Coral Snakes: Red Touch Yellow

Red Touch Yellow, Kill a Fellow

Monday, June 14

This story is from "Stories from the Creekbank" by Curt Iles
This story is from "Stories from the Creekbank" by Curt Iles

For the fourth time I go back to my seat in the tabernacle.  Four hundred and fifty G.A. girls sit in rapt attention as camp pastor Ronnie LaLande does a monologue on Namaan.  He is resplendent in a robe, turban, and sandals.  Bro. Ronnie has been a G.A. camp fixture for seven summers.  When he becomes a Biblical character, it is as if he really is that person.

I’m now getting situated after fixing the last minor emergency. It seems a counselor had a homesick camper and Monday night is the first official night of homesick season.  I’m hoping now I’ll get to enjoy the service and see what God is going to do in the lives of these girls.

Just as Namaan gets to the part where he is complaining about how muddy the Jordan River is compared to his crystal clear streams back in Syria, I’m tapped on the shoulder.   Turning, I see James Blankenship, our summer staff leader, motioning me outside.  I try to hide my disgust as I thread my way out.  I think to myself, “I bet it is something he could take care of without me.”

When we get outside the Tabernacle several people are gathered and James points to the flower area by the door.  There is a snake.  James relates, “I was sitting here on a tree bench when I saw it.”

And it’s not just any snake- but a coral snake.  The red, yellow, and black stripes make it easily recognizable.  I repeat the saying from my childhood,

“Red touch yellow . . .  kill a fellow

Red touch black . . .  friend of Jack.”

This snake has the red and yellow stripes touching and the distinctive black nose of the coral snake.  He is about two foot long- a good size for a coral snake.  As I look around for a stick to kill him, I remember that the coral snake has the strongest venom of any American snake.

By now the campers and counselors on the back row have turned to look out the windows wondering what is going on.  They can’t see the snake, which is below their sight line, but they know something interesting is there in the flowers.

With my new found weapon I hit the snake.  The only problem is my stick is rotten.  It breaks apart as I strike and the coral snake is now stunned and infuriated.  He instinctively heads for cover as I frantically hunt another weapon.  And here is why I’m frantic: Mr. Coral snake is burrowing furiously under the edge of the Tabernacle wall.  Before I can do anything only his tail is sticking out as he disappears under the wall.

Now I’m aware that Namaan is probably on his fifth dip in the Jordan River inside the Tabernacle.  I don’t remember any snakes in that river from the book of II Kings, but if I don’t do something quick there’s going to be one in this story, accompanied by more than four hundred screaming girls.

The counselors on the back row are very interested in our rodeo.  Recognition of what is out there registers on their face.  When I charge in the back doors to make sure the snake hasn’t come under the wall, all of them have their feet tucked under their chins up on the pew.  I’ll never forget the look on Davy Funderburk’s face.   He is sitting right under the spot where the snake is trying to get in.

To my relief there is no snake inside.  The floor plate should keep him out of the Tabernacle.  I hurry back outside.  Someone brings me a stout stick.  But the coral snake is nowhere to be found.  We surmise that he has burrowed up under the Tabernacle wall.

Using my stick, I begin probing in the dirt under the wall.  I’m joined now by several other brave souls, including James who is standing cautiously back eight feet away.  Finally closer to the back door, I see red, yellow, and black in the dirt.  He is burrowing in the dirt trying to escape.  Using my stick as a rake, I pull him out in the flowerbed.  Now he is in the open and determined to elude me.  To our horror he heads straight for the Tabernacle door.  I’m sure he thinks if he can get under the door he’ll escape the tormenting devil who is hitting him.

I’m willing to do anything to keep him outside so I instinctively use my stick to rake him away from the door.  He flies about six feet across the sand and wraps around James’ foot.

… Now before I tell you how this story ends, I must tell you about James.  I love James like a son.  He is our summer staff director. And he is a city boy.   And the last thing he wants is a coral snake wrapped around his leg.

So James begins a dance that is hard to describe.  All I can say is not even a boa constrictor could have stayed attached to James’ leg with the moves he was making.  One of the guys later said, “He sure got religion when that snake wrapped around his foot.”

The snake hits the ground and I hit him good.  It was all over so quickly.  The dead coral snake lay there.  James stood back still shaking and all of us had a fine laugh at this comedy in errors.

By now Namaan (a.k.a. Bro. Ronnie) has just been cured of his leprosy and was praising God.  I could’ve gone in the service but I just didn’t think I could sit still after this.

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