Encounters of the Reptilian Kind

Reptiles love me. I know that sounds strange, but they do. While I’m not particularly scared of them, I have no particular affinity for them, either. I maintain a healthy respect for the dangerous ones, and some I even consider helpful, like the nest of garden snakes we had in our yard in Colorado. Their den was under the patio, and I once counted 20 snake heads sticking up out of the entrance to their hole. I told the children to steer clear, but since we were one of the few homes in the neighborhood without a mouse problem, I let the snakes be. For some reason, however, snakes and lizards are not content to let me be. Perhaps it has something to do with my Chinese astrological sign, the fire snake, but since I don’t believe in such things, I sincerely doubt that’s reason they seem drawn to me.

The first time I received a visit from a snake, I did apparently issue an invitation. When I was a little girl, we lived on a farm. My mom often took me on nature walks. We’d visit our pigs and walk through the garden where she’d show me the plants and the bugs that lived there, explaining things like ladybugs are helpful, aphids are not. We often found snake skins, and my mother would pick them up and explain how a snake sheds. She did, also, occasionally catch grass snakes to show me. As a result, I grew up fearless of bugs and the like, things that make most little girls scream and run away. I only do that with mice, but that’s story for another day. I often roamed our property with my dog, Poppy. She was an Irish setter with a “nannyish” disposition, and she usually herded me away from harm.

One day, Poppy and I had been out playing for most of the morning. I was about four at the time. My mother called me in for lunch, but when she saw how grubby I was, she decided that I needed a bath first. She took me into the bathroom and started the water, and after she removed my  overalls, she tossed them into the corner. She’d just removed my shirt when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked toward my overalls and slithering out from under them was a young copperhead. Needless to say, she just about lost her mind. She scooped me up, grabbed a bath towel from the rack on the wall, and ran out of the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. She set me down in the hall and stuffed the towel under the door so the snake couldn’t escape. Then, after checking me over for bites, she told me to go sit on my bed while she headed out to the garden shed. She returned a couple of minutes later carrying the hoe and reentered the bathroom armed for battle. When she told me about the incident years later, she said that when she went in, she found the snake in a defensive position between the wall and toilet. It struck at her when she stood in front of it and raised the hoe. Thankfully there was enough space for her to bring the hoe down cleanly on its head. She hacked at it a couple of more times for good measure; then she came out into the hall and slid down the wall, completely deflated from the ordeal. We’ve never figured out whether I picked up the snake and put it in my pocket or if it got into my pants on its own when I sat on the ground, but either way it’s a wonder I wasn’t bitten. The venom of a young copperhead would’ve killed me in minutes. I went without a bath that day, and my dad had a mess to clean up in the bathroom when he got home.

I avoided any further major run-ins with snakes until two years ago. It was mid-afternoon, and my older daughter was at school. I was sitting on the couch reading to my youngest. Our house at the time had an open floor plan. The formal living and dining flowed into the eat-in kitchen and den. I came around the end of the couch in the den and turned to go into the kitchen when I noticed one of those garden snakes coiled up in a patch of sunlight on the tile behind the kitchen table. My dog lay in the living room in his own patch of sunlight, and I remember looking over at him and saying, “Really? You just let him make himself at home?” Trooper just looked at me as if to say, “Hey, mom, you hate mice. I kill mice. You never said anything about snakes.” I eased over to the phone and called my husband at work. The best he could do was tell me he’d “try to get home soon.” Afraid the snake would slither off to hide somewhere before Jay could get there, I decided to try to trap the little devil myself. I told my little one to stay on the couch, and I went and got the mop bucket from the laundry room. I tiptoed toward the snake and got as near as I dared, keeping my toes out of striking range. The sunshine must have drugged it because it never even raised its head until the bucket was almost all the way down on it. I could hear it butting against the inside of the bucket, and I stood there for a minute debating about whether to weigh the bucket down or try to somehow scoot it toward the back door. Then I remembered that the bucket had a  spout near the lip. It gave just enough clearance to allow the snake to escape if he discovered the space. I decided to try scooting the bucket, hoping the snake would travel with it. I opened the back door and then started sliding the bucket across the tile. The snake appeared to indeed be traveling with the bucket. When I got to the open door, I tilted it back and out he slithered onto the patio. I slammed the door and locked it; then collapsed in a nervous heap into one of the kitchen chairs. When I could control my hand enough to dial the phone, I called my husband and sounded the “all clear.” He had just gotten to his truck. He threw me a “good job, baby” and headed back into work. I turned back to my little one on the couch. She just grinned and asked for another story, completely oblivious to what just transpired.

