It was a beautiful day filled with sunshine and just enough breeze to be comfortable outside. The rain had stopped from the previous days leaving everything fresh and clean. Even the air smelled clean as Marsha took a deep breath. Shorts, a tee shirt and a pair of tennis shoes made the perfect outfit to suit the day.
Marsha had thought about walking down the road to the old dead-end cultasac where all the teenagers had been gathering in the evenings. She could see from her front porch the car headlights as they turned into the road that lead to no where each night. She had visited the site a year or so earlier and had not found anything but a simple wooded area where a picnic table sat. Someone had decided to add a trash can as well to help keep the spot free of debris.
Apparently some of the high school teenagers had discovered the vacant spot and decided to park there. After all every town had a spot where teenagers parked and lovers shared intimate moments?
Marsha had watched for weeks and today decided that she would simply walk down there. It would be good exercise and she could enjoy getting out of the house for a brief period of time. Since it was only a short distance she did not feel she needed to tell anyone that she was going for a walk. She just felt it was much safer to walk in the sunlight than in the moonlight.
Flowers bloomed all along the edge of the rural road and clumps of clover displayed huge purple round blossoms. As she walked she picked an assortment of colors and began making a flower chain her mother had taught her as a small child. Her ragged tennis shoes kicked bottle caps and an occasional tin can as she made her way down the road.
Tall pine trees reached skyward towering over the huge oak trees that filled the woods nearby. There was no lack of shade and they offered a curtain of privacy for the dead-end road. There were no houses anywhere around simply because the man who owned the property was not interested in selling his land. He wanted to keep it and one day give it to his children. It had been in his family for nearly a hundred years and he planned to keep it that way. Since few people lived in the area most people had no reason to even stop or turn into the road leading no where. However teenagers are always looking for secluded spots where they can be alone and this was a perfect place.
There was a small bridge about midway down Potter’s Road. It had been built to allow the water to drain and prevent flooding in the cultasac area. She could not understand why the road was ever built there since she knew Mr. Hefner who owned the land was not interested in selling it. Apparently the county folks thought there might be a chance of acquiring it at some point. Needless-to-say the bridge had become overgrown on each end with honeysuckle vines. As her eyes scoped out the bridge she noticed a Fairie Rose bush growing along the sides of the concrete culvert than extended from beneath the road. She had seen one once before and wanted to get a root clipping for her mother. This would be a perfect place to pull up one. She sat down on the huge concrete pipe allowing her legs to swing freely as she tried to see just where the rose roots might be.
She picked some of the pink roses and began to pull petals off and toss them into the gorge beneath. She watched as the tiny petals fell into the water and were carried slowly into the man made creek. As she dropped the tiny petals she became lost in a daydream. She envisioned herself and a young man parked along this road.
She was sixteen years old and daydreaming was quite typical of young teenagers. Her feet swung back and forth keeping rhythm to the tune she was singing softly. She wondered why she had not brought along her radio since she enjoyed listening to country music and loved songs so much.
Marsha did NOT hear the rustling in the leaves beneath her. Neither did she hear the slithering bodies moving ever so slowly under the culvert. The water under the culvert moved in quiet ripples as the long cold-blooded reptiles ventured from their nest. The noise had awakened them peaking their curiosity.
Since their color was much like the red clay and the leaves in the area they could keep themselves hidden from sight quite well. Their copper-like heads moved slowly stopping every few feet to see what was ahead of them. Their backs and sides were a pinkish color with darker chestnut colored hour-glass shaped bands. The newborns looked exactly like the mother except the last inch or so of the tail was a bright yellow color. They were unusually colorful and strikingly patterned pit vipers. The mother’s body slithered slowly allowing her five foot long body to move in and out of the vegetation quietly. She was looking for small rodents or amphibians for food. The newborns hoped for insects to fill their stomachs. Pit vipers are distinguished by the presence of a heat-sensing pit organ located between the eye and the nostril on either side of the head.
Marsha decided to walk down the side of the road and see about pulling up a root from the twining rose bush. She stepped carefully trying to avoid poison oak plants scattered here and there. She knew she was highly allergic to them and since she had on no socks she must be extra careful. As she approached the copperhead, it froze in its position giving the approaching body time to move on without harm. Marsha did not see the viper because its color was so well blended into the colors of all the natural growing plants. Neither did she see all the little vipers that were making their way through the grass in search of food.
As Marsha stepped forward and reached her hand down to pull up the rose bush the viper’s fangs buried themselves into her leg. She screamed when she saw the huge reptile and lost her balance tumbling down the embankment onto many little vipers. Each one responded by biting the intruder defending its territory and right to survive.
Marsha’s hands feverishly swiped the attackers away and hysterically she began to climb up the embankment onto the road. Her hands and legs were bleeding from bites and punctures from the thorny briars. She was deathly afraid of snakes but her screams could not be hear down the lonely road that lead to no where. She knew she had to get home or she would die from all the poisonous venom rushing through her body. Without thinking, she began to run as fast as she could toward her house. She was not aware that running only hastened the flow of the venom through her blood stream and caused even more damage.
By the time she reached her house her leg and foot had swollen terribly. Her arm that was bitten was causing terrible pain as were the countless bites from all the little vipers.
Quick thinking from the mother and quick medical attention saved Marsha’s life. However she had extensive scarring on the areas where she was bitten. She lost the use of the arm the viper had bitten and had extensive nerve damage. She survived the attacks but will never forget the white fangs hanging from her arms and legs.
If you should ever see a copperhead snake do NOT attempt to get near it. Leave it alone and it will normally go about its own business. They normally will not strike unless you get too close, touch them, or try to pick them up. Stepping on them or too close to them will cause them to defend themselves. If bitten don’t panic and run. Walk calmly and get help as soon as possible.
The copperhead is the only snake that has live babies at birth. They do not hatch from an egg like others do. They are small but still very poisonous!
The memories down Potter’s Road will always be traumatic for Marsha and any other person who steps into the areas where wild reptiles move quietly seeking food or shelter especially on lonely roads that lead to no where.
Question: What is a pit viper?
Written by Sybil Shearin
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