WHEN YOU CATCH A TIGER BY THE TAIL
(One of the few poems I recall from my childhood)
AUSTRALIA 2015 BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES OF A LONG-AGO ENCOUNTER WITH WESTERN TIGER SNAKE
A few months ago, Elizabeth and I came back to Maui from an amazing trip to Australia. For me, it was a return to Paradise that I once called my home. For Elizabeth, it was her first trip to the land Down Under. And what a memorable experience it was! (see AUSTRALIA 2015 – http://wp.me/p3R16m-1yE).
One day, as we were driving down Commonage Rd near Dunsborough, Western Australia, I had a flashback.
“See that driveway over there,” I said to Elizabeth. “That’s where an old friend of mine used to live. At the end of that driveway, he once encountered a tiger.”
“A tiger?” Elizabeth repeated sounding incredulous.
“Well, an Aussie tiger,” I grinned. “A 10-ft tiger snake.”
During the rest of our drive to Dunsborough, I recounted for Elizabeth the tale that Peter, my former neighbor, shared with me almost two decades ago.
Peter and his wife Grace were retired farmers from up north when I met them in the 1990s. No, not the kind of farmers we know in America who work perhaps a few dozen or a few hundred acres. In our country, we would call Peter and Grace ranchers.
Jus to give you an idea what that means, that’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island.
“I had over 30 miles of roads which I had to maintain myself,” Peter said.
And he also had a single-engine airplane. Even after retiring from active farming and turning his state-size property over to his four sons, Peter continued to fly to and from his ranches up north in and out of Dunsborough. He used the back of his (small) Commonage Rd property as a landing strip.
No permits. No air traffic control. Just man and machine. Like in the good old days… before governments started mess with people’s freedom and lives.
By contrast to this rough and tumble outback cowboy, Peter’s wife Grace was nothing but sweetness and roses. In fact, she did have a gorgeous rose garden. And she used every bit of land around their home to grow something beautiful or edible or both. She was also an excellent cook. I still remember some of the delicious dinners she would serve.
The two of them – Peter and Grace – were a perfect match. Because they were so different. It was a true harmony in contrasts.
Back to my story…
One morning in the mid-1990s, Grace was working as a part-time helper at a local arts and crafts store, just a mile or so up from their place on Commonage Rd. Peter was alone at home. As he did on most days, he walked out to the back of the paddock (field) to check things out. Just to kick the dirt. Old farmer habits die hard.
“I felt something move under my feet,” Peter recalled.
To his horror, he discovered he was standing on giant Tiger snake.
The Aussie Tiger is not only big and powerful (about 10ft in length), it is also fast. And deadly. About 40% to 60% of the people who are bitten by the Tiger snake die unless they get immediate medical help.
During my nine years in Australia, I had only seen one Tiger snake in nature. It was on a sandy path near Prevelly Point. Fortunately in my case, the snake was already dead. Peter was not so lucky, however.
“I realized I was in a bit of a spot,” he said showing a typical Aussie outbacker’s self-deprecating modesty.
“In a bit of a spot!” Standing on a giant Tiger snake. What a giant understatement!
Most people would have been terrified. Some might have even tried to run. Probably to their peril. As I said, these snakes are also very fast.
“I was wondering what I could do,” Peter continued. “I was wearing just my shorts and a singlet” (like yours truly in this photo taken in the same area during our Feb 2015 trip).
“As I was checking my pockets, I realized all I had was a small pen knife.”
Well, beggars can’t be choosers. So holding his foot firmly on the snake’s neck, Peter proceeded to sow off its head. One can just imagine what a horrendous struggle it must have been. For both: the 10 ft-snake and the man wielding a small pen knife.
Well, eventually the pen knife prevailed. Which is why Peter was able to share this tale with me.
But that was not the whole story. Guess what this retired outback farmer did after he had saved himself with a pen knife?
He picked it up the severed head with bare hands, and, like a cat proudly bringing home the critters it catches, Peter went to that arts and crafts place where his wife worked – to show off his “trophy.”
“Get out of here you crazy bastard,” his wife Grace shouted, suddenly losing all of her gentleness and grace with ease with which a snake sheds its skin.
Peter just chuckled.
“Thought you’d like to see what I caught today in our back yard,” he lied.
NOTE: Peter and Grace are fictitious names. In any event, I have forgotten their real names anyway. Everything else about this story, however, is true.
AUSTRALIA 2015: TABLE OF CONTENTS
Barbara Mahdinec Funny story! I would probably stop breathing and have a heart attack, death by fright! We have a story about a Coral snake encounter when first married and Milan was stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas. The year was1970. Scared the hell out of me. To this day, don’t remember my feet touching the ground again, landed in the house! We were sitting on a back stoop and bare feet resting on cinder blocks for steps. Our new collie was whimpering scratching at us. I kept pushing her back. I happen to glance down and in the crack is a Coral snake with our feet over it. I can’t explain my panic, screamed “Coral snake” and flew through the door. They are small snakes and have small mouths as you probably are already aware. Best place for their mouth to get yu is between toes, fingers. Holy crap, just sitting barefoot talking away! What are the odds?! Milan runs in house and gets a small 22 pistol and goes after snake. It is caught by the tail and slithering back and forth andhe is waving gun pointed at it trying to get a shot! I’m screaming “get away”! Well lo and behold, Milan nails it! I’m thinking I witnessed a miracle! Never forget it!!!
Bob Altzar Djurdjevic Wow. What a story! Thanks for sharing it, Barbara. Yes, I know what a Coral snake is and what it looks like. And that it is extremely poisonous despite its small size. In fact, you’ve just reminded me of my own encounter with in right here in Phoenix in 2001. In my case, I did not even have my slippers on when I discovered it on a chair under a table the caterers had just delivered. I was having a party the next day. At the time I saw the snake, however, I was butt naked, just having gotten out of my pool. And I did not have a 22 or any other pistol handy. So I just grabbed another chair and killed the snake with it. As I threw it over the fence, its carcass got caught on some palm fronds. It had stayed there for a few days until I forgot to check on it. Shall I add both of our Coral Snake stories to my Tiger Snake piece?
Bob Altzar Djurdjevic The Coral snake is particularly dangerous because its venom can take up to 18 hours to start showing itself, and many people who get bitten thus do not seek help until it is very late in the game. Left untreated, the venom can kill by shutting down a victim’s lungs. For more, see…https://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_coral_snake.php
Barbara Mahdinec Yes, people like wild stories! I like you being butt naked throwing chairs! Oh my gosh!