Creative Nonfiction by Kaitlyn Crow
Tromping around together in the creek, Granddad told me stories about cottonmouths and water moccasins. Twice a year, he drove in from Ravenswood with something new – retellings of “The Seven Wives of Blue Beard;” news clippings featuring bears eating out of suburban trashcans – but snakes came up every time I could coax him out to play in the mud with me.
Well, hold on, you have to be careful, now. The water viper’ll getcha when you stop watching your feet.
I didn’t learn until much later that the chance of seeing a venomous snake in the water behind my home in Northern Virginia was slim to none to not at all. Granddad said to watch out, and so I kept my eyes peeled while I stomped around in Mom’s rain boots – black with white polka dots, two sizes too big, cutting into the skin right below my knees.
We finally saw a snake curled down by the rocks where the water flowed under West Ox Road. Sunlit, it slept, unaware of our analysis, our wondering aloud – is that really a cottonmouth? Granddad insisted on it.
He’s got all the markings of one. Look at his head.
Years later, my friends and I spent afternoons down at the swimming hole, a mile or so from where my Granddad and I used to skip rocks. Someone in an adjacent neighborhood tossed a rope around a high branch and tied a plank at the end of it. We went swinging there until the sun started to set. Summer came. One afternoon, walking along the creek bed, we stopped in our tracks – there he was.
You just have to know what to look for. The cottonmouths, see, they have a wide head and a short, thick tail. They’re real big, meaty things. They hide in the rocks, and they swim and slither on land. They could be anywhere.
He was a knot of dark ropes, sunlit on a big rock in the middle of the creek. I stood still and stared, thinking about what Granddad told me about the water viper. He stared back.
When they’re coiling, making themselves all big like that, you have to back away.
In that moment, I caught a flash, felt the cracking, the log breaking beneath us. Granddad catching me before the hem of my dress hit the water, his country club khakis muddied. His laughter.
Darlin’, it’s a good thing you didn’t fall in the crick – you never know what hangs out in these waters.