Donald Lawrence, dubbed “Cottonpicker” by my father because of his frequent use of that word, was my best friend growing up. A big, brawny redhead, he was a paratrooper sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg Army Base near my hometown of Southern Pines, North Carolina, and lived with his wife and children in an apartment behind my house.
When I was twelve, thirteen and fourteen years old, we spent many late afternoon hours tinkering with his old car under a nearby magnolia tree or just fiddling around. On weekends, we hunted and fished deep in the woods of the Fort Bragg reservation. He taught me how to stalk deer and gig frogs and light a cigarette in the wind and cuss like a soldier. He always did most of the talking when we were together. “I’m da Chief and you da Indian” was his way of putting it.
Staff Sergeant Donald “Cottonpicker” Lawrence with a spike buck he killed hanging from a magnolia tree in our back yard.
He had his serious side. He did not joke about his Catholic beliefs, his 82nd Airborne Division or his wife, Nancy.
One day, shortly after the Lawrences arrived, she came out to the old tennis court where Cottonpicker and I were pitching horseshoes. She had brought out some lemonade and had bent over to pick up a napkin that had blown off a lawn chair. Her blouse fell open. The wind blew the napkin out of her reach toward us and, still bent over at the waist, she pursued it. I could not help but see her white lace bra. I stood transfixed for the few seconds she was moving toward us bent over. Turning back to the horseshoe pitching with Cottonpicker I found him staring at me, having caught me looking down his wife’s blouse. I saw the anger in his eyes. Almost-ready-to-punch-me-in-the-nose anger! He was a six foot tall paratrooper, and I was scrawny, pimple faced kid. I endured his violent gaze on me for what seemed like a long time. I stood speechless and afraid. Finally he turned on his heels and called out sharply to his wife to go into the apartment. I never moved as they left. I could hear them talking loudly in their living room and then there was quiet.
I did not go out in the back for a few days. When I did go out, Cottonpicker did not seek me out. He would come in from Bragg and go into his apartment, not coming back out while I was around. Days went by, maybe a week.
I was sitting on the side of a brick walk in the back one Saturday morning throwing small pebbles at a bush. Cottonpicker walked out of his apartment, letting the screen door slam behind him, and headed in my direction. He had a rectangular wooden box in his hand. I kept looking at his face, hoping for a smile that would tell me that he wasn’t still angry. I felt as badly over the breach in our friendship as I had ever felt about anything before in my young life. I held my breath in hopes that this contact, finally, would make things right. The whole incident had only taken a half minute. It wasn’t like I had intentionally done wrong.
Over the past weeks I had gone over a number of conciliatory speeches, changing the thrust from day to day. Once I decided to just walk up to him when he came in and ask where he’d been lately. The next day I imagined saying, “Look, I saw Nancy’s bra that’s true. Yes that is a fact… and I’m terribly sorry. But I didn’t ask her to bend over and run in my direction like that.” The next day I would think, well, why don’t I just ask him to help me fix the lawn mower and I won’t bring it up.
But, now, here he was coming toward me and I couldn’t think of anything to say! None of the speeches I had prepared seemed appropriate. He stopped halfway to where I sat. “Hey, come here,” he ordered without much enthusiasm. I dropped the remaining pebbles on the ground and walked tentatively to where he stood.
“You ever seen a mongoose?” he asked flatly. On the one hand he was talking to me again, but he wasn’t smiling. Is this the way it was going to be from here on out? Flat. Civil.
“No,” I said, having the sense that my eyes were wider than normal. I looked down to the wooden cage where he obviously had something held captive. One end had a wire enclosure with an opening hinged at the top. “Mongooses look a lot like minks,” Cottonpicker continued matter of factly, “and we had ’em up in New Hampshire. They eat rats and house cats when they can catch ’em. One of the guys in my company caught one in a rabbit box yesterday and brought it in. These are the meanest animals, pound for pound, in the world. They got jaws that can crush a man’s hand. But they’re pretty. Mean, but pretty little things.”
