I had been hearing all kinds of stories about just how vicious and mean cottonmouths can be ever since I have made my home in the South some 18 years ago. I, having been a Yankee, had my doubts about the authenticity of those claims. I had had my own encounters with copperheads and timber rattlers, and they weren’t half as vicious as the cottonmouth stories I’d heard.
I now believe every story I hear about cottonmouths, even about them jumping down from trees into the boats of innocent and well-meaning fishermen and causing havoc.
Fifteen years ago I was down in Wacissa, Florida, picking up branches from my mother-in-law's pecan trees.
Wacissa, some 20 miles southeast of Tallahassee, was ideal cottonmouth country. It was desolate, like what I pictured bayou country to be like, mainly unsettled and other critters, like rattlesnakes and gators loved it.
I was being very careful on this particular day, as I had encountered many a cottonmouth in the last year or so while doing my chores.
It was early in the morning. The dew was still on the large lawn I had mowed the day before, and the tall grass bordering the lawn was wet.
I had just picked up a small pile of twigs from near that high grass, when I observed about a foot of a snake's seemingly thin head and neck, scoping from the brush.
I figured it was another cottonmouth so I ran and retrieved a half a cinder block I had used to kill one the day before.
I returned to the scene, and from a distance of about 8 feet, I heaved that block with all I had at the snake. I missed. Instantly, that snake (all 4½ feet of it), charged out of the grass, lickety-split, right at me. I could not believe it. I jumped backward, my heart pounding.
I don't remember how I retrieved that same cinder block without being bitten, but I did.
After a few seconds, the snake appeared from the brush a second time, fearless. I heaved the half cinder block with all of my might, figuring: "Ah, I've got you now, sucker."
That same cottonmouth came charging from the brush, faster and more desperately than the first time, headed right for me.
I reacted the same way as before – with disbelief and shock. It charged to within a few feet of me, then turned around a second time and crawled back into the brush.
I was so shaken I stood there a few minutes, too unraveled, heart pounding, to even share the experience with my wife, Judy, and her mother, Flo, back in the house.
I believe every bad thing I've ever heard about the cottonmouths roaming around these parts, including Aiken. My heart is pounding and the hairs on my legs are standing up right now as I am sharing this with you, readers.