The Visitor

I am not fond of snakes. Snakes are, at best, creepy and, at worst, deadly. So I avoid them. This, however, has not always been my opinion.

As a youngster I found grass snakes and garter snakes fascinating and often made (temporary) pets of them. Much to my mother’s chagrin.

In one elementary school science class it was a special privilege afforded only to the top students to “wear” the class boa constrictor for a portion of each class period. I kept my grades up more for this badge of honor than for academics sake.

Snakes were fascinating.

coral snakeMy mind may have started to change the day some school chums and I found a pretty, brightly colored snake on the playground. We teased it and prodded it with a stick until recess was almost over. When we failed to arrive at a consensus as to who was to be the first to take it home, one fellow stated that we should just cut it up and each take a piece. For some, now unfathomable, reason that horrific solution satisfied each of us and one boy used a pocket knife to carry out the sentence.

When we got into class, we were each secretly toying with our snake bit. The teacher caught one of us and demanded to see what he had that was so interesting that he could not pay attention to the lesson. When he showed her, she blanched. You could actually see the color drain right out of her face.

To her credit, she remained calm as she demanded that we each surrender the various pieces. I imagine she as looking for the toothy bit.

Then her lesson plan changed. Whatever we were studying got shelved and she launched into a lesson on herpetology: focusing on identifying locally indigenous snakes. She stated that although some snakes are harmless, they are still living creatures and should not be harassed. This particular snake was a coral snake – a venomous snake. Had it bitten one (or more) of us, it was likely that we would not have lived long enough to be taken to a hospital for treatment. Coral snakes use a neurotoxin that paralyzes the heart and lungs. It’s a terrible way to die, and it happens quickly.

Since then I have encountered other venomous snakes –and have avoided being bitten myself. But have seen first hand the agony that such a bite brings.

Not all snakes are dangerous. Most are actually beneficial in that they rid us of mice, rats, moles and such. Some non-venomous snakes even eat the venomous snakes. Killing every snake encountered on sight just because it is a snake is not rational.

But it is tempting.

The other day I was working on a construction project in my garden. I happened to look over onto a garden box and noticed, with a start, that I had an unexpected audience.

grass snakeThis visitor was sunning itself about 5 feet from where I was digging. At first the alarms went off, “SNAKE”. But I quelled those when I recognized it as a common grass snake, something I should welcome in my garden because of its dietary preferences. I was tempted to chase it off (it was creeping me out) but that seldom works. Snakes of all stripes become defensively aggressive when challenged. They rarely just run away from a threat. I don’t have a snake pole, and I wasn’t of a mind to grab it and carry it out, so I decided to just leave it alone.

I took a landscape timber up to the workshop to cut it to length.

visitor-goneWhen I came back, my visitor was gone from its sunning spot. It probably didn’t care for my watching it any more than I cared for it watching me. But instead of relief, I felt apprehension: where did it go? Would I find it under the plastic sheeting I was working with? I shuddered.

But, no … more likely it crawled into the deep shelter of the sweet potato vines that overflowed the garden box next to the one it was sunning in. Maybe it lived there. If so, it will probably stay in there, safely hidden from the monstrous creature wielding a pick axe just outside.

In time I finished my work for the day, packed up my tools and went inside.

dsc04918Early the next morning I came out to plan the continuance of my work and again encountered my visitor. This time, quite lifeless. It was not torn up or chewed, but dead just the same. I can only speculate what happened to it. My best guess would be that it was out foraging this morning (or more likely late yesterday evening — it’s chilly in the mornings) and one of the dogs (probably Blondie: she has a history) spotted it and flapped it to death.

I fetched the poop-bucket and clam-shell grabber I use to clean up the play yard and removed the limp remains before someone decided to make a meal or a toy of it.

I am not fond of snakes. But as I disposed of this one, I did not feel elation or vindication, but sadness. Perhaps I should have captured the thing and relocated it outside of the fenced play yard.

Perhaps.

If snakes could read I’d post stumpy little signs warning them of the danger in trespassing on the dogs play yard. But they can’t, so they follow their tongues to where they think they’ll find food. Sometimes that works out well for them. Sometimes … not so much.