The northern water snake and I have had a long, love-hate relationship.
I gained a healthy dose of respect for the reptiles one summer day when I was 8 or 9 years old, accompanying a friend of my father’s in shallow Juniata River riffles, seining minnows, crawfish and hellgrammites for smallmouth bass fishing trip. It was the beginning of my river rat phase, which lasted decades.
We encountered a water snake, perhaps 3 feet long, and my mentor couldn’t resist antagonizing it for my benefit, poking it gently it with the rake he was using to disturb the stones to dislodge bass bait. The snake didn’t back down, snapping repeatedly at the tool, its teeth making a dull clanking sound when they made contact with the steel garden rake tines.