Snake In The Barn

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Snake In The Barn: The Lazy Man’s Way

Our family lived on a small farm in East Tennessee.  We had a garden where we grew vegetables and we always raised a few calves to sell at the market and a cow for fresh milk.

My father built an electric fence around our property to keep the livestock from getting out.  He put the controls for the electric fence in the top of the barn far enough up to keep kids and cows from getting tangled up in them.  We also kept calves in the barn.

One day, a tree fell onto the electric fence.  My father told me to go to the barn and turn off the electric fence so he could remove the tree and fix the fence.

I ran to the barn. Instead of going to get a ladder I decided to climb up the wall of the barn. I did this by putting my fingers in the spaces between the boards that made up the walls of the barn and pulling myself up until I could stand on the wooden cross pieces.

There were three small calves in the stall of the barn where the electric fence controls were located. They had made quite a mess in the floor of the barn. The dirt floor of the stall was a delightful combination of mud, cow manure, urine and hay. On a hot day the smell of ammonia would knock you down. The calves stood placidly in the muck watching me curiously as I climbed up the wall of the barn.

I put my feet on a board that ran sideways about halfway up the wall of the barn.  I didn’t realize how far from the wall of the barn my father had put the electric fence control. To reach it, I had to put my left hand on top of the barn wall and lean way, way, way back. The first time I leaned back I couldn’t reach the control.  So, I leaned back close to the barn wall, moved my left hand a little and leaned back out again. I had almost reached the switch for the electric fence when I felt something move by my left hand.

I pulled myself toward the barn wall and came face to face with the head of a large black snake. I had put my hand right by a snake that was making himself comfortable near the warm tin of the barn roof. The snake’s tongue flicked out near my nose. I was very afraid of snakes so I let go with my left hand and, before I knew it, I was lying on my back on the muddy barn floor with three calves looking down at me.

Those calves had seen a lot in their lives but they had never seen a boy come diving down from the roof. Those calves started running and bawling and bucking and kicking all around that stall. When I went outside the barn my dad and my brother and my sister saw that I was covered with mud and cow manure from the floor of the barn.  They laughed and laughed and laughed. Years later a friend of mine said something that made me remember that day.  It would have a taken me a little longer to go get a ladder and climb up there and flip that switch on the electric fence.  I tried to save a few steps by climbing up the barn wall.

My friend said, “A lazy man will work himself to death.”

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