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J.D. Reed
May 08, 1978
The perils of rural tennis include bulls that horn in on your matches and snakes that steal tennis balls
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May 08, 1978

Courting Disaster

The perils of rural tennis include bulls that horn in on your matches and snakes that steal tennis balls

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"Take your racket," he said.

"What for, no one's going to steal it when I'm out hunting for balls, are they? I don't think there's anyone for miles..."

"You'll need the racket," explained Harrison. "Blue racers."

As a Michigan lad, I knew about blue racers. Long, fat snakes as blue and quick as their name.

"And carry it in a serving grip," warned Harrison, opening a Stroh's for the big ball hunt. "There won't be time for any of that fancy Vic Braden stuff like changing grips. A quick slash is all there's time for with blue racers."

Two hundred yards from the court, after an elusive sighting of a yellow ball deep in the Christmas trees where Harrison, yelling " Fenway Park," had slugged it in practice, I met my first and last blue racer. It was headed lazily toward my ball. I know I'm not supposed to be afraid. After all, I've read National Geographic for years, and I've seen those pictures of gentle-looking biologists with wispy beards and pockets full of felt-tipped pens handling cobras and fer-de-lances and such. But reason stands no chance against plain, old-fashioned hysteria. I screamed and whacked out with a shoelace-level half volley at the snake. It didn't even look back. I retreated, backing up over the small trees, keeping up a high-pitched keening noise, like a puppy overpowered by a berserk dowager.

After I regained the safety of the court, I began to think of Ernest Hemingway. It was not far from where we played that Hemingway had come as a boy to fish and hunt with his father, and it was about this country that he wrote the Nick Adams stories, those precise tales of manhood, courage and responsibility. I tried to think of that as Harrison eyed me suspiciously. Then it occurred to me that Nick Adams had never faced a blue racer. Say what you want about World War I and bullfighting, I'll bet old Nick would have cheeped like a fledgling if he'd faced a five-foot blue racer. The thought gave me courage to begin the game.

I won the spin of the racket and prepared to serve.

"Don't serve," Harrison said calmly.

"Why not?"

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