I wasn’t listening as close to what he had to say as how he said it. There was no sense of humor in his voice. I decided he was showing me the mongoose because it was such a rare animal, but that he was not out to patch up our friendship. Aware of him standing in front of me more than anything, I continued to look at the cage without much enthusiasm.
“Look through the wire; you can see him back in back of the box.” Probably because the contraption was so long and awkward Cottonpicker had to hold it about waist high. I bent down to look into the cage as he instructed but couldn’t see anything. Then I saw some movement. A flicker of something black.
“There was a young kid near my home town, fell into an old well where a whole covey of these things were. His family was out picking blueberries and his Mom and Pop were just a few steps away. Those mongooses were the silver-haired ones, the meanest.” Cottonpicker was also looking in the box as he spoke. As I looked closer I could see that the one in the box had light markings near his head.
“Razor sharp teeth. All of ’em. Tore that boy up. Ripped him apart. It was just awful. Father got there first and grabbed one of them mongooses. Mongoose turned on him and nearly bit his hand off. The boy was screaming, the father screaming.” He stopped talking as the cage started to shake as if the animal was getting agitated.
“Watch the opening, now.”
My gaze shifted to the top of the screen but quickly back to the back because the animal started to come out. As Cottonpicker brought the box up to get a better look he swung the screen closer to my face. I could see the mongoose’s head.
It suddenly lunged out into the screened area then up to the top of the opening…. And the door flew open. The mongoose sprang out toward my nose.
I fell back screaming.
Lying on my back I looked up at Cottonpicker holding the cage. Laughing, squealing.
“You dumb Cottonpicker,” he said, squealing with laughter.
He had built the cage so he could stick his hand under the back and into a black sock. I took this to be the mongoose. Cottonpicker stood there rocking back on his heels with his hand still in the sock sticking out of the hinged door on top of the screen.
I fell back flat on the ground and laughed. Mighty good to have my friend back.
The incident with Nancy was never mentioned. But the implications were not lost on me. I avoided ever being alone with her and never, ever looked below her chin again.
The first winter Cottonpicker did not join my father and I when we went rabbit hunting, preferring to go out by himself to the Fort Bragg reservation and stalk deer. He would go to Lake MacArthur and Sicily drop zone, thirty minutes from the house, and sit near some of the thickets waiting for the deer to come from down wind. Like us, he’d go out about dawn but rather than come back about noon he’d stay all day. Sitting. Waiting. He claimed that he was getting to know the lay of the land and even if he didn’t bag a deer, he was learning their habits. They were different here, he claimed, from the deer in New Hampshire. Their patterns were different. “If you’re going to hunt ‘um successfully,” he’d say, ” you got to know what they do out there. You got to think like a North Carolina deer.”
So I asked this man of the woods, my Indian chief, “How does a North Carolina deer think?”
“Slowly, and he’ll scratch his butt too as he’s conjugating.”
“Lie? Lie? I can’t lie. I’m from New Hampshire.”
“Yea…. Well… what does “conjugating” mean anyway?”
By late that first winter Cottonpicker had scouted the area around Lake MacArthur especially well and had found that the lake was full of frogs.
“There are dinosaur frogs there.” He said. “Monster frogs. I was going to sit down on a stump near the lake last Saturday and as I turned around and started to sit down, it hopped away. Yea, the stump. The stump! It was a cottonpickin’ frog. It went ‘grump, grump’ as it went into the lake and it puts fear in ‘ma heart. It could have been an attack frog for all I know.”
“You ever eat frog legs?” he went on. “Taste like chicken. Taste like snake a little, but more like chicken. When it gets warm we’re going out frog gigging, boy. Giggy, giggy, giggy. You just wait.”