I managed to get through another year without a reptilian encounter. Then one morning, very early, I snuck downstairs for a cup of coffee. My husband had just left for PT, and the kids were still in bed. I wrote for one of the local papers, and I had a story due. I found it better to get up and work before the kids were awake. As I walked through the living room toward the kitchen, something on the floor caught my eye. I glanced over and there, stretched out between my piano and the dining room table, was another snake! I happened to have my phone in the pocket of my robe and standing where I could see the snake I tried calling Jay. He didn’t answer. He was probably already running. I racked my brain and decided to text my girlfriend down the street whom I knew to also be an early riser in hopes her husband hadn’t left yet. He had. She called me, and we tried to concoct a plan of retention for the snake. We determined that my best bet would be to try to put my spaghetti pot over it and weigh the pot down with my big Webster’s Dictionary. She told me to call her afterwards, wished me luck, and we hung up.

I went to the kitchen and retrieved the big steel pot. The snake was right where I’d left him, but as I tried to outflank him by skirting the table on the other side, I realized he was tracking my movements. I froze for a few seconds in front of him, hoping he’d decide I didn’t pose a threat. No such luck. Once I started to advance, he struck at me and when I retreated, he shot under the piano. At least I knew where he was hiding. I called my friend back and told her of my failure. As we debated my next move, Jay beeped in. I clicked over, and he immediately asked what was wrong. I never call Jay at work unless it’s really important. I kept my eyes on the piano, scanning for any sign of movement, as I apprised Jay of the situation. He promised to come straight home and was as good as his word. The whole time I waited I stood ready to strike with the spaghetti pot. Jay walked in ten minutes later.

We discussed our options and assembled our equipment: one ten gallon orange bucket, one long handled paint roller, and a pair of tongs. When all was ready, Jay moved the piano. The snake was balled up in terrified coil and didn’t move. Jay grabbed the paint roller and held the snake down as he reached for the tongs. The snake put up a fight then, striking repeatedly at the roller. Jay used the tongs to grab him just behind the head and plopped him into the bucket. We set the little guy free, and Jay went back to work. As far as I know, no more snakes came in while we lived there.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs we now live in Georgia and, thankfully, I haven’t seen any snakes, but we do have a plethora of geckos. At least, I think that is the correct term for the harmless little lizards I see all the time sunning on the side of our house. They’re cute and eat bugs, which raises them in my esteem. Back in the summer, I often saw one sitting in the middle of our garage door. He seemed to enjoy the ride as the door raised and lowered because he never bothered to run. I sometimes saw him darting around inside the garage, too. Then, one day, I walked into the master bath, and there he was, lounging on my bath mat like he owned the joint. In all likelihood it wasn’t the one from the garage, but it looked like him. I walked right by him to open the window, and he never moved. I passed him again on my way out and closed the bathroom door. I then stuffed a towel under the door for good measure. When I went back in half an hour later, he was apparently gone. I checked every nook and cranny of the bath and my bedroom.

There’ve been no sign of geckos outside or in for a few weeks now since it finally cooled off, although I did see a rather large gator gliding along with the river current a few days before Christmas. I’ve never given much thought to what reptiles do to survive the winter. But yesterday, when I went in the sunroom, which doubles as our office, to do some shredding, whom should I spy in the bottom of my basket but Mr. Lizard. I keep the basket by the shredder and toss things in over the course of a week or so. The lizard stood stock still in the bottom of the basket with his head cocked to one side as if listening. Unsure as to whether he was more terrified of me looming over him or the sound of the shredder, I decided to help the poor fellow out, literally, by carrying him basket and all to the back porch. I left the basket on the porch and waited about an hour to see if he’d manage to escape. He was no longer inside the basket, but when I picked it up, I found him clinging to the side. Jay was home for lunch at this point and tried to convince me to bring him back in and let him set up housekeeping in the sunroom. I considered it, briefly, but determined I would probably come unglued if I ever found him in our bed, or worse, felt him crawling up my back in the middle of the night. I set the basket down and waited another hour. When I went back, he was officially gone. If he ever returns, perhaps I’ll let him stay. Umm, on second thought, maybe not. He might bring his family with him.






