I just discovered that a black snake lives in our yard.
I discovered it when I went out the back door and saw it skedaddle. It must have been sunning itself, as it was a very bright and hot day. I startled it, and it hightailed off into a hiding place that was very narrow and dark, but one that I walked by quite frequently. It made me wonder why I hadn’t seen it sooner.
Which made me think of snakes in general. We all know that snakes live everywhere, and you don’t have to live in the country to come across snakes. We lived in the middle of a city once and had a black snake that lived in the yard, and I saw it often in the four years that we lived in that house. Our youngest daughter even stepped on it coming down the back steps in a hurry one day.
Snakes are an interesting icon in our society. People either like them or hate them and there doesn’t seem to be any in between on that score. Some people run screaming if one is even mentioned to be in the area, illogically hating to be in the same vicinity, as if a snake will come and devour them just like in the movies.
I have a neighbor that is one of those that is afraid of snakes. He is so afraid of them that he carries a rifle with him while he is on his tractor cutting hay to shoot at any snakes that he might see. Mind you, he is sitting about six or seven feet up off the ground on that tall tractor, enclosed in a cab that has air conditioning. The day that a common snake jumps that high off of the ground onto a smelly and loud machine and knows to go after the human that is steering it is truly the day that we should all prepare for the end of the world. But it seems that there is no logic when trying to explain all of that to someone that is afraid of or dislikes snakes as much as my neighbor.
I know someone, however, that will go looking for a snake if someone says one was sighted. I was walking down the sidewalk with this friend when a man walked up and asked if either of us had lost a pet snake. We looked at each other and said no, and asked why he would ask random people if they had lost a snake. “Because,” he said, “one is on the sidewalk right over there.” And this person that I know ran down the sidewalk to see the snake, identified what kind of harmless snake it was, and picked it up!
That’s the thing about snakes, or really anything that is potentially dangerous: if you can identify it, you will know if you should be frightened or can pick it up off the sidewalk.
So my friend walked around for about an hour knocking on doors and asking about the home of this snake. When he could not find a hint of ownership, he declared the snake’s name to be TIMMY and took it home and made a new home for Timmy.
A week later he went to the pet store with Timmy to get some new home furnishings for Timmy’s aquarium, at which time the clerk declared that Timmy was a girl. My friend couldn’t think of a good girl name for this snake so it stayed Timmy until she got out and left her home one day.
I am not afraid of snakes. In fact, I had a pet snake in high school named Hermie. Hermie looked a lot like a rattlesnake, but was, of course, NOT a rattler.
One day I came home from school to find a fire truck in front of my home with its lights flashing. The firemen and my mother were all standing at the edge of the garage looking in at something. When I walked up and asked what was going on, my mom replied that a rattlesnake had gotten into the garage and was wrapped around the pipe right over the washing machine and it had flicked its tongue at her and scared her! We lived on the last street of the last subdivision in our town that backed up to hundreds of acres of ranch land and a Marine base, so rattlers were not uncommon in our neighborhood.
I leaned forward into the garage to spy the rattler with all the rest of the adults lined up. And I spied … you guessed it … HERMIE!! I yelled, “Hermie!!” My mom threw up her hands and rolled her eyes and scolded me about ‘that darn snake.’ I explained to the firemen that it was my pet snake, and they rolled their eyes and got into their truck and left, with a little mumbling under their breath.
So you can see that I don’t mind snakes at all. I don’t like surprising a rattler, or any other snake for that matter. But as long as I can figure out what kind of snake it is and then determine if it is poisonous or not (to know if I should run away or not) I am okay.
Recently I was listening to a gardening show on the radio as I was driving down the highway. The caller told about killing ‘five or six garter snakes and a black snake’ in his garden already this year! I was floored. I almost drove off of the road!! I wanted the phone number of that station so that I could call and castigate that ‘gardener’ for killing perfectly innocuous and harmless snakes! Did he also go out and kill all the ladybugs in his garden?! Did he also kill any honeybee that helped pollinate his crops?! To call himself a gardener while saying he kills the very thing that is saving his garden from being eaten by many vermin and pests was too much of a dichotomy for me to rest easy.
Don’t get the idea that I am a nature lover at any expense and am against killing for any reason. For instance, I can’t stand possums getting into my house or garage: they stink and make a mess like a riot scene and have teeth that scare me, so I will try to get rid of them. I have killed rattlesnakes in the past, especially ones that made their way into my children’s play yard or into my kitchen! I have eaten venison, and for that matter eat beef and chicken! And I am a big fan of stomping any brown recluse spider I come across.
But killing everything in your garden, no matter the purpose, is just crazy! I wanted to suggest that he just take an herbicide and kill off his garden altogether since he clearly could be said NOT to be in tune with how a garden grows. He could take some lessons from Mary Mary, Quite Contrary. It takes all kinds of forces of nature to get a good garden to grow, from bugs and insects to, yes I will dare to say it, SNAKES!!
I think that we must react to things the way we were taught to react. Maybe my snake-scared neighbor’s father and/or mother were scared of snakes and passed that along. Like if a mother screams and runs into the house because she saw a bee, her children will probably do the same thing, though not knowing exactly WHY they must scream and run.
I know in my case, my father was not afraid of snakes. I remember a time when I was four years old that a large king snake came off the hill into our backyard while we were all out there playing. My dad saw it, sauntered to the garage, and came back with a shovel. We all inched forward with him to see this strange creature. We moved slowly, not screaming or jumping up and down and not throwing sticks at it. When we were all calmly finished watching it and we were starting to get bored, my dad chopped off its head with the shovel.
We learned several fascinating lessons that day. Snakes are cool but dangerous. Dad wasn’t scared of them. Mom was. A shovel isn’t just for dirt. A snake’s body moves and thrashes even without its head, and a snakes mouth still opens and closes after it is dead. Those are lots of lessons for a four-year-old to learn in one day. But the most important one of all was to be calm.
I’ll let my black snake live behind the house, or wherever it is he lives, in peace. I will try to make lots of noise when I walk outside in order to scare him or any other snake off so that I don’t startle one. And I’ve declared him to have a name: HeeShee Slithers. Because I think that’s why poor Timmy left the good home my friend made for her: she was constantly being called a boys name!!! At least HeeShee covers both the he and the she without me having to get close enough to figure out exactly WHAT HeeShe is!!
Copyright © 2012, Maura White. All rights reserved.