Rattler Feedback

Lots of feedback here and there about last week’s column confirming a MassWildlife proposal to establish a population of endangered Timber Rattlesnakes on a secluded, unspecified Quabbin Reservoir island since dubbed “Rattlesnake Island” by the Boston Globe.

“What are they, nuts?” were the most common words uttered. Followed by, “Why would anyone do that? I don’t like snakes.”

Well, the decision likely wasn’t based on public perception of rattlesnakes. No, not quite. More important was the reality that the population of a once prevalent New England reptile with a well-defined purpose in the big picture is sliding toward extinction, and wildlife officials charged to prevent such end games, and to save and protect endangered species, are determined to just that. Thus the recent proposal, which would entail capturing enough wild Bay State rattlers to be shipped to the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, R.I., where they’ll be nurtured to optimal health for breeding and produce some 150 progeny to be released in a couple of years on Rattlesnake Island.

The first email to show up after last week’s column hit the street came from Greenfield native Larry Jubb, who had a tale to tell. The next arrived in rapid fashion from a Greenfield Meadows resident and Wilbraham native, who wanted to share an old childhood song about an unfortunate 18th-century death by rattlesnake bite on Hampden County’s Springfield Mountain.

Let’s start with Jubb, who was eager to talk when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon. Contrary to the column’s suggestion that few if any can recall a Franklin County rattlesnake tale in their lifetime, Jubb had a humdinger. He told the story like it happened yesterday, despite the fact that it occurred more than 50 years ago, in 1961. Yes, he remembers it well … seated for morning coffee at Adams Donuts in Greenfield when a fella from Green Mountain Power Co. drove into the parking lot with a show-and-tell rattlesnake he had killed across the river from Brattleboro, Vt., on Wantastiquet Mt., in West Chestefield, N.H. No, that Indian place name for the rocky mountain clearly visible from Interstate 91 had no rattlesnake context. According to William Bight’s “Native American Place Names of the United States,” the name Wantastiquet probably suggest “lost-river place,” and is also found in the Windsor, Vt., area.

“As I recall, the dead rattler in the back of that pickup truck was two or three feet long,” Jubb said. “That’s the first and last local rattler I’ve ever seen, but I’ve heard of others.”

For instance, he cited the day more than a decade ago when he was patrolling Poplar Mountain Road between Erving and Northfield in his Sheriff’s Triad cruiser up by Rose Ledge and the Hermits’ Caves. Parked side of the road was a maroon vehicle with state insignias on the doors. He stopped to chat with the fella driving and learned that he was doing rattlesnake-habitat research, not far from Northfield’s Rattlesnake Mountain. Not only that, but the man was offering a $500 reward for anyone who could lead him to rattlesnakes. That really stuck in Jubb’s memory.

Later, in basically the same neighborhood, just down the hill along the Millers River in Farley, he asked an elderly lady he remembered only as Mrs. Kersavage if she knew anything about rattlesnakes in the area. Oh yeah, indeed she did. In fact, rattlers were once a popular topic in her hometown, she told him, because as a young girl she used to be terrified of the poisonous vipers when walking daily to and from the old schoolhouse.

“She told me she thought the state brought in blacksnakes to eradicate rattlesnakes,” he said. “I can’t vouch for that. First time I ever heard of such a thing. But that’s what she told me.”

Meanwhile, as for the Greenfield Meadows woman who reached out by email to comment on rattlesnakes, Amy Donovan wanted to share an old Wilbraham ballad “On Springfield Mountain” she learned to sing as a child. An 1989 Minnechaug Regional High School graduate, she sent along the Merrick Family version of the song made famous by none other than Woodie Guthrie. It’s the tale of unfortunate Timothy Merrick, 22, of South Wilbraham (now Hampden). Engaged and soon to be married to sweetheart Sarah Lamb, Merrick died before his wedding day, on Aug. 7, 1761, from a rattlesnake bite sustained while walking through his father’s field. The song was likely taught to local kids post-tragedy, with the hope that they’d always be on the lookout for snakes.

In 1982, when a “Springfield Union” article speculated that Mirrick’s was Massachusetts’ last recorded death by rattlesnake bite, a researcher found it not to be so. Yes, a man named William Meuse found another death by rattlesnake on May 1, 1778, also in Wilbraham. You can bet careful research of dusty old town records across New England would identify other snakebite mortality, and not only by rattlesnakes. Copperheads, another native, poisonous New England snake, were another hazard. In fact, not five years ago a press release out of the Mount Tom State Reservation warned outdoor enthusiasts to be wary of copperheads after a hiker was bitten. Many years earlier, longtime residents will recall a news story about a nest of rattlers found under a ticket booth or scaffolding at Mountain Park, an old amusement park located on the mountain’s eastern slope, overlooking Route 5, Interstate 91 and downtown Holyoke.

Rarely seen, Timber Rattlers are still around if you know where to look. And soon, if the proposed Quabbin program comes to fruition as expected, the North Quabbin Region population will increase. That potential development has been greeted with knee-jerk opposition and hysteria. MassWildlife experts predict no one will know the difference. Outdoor enthusiasts aren’t so sure.

As usual, the reality likely falls somewhere between the public hysteria and MassWildlife’s soothing assurances of safety.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top