Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Of Snakes and Sang

Every year about the middle of August, we'd make a trip up on the mountain to dig ginseng or "sang" as we called it. Sanging was a way for us to get some extra money to buy school clothes. When we lived on the farm we’d go on the mountain there to search, and sometimes we’d find huge sang roots with many fine hair roots on them. It was these big roots that brought in the money when you sold them. On our sanging outings, we’d make a day of it, and we’d usually pack a lunch to take with us when we headed up on the mountain.

Wild Ginseng, or Sang as we called it.

After digging the Sang, we were always careful to plant the ripe berries back in the same soil that we dug the ginseng from, that way, there’d me more sang that’d grow there in the future. After we’d dig the sang, we’d dry it by hanging it up in the kitchen pantry and after a few weeks, it'd be dry so we’d take it to sell to Paul Champ down at Petersburg. It usually brought about $200 a pound, but it took a lot of dried sang to make a pound.

While on our sang trips, mom would always take a sack of onions with us, in case one of us would get snake bit. She said that a cut onion placed on a snakebite would draw out the poison and would give us enough time to get to the hospital. Nobody ever got snake bit on our trips, but God knows there where plenty of timber rattlers in the rocks where we dug the sang. Seldom was the time when granddad wouldn’t kill at least one rattler when we were out.

A Timber Rattler

This reminds me of how one time we took a man named Akie to look for rattlesnakes. Akie was a neighbor of my Aunt Pat & a friend of my granddads. Akie caught Timber Rattlers for a living and sold them to the Washington Zoo. They’d give him $100 for each Timber Rattler he could catch for them. Akie had been bitten by rattlesnakes so many times in his life that he was apparently immune to their venom, so he had no fear of them. When Akie would spot a rattler, he'd chase it down and pick it up with his bare hands. He didn't care if it bit him or not, he said that getting snakebit to him felt just like a chicken pecking you on the hand. He'd proudly show you all of the snakebites that he had on his hands and arms, which were numerous. I remember we took him to a giant rockslide right under the North Mountain rocks near where we sanged, and he caught 15 rattlers in one afternoon including one gigantic yellow rattler. These rattlers were huge too, some were bigger around than his arm and were well over 10 feet long. Akie put each snake in an old feedsack and carried them on his back down to where the truck was parked, he put the sack in a big wooden box that he used to transport the rattlesnakes. Nobody had to tell us kids to stay away from the snakes either, like most kids raised in the country, we gave snakes and skunks a wide berth.

Akie couldn't drive so my granddad took him home, and of course, I had to tag along since we were passing a store in Circleville (and I never passed up a chance to go to the store). When we got to Akie’s house, he took us to see his snakes, he had huge homemade cages all over his back yard which butted up against a cliff of rocks. The air stunk so of snakes it nearly made me and my granddad sick. Akie told us he had several hundred snakes there and that the zoo people were supposed to be coming soon to buy them off of him. Later, we heard that Akie got enough money from selling the snakes that he bought himself a trailer and a piece of land down off the mountain, where he continues to live to this day. I remember the law put a stop to Akie’s business a few years later when they informed Akie that it was against the law to capture and sell timber rattlers. Akie still catches snakes for local people for belts and such, but nothing like he used to in years past.


Tipper said...

My brother always hunted sang too. And I've been with my husband before-when he smelled snakes in the area.

Granny Sue said...

I've smelled snakes. It's not a nice smell either.

I have yet to see a ginseng plant. Larry keeps meaning to show me. It's still on my to-do list. Larry used to dig it when he was a boy, I think.

Kelley said...

What do snakes smell like? I know Copperheads smell like cucumbers. Since berry picking season is starting up, I'd like to have the knowledge so I can avoid any serpent encounters.