It appears I am building an unintended repertoire of Close Encounters With Wildlife stories. I have been asked by someone to share “the one about the snake”, and so I give it to you here. This particular vignette occurred in the same setting that the Little Brown Bat adventure took place; a turn-of-the-century, drafty old carriage house on a defunct farm.
Autumn days, while still warm, were beginning to give over to a slight hint of winter, with the scent of dying leaves, apples and wood smoke in the air. The main room of our house at the time – a large, open “great room” space with dark pine walls, a leaded, multi-faceted star light fixture, massive beams, a huge stone fire-place and a wood stove – had taken on a deep chill every morning, which now required a fire.
The last remnants in the garden had been harvested. It was time to make sure that we had enough cords of wood split and stacked to last the winter, and to think about putting up storm windows, plastic and weather-stripping, The bats had left the shutters and headed south to Georgia. The mice were starting to move inside en masse, as they always did this time of year. A few sluggish wasps and flies were to be found bouncing off the glass in the windows, along with an influx of lady bugs who clustered in the corners of the frames. Although I am not sure where they were coming in from, it was not unusual some mornings to discover a small garter snake who had slipped inside seeking warmth, finding itself immobilized in the cold dawn on our livingroom floor. Well, yes, this is country living – at least the kind of country living one becomes accustomed to in drafty old farm houses that have not been upgraded to suburban standards.
This particular morning, I came out into the great room area to stir the ashes and stoke up the wood stove. Barefoot on the cold floor, I leaned over to open the top of the stove and almost fell over the figure-eight of a snake lying on the slate hearth. Not a demure, fingerling of a little garter snake, but one big-ass specimen of a snake, close to three feet long, complete with splotchy brownish patterns on its back, very much like a Copperhead.
At first, I thought it was a joke, because it would not be beyond my Then Husband to toss a rubber snake on the floor and wait for a reaction. But not taking any chances, I grabbed a fireplace poker and nudged it. And it moved. Not only did it move, but it started to vibrate its tail, sort of like you would expect a rattle snake to do. OK. So we have a Very Large, live snake in the living room and now it’s pissed off. I called out, “Whoa! Come here and check this thing out!” and both Then Husband and my young daughter became audience to the adventure.
Now, I have to tell you that while I am not a big fan of finding local fauna inside of the home, I love nature and this kind of stuff really interests me. Snake-in-the-house issue aside, it actually was quite beautiful. Pausing for a moment to assess the situation, I then grabbed my trusty Peterson’s Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians and (while keeping an eye on the snake) started rapidly thumbing through it in order to identify our visitor. There was a picture of an Eastern Milk Snake that sort of fit the description. The Eastern Milk Snake is a constrictor of sorts, its bite is not poisonous, and it probably came in seeking mice, which it likes very much (and this house was a mouse smörgåsbord). One of the ways to identify that it was a milk snake and not a poisonous snake was to look at its belly to see if there is a checkerboard pattern.
Look at the snake’s belly. OK. OK. OK.
So….first order of things, I put some shoes on. Then I took the poker and ever so gently tried to Flip Over The Snake. I was able to raise it up a bit, and yes, there it was, a glimpse of its black and white checkerboard pattern underneath – quite striking actually – before it pulled away and flipped itself back.
The snake didn’t seem especially interested in going anywhere, so the next order of things was to Remove It From The House. Feeling quite brave now, rather cool and confident actually, and with courage bolstered by doing my performance in front of a very amused Then Husband and one adoring pre-kindergarten daughter, I grabbed the ash bucket near the fireplace and deftly guided the snake into the pail. Hooking the handle of the bucket to the end of the poker, I carried the snake outside at arm’s length, with husband and child following behind me. Our landlord, who lived in the larger farm-house across our dirt drive, noticed our parade and gave a curious glance from his porch.
Walking out beyond the garden, to the right of the wood pile and out to the stone wall bordering a field, I turned the bucket sideways and gently used the poker to prod the snake out. As I lifted it up to do so, without warning it suddenly wrapped its body around the poker in a number of deft loops and began to swiftly move upwards towards my hand. In a reactive panic, I raised my arm and attempted to fling the snake off the poker and out into the field. With that movement, it released itself, arced up into the air in a graceful letter S and came down squarely on my head.
So there I was, frantically doing my impression of a dancing Medusa. I was no longer Joe Cool. I might have possibly screamed. It is a good possibility that some sort of gasping noise came out. I don’t remember touching it to get it off me, but I must have. I do remember the weighty sensation of that snake on my head and the light thunk of it as it landed in the grass. It lay still for a few seconds and then slithered off into the stone wall and beyond.
I turned around to find my landlord, his wife and children had come outside and had been witness to the entire spectacle. I turned around to my family and my neighbors. And then, we all started laughing.