(This 849th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on July 1, 2007.)
Norman Ives in a Wellsville Nursing Home
On Father's Day I joined eight of his family members visiting Norman Ives in Allegany County. After a wonderful lifetime spent working with and protecting animals, Ives now finds himself suddenly confined to a Wellsville nursing home. This was our first meeting and before five minutes were up I wished I had known him for all of his 84 years. He is a wonderful storyteller.
Ives was born in Wellsville. His mother died when he was very young and he was brought up by an aunt and uncle in the nearby village of Alma. After serving in the army during World War II, he returned to spend the rest of his life in Wellsville.
At the outset Ives told me that he is known locally as the snake man. Many people would consider that a libel. Not Ives: snakes are his favorite animals. When he entered this facility, he had to give a Pennsylvania friend all the snakes in his current collection.
"I'll tell you about one of them," he began, his eyes tearing. "Twenty-nine years ago I found a hollowed out cavity in some soft earth made by a female black rat snake. In it were 16 eggs. But by the next day a bulldozer had crushed the nest. All but one of those eggs were broken. I took that egg home, created a sawdust nest for it in an aquarium, and watched it for weeks. Day after day nothing happened but just as I was ready to throw it out, a tiny six inch snake emerged. Adult black rat snakes are very dark with scarcely any patterning, but the young snake was almost as boldly marked as a milk snake. It was a beautiful little reptile.
"I tried to pick it up but this frightened the tiny snake and it tried to bite me. As it grew, however, I fed it and it soon came to know me and be happy to be handled. That snake is still alive and I certainly hated to give it up."
At prodding from his family Ives told us about the boa constrictor he had at one time. He kept it in a room that became quite cold in winter. Afraid that the snake would need more warmth, he took it to bed with him. The snake didn't approve of this arrangement and crawled back into its own nest. It found, Ives said, that I was too warm.
Ives also told me about Pennsylvania rattlesnake hunts in which he participated. Unlike those Texas hunts in which hundreds of snakes are killed, these are carefully controlled. The snakes must be carefully captured alive, measured and marked so that records may be kept of their distribution. Then after the contest the snakes are returned to were they were found.
Over the years Ives has displayed his snakes at hundreds of natural history meetings. He has also served as an animal rehabilitator and an SPCA investigator. Ives disapproves of hunting and, although I disagree with him, I certainly admire his moxie. He doesn't live in a city or suburb where it is easy to be an animal rights advocate; he lives in a rural community where hunting is an almost universally accepted practice.
But that is his way. He stands up for his rights. His family told how he and four other senior citizens were arrested at a "Bump the Dump" rally against local disposal of nuclear material. As they were being marched off to jail, Ives noticed one of the local deputy sheriffs beating a horse and in his SPCA role arrested him. This created a standoff and he and his colleagues were freed.
At one time Ives had two red-tailed hawks. The band from one was later picked up south of Mobile, Alabama.
And one winter a cross-country skier told Ives about hearing noises coming from under a brush pile. When he investigated, he found a pair of new-born bear cubs playing next to their hibernating mother. But when Ives crawled in to take photos, the mother bear awoke and cuffed Ives who beat a hasty retreat.
No wonder that nursing home room overflowed with affection for this interesting and deeply committed man.-- Gerry Rising