We talked about the finer points of frog gigging as Cottonpicker understood them for hours thereafter. The first warm Saturday afternoon in the spring of my freshman year of high school Cottonpicker and I drove out to Lake MacArthur to reconnoiter for our first inaugural frog hunt. Four fishing boats were pulled up near a picnic area and chained to a tree. The lake, about the size of four city blocks, was lined with weeds and pussy willows. Lilly- pads covered most of the far side. The lake had been enlarged sometime recently and the water was up surrounding several old rotting trees to our right. Near these trees some fallen limbs lay half submerged. It was quiet as we walked up and stood by the fishing boats. Occasionally a car would be heard in the distance and then, as we stood there, a big bullfrog grumped off to our right.
Cottonpicker jumped and landed in a crouch. “Hey, you hear the size of that’un? Huh? Ten pounds. That sucker is ten cottonpicking pounds. Let’s try and find him. We get ten of ‘um, that’s a hundred damn pounds of frog.”
Cottonpicker took the lead and we walked hunched over into the thicket by the lake. Getting as close to where the sound came from as we could without getting our shoes wet, we peered into the weeds. Across the lake another frog grumped. Then one off to the south. We continued looking into the weeds. Nothing.
My back got tired of leaning over and as I straighten up Cottonpicker gave out a “Grump, Grump, Grump. Where the fucking hell are you, sucker? Grump, Grump, Grump.”
As we started back to the picnic area, the frog sounded off.
“Holy God,” Cottonpicker said as he whirled around throwing a stick towards the sound. “Did you see it, Jimmy? Just had its head up out of the water. A good half-foot distance between the eyes. That might have been a twenty-pound frog. Ever heard of a twenty-pound frog? You just near `bout seen one. And I got it figured out why too. See the army is trying to make this a fishing area. It’s been in the paper at Fort Bragg. They’ve enlarged the lake and they’re putting fertilizer in the water to feed the fish but, you see, the frogs are eating it and they’re growing up to a giant size. That’s the only explanation. Wonder if the people feeding the fish know what they’re doing? Jimmy, we are going to get ourselves some frog legs t’night that are gonna be world records. We’re going to bring back that hundred pounds of frog legs. Nobody I know of has ever frog gigged out here. Nobody knows how big these suckers actually are, boy. We’re gonna make the papers. Hell, we gonna make history.”
On the way home we stopped off at the post ranger’s house to inquire about the keys to the fishing boats at Lake MacArthur.
“You can pick up the key now if you want to sign for it. You got your I.D., Sergeant Lawrence? Got your fishing license?”
“Well, we weren’t actually going fishing,” Cottonpicker said as he began following the ranger on to the front porch of his house.
“Why do you want the keys to the fishing boats then?” the ranger asked as he stopped and turned to face first Cottonpicker and then me. He looked at me suspiciously.
“We’re going frog gigging tonight. Anybody much do that?”
“Nope, not so far this spring. Last year maybe, but no, I think some guys were talking about it but I don’t recall they ever did. You don’t have to have a license I don’t reckon to go frog gigging but you better not let me catch you with fishing gear or any nets in the boat. I might come out there tonight and I guarantee you, you won’t see me first. Watch yourselves.”
“By the way,” Cottonpicker said, “We was wondering if you stock that pond or still feed the fish like was in the papers, not that we going to fish you understand. But do you still put something in the water for the fish to eat.”
“Yea, fish meal. State fish and wildlife people and the Base rangers got grants for enhancement programs. Salt licks for deer and protein meal for the fish.”
The ranger turned and continued to walk towards the porch. Cottonpicker turned to me and gave me an exaggerated wink.
Later in the car I asked him why he didn’t tell the ranger that he suspected the frogs were eating the fish meal.
“Hell, it’s our secret boy. These good finds don’t come along every day, you know. If everyone knew that these frogs were as big as they are out in that ol’ lake they’d all come out here and get’em. The place would be crowded. Frog legs are good eatin’. And it don’t cost you nothin’ to go huntin’ but your initial investment of gigs and stuff. Just gigs, that’s all you need. And a good flashlight. And a sack. That’s all the cottonpickin’ hell y’need.”
