Places to stay the hell out of. Just added Sweetwater TX to the list
If you’ve ever wondered where the snakes went when St. Patrick drove them out of Ireland, your wonder years are over.
While some of them surely held their breath and body-surfed across the Irish Sea to Fair Albion, a good number of them – the rattlers, anyway – apparently managed to slither their way onto St. Brendan’s curragh. (This was the one he used to discover
“America” somewhere in the 6th century, well before Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci were twinkles in anyone’s eyes.) On landfall, the immigrant snakes – first members of the Irish emigrant diaspora - decided to shake, rattle, and roll on over to Sweetwater, Texas.
Ah, Sweetwater, Texas. Sounds almost as sweet as Sugarland, Texas, doesn’t it?
We just don’t seem to get place names like this in Massachusetts. They get Sugarland; we get Ashland. Which, given that Puritan and Irish are two of our mega-strains here in the Commonwealth, shouldn’t surprise all that much. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is what we gets written here; they gets Don’t Fence Me In.
As for Sweetwater, the closest we come in terms of town names is the more prosaic Watertown, which is located on the banks of the River Charles, a.k.a. the “Dirty Water” of the old Standells’ hit. Nothing sweet about it and us.
But, as is my Pink Slippery habit, I digress.
This is perhaps to get me off the topic du jour, which is snakes, one of the handful of members of the animal kingdom that I actually despise. And before you go all Freud on me, I don’t like rats either – even though St. Patrick didn’t bother to drive them out of the Old Sod.
Anyway, for those in the know on all things snake, Sweetwater is something of the epicenter of the rattler world.
It is there that the Rattlesnake Roundup is held each March.
"This event is a way for us to help control the population of the western diamondback rattlesnake in our area," says Donnie Willman, a volunteer with the Sweetwater Jaycees who run the event.
The roundup began more than 50 years ago as a way to combat the rattlesnake population that was killing livestock and threatening pets and even people.
"The rattlesnakes were literally coming into Sweetwater, down the streets looking for water," says Willman.
"They bite livestock, they bite the animals, your pets. They'll bite kids, people. They're a very serious problem around here." (Source: CNN.)
People can complain all they want about Massachusetts – and, believe me, plenty of them do – but to my knowledge we have never had snakes literally coming down our streets looking for water. (And that goes not just for Boston, but Worcester, and Watertown, and Ashland, too.)
Personally, I find garter snakes icky enough, without worrying about a snake that could actually kill me.
As if rounding up rattlesnakes weren’t quite enough, the festival also features a beauty pageant, Miss Snake Charmer.
The winner is picked along the usual talent and beauty lines, but the upshot of the pageant is that the winner has to decapitate and skin a snake.
"Tomorrow I get to skin snakes and chop their heads off, and I am super-excited about it," said Laney Wallace, Miss Snake Charmer 2011. "I would of never imagined in a million years that I would be Miss Snake Charmer. I'm so lucky."
Well, at least it’s not the bland “tomorrow I get to cut the ribbon at the opening of the new Walmart” duty of the more traditional pageant winner.
Everyone, by the way, gets to skin a snake while they’re at the Roundup.
For $10, visitors can take a turn at snake skinning. To record their feat they rub their hands in snake blood and leave handprints on the wall.
Whatever becomes of the bloody handprints, the snakes themselves get used. Their venom is milked – gee, that sounds like fun – and used to make snake-bite antidotes (which they probably wouldn’t need so much of if they weren’t so gung ho on hunting, milking and decapitating snakes to begin with). The meat is fried – I do believe it tastes like chicken. And the skin goes into snakeskin shoes and accessories. (Ever wonder where that snakeskin belt came from? Now you know.)
I do have to say that Laney Wallace does not look at all like your average prissy, fakey beauty queen.
She’s plenty cute – this picture doesn’t seem to do her much justice. There’s a better one on the JayCee’s site, but they disabled right click, and I’m not canny enough to grab it otherwise.
Laney is a junior at Sweetwater High and was co-winner of the talent competition, in which she sang and yodeled, “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” (Source for this bit: The Sweetwater Reporter.)
Given that she’s game for rattler decapitation and skinning – plus she can yodel – I bet Laney’ll have a better shot at becoming a cowboy’s sweetheart than I did when I thought Adam Cartwright was going to be my boyfriend. Of course, Adam would have had to give up his Ponderosa cowboy ways for the true, brooding, East Coast intellectual that lurked within – and have moved back East. Even at 12, I knew better than to dream about living on the ranch, given that every woman who stepped even one romantic-involvement toe on the Ponderosa ended up dead.
There is, of course, plenty more to Sweetwater, Texas, than the Rattlesnake Roundup. It was the site of WASP (women flyers) training during WWII, and it’s the leading wind power generating center in the Western Hemisphere. (Source: Wikipedia.)
As a member of the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors put it:
"If you're bored here, it's your own fault."
Actually, I wasn’t thinking bored. I was more thinking weirded out. And more than quite possibly a bit scared at the prospect of rattle snakes teeming down Main Street. Perhaps it’s the Irish in me. We just don’t do snake.
But chacun à son goût, and all that. And, as they say, East is East and West is West….
Me, I’m just as happy to be in the namby pamby world where we don’t have to worry about rattlesnakes.
Now if only St. Patrick would come back from the dead and drive the rats out of Boston.
By the way, what do Fred Astaire, Lawrence Welk, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley have in common?
They all entertained at the Sweetwater Municipal Auditorium, where Miss Snake Charmer was crowned.