Something that I have truly enjoyed (over these many years) with the Grundy County Conservation Department was presenting educational programs. Over the past 32 years, I have had the opportunity to share information at so many area civic clubs, libraries, care facilities and school classes. So I went back to the files and randomly pulled monthly reports from various years and then did some math based on that. Not the most accurate statistical method, but being pretty conservative I still came up with around 1,200. Wow.
While there have been so many different topics over that period of time, one of the most popular has been snakes. I will admit that I can think of a few groups that weren't all that excited when I announced at the beginning of the program that I was talking about snakes. But the lion's share of people old and young alike - find snakes interesting if not flat out fascinating. Often, during the course of the question and answer period I would get the question. "How long can snakes live?"
So with that said, I need to report that the bullsnake that I have paraded around Grundy County, adjoining counties, and even farther around the state passed away last week. We had noticed a lump developing in his body about two-thirds back, or so. Museum visitors would comment that he must have just eaten. I knew it was only a matter of time.
Please indulge me a bit as I spend a column remembering the snake. You see, you could say that the snake was a part of the Grundy County Conservation Board staff for a pretty incredible amount of time. I have loved snakes for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to have grown up in an area where there were a number of bullsnakes. Before my folks purchased our farm from my aunt, we lived at the farmstead. The pasture that surrounded the building site at that time was untouched and overgrown, having not seen grazing for several years. It was eighty acres of prime bullsnake habitat. I have many not so pleasant memories of my mother carrying a hoe along with her to the clothesline because it was not uncommon to encounter a six foot or longer bullsnake in the yard. And I don't need to tell you what she did with the hoe when she met up with one of them. I remember watching bullsnakes on more than one occasion crawling around up in the branches of the big Silver Maple trees in that yard, too. Undoubtedly, they were in pursuit of bird eggs, nestlings, or baby squirrels to name just a few of the prey species inhabiting those huge old hollow trees.
So fast forward to 1989, when I decided that I wanted a snake for use in programming. I needed one for programming because I was undertaking a personal mission to educate people. I had always loved snakes so I reasoned that everyone else should/could too.
On my next visit back to the farm, I went on a snake hunting safari. This was a well-grazed pasture for the most part by that time. It really makes snake hunting easier that way. I wandered down into pasture toward a piece of corrugated tin that had blown off of the cattle shed. There beneath it was my bullsnake. I gathered him up and the rest is history. Now he is history.
As I said earlier, over the years, folks would ask me how long bullsnakes could live. I would answer we'll see. I would explain that in the wild, he would have been long gone by this time. He would have made a good meal for a hungry hawk, coyote, or badger, or quite possibly he could have met a different fate - roadkill or hoe-kill.
But this guy had a different life. Estimating that he was at least four years old when we met, that made him twenty-six years old or older. Over the course of that time I fed him countless mice. All I asked in return was that he travel around with me (in a Barney the Dinosaur pillowcase) and educate folks. He did his job well. This spring, I intend to go on another bullsnake safari. Much of the pasture has been turned into crop fields now, however. But don't worry. There is a young kingsnake in the cage adjacent to the empty bullsnake home. I think he'll be called into service.