My affinity towards snakes began to grow while working at SUWS. It was quite common to cross paths with rattlesnakes, and it always added excitement to somewhat uneventful hikes. When I saw this snake on the path today, it reminded me of an episode that occurred during my second summer (first full summer) in North Carolina. I was the head instructor for group L, which was a group of kids I grew a particular liking for. Even though they could still be a huge pain in the ass at times, they were a lot of fun to work with. Anyways, it was SUWS protocol to kill any snakes that were found in the campsites. Most instructors were reluctant to do so, not out of fear, but out of respect for the snakes. Those instructors that could successfully identify the snakes knew only to kill the poisonous ones found in campsites. Unfortunately, I still was unsure most of the time and chose to err on the side of caution.
One afternoon, as group L and I were arriving at our campsite for the evening called "Rattlesnake," one of the kids found a snake while setting up his shelter. I was summoned to inspect the serpent, and was unsure whether or not it was poisonous. I consulted with my other instructor and tried contacting other instructors in the area on the radio to see if they could help me identify what kind of snake it was. Unfortunately, radio contact was unsuccessful so I made the decision to go ahead and kill the snake. Of course, all the kids wanted to see the operation go down. Once I directed the kids to observe from a safe distance, I pinned the snake with my "snake stick" and quickly severed the head off the snake with a shovel. I felt horrible about it, but didn't want to take any chances. The kids all seemed to enjoy the execution, but soon realized something terrible had transpired. A couple of minutes after I buried the snake away from camp, huge storm clouds gathered above us. Within, minutes, we were having the worst thunderstorm of the summer. I ordered all the kids to their shelters and had them undertake the "lightning drill." Meanwhile, hail started pummeling the camp and rivers of water were washing through from up the mountain trail. The kids were screaming, and our group tarps were blowing away. After about 20 minutes, the storm let up, and our camp was devastated. One of the kids yelled, "The snake has cursed us!!"
Later that evening we attempted to hang bear bags. While pulling the rope to lift the food off the ground, the entire tree fell over and almost crushed us. Someone exclaimed, "It's the curse of the snake!" A couple of days later, as group L and I were hiking to our next destination, one of the kids accidentally trampled a hornets nest. We found ourselves running for our lives as all of us were getting stung by wild bees in the forest. "The snake!!!" Someone screamed. Finally, as the week was coming to a close, we found ourselves camping out at "Rattlesnake" one more time for resupply. My shift was getting ready to come to a close. The kids were half joking about what the next curse would be. When I woke up Wednesday morning (my shift ended around noon on Wednesdays after 8 days in the woods,) one of my kids woke up with a terrible stomach ache. This particular kid was pretty tough so it seemed clear he was not faking it. He even refused to eat which was definitely a sign something was wrong. The kids never missed meals. I called in his symptoms to the field medic that morning and was told the medic would come out to visit later in the day. After resupply and staff change, I said goodbye to group L and was excited about my 6 days of time off and forgot about the "omen of the snake." Once my time off ended and I was reunited with group L the kids told me the terrible news. The "omen of the snake" had struck again when I was gone. The boy whose stomach was hurting the morning I left, had his appendix explode later in the day! Thankfully, he was evacuated in time and later rejoined the group a couple of weeks later when he was recovered, and later graduated from the program.