Imagine a picture-perfect Delta day, fishing on a lake in early June. A two-foot long snake, black with brown spots, drops from a cypress tree, into the boat, right at your feet. Do you (A), immediately change your pants? (B) Get a fresh beer to replace the one you just kicked over? Or (C), point out the snake to your step-mom who is fishing in front of you with her back to all this, and who just might walk on water to escape if she knew?
No calls please. We’ll reveal the answer in a moment. As background, let us meditate on this mysterious month of June. It’s a month of action, from bream beds to marriage beds. (Apparently in snake world too). The month is, statistically, the most popular for marriage. For the lowly male sunfish – bream to you – the full moon in June strikes a primordial cord that causes the male to furiously prepare a bed for a female’s eggs. We’re told some males lose drastic amounts of weight and some even succumb to their strenuous sweeping and tidying.
I like my chances of dying of housework.
What is it about June that inspires people—and fish—to couple up? Is there something—literally—in the water? The month is named after Juno, the Goddess of Marriage. Of her many duties, one was interpreted as, “she who loosens the bride’s girdle.” She is also the daughter of Saturn, the wife of Jupiter and the mother of Mars. Quite a resume.
June is the halfway point of the year; precious days neither summer nor fall. The tomatoes are coming in, the aforementioned bream are deep in their tasks, the world is green and stretching. Watermelon vine runners race like lit fuses. It’s warm enough to strip down and get outside but not so freakishly hot as to vaporize you in your tracks – at least not in the early weeks of the month. No less a warm weather warrior than Jimmy Buffett, “wishes every month of the year could be June.”
In earlier decades, June in Oxford meant our local university was on “summer break” and the town went broke with it. Parking spots emerged; left turns became possible. For business owners, it was time to tighten up for a three-month drought. For some students, alas, it meant that most cruel of oxymorons: summer school. All of that has changed now. The university now offers crash courses in summer, or, “intersessions.” A semester is crammed into a class-intensive month. The student is stunned with information; like temporarily joining a cult. And traffic rolls on.
I raise a sweaty glass to June and recall a favored dog from the past with that very name. I bought June from a breeder out in Lafayette County, after consulting several others listed in the convenience store tabloid for bargain-hunters. June eventually turned out to be a fine dog but slow to warm up. It took months before she’d even let me pet her. This was especially an affront considering I was feeding and housing her. My male, Bingo, was affectionate bordering on psychotic, but June regarded me with a ‘I-could-take-it-or leave-it’ indifference I’d only previous endured from certain women of past acquaintance.
Unlike them, Junie came around – to a point. Many mornings, beginning with the June heat, she’d haughtily refuse an early morning walk by returning to her pen. I argued at first but learned better. Before she died at age 12, I reflected on her insistence on that first lengthy courtship. It made the bond we eventually developed more true and strong. One of the many lessons we learn from our canine family. Dogs look down their nose at us, but in the best sense.
Now back to our story: My dad was up front in the bow of our 15-foot-aluminum john boat, my step-mom in the middle, me in the back. We’re fishing around cypress trees with cane poles in the lower lake of Lake Ferguson in Greenville. Ferguson is a 10-mile long ox-bow lake, created by the Corp of Engineers in 1930 when they straightened a curve in the Mighty Mississippi. Across the lake is Arkansas. It’s a beautiful body of water with sand bars and trees.
I was fighting the branches of the cypresses with the top of my pole, and it’s possible I, in fact, roused the snake. To this day I don’t know what kind it was. He landed with a thud unnoticed by my fellow anglers. I unceremoniously scooped him up with my paddle and flung him out into the water.
Then I performed choice (A).
JIM DEES is a writer and longtime host of Thacker Mountain Radio. His latest book, “The Statue and the Fury – A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails” (Nautilus Press) was released in 2016.