Wednesday, October 02, 2013

dead and lovely

Once, years ago, I was driving out on the Old Bingham Highway, the road that leads to the largest open pit mine in the northern hemisphere. I came to a stretch of construction. A bearded man in an orange vinyl vest, digging with a road crew, had set aside his blade and was carrying a long, angry gopher snake across both lanes of traffic to place her gently in the grass on the other side. Like a Buddhist pilgrim, carrying dung beetles across the path.

I say “gopher snake,” but I could say “bull snake” or “blow snake,” as they’re also sometimes ambiguously called here.

Most of the time when I see snakes, it’s when I’m out running on the dirt roads and trails around town. And most of these are dead. Road kill, or rattlesnakes shot through by a .22, the rattle torn off and the rest of the body left on the roadside. Some of these are still pretty gorgeous. “Dead and lovely,” as Tom Waits puts it. But I’ve never really had the nerve to wrap one around my arm and run it the 5 or 10 miles home.

Except for a couple weeks ago. This time I’d taken the stroller with Tom in it. (He’s way too big for this, but I thought it would be a good way to get him out a little ways before breakfast, without him getting hungry and mean.) On the way home from looking at rocks and bones and stuff, we came across a beautiful, dead gopher snake, about four feet long, on the side of the road, put it next to him in the stroller, and took it home.

Searching the internet for instructions on skinning a snake will take you to all kinds of exotic places. From the typical,, and wiki.answers-type sites, to buddy-buddy hunting and taxidermy forums, youtube videos, self-consciously reverential photo essays, and weird masculine-survivalist message boards.

Here are some of the things I gathered from these:
  • There is, as they say, more than one way.
  • Rattlesnakes tend to be easier to skin than constrictor snakes, like gopher snakes.
  • People use all kinds of stuff to tan or soften snake skins. Things like neatsfoot oil, salt, antifreeze, or a 50-50 mixture of alcohol & glycerin, which is what we used.
  • People also still make some pretty sloppy youtube videos.
These are actually the underside of the skin. When I first skinned, cleaned, and pinned it, the color was a kind of opaque white, but now the scale pattern shows right through. I also thought about looking at snake recipes, but it had probably been out on the road a little too long for that, so we buried the rest in the yard. I’m not including any photos here of the skinned snake. (You’re welcome.)

I’m still trying to decide what to do with the skin. I actually do need a new belt soon, but I don’t know if I’m the kind of guy who could get away with that, and I don’t love the idea of just gluing this to a strip of leather. So I’m open to suggestions. I guess Halloween is coming up.

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