Ask Eddy: Snakes and Matters

Eddy's Got Answers

Illustration by Aaron McKinney
Illustration by Aaron McKinney

Should I worry about the pythons invading Florida?

As many as 100,000 Burmese pythons now live in the Everglades, and let's just say they're hungry. One famously split down the middle after swallowing a 6-foot gator. How'd the Asian snakes end up in South Florida? Burmese pythons are popular pets, says Frank Mazzotti, professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida, and owners regularly release them into the wild when they get too big to handle. (Full disclosure: This happened to Herby, Eddy's pet boa back in high school, except that "the wild" in that case means "the girls locker room.") They've since developed a breeding population and pretty much eradicated the marsh rabbits and raccoons in the Everglades. The snakes grow as big as 16 feet, and everything from white-tailed deer to bobcats have been found in their stomachs. "They'll eat anything they can get their coils around," says Mazzotti. What about people? Obviously, if a python can choke down a 300-pound gator, it'd have no problem with Edna from Iowa, high-float PFD or no. But no python has attacked a human in the Everglades, nor is it something paddlers should worry about. "They like to stay hidden," says Mazzotti. Hunters only caught 68 of the elusive snakes during this winter's state-sponsored Python Challenge bounty program. So, statistically speaking, the chance of being strangled to death and then swallowed whole while sleeping on a wooden tent platform in Everglades National Park is very low. Nonetheless, when Eddy heads down for next year's Python Challenge, he's sleeping in the truck.

What species of tree make the best firewood for cooking?

Chip Cochrane's dad preferred cooking with maple firewood so much that he'd carry it with him in the canoe for days, even across portages. Cochrane is the third-generation owner of Maine's Allagash Canoe Trips, and still prepares all his camp meals over a fire."Nothing cooks like a piece of maple," he says. "It's so dense that you have to split it more fine than other woods, so the fire won't get too hot, and when the tree dies the bark comes off quickly, so it's always dry when you find it." Cochrane likes to find a standing dead tree and chop it down (though sometimes it can just be pushed over); wood lying on the ground is often too wet to burn well. Birch isn't bad, he says, but tends to keep its bark and can rot standing up. "Oak is great, but I almost never find it on the Allagash," says Cochrane. "Same with ash and cherry." If he can't find those hardwoods, spruce is plentiful, and makes a good second choice. Balsam fir also does fine, and though it sometimes spits embers into your chow, it's still a damn sight better than poplar. "Poplar is basically terrible," says Cochrane. "I can have a pile of poplar three feet high and get less heat out of it than a one-foot pile of maple." Eddy concurrs. He needed almost a whole poplar to burn school admins in effigy after his suspension over the Herby incident.

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This story first appeared in the June 2013 issue of C&K.