We stopped off at the hardware store and bought four gigs. They came without handles. I started to get a selection of sizes but Cottonpicker reminded me of the twenty pounder he had almost seen that afternoon so we picked four of the largest size. In checking out at the counter, Cottonpicker asked the clerk, as he smiled at me, if by chance the hardware store had any harpoons. He looked at some 2 by 4 boards as we were leaving saying that having something like that might be good to knock the frogs senseless when we got them in the boat.
That evening we assembled our gear. We had fashioned the gigs to bamboo poles. Cottonpicker’s poles were longer than mine. We had two old burlap sacks. The extra one was to hold the frogs in case we were more than moderately successful. We had two hand-held spotlights, two paddles, knives, insect repellent, cigarettes and matches. We wore old clothes and tennis shoes. Cottonpicker had some camouflage sticks which we would rub on our faces.
Daddy did not believe the story about the twenty pound frog but he agreed with Cottonpicker’s logic that the frogs possibly were unusually large due their fish meal diet. He wished us well in our hunt, but he never stopped smiling.
“There’s a man that never ate his fill of finger-lickin’-good frog legs,” Cottonpicker later said of Dad’s attitude.
On the way out to the lake Cottonpicker and I went over our strategy in hushed tones. I would be in the front with the best spotlight and one of the sacks. Cottonpicker would be in the back of the boat with the gigs. He would paddle along the shore and I would shine the light into the weeds searching for frogs. Once we got one captured in the light Cottonpicker would paddle in slowly, quietly and take up one of the gigs. He’d stand when we were within thrusting distance and gig the frog. I’d keep the light on the action but would be responsible for the sack when Cottonpicker brought the frog on board at the end of the gig. I had brought along a small rope to tie the top of the sack after we got frogs inside.
The moon was full when we arrived at the lake about ten p.m. As soon as Cottonpicker switched off the lights and we got out of the car we heard a symphony of Lake MacArthur frogs. There must have been a hundred all around the lake; their loud, throaty “grumps” carried across the water. It was a beautiful sound of nature on a moon lit night.
We stood listening, smiling, anticipating high adventure. It was our secret place this lake in the middle of the woods, our secret mother lode of giant frogs. We carried everything to the boat and cast off. We went first to the area where we had almost seen the large frog earlier in the afternoon. Cottonpicker slid his paddle silently into the water as we moved slowly along the bank. The frogs fell silent as our boat approached. I moved the light back and forth along the bank searching for the outline of a frog or the reflection from the frog’s eyes. Nothing. I saw circles in the water made by some frogs as they submerged when we approached. We moved by the area where we’d been during the afternoon. After we passed we heard a loud “grump” from behind us.
“That’s him! That’s him! He’s mocking us. That’s a frog laugh. I can tell. Let’s go back.” Cottonpicker said all this quickly. But as he began to turn the boat around, we heard another “grump” ahead. This one was, indeed, the loudest, yet – a low rumbling “gruuuuuummmp.”
“Holy m’god. OOOOOHHHH. That’s the granddaddy of `em all. Up ahead.” And we continued on towards the dead trees in the southern part of the lake. The trees looked eerie in the moonlight.
I was searching a group of branches that were partly submerged in the lake when the light fell on a branch floating free of the others. Smooth when I first looked at it, the branch took on an unusual shape.
“Woops” Cottonpicker’s voice was a little high pitched. “That’s a snake.”
My light had now reached the snake’s pointed head and I imagined it was not amused. It slithered quietly away leaving behind a wake of ripples. For the first time I had a strange sense of danger. Frogs and fish were not the only things in the lake this summer night.
“Did you see the size of that fucker?” I asked Cottonpicker who was sitting silently in the back.
“You know m’boy, I think snakes are eatin’ that fish meal too. You know what I mean?”
A short distance further my light fell on another snake lying on a log.
“Let’s get him” Cottonpicker said.
“What?” I cried. “Are you crazy? What do you mean, get him?”
