I am not a snake person. Don’t like them. Don’t want them around.
A few days ago I opened the garage door and spied–peeking from behind the new power washer I’ve yet to use on our deck–a 3-foot Black Snake. I didn’t run away screaming, but it thoroughly unnerved me in that ancient part of my brain that would instantly recognize the barest outline of a wolf, grizzly bear, or tarantula at 100 yards. Honestly, I think I would rather have run into a tarantula than a snake. There’s a reason that the book of Genesis makes a big deal about the enmity (great word) between snakes and women. They make my blood run cold. (Snakes bring out the melodramatic in me.)
I know most snakes are my friends. They eat the field mice and voles that plague our little country home and yard. If I see one sunning itself on the toasty pavement, I avoid running over it with my car. I’m not a vicious person. They have a strange, dangerous beauty, just like sharks, and they do have their place in the food chain. I suspect the snake living in the garage is the same one I’d seen relaxing on the concrete pad portion of our driveway only a week or so earlier. I had spared it, parking my car in front of the house instead of in the garage.
I see now that its presence was a warning: “I’m going to mess you up, lady. Just wait.”
When it showed up inside the garage, I was on my way somewhere and, frankly, didn’t have time to deal with it. Grabbing a push broom, I came around the back of it with the idea that I would jar it from its resting place and then push it outside. But I wasn’t really committed. So when I poked at it–quickly, as one will do with a snake–I backed away again when it turned on me, darting at me just a few inches. It wasn’t into the game either, I guess. And there our encounter ended.
I haven’t seen that particular snake again. For a while I made everyone avoid using the door that goes into the mudroom from the garage, but we’ve pretty much given that up. It’s entirely possible that one of us will head out to the car and be face-to-ankle with a snake that will suddenly dash inside and cause all kinds of havoc. Though I have this fantasy in which the snake will never want to come inside because of the air conditioning. Don’t they prefer warm, summertime garages?
The first time we had a large Black Snake in the house we carried it in ourselves, rolled in a rug that we’d stored in the garage during a months-long period of puppy training. Our family of four was all in the dining room for that event. We unrolled the rug and the thing dropped out with a substantial thud and went right behind the china cabinet. What followed was a comedic interlude which we fondly refer to as our Black Snake Rodeo. Our young son climbed up on the counter and–soon bored with watching his parents curse and poke at a snake with various sticks and brooms–began to clamor for snacks. It went on for 15 or 20 minutes, and we eventually chased it out the door. As it went, it twisted around and hissed a final warning back at us.
“I’m going to mess you people up. Just wait.”
A few months later, the Black Snake took a traditional crime family approach and sent in an obnoxious little thug to do its dirty work. I was home alone one afternoon, about to get into the shower, when I stumbled (nearly naked, if you must know) onto a juvenile Copperhead in the guest bathroom. While I cannot even begin to fathom how I would’ve responded to a full-grown, 4-foot Copperhead like the ones I’ve seen lounging on our lane, I can tell you that my initial thought was: “This snake must die before it has a chance to get near my children, husband, dogs, cat, or take up residence in a closet or snow boot.” Actually, it was more like THIS SNAKE MUST DIE. (I know I sound like a big ol’ bully, but I’m willing to accept responsibility for my actions.) So I mashed its poisonous, snaky, triangular head with a hammer. It made a terrible mess. (I posted a pic of it on FB a while back, but once was enough.)
Of course, the big Black Snake had not yet avenged himself (herself?). Just a couple of nights ago, it sent in one of its children.
I confess that when I came upon the gray, juvenile Black Snake that was poking its head out of the kids’ bathroom, I had a millisecond’s hesitation over what to do. As I said, Black Snakes are good things. It was probably just looking for a mousey snack. Our house obviously isn’t very secure from these creatures, and it had no doubt followed a mouse trail inside.
Milliseconds don’t last very long. There was no way I could get to a hammer before it escaped the bathroom. Plus, hammers are terrible weapons when it comes to snake-killing.
Here’s a handy thing: A snake gun. My friend J.T. Ellison told me a great story about her dad killing a rattlesnake with one, years ago.
I had direct access to a treadmill, a television, a few remotes and a pair of chairs. All quite inferior snake-killing weapons. Though firing shots at a snake in the house seems…excessive and rather foolhardy.
It’s hard to express the depths of my instinctual loathing for these creatures. It’s as though, by breaching the boundaries of our walls, they become something altogether different from their brethren outside our walls. They become a threat. When I see a snake in the house, a transparent blood-red curtain drops in front of my eyes as though I’m some maniac in a 1950s Grade B horror film. I can see nothing but the threat. We have innumerable closets, several beds, many, many shoes to hid in. We have vulnerable animals in the house. We have plenty of room for a snake to hide…and to grow. But most of all, I have something inside me that tells me to deal with the threat, immediately. That if I wait, disaster will ensue. Pain will ensue. The ancient part of my brain demanded that I deal with it right away. I am not a violent person! But I am a different person when it comes to snakes in the house.
The weapon I eventually settled on was a lovely framed mirror that’s painted with winsome hummingbirds of all colors. The front of the snake was still raised about six inches off of the ground when I first struck it with the edge of the frame. I cried out, “Aaaaa! Aaaaa! Aaaaa!” as I hit it. It seemed to take forever. Snake parts twitch for quite a long time.
Now I feel a bit regretful. Those two small snakes were in the wrong house at the wrong time. But there was no way for me to engage in a small snake rodeo on my own. They were crazy-fast and would’ve disappeared quickly had I run for a bowl to throw over them.
I also feel regretful at the sense of elation I felt after offing them. There’s a rule that people training in self-defense learn at gun school: If all else fails and you have to shoot someone to defend yourself, don’t talk about it immediately afterward. Your body is super-pumped with adrenalin. And you have just done something so elemental that the ancient part of your brain is celebrating the fact that it fulfilled the “fight” part of the “fight or flight” issue. It just saved your life, but the resultant elation has nothing to do with your emotions or reason. People around you will misunderstand that. Twenty minutes later, the modern part of your brain will remind you that taking another’s life is nothing to celebrate. Not at all.
And so the big Black Snake waits. I doubt that the snake in the garage is the same one we shooed outside years ago with our brooms and sticks, but I can’t be certain. Taking a slow revenge seems like a curiously snaky thing to do. I hope that rattlesnakes really are rare where we live. Because it’s probably next on the list.