I was gardening and mowing, just basically giving the yard a good cleaning today. There is a place near our little grey shed that I had hoped to turn into a flower or vegetable garden last year. That summer, I did succeed in planting beans, cucumbers, and some corn, but I received nothing for my labors. The deer came grazing along, leaving very little left in the way of vegetables. I had a few cucumber plants remaining, so I thought I would try to scare away the greedy deer by strategically placing two of my son’s plastic, toy snakes near the plants on a lumber post I was using for a border. Unfortunately, the deer were much too smart for my feeble fake snakes. No cucumbers.
Remember, the placement of my snake decoys was last year, and I had nearly forgotten the strategically planted plastic snakes that were still near the wooden border of my forgotten flowerbed. As I was saying, today, I brought out the push-mower to rid the neglected yard of the weeds that had grown around the shed. There was no time for a flowerbed or a garden this year, so I thought I’d start over. I mowed for a bit, then stopped and pulled the first lumber post out of the way. I nearly jumped out of my skin, but then quickly recovered, realizing that the black and red “snake” I spied under the wood was only made of plastic. Chuckling, I pulled the post further out of my overgrown weed bed. I saw the second fake snake near the first one. I was still smiling to myself, then did a double-take.
As I recalled, the second of the plastic snakes was painted green and white. The one in front of me now was beige and brown with very detailed spots and rings- a little too detailed! Lo and behold, it was a real snake sleepily knotted-up beside the silly plastic imposter. I froze, caught my breath, backed up, and yelled to my husband while keeping one eye on the suspiciously scaled creature. I yelled again- this time more urgently- to Barney who was on the front porch with our preschooler. He squinted back in confusion, shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun, not understanding my dilemma.
“There’s a snake over here, and I think it’s a poisonous one!” By this time, I feared my screams may have scared the evil thing away. (The only thing worse than finding a snake is finding one and then losing it again.) But no, it stayed put, without even moving a millimeter. Barney walked over, took a good long look, and said, “I’m not sure what kind it is.” For those of you who do not know my husband well, he is a snake lover. Ground snakes, garter snakes, black snakes, milk snakes, even boa constrictors, he loves them all. He thinks they are fascinating. To prove my point, (on a side note) we once kept a ground snake for a while- one he found near his parents’ house when we were dating. We named it Louis Pasteur, which was soon changed to Louise when it had babies a few days later. Yes, Barney is a snake’s best friend, and he was still standing, staring, and pondering when I broke the silence.
“It looks poisonous to me, we need to kill it!” I was ready, standing behind him with the sharp end of a shovel poised for action and a crazy look in my eyes.
“I think it might be a copperhead, but I’ve never seen one. I’ll call Dad.”
“What? We need to kill it now before it gets away! I won’t have it near my children.”
“Just wait for Dad to look at it before we kill it. I’d hate to kill a good snake that would keep mice out of the building.” He walked to the house to get the phone, muttering something about “karma” and “killing things” under his breath.
So, here I am, still poised, still staring at this statuesque serpent, and I just knew he was a baddie. Hang karma! I was ready for combat, feeling like a mamma bear protecting her cubs.
“If it starts to run, I’m killing it!” I yelled over my shoulder to my husband with something like focused insanity in my tone. He quickly returned to my side with the phone in one ear. After a brief few words, the conversation with his dad was over. We both just stood there, waiting for “Farmer Bud” to show up and save us.
Two or three minutes passed. The kids had been instructed to stay inside. It was just us and him, a stare-down between the cowards and the copperhead.
“Let’s kill it!” I growled.
“Well, it does have a “copper” head,” Barney continued quietly. “Yep, I think he’s a bad one.”
“Then kill it! Kill it!” I was handing him a hoe, but he just took it disinterestedly and waited.
Bud drove up within another minute. He walked solemnly toward us, crossed the yard in old sneakers, dressed in his best pair of pants and his most tattered plaid shirt. He had obviously been outside working today as well, looking like a hobo out of the Depression Era. When he reached our show-down position, he looked into the tall wheat grass but saw nothing at first.
“Where is it? I don’t see it.” He shoved his heavy spectacles back onto his nose. At seventy-eight, his hearing was patchy, but I had never doubted his eyes until that moment. Barney had to point several times. Bud squinted and turned his head for a better view through the brown grass. At last, he saw the villainous viper, but Barney had to point his finger right above the reptilian intruder. He then gave the verdict.
“Yep, that’s a copperhead.” He reached for the blunt hoe and took a good whack at it. He caught it several inches behind the head, and the little brown snake turned on the hoe with a wide and sinister mouth. Its deadly white fangs were bared now, biting at the metal with all its strength!
Whap! I dug in with my shovel behind the hoe and I held it tight to the ground, trying to sever its flailing body in half or hold it tight from fleeing.
“Have you got it?” Bud asked me, and I gritted my teeth while nodding affirmatively. With that, he lifted his instrument and took another whack at its head. It writhed and rolled in nauseating waves of skin and scales. Barney took over with the shovel (he must have noticed my death grip on the handle.) I stood by, while they chopped at the snake’s two-foot body. In another few seconds the job was done. Barney threw the carcass over the hill and Bud handed the hoe back to me as easy as you please, nonchalantly walking back to his car like it was all in a day’s work to him.
“If I hadn’t gone into the house for a coffee break, you wouldn’t have gotten me at all,” were his last words to us as he left the driveway. We looked at each other and mused. Was that a “grow up” retort, or a very brief “quit-being-such-pansies” lecture? Or was it “the only good snake is a dead snake,” philosophy being preached to us (a philosophy with which I tended to agree.)
We could not tell. We distracted ourselves from our cowardice by laughing at Fritz, the dachshund, who found the dead snake after its demise and proceeded to bark and jump at it as if it were still alive. I walked down the hill to take a snapshot of that grotesque serpent and to make sure it was indeed deceased, since Fritz did not show signs of giving up on his quarry…
Yes, it was still dead, I sighed. As I neared to take a photograph, Fritz seized the lifeless serpent in his jaws and viciously shook it in the air from side to side as if he were trying to snap its neck. All he succeeded in doing was to fling the horrible thing back toward me. I recoiled and felt a slight misting of snake guts across my legs. I made a face and moved away from Fritz with several choruses of “good boy,” to bolster my little dog’s self-esteem. (How could I not? He did think he was saving my life!)
As the adrenaline slowed, Barney and I went back to removing the wooden border from my weed bed. This time, we took turns. One of us mowed while the other held a hoe nearby. We did a very thorough and careful job. We were as brave as Farmer Bud. You know, we even found the other long-lost fake snake in the grass with a very minimal amount of panic. I felt a little braver, until I bent down to retrieve the second imposter snake and realized that my hand must have come within six inches of the real serpent’s fang-filled mouth. (Fainting now.) I hope this copperhead was a lonely guy, just hanging out with his new-found plastic buddies when I happened to come across him, because I do not even want to think about meeting any of his real friends!
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