By Randall Grantham
Many years ago, when I was a young assistant public defender in Dade City, I regularly appeared before Judge Wayne Cobb. Now as you know, I’m a country boy, born and raised in Lutz, but Dade City and Judge Cobb out countried me. They were bonafide. After having worked in the big city of Jacksonville for the previous four years, I had yet to get my country legs back.
Judge Cobb is now retired and Dade City has changed some as civilization has encroached upon it, but a story I read in DiscoveryNews magazine the other day brought back memories of one particular case and a country saying that I had not heard before it was uttered by the Judge.
I was representing a guy who was charged with violating his felony probation. He had been on probation for quite some time and was supposed to do certain things as part of that sentence. He had fines and court costs to pay, community service to do, letters of apology to be written and counseling that he had to complete. Well, he had done nothing.
As I argued to Judge Cobb why my client should be given another chance or at least more time to do these various things, the judge listened patiently to me. After I was done, he looked at my client and, with a very grave tone to his voice, said, “Son, you’ve been on probation for two years now and you haven’t hit a lick at a snake”. With that he found him guilty of violating his probation and sentenced him accordingly.
I had never heard that saying, but it stuck with me. Growing up in the country, I knew all too well what he was talking about. While we loved non-poisonous snakes, and I often caught them and kept them as “pets”, you would never hesitate to kill a poisonous one. Whether by sling shot, shovel, gun or even hitting it with a stick, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths (vipers) were quickly dispatched on sight. Hitting a lick at a snake was the least you could do.
So, when I saw the article headlined “Snake Populations Mysteriously Plummet,” it caught my eye. It seems that snake populations around the world have declined in exactly the same time and in the same manner. For a change, they’re not blaming global warning on the decline but are perplexed about the cause.
As I read the piece, I learned that of 17 populations of snakes, 11 had declined drastically and the researchers were trying to piece it together. They looked at the specific populations to see if there were any common traits among the ones that were dropping and there were. Several types of vipers were dropping off around the world in a synchronous manner. Surprise, they think it might be because people are killing them.
Despite my childhood training that the only good viper is a dead viper, these animals do have a critical role to play in the food chain and should not be eradicated. They feed on pestilent rodents and nuisance critters whose populations have been know to explode when the snakes are taken out of the equation.
So, for a change, for the good of the planet, not hitting a lick at a snake is a good thing. Too bad for my client that it took so long to figure out.