The Bugler and the Snake (Bernie Lerner)

June 20, 2016

 

     1933 was my first year in Brooklyn Camps, when I came to Sacut for a two-week period for $15, which was not unreasonable for that year - if you had the $15.  For me, and all of my patrol, 1933 was the year of Buddy and the rattlesnake.
     
     My patrol leader in 1933 was Maurice "Polly" Pollett, who in later years was my SPL and assistant campmaster at Accaponac.  Our patrol tent in Sacut had one of the larger reservation boulders out back, about 4-foot high and almost half the size of our tent.  On the other side of the boulder was the two-man staff tent containing Buddy, the camp bugler. Buddy played a helluva bugle, but all that blowing had kind of slowed down his thinking.  We were all fairly well-conditioned to his schedule, and when his alarm clock went off for Reveille, he was the only one who really woke and got up.  This one morning, he got up for his Reveille call, and spotted this huge rattlesnake coiled up on the rock, warming himself in the early morning sunlight coming through the trees.
     
     Buddy, of course, was a camp veteran, in his second season, and had been more or less exposed to reptile study.  Like most of us, he knew that the safe way to hold a rattler was to grab it by the neck immediately behind its head, and thumb down on back of the head.  So Buddy, still in his underwear, very cautiously tip-toed up behind the snake and quickly applied the "hold".
     
     Reveille for our patrol that morning was Buddy yelling for help immediately after he grabbed the snake.  Apparently his reptile study merit badge took him as far as the safe way to grab a snake - but not beyond. Now that he had the snake, he couldn't let go and he obviously couldn't give it away.  The snake, which was over 6 feet long of thrash and buzz, was also very unhappy with their now mutual predicament. Quickly assessing the situation, Polly, our fearless P.L., ran up the hill to the Campmaster's cabin to let them know why Reveille was going to be late that morning. The C.M., Jack Ornstein, in turn, ran down the hill, inspected Buddy and the snake, and ran back up to telephone Tahlequah for advice. Tahlequah turned him over to the Nature Man, Ray Ditmars, who advised Jack to have Buddy hold tight to the snake (!) and to drive him down to H.Q., where he would relieve him of the burden. Ray had an excellent reptile collection at Tahlequah and was always on the lookout for a good specimen.
     
     Now Jack Ornstein owned a '28 Ford, which, fortunately for him, but not for Buddy, was equipped with a rumble seat.  By this time, Buddy and his reluctant companion had acquired an audience consisting of half the camp, and we all escorted him - at a respectful distance - up the hill to the rumble seat.  With lots of encouragement, Buddy very carefully and quietly ascended the rear fender and slowly descended into the rumble seat. We all saw Buddy, the snake, Jack and the Ford off, and then went to morning Assembly.
     
     Jack Ornstein, as we later heard, had to drive the service road slowly so as not to jar the rumble seat and Buddy' s grip too hard, what with the lack of paving on the service road at Brooklyn Camps.  It was a slow 20-minute run, which Buddy refused to discuss afterward.  The reception committee at the Tahlequah end included Ray Ditmars, a burlap sack and a transfer technique.  Anyhow, Buddy later cleaned the rumble seat, Ray had a new specimen, and 1933 had another snake story.
     
     Speaking of snakes, Ray Ditmars was head of Brooklyn Children's Museum in the 30's, and later became Curator of the American Museum of Natural History.  He was our country's foremost herpetologist, which is why it took me all summer to get my Reptile Study merit badge.
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