I never imagined anyone would get their knickers in such a wad over a recent column I wrote, advising folks to be wary of venomous snakes when stomping around in the outdoors.
Earlier this summer an 11-year-boy was bitten by a copperhead while climbing on rocks along the Hiwassee River. He was one of 13 snakebite victims in that area.
The little boy recovered, but another snakebite victim wasn't so lucky. On July 8 a camper in a Missouri state park died of anaphylactic shock within hours of being bitten by a copperhead.
Given these incidents, and dozens of others, I thought a reminder to be careful, especially around water during the dry Dog Days of summer, was in order.
Along with the serious stuff, I included what I thought was an amusing incident about a snake being discovered in a toilet, and some personal encounters I've had with serpents while roaming the outdoors. A couple of readers considered the column neither funny nor factual, and fired off peevish missives.
(After 50 years as a newspaperman I continue to be amused by letter-writers who perhaps have never taken time to send their mom a Mother's Day card, but will compose a snippy four-page letter to a sports writer.)
The hyper herpetologists claimed I was unfair to poor Mr. No-Shoulders. They said he's really a swell, sensitive guy once you get to know him. They accused me of not being in touch with my inter-reptile.
So allow me to apologize, and to state my position as clearly as I can: the snake-huggers are welcome to pet and pamper venomous snakes if they want to. They can sing them a lullaby and invite them over for supper. I don't care.
To quote the great philosopher Forrest Gump, stupid is as stupid does.
Every adult individual has a right to coddle a rattler if they want to. But what they don't have a right to do is to cause someone else to get bitten and perhaps killed with their inane "venomous snakes-are-harmless" blather.
In February a snake-handling preacher died after being bitten by a rattlesnake. He had been warned repeatedly about the risk, but he -- like the letter-writers -- dismissed the danger.
Then there was (note past tense) Steve Irwin, the "Crocodile Hunter," who became famous by playing with dangerous critters. Irwin made catching and handling venomous snakes look simple, safe and fun -- a dangerous message to send to the general public and especially to impressionable youngsters.
Irwin, like my peeved correspondents, claimed to be an authority who knew EXACTLY what he was doing -- right up to the day that a sting ray struck and killed him. He was an expert on string rays, too.
It has been my experience that most "experts" aren't as expert as they think they are.
To suggest that venomous snakes are harmless is utter nonsense, and anyone who takes such babble seriously better stay out of snake country.
One of the enamored snake-coddlers blamed the victims, claiming a snake won't strike unless it's "provoked." But a hiker who accidentally steps on a copperhead, or a toddler who stumbles onto a coiled, hissing rattler doesn't know he's "provoking" it.
The notion that venomous snakes are gentle, harmless creatures, no different from bluebirds and butterflies is total malarkey. The difference is this: bluebirds and butterflies can't kill you.