Dog as Canvas

Both my children are creatively inclined, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one, if not both, grows up to have an artistic profession. My oldest writes stories, sketches dress designs, and has a distinct sense of style. She received her first set of finger paints when she was about two. The set only had four colors, the three primaries plus green. I sat her at the dining room table, and using a paper plate as a palette, I carefully put a quarter size dollop of each color on the plate. I used a dish towel as a paint smock, pinning it with a clothes pin behind her neck. She had a big sheet of paper, probably about 12 x 15, taped down in front of her. I watched as she gingerly dipped the tip of her index finger in a color and carefully swirled it on the paper. I named the colors as she tried them and smugly patted myself on the back for being such a good mommy. After she tried each color a time or two, she paused, obviously considering her next move. The little bit of paint I’d given her hadn’t covered much area; so I added more to the plate. Then, I made a couple of suggestions. “How about drawing a sun?” She just looked at me. “Would you like mommy to show you how to draw a flower?” She grinned. I thought the flower was the winner. As I stood up to come around the table, she suddenly plunged both hands onto the plate and slapped them on the paper. Little paint splatters hit the table. She giggled and did it again. I thought, “No big deal. That will clean up easily.” Then, she smeared both hands with paint and started clapping. The paint was flying. It hit the floor. She grabbed the blue bottle and squirted more on the plate, as I made a grab for the bottle saying, “No, no, you have plenty. You don’t want to use it all at once.” She swirled the blue into the red and surveyed her hands. She brought her hands up to her face and dragged them down from her forehead to her chin, leaving the tracks of her fingers over her eyes. Next, she bent down and painted the tops of her feet. I laughed and grabbed the camera. Suffice it to say, by the time she was done, she needed a bath, and I had to mop the kitchen. And thus my daughter discovered her greatest creative outlet…the mess!

One day, not too long after the finger painting, we received a package. I don’t remember what was in it, but the box was full of styrofoam packing peanuts. “Breanna” dragged the box into her room and started hiding toys in the peanuts and then discovering them a few minutes later. After tiring of that game, she decided to pretend the peanuts were snow. She threw them over her head and danced around as the “flakes” fluttered down. I left her to play and went to make lunch.  When I went back to get her, I discovered shredded styrofoam all over the room. She’d torn and stomped the peanuts into tiny bits scattering them everywhere. I think that made a worse mess than the paint. I soon realized I would have to assess the mess-making potential of anything I gave her.

Over the next year Breanna colored on walls, made glitter bombs, and on one occasion “painted” her room with a dubious substance that shall remain nameless. I called in professionals for that one and tried to forget it. Unfortunately, I still have nightmares. Just for the record, the glitter was for one of my projects, and I thought I’d put it where she wouldn’t find it.

Then, the next summer we agreed to dog sit my mom’s whippet for a couple of weeks. The dog, Lacy, was completely white. One afternoon, I decided it was time for my monthly chore of washing out the fridge. Breanna was playing with her doll house in her room. I was well into the project when I realized I didn’t know where the dog was. I went looking for her. I looked everywhere and finally ended up outside my daughter’s closed bedroom door. I could hear Breanna giggling. The moment I opened the door, a rainbow smeared blob shot out past me. I entered the room and found my child and her room covered in finger paint.  It was splattered everywhere! I turned around and bolted for the living room, suddenly very afraid of what that rainbow colored blur had been. Too late. The dog was covered from nose to tail and had proceeded to shake all over the room trying to dislodge the wet paint. I took pictures of the paint splattered dog and my daughter. After bathing them both, I gave Breanna a sponge. It took the rest of the day for us to get up the majority of the paint, and I kept finding spots of it right up until the day we moved. My mistake had been leaving the paints in a plastic bin in my daughter’s closet. I learned to keep such things well out of reach after that and invested in drop cloths.

These days my children have an “art nook.” I turned the small breakfast nook, formerly the butler’s pantry (It’s an old house.), into an art space for the kids. Then I bought stock in vinyl tablecloths.

Catching Georgia

We recently moved back to the South from the very dry climate of Colorado. We spent our entire lives in the South and a mere three years in the Southwest. That’s a blip on the radar in the scheme of things. Therefore, it stands to reason that the filmy, moldy, moist environment of Georgia would feel familiar, even welcoming. After all, we’d lived in Georgia before for several years. Although we adapted easily to the altitude and aridness of Colorado’s high desert, it seemed inconceivable that it would so change our elemental structure as to make living at sea level in a sub-tropical environment intolerable. We would just re-adapt. Right?

