Naked, Eve came face to face with a single, solitary snake in the Garden of Eden. Fully clothed and wearing boots to my knees, I came face to face with four in a single day! There’s a strong possibility I encountered five, but I think one of them happens to be super-speedy and quickly moves from one place to another.
Ever since the daytime temperatures exceeded 72 degrees, I’ve been startled regularly as the grass or leaves in my path make rustling sounds when catching sight of a tail squiggling to propel itself out of my way. The foothills provide a perfect echo chamber for colorful language as neighbors below are barraged with more expletives than Adam uttered when packing for his eviction from Eden.
Two years ago I posted an article about my encounter with a copperhead. I almost stepped on one while out for a morning walk. Fortunately, none of the current batch of snakes is venomous, but their inability to kill or disfigure me in an instant really doesn’t lessen the horror. I’m finally able to brush off encounters with the spring infants, but I’m still not at peace with the adults who seem reluctant to vacate the immediate vicinity.
I noticed their obstinacy when using the weed-eater for the first time. I’d cleared some areas next to the house, and when I revved up the motor, a small snake scurried down the slope and out of sight. Less than five minutes later, a much larger one was exposed when I removed its protective canopy. It was unwilling to move, much like someone with a laptop in a coffee shop who is under the impression that buying a tall Columbian is some sort of nine-hour lease on a corner table.
The next day, I was working in the front of the house, and there was another mature snake. My task was to remove some invasive blackberry bushes next to a patch of some attractive ground cover. To accomplish my goal, I’d have to stand in that groundcover for a couple of hours, and I needed to know what was beneath the surface. Groundcover will grow back, so I got out the weed-eater again. Fortunately, I figured out where this particular snake liked to hang out and we silently agreed to respect mutual boundaries.
At the end of the day, I gathered up mounds of greenery and planned to make multiple trips to the spot where I intended to dump it. Sticking to paths coming down the hill, I would be able to see anything I didn’t want to, but I chose to come up a different hill because it was a shorter distance to where I’d been working. Big mistake. Larger than any snake I’d encountered this spring, I ran into Big Daddy, which showed up out of nowhere. As he bolted out of sight (another sign he was a male because females apparently don’t flee), words you don’t hear in Vacation Bible School rang through the forest as I hesitated and made a mental note of thanks for having faithfully taken my baby aspirin.
Pausing for a split second, I decided to make my steps heavier in an effort to warn the missus that I was approaching. Whatever had kept her within a few inches of the same spot all day, I hoped my trespass would send her scurrying beneath the ground before I spotted that irksome tail poking out from those leaves.
When I came back from my water break, there was a snake in the driveway heading toward the French drain. It took its sweet time, but I waited patiently for it to complete its procession before returning to my cleanup. For a moment I lied to myself. I was in denial. I decided I’d been dealing with a single snake in three places, but the size and temperament of the two had been completely different. When I pointed out to Gary that the snake had just moments earlier gone beneath the driveway grate where he was headed, he spotted it along with another snake in the other French drain, and one sunning itself along the wall under the herb garden.
For years, my reoccurring stress dream involved walks in the woods where I continued to see and step on multiple snakes, and those nocturnal horrors were coming true! There are two things I fear in life: poverty and snakes. In most cases, you can see poverty coming, but snakes materialize from nowhere. You can walk along a path, and turn around to cross the exact same spot in a matter of seconds, and a snake can be found right where your foot is planning to come down.
Knowing these creatures are performing a necessary function in the garden, I researched the common garter snake. They are rather fond of slugs, which have devoured the thyme in the herb garden. For this reason, I shall leave these beneficial snakes to their tasks as long as I don’t have to look at them.
This brought to mind a troublesome assistant I once had. Because this part-time employee kept appearing at my appointments, which he deemed important, I started keeping my own calendar. However, such attempts to throw him off didn’t prevent his showing up and hanging around when I didn’t want him to. The summer intern noted that he did very little all day except scribble notes on a pad and surf the Internet.
He’s the absolute worst person I’ve ever met when it comes to punctuality, yet he was always sure to text me in Jamaica when a co-worker slipped out early in the afternoons while I was gone. He was rarely where I wanted him to be, and I was frequently startled when I’d round the corner to find him lurking in an alcove writing something down. Yet, I didn’t fire him for a long time because I was sure he performed some necessary function.
While he wouldn’t pick up a coffee pot for fear he might have to pour someone a cup, and he once asked me if we needed to order Sharpies® while leaning on the door to the office supply closet, he didn’t mind greeting busloads of children who arrived for field trips. 50 frantic fourth-graders at nine in the morning are a bit much for me, and I was thankful to have a buffer. Knowing that garter snakes are keeping the pest population in check, I’m going to look the other way (literally) when it comes to their lesser qualities.
© 2016 by Patrick Brown
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