HISSSS… Join If You’re Afraid

Hypersensitive Individuals and Sportsmen Scared Silly of Snakes - Garry's Outdoor Kicks & Grins

Garry Bowers | June 13, 2016

It was one of those southern spring afternoons that Henry David Thoreau could wax poetic about for hours. Ducky Jones and I, teenage lads at the time, were plying the banks of a calm, pastoral pond in an 8-foot pram, fly fishing for bluegill. We found a good spot and eased our concrete block anchor overboard silently. The only sound was the soft swish of our rhythmic casts. One could only appreciate what happened next if one has been awakened from a sound sleep by a maniac dismantling one’s bed with a chain saw.

A world record bullfrog leapt from the bank 30 feet away, bellowing (yes, bellowing) at the top of its lungs, hit the water once and landed in the bottom of our little craft. The adrenaline rush of having a 5-lb. shrieking amphibian jump into the boat was immediately followed by a more powerful rush when we spied the object of the frog’s terror.

Writhing off of the bank was the biggest, blackest, fattest, thickest water moccasin in the Western Hemisphere. It was obscene. It came off of the bank… and came off of the bank… and came off the bank… and by the time it was halfway to our flimsy pram, we still hadn’t seen its tail. The premise was simple. The frog was in the boat. The snake wanted the frog. It would eat anything that got in its way. I don’t remember if there was a conscious mental decision or if basic primal instinct just took over, but we did the only obvious thing there was to do. We screamed obscenities and paddled with all our might.

We covered the 100 or so yards back to the little pier in a time-distance ratio that would have baffled a physicist. Ducky had let out the patented screeching quack for which he was nicknamed when we spotted the morbid freak, and I don’t think he took a breath until the boat touched land. We sat there a moment. The only sound was our labored breathing. We pondered with disbelief what had just happened. We had paddled the entire length of the pond with a fly rod and a baseball cap. Dragging a 12-lb. anchor.

I don’t know what happened to the paddle. Perhaps we threw it at the monster. Perhaps the frog threw it. Somewhere along the way, the frog had abandoned ship, coward that he was. I can’t really blame him though. The decibel level must have reached a horrendous volume. As we sat there, Ducky in the stern and I in the bow, gasping for air, I was witness to a scientific phenomenon I had neither seen before nor since. It involved the space-time continuum.

We had tied to the back of the boat a small stringer of bluegill. They had probably become airborne at some point in our journey, like one of those parasails they tow behind boats at the beach, but were now recovering and began splashing immediately behind Ducky. One second, we were on opposite ends of the boat, facing each other, and the next second he was sitting by my side. As many times as I have replayed that scene in my mind, I do not remember, for the life of me, seeing him move.

We sat awhile, side by side, staring out across the water, watching a flock of mallards Ducky had inadvertently called up. It was good to be alive.

That pond may still be there. I wouldn’t know. That was the first unfortunate incident in a lifetime of many that finally promoted me to form an organization called HISSSS—Hypersensitive Individuals and Sportsmen Scared Silly of Snakes. Our mission is multifaceted, but primarily it allows like-minded people to share their stories and fears with others who will not mock and ridicule. Instead of guffaws and snickers, we are met with nods of compassion and reassuring shoulder pats. It is, in effect, a therapy group, but not of the New Age variety. Group hugs are not encouraged unless one of the female members is present.

There are people who are not eligible for membership. For instance, coon hunters are not welcome. Folks who walk around swamps, at night, looking up, just to hear a bunch of dogs bark, are certifiable insane. Ditto for herpetologists and zoologists. They actually handle the things. And rock stars who drape themselves with pythons need not apply.

And there are specific individuals who have been pre-banned from our club, should they ever consider association with us. Fred, a charter member, was on a dove-hunting outing with his ex-friend Rufus and a half dozen other men last fall. They were all standing around together, preparing to step into the field, when Fred emptied the entire contents of his 12 gauge auto into a crooked stick at the edge of the group.

Needless to say, most everyone was somewhat startled (one guy actually voided his bladder). For a silent, awkward moment afterward, most just slowly backed away from Fred, eyeing him suspiciously. Someone finally asked, “Fred, what was that all about?” Fred, who has a speech impediment, grinned sheepishly and said, “I thought it wath a thnake.” Rufus asked, “Did it go ’hith?” That was wrong on many levels. Rufus cannot join our organization.

Our chapter of HISSSS had by-laws, regulations and a mission statement. The latter includes education of the public, but children in particular. For instance, we are determined to eradicate, within our school system, the silly notion of scientific nomenclature such as genus, phylum, species, etc. when dealing with snakes. Even venomous and nonvenomous are useless descriptors. They should be classified as follows: big, little, dead and alive. All four classifications are dangerous. Those that won’t hurt you will make you hurt yourself.

Case in point. A recent recruit, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous, joined HISSSS after an incident involving one of the most common of the sinister reptiles—a garter snake. He was cleaning out his bass boat and inadvertently picked the thing up with a handful of rigged baitcasting rods. In the ensuing struggle to extricate himself from it, he become so ensnared in a menagerie of lines and hooks as to require an emergency room visit.

While his wife was driving him to the hospital, she inquired as to what that awful smell was. He admitted to her that there were only two options open to him at the time of the attack, and as he did not want to go blind, he chose the alternative. Parenthetically, regarding the attending physician, I personally fail to see how an educated person, who has sworn an oath of compassion to his fellow man, could react in such a manner as he did. A medical professional should not become so unglued as to fall on his hands and knees on the floor of the ER in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Our organization is petitioning to have his license revoked.

Not all of that profession are bad. We have one medical doctor who was invited to join our club. His conversation was overheard in the pro shop of the local golf course. The good doctor told the pro that he had seen a huge rattlesnake on No. 17. The pro asked him why he didn’t kill it. The doctor replied, “Because I didn’t have a 10-foot driver.” Automatic membership.

The members of HISSSS are a diverse group. Our most recent member sought us out and asked to join as a sort of religious conversion. He admitted that he had spent his outdoor lift purposefully scaring his companions and partners, most often using humankind’s innate fear of snakes as the catalysts for his pranks. In his confessions to us, he said he would sneak up behind a fellow camper around the campfire when the conversation had turned to snake stories, tap him on the back of the leg, and laugh with glee when the poor guy did an 8-foot broad jump from a sitting position.

Another of his pranks was to lead a group of hunters down a deer trail on the way to the stands and suddenly scream and take an exaggerated jump off of the path. He would just die laughing when the line of hunters behind him jumped into the bushes. By his own admission, he had been a sick individual. But he had an epiphany.

One fine September afternoon, walking to the dove field with his companions, he almost stepped on a huge diamondback—expertly stuffed by a master taxidermist and placed there by his friends. Since they never loaded their guns until they reached the field, he promptly began clicking off shots from his empty pump, all the while yelling “Snattlerake! Rakklesnate! Snakklerat!” Somehow, a video of the entire incident appeared on  the Internet. Instant conversion.

Had it not been for their raucous laughter, he admitted, he swears he would still have been immobilized on that spot, pumping and dry firing his shotgun and spouting nonsense until he grew old and died. HISSSS accepted him with the admonition, “Go, and sin no more.”

I invite you, dear reader, to begin your own chapter of HISSSS. I would be happy to provide you with additional information, but cannot do so at this time as I have to prepare for tonight’s meeting where we will be discussing the finer points of portable defibrillators. Just write to HISSSS c/o this magazine. Good luck, and keep your eyes on the ground.

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