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Column: Wary of snakes, gators and crocs? You're not alone

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WORTHINGTON -- It seems to me there are too many crocodiles and alligators and snakes on television and in the newspapers and magazines. I would complain about this if television had snakes on only a single show after 11 p.m. on Wednesdays. I don't like those creatures. Actually, they are showing up much more than once a week and before 11 p.m.

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There is one show that, mostly, is about nothing but alligators. Or crocodiles. I don't know the differences because I never pay attention when people talk about them. I turn away.

The only time I ever talked about them was -- oh, 30 years ago. That was when people were saying, "See you later, Alligator. After while, Crocodile." I thought that was funny. People now say only croc or gator. "See you later, Gator. After while, Croc." Not as funny.

You already guessed I don't watch the crocigator show on television. It appears many people do watch, however. Millions of people. The show keeps running, as successful shows do.

Not long ago I turned to Piers Morgan one evening to see if he was talking to someone interesting. He was talking to a zookeeper who showed off coiling snakes. I turned to a 1930 movie on TCM.

National Geographic magazine also had more than a dozen pages on snakes lately. If you drink a cup of snake venom at breakfast, you will never get measles. Something like that. I didn't read the article.

It once was Minnesota's boast that there are no poisonous snakes inside Minnesota's borders. Nor crocodiles. Nor alligators. I like it that way, and I still repeat that boast. Minnesota has garter snakes, that sort of creature. Garter snakes don't sink fangs and they are not poisonous (many people say). I have seen dozens of garter snakes all rolled up in one great ball moving across some grass near a shore of Lake Ocheda. That was an ugly sight.

"You afraid of snakes?" someone asked.

I don't know. I get a bit of a chill when I see one. I don't like sleek creatures that slither and have their tongues out.

I know; dogs often have their tongues out. That's different.

I liked snake dances. I liked it when we all held hands and wove through neighborhoods single-file around trees and between houses. But that's different, too.

There was a huge snake with a circus that came to Worthington maybe 30 years ago. It was said to be the largest snake in captivity, or the only snake that sang, "You Are My Sunshine," or the only snake that wore a hat. I didn't pay attention. I only gave the creature a quick glance.

I was asked if I liked plants that stick people. Well -- I can take those or leave them alone. Some visitors are surprised to see cactus growing at Blue Mounds State Park. Prickly pear cactus. That's why you should wear shoes if you plan to hike in Blue Mounds.

There also are a lot of thistles on the Ocheyedan Mound. Wear shoes if you are planning to climb the Mound. You will regret pressing a bare foot into a thistle.

Charlie Scott used to tell the story of The Alligator in Lake Okabena. July 4, 1927. There was a thriving hobo jungle between Lake Okabena's south shore and the railroad tracks. A pair of carnies came there with two young alligators in a pasteboard box. No one ever learned why.

There was a downpour in the night. When the pair from the carnival checked, the pasteboard carton was soaked and the alligators were gone. One was found quickly in some grass. The second had apparently slipped into the lake.

By chance, Charlie's brother DeLoss, park custodian, discovered the creature in some cool mud beneath the municipal boat house. The Scott brothers dropped chicken wire fencing over the gator. It leaped away.

Later the gator reappeared, sticking its snout through a boat house grating. The Scott brothers grabbed the snout and held tight. A boy volunteered to dip under water and grab the slipperly, squirming body.

The boy's name was never learned. He was last heard asking, "Can I keep it? Can I keep it?"

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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