Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Crossing A Line

I crossed a line last night. For the first time since we moved here, I deliberately killed a vertebrate—a black snake.

The suddenness and ease with which I chose to kill the snake came as a bit of a surprise to me. I am especially reluctant to kill snakes, because I have long believed they are worthy of keeping around for their beneficial attributes, because they are beautiful and elegant, and as a personal counterpoint to the blind, thoughtless ease with which so many people kill snakes without regard.

We found this particular black snake in the henhouse at twilight, jaws distended around an egg, as Mary was closing the chickens in for the night. Without thinking, I grabbed his thick mid-section, and he disgorged the egg whole, writhing as best he could in an effort to reach me and regain control of the situation.

Twice recently we have found black snakes in the henhouse; twice I have carefully put them in a cloth sack and driven them to the far end of the property to release them unscathed. I have no idea how many individual snakes were involved in these appearances, if they were related to the earlier wren depredations, or if this was all the mischief wrought by one determined individual.

Perhaps due to the added presence of a dozen new chicks nearby, or my awareness of the ongoing perturbation to our egg-producing enterprise made by the arrival of the previous snake, or knowing the inherent conflict of raising captive animals for food with the natural order of the wild, I understood the instant I grabbed this snake it was not going for a ride. I was going to dispassionately kill it immediately without hesitation, remorse, discussion or opportunity for appeal.

And in a single moment, I dispatched it. Barehanded. I felt an instant of regret. No, not regret—remorse. Everything I felt and admired about snakes was still present in the limp lifeless form of this particular snake, who I returned into the deep woods to feed what comes next. But in this particular case, I walked up to the line, paused, and stepped across it because that's what I had to do.

End of story.

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