Shortly after we moved into our new house, near Princeton, W.Va., the Dish Network guy came by to install his product. While he was running wires from the inconveniently placed dish behind our house, to the house, he suggested that our flower beds might have something of a snake infestation due to the number of holes he’d noticed in them.
“I prefer to think of them as mole holes,” I replied.
“Yeah, probably mole holes,” he corrected.
I thought about this for a moment. “Incidentally,” I began, “if there were to be snakes about, what sort of snakes might they be in this area?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. Green snakes, copperheads, rattlesnakes…”
“Ah,” I said.
“The rattlesnakes will let you know where they are,” Dish guy said. “It’s the copperheads you have to worry about. They’ll bite you just to laugh at you.”
“Ah,” I said. “And what do they look like?”
“Well, they’re copper colored. Real similar in color to all these leaves,” and then he pointed to the great heap of leaves our home’s previous owners did not see fit to rake from the flower beds back when it was cold enough that you wouldn’t have to worry about deadly poisonous serpents lurking in them. Then he added, “Which is where they like to hide.”
“Ah,” I said.
And where do you think our dog Sadie likes to poop the most? Yes, sir, the flower beds. Even more horrifying, the flower beds pretty much surround the entire back deck portion of the house.
Have I mentioned that my wife Ashley is deathly afraid of snakes? Oh, she’s deathly afraid all right. Sure, under controlled conditions, such as a snake in a cage or a known non-venomous pet snake held by someone else, several feet away, she’s okay with them; it’s the unidentified snakes in the wild she’s none too thrilled with. This is understandable, really, as she grew up in Alaska where they don’t have any snakes. She therefore has no idea of the usual snake etiquette the rest of us take for granted (or, at least, the rest of us who grew up in snake-infested south Mississippi) and would actually prefer fighting a bear.
Back in the fall, having just finished planting some new perennials in the flowerbed by the garage, Ashley called me over to see her work. Just as I arrived, she stooped down to move the garden hose and then yelped and jumped back.
“There’s a snake!”
Sure enough, slithering along the seam where the flowerbed meets the house was a small grayish snake with a white band around his neck. I didn’t know what kind it was, but it was not a copperhead and not a rattlesnake and was kind of cute, so I reached down to see if I could grab the tip of its tail.
“Don’t pick it up!” Ashley screamed.
Huh, I thought. That hadn’t occurred to me. Probably a good idea. I pulled my hand back and a moment later, the snake slithered around the corner of the house and then down behind the drain pipe and out of sight beneath the low boardwalk leading to the back deck.
“Oh, no!” Ashley said. “He canNOT live under there!”
“I don’t see that we have a choice in the matter,” I said. “We can’t exactly get him out.” Well, we could, but it would require destroying the boardwalk to do so. “I tried to catch him, but you said not to,” I added.
“I didn’t tell you not to catch him. I said `don’t pick it up.’ “
“And I didn’t,” I said. “Besides, he’s harmless. He’s probably just some sort of little garden snake.”
The wife was less than thrilled by this assumption. “I should have sprayed him in the face with the hose and when he was distracted I could have killed him,” she said.
“And then we’ll look him up online and it will say: Little gray snake with a ring around his neck—harmless, friend to all human beings, will give you five dollars, very bad luck to kill.’“
“I’ll show him bad luck.”
We left the matter there, but I could tell our little snaky friend did not leave Ashley’s thoughts. In fact, I took no small pleasure in playing snaky pranks on her throughout the rest of the day.
While loading up the last twigs from what had been an enormous pile of sticks I’ve been assembling over the past few months, composed entirely of ones I pulled from the yard, I spotted a large earthworm wiggling on the pavement.
“Oh, look, a snake,” I said calmly. Ashley looked, yelped again and clutched at her heart, Fred Sanford-style. Then she hit me really hard in the shoulder. I had to admit, I deserved it, but it didn’t stop me from continuing to play with fate.
Later, after she had wondered aloud whether or not the snake could get into our garage, I pointed out that it would actually have little difficulty getting into the house, what with the back screen door being cracked open like it was, and all. I was out of reach for that one, but I know she wanted to belt me again. I assured her that snakes don’t like people and avoid them at all costs, so they’d not be real likely to want to get into the house.
Just to further ease her mind, I went and looked up our snaky friend by his description. I’m pretty sure it was a ring-necked snake. If so, the snake we saw was not far from being an adult, at less than a foot in length.
“And he’s not poisonous,” I said.
“Venomous,” she corrected. “Venomous.”