“Let’s gig him.”
“You are out of your cottonpicking mind. What do you want a snake for? I don’t want a snake. What are you going to do with a snake? Look how big he is?” Cottonpicker is not listening to me. He is for all the world paddling close to the snake. I continue to hold the light on the snake’s head. The flashlight beam becomes smaller as we move closer.
“All right, hold it. Hold it. Let’s think this thing through. What are you doing to do after you gig it? Huh?” I continued.
“Put it in the boat.”
“What’cha going to do with it in the boat? You ain’t going to put it in no sack I’m holding.”
“You’re going to hold the sack.”
“No siree bob, I ain’t.” I am as serious as a thirteen-year old can be who was facing the prospects of intimate contact with a five-foot long, poisonous water moccasin at night on the edge of a lake in the middle o’ nowhere.”
“O.K., you gig him and I’ll hold the sack.” Cottonpicker says.
“You’re fucking crazy. Why do we want the snake?” My voice is stressed, but low. My words forced out towards Cottonpicker.
The boat is now within six feet of the log. The snake does not move.
“Cause it’s there. It’s game and we’re huntin’. Snake meat’s good.”
“Hell, you’d think grass soup would be good.”
“Here take the long gig. I’ll get the other flashlight on him.”
I took the gig and laid down my light. Cottonpicker reached out from the boat and grabbed one of the tree stumps, pushing the boat around so that I have a clean shot at the snake.
“Jesus Christ. Where do I get him? In the head?”
“Naw, you might miss him. Get him in the middle.”
“Oh shit,” I said as I pulled back the gig handle, aimed and thrust it forward. The head of the gig impaled the snake, plus the log. The snake wrapped both ends of its body around the handle, caused me to move my hands up to the very end. The snake thrashed around.
“Get him off, Get him on,” Cottonpicker yelled.
“Get him off, Get him on. What do you want?”
“Get him in the boat.”
“I can’t. The gig’s stuck in the log.”
“Well get it unstuck.”
“It’s stuck good.”
“Here, let me do it”, Cottonpicker said as he moved the boat forward, taking the gig from me. He handed me his light and took a two-hand hold on the gig handle. He yanked back and the gig with the snake comes free of the log. The momentum carried the Cottonpicker back and as he caught himself before falling overboard he swung the gig around to bring the snake aboard. This brought the snake in my direction. The snake was still thrashing around and about the time it came inside the boat it wrestled off the end of the gig. This happened within inches of my face. The snake landed at my feet.
I jumped out of the boat.
Cottonpicker, recovering his balance, moved towards the center of the boat, in the direction, it turned out, the snake was also heading.
Cottonpicker jumped into the lake.
The water, fortunately, was only waist deep. We were on either side of the boat, standing some distance away.
“Well, this was a very good idea on someone’s part.” I said.
“Oh quit complainin’. You don’t hear me complainin’ do you?” he responded. “Now we got to figure a way to deal with that snake in our boat.”
“I got it figured that snake is mad. He wants the boat. Why don’t we let him have it?” I paused. “What happens say the snake doesn’t want to stay in the boat? Say he wants to get in the water again. What happens to you and me?”
“Oh shut up. You want something to worry about, think about the other snakes around here in the water already.”
I look around surprised, wide-eyed. Cottonpicker is edging towards the boat again. He picks up a stick and pushes one side of the boat down. The snake is coiled up in the bottom.
“It’s O.K.” Cottonpicker says.
“No it’s not O.K.,” I said. “I’m in the water with all these snakes and there’s another snake in the boat.”
Cottonpicker picks up one of the gigs and makes a light jab at the snake. The snake strikes it. He opens up the fish box in the middle of the boat by sticking the gig under the wooden lid. I pick up another gig and Cottonpicker and I, using our gigs like giant chop sticks, are able to get the snake in the fish box and close the lid.
