When I would go to my Aunt Sherry’s house to spend time with my cousin Randy, we would often make the trek down the road to the local swimming hole. The Little Kanawha River and Little Spring Creek came together in a “T” about a mile down the road from his house. It was here, just beyond the bridge of Little Spring Creek that we had a small sandy beach that resided below the limbs of several trees. It was shady, cool, and slightly deep compared to much of the river. Water that reached our shoulders wasn’t common in the Little Kanawha River around where we were familiar.
So, we would head down there and wade out into the middle of the water, playing as children often do. However, each time we ventured down to that area, there was always a constant, up in the branches of a beech tree, there was a family of black snakes. The beech tree was very large, larger around than I could reach my arms, even today. It was also hollow. On top of the tree, it had been hit by lightning, so it was sheared off at a completely horizontal angle, creating a flat area at the top of the tree where the snakes curled up with each other.
As we swam below, we could look up and see the coils of the snakes drooping down over the edges of the flat area. One of them in particular was extremely large. As a kid, I remember him being at least ten feet long. However, in talking with Randy recently, he states the largest was more like six feet, but I will swear till the day I die that it was at least ten feet long and ten inches around the waist.
The interesting thing about these snakes is that we didn’t mind they were there at all. For one, they never bothered us at all. They stayed in their tree. For another, we understood that black snakes killed and ate poisonous snakes like Copper Heads and Rattlers. They also ate river rats. We knew we didn’t have to worry about those issues at our swimming hole. You might wonder how we knew how big they were if they were always in the tree.
If we sat on the sandbank long enough and quiet enough, eventually the snakes would get hot up in the tree. So, if we were fishing down there on the bank, or just hanging around, sometimes we would see a snake drop down out of the tree and splash into the water. It would bob to the surface and wind its way through the water to the base of the tree and slither up the hollow to get back to the top where it would curl up again. We could see how long they were as they swept through the water. I remember ten feet; Randy, not so much. He says six or seven.
D. Michl Lowe