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Never Met a Stranger: Critters of the Deep South

By T.W. Burger

In all the years that I have lived outside of the South, I have remained amused by what the natives of the North like to refer to as Wild Animals. 

Let me explain: 

There are plenty of dangerous animals in the northern climes, both inside and outside of Walmart: I did not mean to give the impression that the wild areas of the North were populated by the creatures of Walt Disney.  

It is true that, in the wild and woolly places that remain in the feral areas that border the industrialized and asphalted landscape of the North, there are beasts that will flat mess you up. 

There are coyotes and wild dogs and the occasional wolf; you do not even have to go outside of town to find poisonous snakes, though happily the Yankee winters persuade those varmints to tuck themselves away for the cold months. Even with climate change, there are plenty of those. 

In the days when I was still going to Sunday School and believed that the world’s wild beasts were made by somebody, I had to puzzle out why the wild things down in the Deep South where I was raised seemed, somehow, more beastly. 

My primitive theology led me to the conclusion that the Creator, while He was busy filling the wilderness below what would someday be the Mason-Dixon Line, was either (A) hung over, (B) had not yet had his coffee, or (C) both. 

While my further education in Biology has disabused me of a few notions, my imaginative explanations made a certain amount of sense. 

Take snapping turtles, for example. 

Even the ordinary snapping turtle that populates the United States up into New England can made one wonder what The Creator, if he existed, was thinking when he pieced that ugly so-and-so together out of mud, hisses and bad attitude. 

The last encounter I had with one was in the middle of a two-lane road in Maine. He was in the middle of the road, threatening passers-by and using all sorts of bad language. He as about the size of a cast-iron Dutch Oven, though not as handsome. I had been trained by a wildlife expert in how to move snappers, so I did, and deposited him in the woods by the side of the road. 

He turned around and started straight for me, saying the nastiest things. We had a long discussion while I fended him off with a tree branch. He finally turned and trudged off into the woods after I started to present him with a tutorial on the making of a decent turtle soup. 

The small crowd that had gathered to watch told me I was out of my mind for handling such a monster, and refused to believe that he really was not particularly big and was of a cheerful disposition compared to some I had known... 

Which brings me to the Alligator Snapper I met in Mississippi.  

The Alligator Snapper makes a regular snapper look like a plush toy. A fully grown adult can bite through a broomstick. They have been rumored to grow as heavy as 400 pounds, but nobody has ever really caught one that big. Under 100 pounds is more likely. 

Some fellas I knew in Mississippi caught one in a cypress swamp near Old Man River. They hauled it in to show it off in an aluminum Jon boat in the back of a pickup truck. It bit down and crimped the center seat. It also had what looked to be a .38 caliber slug imbedded in its shell. 

It ended its earthly existence as a large pot of soup.

I do not get out in the wildness much anymore. I am too old to scare off any seriously dangerous animals, and way too slow to get away.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

He has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a contributing writer for Classic City News, and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

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