Horse Hair Snake Shows Up After All These Years

I saw one the other day. It was swimming in a stream of water after a mid-winter rain near my drive and it looked just like the one I saw back in the days of my childhood out behind the house in our old cedar rain barrel. This time it was a January day instead of a hot summer afternoon around dusky dark when it made its appearance, which I thought was quite unusual. But, there it was, and it was swimming like there was no tomorrow. Yeah, that horse hair snake was just about to tie himself into a knot and I was on hand again, just like when my cousin helped me make one over fifty years ago, to witness the event.
The first one I ever saw was back during my youth days in the fifties. It had been a really hot summer and rain had been pretty scarce that year, and my cousin and I were spending a hot late afternoon resting under the maple trees in my grandparent’s yard waiting on supper. Of course, when you put two boys together with nothing to do, sooner or later, and usually sooner, something is going to happen. We were lying there watching a beetle move a leaf in a hole when my cousin asked me, “Have you ever made a snake out of a horse hair?”
Thinking he was pulling my leg, I answered, “You may be two years older than me, but I’m smart enough to know you can’t make a snake out of no horse hair.” However, he was two years older than me and I did wonder if maybe he did know how to accomplish this magical feat. Besides, he had already been to school for two years and I wasn’t going to start until the next fall. He did have some book learning, plus his family had one of the first TVs in the area and he had seen a lot of Howdy Doody shows. They were quite educational you know.
“How do you make a snake out of a horse hair?” I asked, letting my curiosity get the best of me. While pushing his baseball cap back on his head and with a very intelligent look on his face he said, “Well, first you go find a horse hair. We need a good heavy one and it has to be pretty fresh to make a snake. Then, we put it in grandma’s rain barrel out behind the back porch. Within a day or two, that old horse hair will turn into a little snake that will be so wiggly that it can even tie itself into knots.”
I knew I would have to see this and the next thing you know, I was out in the barn lot checking our old horse Doc’s favorite rubbing tree for horsehair. Sure enough, I found several hairs from Doc’s mane and headed to the rain barrel with my cousin to make up a bunch of snakes. When we got there, my cousin had to be the one to put the hair in the barrel because he said I was too little and he had experience in making snakes. I stood back and watched him do his magic as the hair fell from his hands into the dark barrel’s contents. As he closed the lid he said, “Now, come tomorrow around this time, we’ll come back and check it. I bet we will have all kinds of horse hair snakes in this barrel.”
The next day, I could hardly wait until the day turned into dusky dark so I could check the progress of our snake crop. In fact, several times during the day I went by the barrel, but Cousin usually was watching me and he didn’t want me to bother the snakes as they grew from ole Doc’s horse hair.
Finally the time came to look in the barrel. Cousin found a Coca Cola case on the back porch for me to stand on so I could get a better look down into the rain barrel’s dark waters. He had borrowed his daddy’s coon hunting light that hung on the nail near their back door so we could see the snakes
better. Cousin was two years older you know, so he knew what he was doing.
As I looked into the barrel with that six-cell flashlight I could not believe my eyes. There in the dark
water were skinny long snakes swimming crazily all over the water. They were the size of dynamite wire and had little bitty dark heads. Some had even tied themselves into knots just like Cousin had predicted. He had accomplished the impossible and truly turned horse hair into snakes!
In later years I did learn that Cousin was not that magical, but knew the horse hair snakes were already in the barrel and that they were not really snakes, but instead, a parasite worm. It seems they got the name horse hair from in days past when horses were the main form of transportation and horse troughs were common. It was quite normal to see horse hair in the troughs and occasionally an infected insect, which the parasite lives off of, would drown in the trough and an adult worm would emerge. The worms do look like long hairs with a head and some folks assumed the horse hairs came to life.
The other day was the first time I had seen one since those days of the rain barrel and it brought back the memory of a hot day when two cousins decided to make snakes. Oh, if life was only that innocent today.