“Da dum-m-m.” Cottonpicker says and we scramble back into the boat. Dripping wet, we smoke one of the cigarettes that didn’t get soaked. We went on with our hunt but continued to run into snakes, possibly a half-dozen within the next hour. We had a shot at one frog but he was fast and leaped well clear of the gig. We returned to the picnic area around midnight with only the snake in the fish box to show for our efforts. It was more dead than alive and offered little resistance when we transferred it to the sack.
“You did what?” my father says loudly the next morning. “Why did you want to gig a snake? I thought you went after frogs for God’s sake.”
Cottonpicker was having trouble with this. I interjected. “It was my idea. He told me not to but I did it anyway.”
Later Cottonpicker told me, “What I got figured out here is that we got to get pass the snakes to get to the frogs. Got to take’um out. They are part of the frog front line home security force. Nearly got a good plan in mind. I’ll let you know when the Cottonpicker, the king of the woods, is ready. We will not be defeated by some lousy snakes. Those monster frog legs are as good as in the freezer now. It’s just a matter of time.”
What he devised was a bamboo pole in which he had knocked out the inter sections and run a wire down the middle, doubling it back through so that he had a loop at one end. On the other end he tied the two loose pieces of wire to a cut off section of a broom handle.
“Now you see,” he explained to me the following week, “we paddle up to the snakes and still a safe way away you just extend this `Cottonpicker’s catcher’ like this, with the loop out front, and you just put it over the snake’s head like this,” For the sake of his demonstration he was using a lug wrench stuck in the ground as a snake. “And then you pull back on the handle on the other end, like this, and da – dum-m-m, we catch ourselves a cottonpickin’ snake.” Cottonpicker exaggerates a nonchalant attitude in lifting the wrench out of the ground. He turns the catcher my direction and drops the wrench at my feet.
“Now you would have the sack and, da-dum, as clean and as safe as can be we got the snake all…….”
“I would not be the one holding the sack. Do not think of me as the person with the sack. I will not get in the boat with you if you ever, ever again mention that I will hold the sack. I will not hold the sack. Do you hear me? I will not hold the sack.”
“Then you will grab the snake.”
“Why do we have to, I mean, have to grab the snakes? What are we going to do with them?”
“I don’t know yet. Maybe kill them and skin’um for their hides or their meat. But don’t you see we got to get the snakes out of the way to get to the frogs. I’m the one that sees this because I’m the brains of this outfit.”
“O.K. If I’m grabbing the snakes I want a longer bamboo pole. The one you got is five-feet long. Mister Snake from last week was five feet long. I don’t want to have any chance contact with my victims. As I have said before, they do not like this and snakes have their own special ways of showing they don’t like it. I will grab the snakes if we get a longer pole. O.K.?”
We got a ten foot pole, ran wire down the middle and back, forming a loop about the size of a hubcap. We used the same piece of broom handle on the end and spent several afternoons practicing on the lug wrench. The following Saturday night we went back out to Lake MacArthur and back to the south side of the lake by the partly submerged branches. Unlike our previous outing, the moon was not out. It was dark and rain started falling as we approached the branches. The frogs were not as loud, maybe because of the rain, maybe because they sensed we were after snakes this time, maybe because they couldn’t figure out that pole.
In the boat, the ten foot pole was harder to control than on land. I found the easiest way to carry it was holding it straight up and it was in that position when I spotted the first snake moving out of the branches away from the boat.
“There goes one,” Cottonpicker said as he turned the boat to follow.
I put down the flashlight and brought the pole level with the water trying to get the loop end out close to the snake.
Only without the flashlight I couldn’t see to the end of the ten-foot pole. I could still make out the ripple of the snake as it swam off the bow of the boat, but I couldn’t find its head. As it turned out Cottonpicker was overtaking the snake so I had to shorten up on the pole, finally holding it mid-way, extending it five feet down close to where the snake was. Cottonpicker turned on his flashlight and my loop happened to be poised near the snake’s head. I dropped it over the snake’s head.
