Squatter

A few days ago I rounded the corner of the house, heading across the back to get to the play yard. What I call The Chute runs along the North side of our house and across the back, formed by a tall retaining wall to the North and a chain-link fence from the wall over to meet the play yard perimeter fence. The walkway is graveled, with large stepping stones placed atop the gravel for the dogs comfort and our convenience.

As I started across the back of the house a scrabbling sound caught my attention and I just caught sight of a small (4 foot) Black Snake racing along the walkway until it hung a left and shot through the fencing into the weeds and grass on the other side. I really need to weed-whack that stuff.

I am not fond of snakes, but I know black snakes are harmless, even beneficial. So I shook off the creepiness and went about my work.

The next day I was cleaning the kennels. I was crossing the front of the building to get to the entry door at the far corner when I noticed the tail end of a black snake disappearing through the rotted out wood at the bottom of the door frame. I really need to patch that rotten wood.

Sunning itself on the walkway is one thing, slithering about in the kennel building is quite another.

I grabbed a corn broom and swung the door closed, exposing the corner into which the snake had crawled. Two rolls of tar paper sat atop a two-by-four laid on the floor to keep the rolls dry in heavy rains when that back wall leaks. The snake was between that two-by-four and the wall. The door was still open enough the leave a bright spot of sunshine beaming in, hopefully signifying escape and safety.

I poked and prodded with the broom, to no effect whatsoever. There were some rebar pins stored nearby and I began tossing these in from the side opposite the door. After a few of these clanged against the concrete (and a couple whumped against the snake) my foe emerged from the other side, but instead of racing outside to safety, the obstinate thing coiled up in the corner, accordioned the first foot of it’s body in a “ready to strike” pose, opened its mouth, wobbled it’s head, and began vibrating the tip of it’s wail against the floor.

“You don’t fool me, Blacksnake, you’re no rattler.”

I was once fooled this way by a Yellow Bellied King Snake, which has markings that could be mistaken for a rattler, unfortunately that deception backfired and let to the King snakes demise. I felt terrible afterward when the truth became clear from a closer inspection. But I will not be so fooled again, especially not by a Black Snake.

So we began doing battle. I would prod it with the broom, trying to turn it’s head toward the door, it would counter by striking and slithering to orient it’s body differently.

At one point I stopped to reconsider my approach. This clearly was not working. All I was accomplishing was to make the snake exceedingly pissed-off.
During my respite the thing decided on another tactic as well. It went UP THE WALL!

I’ve seen snakes go up a rock wall before, but a cinder-block wall? Granted, it was in the corner and seemed to be using the opposing walls to wedge itself some, but up a wall? It seemed to think it could escape or at least gain advantage by getting up into the rafters (and it was correct on that last score).
I knocked it down. It started up again. I knocked it down again.

It got REALLY upset and reared up tall, upper body wavy and I could swear the thing was hissing at me. I saw an opportunity.

I swatted it with the broom, pushing the head down and into the corner by the door frame.

The snake had finally had enough and quickly exited, it scales grating against the wood and concrete and the steel door. It went around the corner of the building and back up into the brush behind the kennel building.

That battle was over. I was victorious. I hoped it had learned a lesson and would content itself to hunt in the woods. What could it possibly have wanted in the kennel building?

Unless …

This building was once a lumber shed. In it I stored several thousand board feet of lumber, sticker-stacked on racks so it would dry and become usable for making furniture.

In the summer of 2019 we poured a concrete slab beside this building, erected a sturdy steel roof above it and built three 8’x10’ kennels in that space. I added igloo style dog houses and Kuranda dog beds. Our kennel dogs lived there for a while. Then in the early winter of 2020 I sold the stack of lumber that sat next to the wall which was the back wall of the outside kennels. That opened up (just barely) enough space for me to construct block walls between inside kennels and erect chain-link door panels to create indoor spaces for the dogs to escape the cold of winter. Later I sold two more stacks that opened up all the space in the front of the building and I began moving supplies in there.

It did seem odd that in all the rearranging I never flushed out any nests of mice.
I found the remnants of abandoned mice nests in the lumber piles – and snake skins. But nothing living of either species. Only once have I heard something scrabbling about up in the loft of the building. That did seem odd.

Perhaps this “visitor” was in fact the previous resident, diligently reducing the mouse population.

Black snakes are officially the longest snakes in North America, some reaching 8 feet in length, but 6 feet is quite common. So a four footer was probably at least a couple of years old, maybe more. Definitely old enough to have been hunting in here for a while.

Guilt set in. That wasn’t very hospitable of me, was it?

On the other hand, do I WANT a snake living in the kennel building?

Chances are that as I remove the remaining lumber, paint the walls and the floor, install insulation and better lighting, the place will become less inviting to both mice and the snake.

Well … the snake anyway, mice don’t seem to care, they invade any place. Maybe I could get the snake to patrol the outside, intercepting mice on their way in but not come crawling around inside itself. Yeah: that would be good. I’ll work on that.

Author: Doug

I've been a wordsmith since the 1970s. Mostly for print magazine and newspapers, but I do have a few books, and now gazillions of web site articles.

4 thoughts on “Squatter”

  1. You were braver than I would have been. I actually thought you were going to find a nest of baby snakes. Glad that wasn’t the case.

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