By KATE LUDLOW
Snakes and pottery. One would be hard pressed to find two interests on near opposite sides of the spectrum.
But, just like the other rarities that make Liberty Hill unique, Doug and Donna Montgomery have found the space and time to accommodate both interests.
Their detached garage houses space for pottery painting, glass art, and nearly a dozen snakes and other reptiles. From his house, Montgomery works to correct preconceived notions about the safety of snakes and snake handling.
Montgomery has rattlesnakes. He has a West African Gaboon Viper. His children have their own boa constrictors. He is an encyclopedia of reptile knowledge, knowing the genetic traits of his snakes as well as their various personalities and quirks. His love for all things reptile leads him to try and overcome the idea that snakes are creepy or scary.
“It’s really just a matter of teaching people which ones are good, which ones are non-venomous and which ones are venomous — those are the ones you have to stay away from,” he said.
Montgomery says there are only four venomous snakes in Texas — coral snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and rattlesnakes. The non-venomous kind are mostly Texas rat snakes, garter snakes and ribbon snakes and they help keep the venomous snake population down.
Montgomery teaches the old rhyme “red and yellow, kill a fellow” to help people identify the venomous types of snakes.
“It’s the tri-colored snakes to watch out for,” he says, information that came in handy recently when he found a venomous coral snake in his yard. True to form, he caught the snake, and boxed it up. While in captivity, the coral snake laid five eggs, which Montgomery has placed in an incubator.
Soon, he will turn the eggs and snake over to Tim Cole, the owner of Austin Reptile Service, an organization dedicated to the conservation of native Texas reptiles. Austin Reptile Service can help with snake identification and safe removal.
The Montgomerys moved to Liberty Hill from California where she worked in the medical field, and he owned a legal collection agency. Though his business quickly became successful, the type of work he was doing wasn’t satisfying.
“It just weighs on your soul,” he said.
Montgomery sold his business and moved to Central Texas. He was adopted and had reconnected with his birth family. He had a brother and sister in the area and family in Bertram, so it was a natural choice for him.
With his new profession, the pottery studio, and his snakes, he says he “…has more fun. It’s nice to have a positive influence on things, instead of a negative one.”
In their pottery studio, the Montgomerys often host art parties where attendees can sit, work on glass or ceramic projects, and gaze at the snakes. It might not sound relaxing, but Montgomery says it often ends up being the highlight of the studio.
“You’d be surprised, it’s always the ones who start out the most squeamish that get right up on the glass and start examining everything,” he said.
Montgomery grew up on the back of a golf course in Houston, surrounded by snakes. His neighbor’s dad taught him the basics of identifying snakes, and a lifelong love for the reptiles was born. He teaches his children what he knows, and they are all extremely knowledgeable in their own right.
“It’s a generation thing,” he said. “People just don’t know enough about them. It’s instilled in their behavior by their parents. The parents were afraid of the snakes. They’re just afraid of all snakes, they don’t know the good snakes from the bad.”
The sound of rattlers go off in the background and he adds, “there’s not really any bad snakes though.”
For more information on snake identification or ownership, visit http://www.austinreptileservice.net/or http://www.austinherpsociety.org/newsite/index.html