However, the broom handle holding the wires that would tighten the loop was on the end of the pole five feet up in the air. I pushed the pole away and moved my grip to the end to grab the broom handle and yanked it back.
The snake had long since evaded my loop and disappeared in the night.
“I’ve got to have a long pole. I don’t want to get close to those ol’ nasty snakes. Need a pole about ten feet long. Well you see how good it works, the ten foot pole?” Cottonpicker is sitting back in the boat digging me for less than an artistic effort against the first snake of the night.
Within ten minutes we spotted another snake on a log and made our way quietly up near it. I had my flashlight on it. It appears longer than I was tall. Cottonpicker stopped paddling and turned his flashlight on. I pick up the catcher and slowly positioned the loop near the snake’s head.
“O.K. my boy,” Cottonpicker was saying, “when I say go, you drop that sucker on that fucker’s head and pull. Ready. Go!”
It worked beautifully. We had a six-foot water moccasin on the end of the pole, and though I was running the risk of beheading the snake because I was holding back on the broom handle so hard, that snake was not going to get away.
“Get the sack,” I said to Cottonpicker as I began to swing the snake around towards the boat. As I started to do this it became obvious that I was going to have some problems because the fishing boat was little more than eight-feet long, two feet shorter than the pole. Plus, I was pulling the wire back with the broom handle, extending the total length to eleven feet or more. Even if I stood at the very front and Cottonpicker held the sack at the very end, the snake would still be well out over the back.
The snake was wrapping itself around the pole.
“O.K.,” said Cottonpicker, “I got the sack. Don’t you let that snake go until I tell you to, got it? O.K., now bring the pole back in toward me.”
“What do you mean you `can’t'?”
“I mean that I’m at the very front of the boat pulling back on the broom handle and if I bring the pole back any more towards you I have to step off into the water. And I don’t want to do that again.”
“Well, Mr. `I’ve-got-to-have-a-ten-foot-pole man’, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to let the snake go.”
“No you’re not.”
“O.K., what are your suggestions?’
“Bring the pole into me as much as you can.”
I tried to do this but, unfortunately, I loosened my grip on the broom handle and the snake got his head out of the loop. We did not know this right away because the snake was still wrapped around the pole and it was dark. Cottonpicker was the first to find out that things had changed when he notices that the snake appears to be getting longer.
“Ah, Jimmy, is that snake’s head still in the loop?”
“I can’t see. Let me hold the pole up.”
This brought the snake on the pole over the boat. He dropped off, landing in the middle.
Cottonpicker and I jumped out.
“Jesus Christ!” I said disgustedly as I stood in the waist high water again.
“He’s coming out of the boat your way,” Cottonpicker warned.
“WHAT?” I said as I saw the snake slither over the side of the boat near the bow hitting the water six feet from where I stood.
“OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD. COTTONPICKER!” I was thrashing the water, yelling, trying to run in place in a frenzied effort to dissuade the snake from coming in my direction. “COTTONPICKER!”
“It’s O.K., Jimmy, he’s gone,” Cottonpicker says from the boat.
“What am I doing in the water? Why am I trying to kill myself? Why are we out here trying to catch snakes, Cottonpicker? Makes no sense.”
“Get in the boat. The problem here is that you had to have a ten-foot pole and we got a’ eight-foot boat. That’s the problem.” He helped me in the boat. “Now, I’ll use the pole for the rest of the evening and you paddle.”
“No, No, No, NO. ‘Cause I know that means I’ve got to hold the sack and I told you I ain’t holding no sack.”
We compromised by finishing the night gigging for frogs. We got one, and as Cottonpicker pointed out that was a thousand percent increase over the previous week and a lot more than most other people in North Carolina got that night.
We made several other trips to Lake MacArthur over the spring trying a variety of tactics to gig frogs, all without success. For all of our efforts we got a half dozen frogs during the summer, the largest weighed a little more than three quarters of a pound.
As Cottonpicker suggested, in the final “conjugation” it was a God-test, modern Man against the ancient Frog.
And the frog won.