Guest Columnist

Stepping back, taking stock of snakes and jackals

A bullsnake extends its tongue out on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2014, during a hands-on event at Wickiup Hill Learning Center in Toddville, Iowa. (Justin Wan/The Gazette)
A bullsnake extends its tongue out on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2014, during a hands-on event at Wickiup Hill Learning Center in Toddville, Iowa. (Justin Wan/The Gazette)

I can easily put up with the adorable in-your-face raccoon that occasionally does his thing on the sidewalk, and I don’t mind the gentle, tawny deer that steps in to my garage to lick last winter’s road salt from the floor. (that’s correct: I don’t wash my garage floor … life’s too short for such nonsense) However, I’m a little spooked seeing that there is at least one snake living under the steps in to the house.

As an acerbic, angry old man, I am at ease confronting members of my own species, but snakes? Oh my. Snakes offer nothing but a frightening, Harry Potter-ish dread to my world, the extraordinary way they side-wind across the grass, gaining speed as they go. Last year I encountered an Eastern Milk Snake out in the hollow, maybe 18 inches long, big around as your thumb, red, black, and tan. Gorgeous and wonderfully spooky, but I fear it was only a baby. I hope to never see mama.

Out in the woods two things stop my heart, a wild turkey taking flight, and a snake moving across the ground. With a turkey you just stop and take a breath, but when the ground beneath your feet seems to move, take a step back. That may be good advice for all manner of circumstances, especially these days in America.

I wish the guy-in-chief would take a step back, catch his breath, and take a careful, empathetic look at what is happening. In fact I wish all politicians would take a step back and try to recall a time when one made decisions because they were right, decisions that helped humankind as a whole, not just their party, or their pocketbook. Thanks to our me-first culture if you are poor or otherwise disadvantaged in America you’re screwed.

The poor grow poorer and the rich grow richer, while those of us still hanging on to the middle can occasionally detect the foul odor of failure and disillusionment, and it’s not pleasant. Banks and pharmaceutical companies own our legislatures and drive the economy and all we can do is stand by, arms hanging loosely at our sides, fingers limp, helpless. If I were a politician I could likely spit out some simple, single-syllable ways I have planned to keep the jackals from your door but, alas, someone has already let the jackals in, and they’re sitting at our kitchen tables, cellular phones lighting up, looking over our bank accounts, checking our spending habits, evaluating our credit scores, and offering loans.

Out on the tractor, earplugs in place, I sing verses from Toto’s song “Africa.” You may know the tune. The first four-count measure in each phrase has the same ‘I-know-this-song’ eight-note introduction. I sing those too: bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bup-bup-buuuuu.

“Wild dogs cry out in the night, as they grow restless longing for some solitary company,” I warble in full voice, knowing there is no one to hear me, and I think about the coyotes that wander my woods, yipping and keening, singing their own songs in the night, longing for some solitary company.

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• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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