Monday, July 08, 2013

Black Snake Days

I. Saturday morning, bright and early. Taking care of chores early so we can head into town ahead of the heat. In house#1, there is a turkey hen and four keets—half the number there were the night before. In lieu of the keets, there is a large black snake curled up in the corner, partially hidden beneath the wood chip bedding. It bulges conspicuously.

Without thought or hesitation, I locate the snake's head end and grab it; it erupts from the wood chips in a writhing fury and attempts to wrap itself around my arm. Bloated from gorging on our keets, it is slow and lacks the supple grace it would normally exhibit. I am stunned and furious at what it has done, and at how I have somehow failed our charges.

I stand with my writhing captive for what seems like an eternity, deciding what to do. I quickly realize there is only one course of action, and that is for the snake to die. Not to assuage my anger or rage or guilt or sorrow, not for vengeance or retribution or reparation or anything else like that. It must die because if i do not kill it, it will undoubtedly return and finish what it has started, and perhaps inflict harm on the hen herself, though she is too big to become a meal.

So without further thought or hesitation, I kill the snake instantly. Its tail continues to act without plan or guidance for some time, then finally quiets. I throw its body into the meadow for the scavengers to feed upon, and by the next day large sections of it have been picked to the bone, leaving the fish-like skeleton to bleach in the hot July sun.

II. Sunday morning. A black snake slithers along the fence line between the garden and the summer chicken yard, safely disappearing into the deep weeds and cover separating the two. The chickens are concerned but not alarmed.

III. Early Sunday afternoon. Another sighting, this time in the garden proper. I do not see this one, but shortly  afterwards, I see another black snake—significantly larger and longer than Saturday morning's snake—gliding silently among the summer flowers and forbs just inside the garden from the driveway. I walk along beside it for a time, trying to keep track of its head to gauge its intentions. It pauses briefly, as the fencing limits its options, then proceeds to disappear into a burrow. It advances six, maybe eight inches, paused, backs up an inch or two, then resumes its progress until its entire length has disappeared underground. I would not have thought it possible for such a large creature to disappear with such ease. What was it seeking? Food? Shelter? Respite from the baking sun? I have no idea.

IV. Later Sunday afternoon. We are relaxing beneath the creaky ceiling fan when the roaming guineas raise a ruckus outside our room. They are persistent and unusually focused, so on my way out to begin another project I pause to see what has them riled up so. The three clownish heads are staring and screaming at another black snake, which this time has sought refuge in the clutter next to the foundation. I realize there are many ground nests nearby, and we have noticed the occasional egg disappearing. So I step to the snake, and my complacency and overconfidence gets the best of me. As I reach for its neck, I grab too far back and the   glaring, angry head snaps back and bites me, once, twice. The second time, it does not let go, but hangs on to my finger with a fury.

My first thought was "aww...those are like little kitten teeth. Angry little kitten teeth. How adorable this little snake is." And the rest of the angry little snake body, all three-and-a-half feet of it, began knotting itself around my hand and arm. Realizing I was kind of stuck in an awkward predicament, I called for Mary to toss me a glove, with which I could proceed with a little more security and dignity.

Gloving up my unsnaked hand, I tossed the snake away from the house. Unfortunately the snake did not disengage my hand, but instead cut several little gashes in my finger as its flying body dragged its teeth away. Nevertheless, as soon as it was on the ground, it reoriented itself and began for the shadows near the house with great haste. I put my foot on its neck, and again, it struck several times at my shoe. But with safely gloved hand, I reached down, caught it directly behind the head, and picked it up to examine it before deciding a course of action.

I looked at the little bulge in its belly. It was not an 'egg' bulge. It looked more like a 'mouse' bulge. So at the exact same moment, Mary and I realized what the snake's fate would would be dragooned into our service. I took it to the fenced garden, and released it among the many mole-rich rows. Pissy to the last, it writhed angrily as I let it go, and it raced off for shelter and cover among the rich green cornstalks. I hope it has found a nice mole tunnel to call its own.

So many black snake stories, such a brief period.

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