Saturday, December 16, 2017
Human Interest

Ready to join Python Challenge; then I met a beautiful brown mama

Three. That's how many seconds it took me to decide to sign up, from my home in Colorado, when I saw the news about the python hunt.

I'd been following the invasion story for years and had figured it would come to this. When you start finding 17-foot-long constrictors bearing 85 eggs, enlisting the public makes sense in a last-chance kind of way.

My young-man days in Florida, from 1966 to 1975, had fixed in me a love of swamps and gators, Titian-blue and seashell-pink sunsets, and giant birds. Even after dozens of visits back, whenever I watch a heron or roseate spoonbill unfold its wings, I feel like the gates to a kingdom of light have been flung open just for me.

Armed with a newly purchased machete, I thought I was ready to wage war.

Until, that is, I saw my first uncaged Burmese python.

She had been dumped out of a cloth bag by Jeff Fobb, a sturdy and telegenic snake expert from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, for the benefit of the media gathered on the opening day of the hunt.

As cameras clicked like crickets, the python just lay in the grass, her thick coils shining chestnut brown. Then she began to unfold herself, stretching sinuously to a length of 13 feet. The snake didn't look anything like its torpid cousins in a zoo.

Now, I have to say that it's hard to identify with a python, with its unblinking black dots in a face that never moves except for the darting of a gray, forked tongue.

Still, this creature — in size and grace of movement — was shockingly beautiful. I could tell that Fobb thought so, too, by the way he gently guided her back from the cameras with his pole, occasionally tugging her by the tail.

After a while, after the cameras had mostly faded away, Jeff let me lift part of the python. He showed me her hips — hips! — where, far back in time, limbs were once attached. I felt her rippling strength, and then, under that, a slow but massive intake of breath.

That's when I knew that, despite the worthwhile intent of the hunt, I would not swing my machete.

John Calderazzo, Times correspondent

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