Rattlesnake Bites

I was on my way back from town – Williamsport – early this afternoon, driving the detour on St. Michael’s Road from Old Rt. 15. I am forced to make this two-mile longer trip due to my usual route of Rt. 973 being closed due to replacement of an old metal overhead truss bridge on Lycoming Creek. I had not driven a quarter mile on the road, I was going maybe 25 mph, when I saw something with my car and I immediately recognized it as a snake. I straddled it, not figuring it was anything other than a road-killed black snake. Then I remembered my neighbor and Lycoming Creek fishin’ buddy, Jim, telling me that our other neighbor, has seen a few rattlesnakes in that area of St. Michael’s road. It’s little more than a mile from my home. In this section the road passes along the base of a wooded mountainous area, rather steeply-sloped toward the south-east. That exposure combined with the dappled sunlight created by a partially open tree canopy and lots of rocks creates perfect rattlesnake habitat.

I no sooner passed over it when the thought occurred to me – was that a rattlesnake? I stopped and put the car in reverse. Not much traffic on the road, usually. When I got beside it and opened the door, sure enough, it was a rattlesnake, a smaller one about two feet long. Apparently a vehicle that passed by not long before me had hit it in the rear third of its body. No details but it was still alive, almost appearing dead, but not quite. I looked at it for a minute, wishing I had my camera with me – the eastern timber rattlesnake is not that common, and then I drove on.

The last one I saw was five years ago right here at my house, in my driveway. I never saw it until I got out of the car one morning, opened the trunk, got something out and with my mail in one and hand and whatever in the other, I started toward the back door. Then I heard the “buzz.” It was five feet from me, right on open gravel beside my patio. Startled I was! As I instinctively backed up it slithered into a corner landscaped area of shrubs and flowers between the patio and garage. Skipping the details of the next minute, (I usually have loaded firearms in the house); it was a large black rattlesnake that measured 44″. The mid-section of its body was as large as my forearm.

My father-in-law had lived in this area all his life, then at age 82, and he said it had been decades since a rattlesnake was seen where we lived “in the valley.” In the mountains a mile distant, another story, not common, but if one were to go looking for them one could probably find one.

In 2004 my wife and I encountered another rattlesnake while biking one evening on the Pine Creek Rail-Trail just above the village of Blackwell. Prior to that, I was still in high school when I had last seen a rattlesnake.

Where does that fit in with fishing? Well, some area streams keep the more timid anglers among us away just by the word that a number of rattlesnakes have been seen. Slate Run, possibly Cedar Run, both tributaries  to Big Pine Creek, to name a couple. Just ask Tom Finkbeiner, owner of The Slate Run Tackle Shop, and he’ll show you plenty of rattlesnake photos.

This also ties in with my recent posts and discussions of Elizabeth Benjamin, a 19th century fly tier from Ralston, Pennsylvania; my recent evening fishing trips to Lycoming Creek, and from referencing the 1879 book, Bodines or Camping on the Lycoming, by Thad S. Up De Graff, which I pulled off my bookshelves to see if any information on Elizabeth Benjamin was in his book. I discovered a paragraph on the treatment of rattlesnake bites. That, combined with my encounter yesterday have spurred me to write this post.

I wanted to conclude by presenting the paragraph written by author Thad S. Up De Graff, MD., from Elimra, New York; the author of Bodines, who gives his “medical” advice for treatment of a rattlesnake bite. The guy should know, right? He was a doctor, and had spent ten years, camping and fishing for a month each time on Lycoming Creek below the village of Ralston.

Quoting the good doctor Up De Graff:

“Rattlesnake bites are best treated by applying a cloth saturated with liquor ammonia over the bite, and immediately administering large doses of whiskey. Let the patient (I love how he refers to the bite victim as the patient ), drink all he will hold, or until intoxication is induced. Many physicians doubt the efficacy of this treatment, but I have seen it employed in several instances and am confident of its success. It acts upon perfectly scientific principles, sustaining the nervous system under the shock induced by the poison.”

I’d say it might be better to watch your step while fishing or traveling on foot along streams or to and from the stream when in areas of rattlesnake habitat, and never place your hands in an area you can not see. Otherwise you might have to get drunk.

Kids: Don’t try these perfectly scientific principles at home.

I drove back up a half hour later to hopefully get a decent photo I could use here; rattlesnakes are beautiful in their own way, but the poor snake had been de-rattled and run over a few more times.