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High Water & Hognoses

In the summer of 1986 I was seeing glimmers of the end living as a part time college student paying a lot of money for institutionalized learning opportunities to finally transition into life as a professional learning a lot of new stuff to perform work I could be earning a lot of money for doing well. It was high time for this phase change of life and I was looking forward to it. After finishing second summer session classes with high grades I traveled north a few hundred miles to visit old friends who greeted me with gusto and an invitation to float a local river flowing unusually high and swift, just shy of flood stage. I accepted the invitation, purchased a cheap air mattress meant for low-impact use in swimming pool and off we went to the salt plant to put in. It was a clear, hot day and I was eager to get into the cool water.

The first half of the float went well for everyone and we were enjoying visiting with each other as the current carried us toward town at a good pace. At a wide, long curve in the river we spread out from each other some due to varying flow rates at the bend. Then my cheap air mattress sprang a leak and I had to peel away to make for the north bank of the river where I could get out and walk to town. When I peeled off, I was near a life-long friend, Jonathan, and he cheerfully waved as I reached the reedy bank and turned to wave back. The rest of my friends were further downstream and had no clue what had happened to me.

Heading north and west at an angle, I knew I would eventually reach the railroad which I could then walk alongside all the way into town. It was hot and the sky was cloudless so I was soon parched and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Town was about one and a half miles distant when I finally found the railroad tracks and I had no drinking water with me. The walk was not going to be fun, I thought to myself, but I had walked such distances as a youngster roaming up and down the river when it was almost bone dry without needing much water, so I was pretty sure I could make it back to town okay. Then I started seeing snakes rolling over and dying before my very eyes to bake beneath blazing rays of sunlight.

Their death throes were horrid and disturbing, making me reluctant to get too near the poor things as their life-force drained away in the heat of the day. Forcing myself to take a closer look at one of them I noticed the nose of the creature was a bit different than other snakes I was familiar with. This one's nose curved up sharply at the tip. Then I remembered what kind of snake it was and picked it up. Life instantly returned to it and it writhed in my grasp, spreading a bit of stinky musk on a forearm as it pretended to try to constrict. I had never seen a live hognose snake feigning death before but I had seen a live specimen of its eastern cousin in a museum in Louisiana while helping them gather specimens for study.

Carefully placing the snake back on the ground I waited a bit to make sure it was okay but it had resumed its fakery as soon as I had put it down, so I continued on along the tracks toward town. About an hour later I was at the Ninth Street crossing when the friends who talked me into floating the river spotted me and pulled over to let me into the pickup truck.

It was touching the amount of real concern they expressed when I was in the truck and we drove back into town. They hadn't spoken with Jonathan so they began imagining the worst–that I had perished in the river by drowning, possibly snagged on a submerged barbwire fence or deadfall snag. I assured them I was fine and we went over to the local drive-in restaurant to wolf down burgers and fries. That was the last time I hung out with them. We all graduated from college and went our separate ways to pursue various careers.

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