakes, Taffy and I made a good team. We would stalk the weedy shores of both ponds, as well as a creek a mile down the railroad tracks. With his nose close to the ground, often I would spot a snake before Taffy. Once, while atop the railroad bridge above the creek, I spotted a fat water moccasin stretched on a rock. He was as big around as my arm and not much longer. To aid Taffy in his search, I was in the habit of making sounds of encouragement-–"sic, sic, sic, sic," when he was far away, and "SIC, SIC, SIC, SIC," when he was getting warmer. In this case, my crude homing device worked perfectly. The snake made an attempt to fall into the water, but it was too late. Taffy snapped him up and in only two or three shakes, the green and yellow guts flew in all directions.

Another time, while standing on the dam of the big pond, looking down upon the weeds of the little pond, I saw a huge black cottonmouth coiled a few yards back from the water. "SIC, SIC, SIC. . . ." Taffy followed the beacon well enough, but because of the tall grass he could not see the venomous thing until it was too late. The viper struck and landed atop the dog's back. That was the reptile's last mortal move and within seconds he was dead like the rest. Apparently, the fangs did not reach their target for I never saw any sickness from Taffy then or later. Perhaps he was immune after so many bites.

There was only one time, to my knowledge, that Taffy showed the white feather. Dad, Grandpa Bob and I were fishing on the big pond one still Sunday morning when we noticed what looked like a submarine's periscope coming directly toward us from the opposite shore. It proved to be the largest snake any of us had ever seen outside a zoo. At least two feet of the monster rose straight up out of the water as he crossed. For some reason, even though he certainly saw us, the snake continued in our direction. By now, everyone was on their feet. "SIC, SIC, SIC," I encouraged Taffy when the snake came perilously close to shore. But although he barked furiously, Taffy wanted no part of this sea serpent. Of course, the snake had picked the worst possible landing spot on the pond. Dad's record is clear. Although a Missourian born and bred, Grandpa Bob had enough Kansas connections to hate snakes as well. Without a gun among them this day, the two men used the only weapons they had-–their fishing rods. When the smoke cleared, the score: Humans 1, Snake 0.

By the time the body was finally dragged onto the bank, we could see that the creature was every inch of twelve feet. Grandpa Bob thought it had to be a Bull Snake. Though it was very dead, Taffy wasn't entirely convinced and continued to circle the carcass and bark from a safe distance. I've often wondered since that time if this was the same snake Grandma had seen years before crossing the road. 

(continued tomorrow)