We were kick'n back around the swimming hole on a Saturday afternoon when he pulled up in his scuffed pick-up. "Let's go snake hunting", he said once he'd got our attention.
We hunted snakes up on the Bull Run and this was back in the days before they'd blown up part of the mountain to complete I-66 - a black river of tar that scared the valley and brought the sprawl past Haymarket. In those days the mountain range was a natural barrier that protected everything to its west from modernity. It was in that anachronistic world that he grew up, the 4th of his name, hunting, fishing and living as one is supposed to live in this fast collapsing paradise. The blood that had spilled on the Bull Run made it hallowed ground and he loved it and honored it and dragged us up its rocky face, jumping over timber rattlers, that we might see the valley below. Using a stick he'd pin the slithering reptile and pinching the base of its head, tail writhing and singing its song of warning, he'd cut off the vipers head with one clean stroke of his knife.
Back at home in the late afternoon dusk we'd tell and retell stories about the day - reliving every moment, every scare, every victory. Proud and fearless he pulled a decapitated 5' timber rattle snake out of the sack he was holding and turned to share a smile with his brother. At that moment, in the blink of an eye, the headless rattler struck at him with such force it left a deep blue bruise where the bloody, fangless stump kissed his arm. He was shocked but it only took a second for him to regain his composure and have a hearty laugh at himself and his complacency.
The headless snake can not bite, but he will strike without warning long after he's dead.