A construction worker in Alabama was starting a bathroom remodeling job when he discovered a snake coiled in the toilet. He called animal-control officials who came over and caught the snake -- a venomous cottonmouth.
Sitting down on any snake would be bad enough, but plunking down on an angry cottonmouth would be a particularly unpleasant experience.
The story reminded me some close encounters of the reptilian kind over the years.
As a kid, a couple of buddies and I were wading and fishing Otter Creek on the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area one summer when we came upon on large rock outcropping along the bank. We climbed up to search for arrowheads, and as I crawled back underneath the shady, cool rock I spotted a copperhead coiled a few feet away.
I shimmied out, got a stick, crawled back, and killed the snake. Then I noticed another copperhead nearby. I dispatched it. Then I saw another. I killed it, but not before it struck several times in the confined quarters.
At that point I retreated -- it was obvious that I'd crawled into a den of venomous copperheads. Even a 10-year-old kid was smart enough to realize he'd better not press his luck.
Some claim a copperhead bite isn't too serious. Tell that to my boyhood buddy Bill Selectman, now a dentist in Crossville. As a teenager Bill was working one summer clearing ground for what became Renegade Resort. He picked up a stump and was bitten on the index finger by a copperhead that was coiled underneath.
Today, almost 50 years later, Bill still lacks the use of the nerve-damaged finger.
I came close to getting by a cottonmouth -- the most deadly of Tennessee's three venomous species -- one summer when a buddy and I prepared to go fishing on a farm pound. The john boat we planned to use was on the bank, turned upside down. I reached down to flip it over and when I raised it up a thick, charcoal-black cottonmouth was coiled underneath.
Its head was cocked back and ready to strike, and it flung open its cotton-white mouth that gives the snake its name.
I dropped the boat and jumped back. The snake retreated, slithering out the other side and into the water.
One summer I was wading a creek catching sunfish, rock-bass and an occasional smallmouth, which I put on a striker tied to my belt. I felt something tugging on it, looked down, and saw a cottonmouth latched onto my fish.
Even as I splashed out of the creek, the snake held on. It didn't let go of the fish until I was up on the bank, out of the water.
I've encountered only one rattler over the years. I was about 12 when I discovered it lying in my grandmother's driveway. I caught it -- coiling, rattling and striking -- and put it in a box.
When my dad got home from work that evening he wisely ordered me to dispatch the snake before I messed around with it and got bitten.
Nowadays it is illegal in Tennessee to capture or harm any snake of any species, although I'm told by TWRA officials that exceptions are made if a venomous snake presents an obvious danger. I assume that means if you find a cottonmouth coiled in your toilet you can take whatever measures necessary to remove it.
Clearly, the toilet's not big enough for both of you.