In the late nineteen-eighties, I was a youth pastor in Starkville, Mississippi. It was a truly formative period of my life. Working with Jim (Nap) Clark and Kenny Hodges and also with Dick and Linda Hill was one of the most important experiences of my life.
This is also where I developed my phobia of snakes. I was 26 years old and so needed to be macho with the guys in the youth groups. Fear of snakes is not something that is respected among the rural young men of Mississippi. I learned that almost all if not all black snakes in the US are not poisonous, but can give you a really nasty bite. Black racers are non poisonous but have a really bad attitude!
One time I was in a very rural part of Mississippi and came across a Rattlesnake’s nest. The snake was motionless and for all intents and purposes, looked dead. Hoping not to look scared, I got a long stick and poked at it. As it turns out, not only was the snake not dead, it was the world record holder for the longest strike from a standing start (well lying-down start). It got within 2-3cm of my hand. OK, it could have been 20-30cm! When I told the pastor, Nap, he said “if you poke at a rattlesnake don’t complain when you get bitten!”
Now you can poke a lot of animals and not get bitten. I can dig my finger into my dog’s side and she’ll simply look at me with a “what was that for” look on her face. But there are certain animals that you just don’t poke at or if you do, you need to do it in a way that does not provoke the animal to strike. Poking at rattlesnakes is not against the law in Mississippi but it’s not advisable.
Draw your own conclusions.