At first, it appeared our bodies were indeed relieved to be “home.” Due to our acclimation to high altitude, our systems had learned to use oxygen more efficiently and produced extra red blood cells. Therefore, running at sea level seemed effortless. We could go all day. Our skin, which cracked and weathered in the desert dryness, requiring copious amounts of lotion, felt revived. No longer did we have to walk around with a water bottle in our hands, constantly refilling it throughout the day. You never leave home without water in Colorado. Without it, you feel the effects of dehydration within an hour. I don’t think I drank any water at all the first couple of days back in the South. I was drinking water from the air!

Despite days spent in the car and nights in strange hotel beds as we traveled back across the country for the move, I felt refreshed. There was a noticeable change in my energy level once we dropped below 6,000 feet. However, while the air is thicker in Georgia, and there is certainly more of it, summer in the deep South is a force of its own to be reckoned with. The heat consumes you. It is oppressive, completely lacking in any awareness of personal space. We found ourselves showering two or even three times a day to remove the salty , uncomfortable film which immediately envelopes you whenever you step outside between July and September.

We traveled to North Carolina for a week in October to escape the muggy heat and catch a glimpse of autumn. We got to wear jackets, jeans and boots, but the jackets came off the moment we hit the Georgia line on the way home. It was at least 85. Fall did finally head South in December. Yes, you read that correctly; fall came in December. There was a noticeable shift in the texture of the weather. The temperatures dipped into the 70’s. The air became crisp; the nights got cooler, and the leaves began to turn. The humidity abated, and it became relatively comfortable in jeans and a tee shirt. I had no delusions of ever wearing my heavy wool sweaters, though, and I packed them in space bag and slid them under the bed.

Then, about mid-December it started to rain. I was thankful, simply because I thought the rain heralded a real drop in the temperatures. We had a frost. I thought of my sweaters under the bed. It rained for an entire weekend; then an entire week. My youngest child developed a cough, a wet, phlegmy hack. I heard that cough everywhere we went. Others were afflicted with it. The rain had awakened the crud! Clouds, pregnant with rain, darkened the sky at all hours. The moon and stars were lost in a canopy of grey. My husband came home from work one day, coughing. I bought multiple bottles of honey-based cough syrup and gave vapor rub foot massages. It rained for two solid weeks. Storms rattled the windows at night, and huge booms of thunder shook the house.

On New Year’s Day, the rain finally blessedly stopped, although the clouds stubbornly remained overhead, threatening to dampen any attempt to venture out. We didn’t care. Out we went. On the second of January, the sun came out. We headed downtown and walked the streets soaking in a glut of vitamin D. We drove to the river and marveled at the swollen, muddy rapids. It had completely swallowed its banks and climbed the levees to consume the River Walk. Lampposts struggled to keep their heads above water.  The newspaper said the river was the highest it’s been in 30 years. Our yard was soggy and the swing set and patio furniture were covered in a slick film. Suddenly, I felt a tightness in my chest, and I began to cough. Only my oldest child remained unscathed.

I went out to check the mail and discovered mildew creeping up the front door. In horror, I ran to fill a bucket with hot water and bleach and started scrubbing the door. Then I attacked the house, determined to eradicate the crud from the crevices of my home. Upstairs, I could hear my husband coughing. I went to check on him and found him, bent double,  rummaging through the plastic bin of medicines he’d pulled down from the top shelf of the bathroom closet.
“Where (cough…hack),” he sputtered, “is the Mucinex? I’ve caught Georgia!” I found the tablets for him and took some myself. We collapsed on the couch with mugs of hot tea and honey. I looked over at Jay. “How would you feel about retiring in Colorado?” I asked. Jay sniffled. “Sounds good to me,” he said.




The “New” Year

On New Year’s Day my thoughts always turn to the passage of time, as I presume many people’s do. Most see the new year as a clean slate, a chance to start over. I happen to believe that every morning is a gift since none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, and every day is a chance to do things differently, to be a different and better person.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.” Wise man. Secular wisdom tells us that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. No matter when you choose to reflect on your past, at the new year or each new dawn, the important thing is to pinpoint your mistakes or what you’d like to change, learn your lesson, and try to do better. It’s never too late or too early to start fresh. You can just as easily resolve to change on July 1 as January 1.

Reflection on personal history often leads me to consider societal change, as well. Last night, I awoke to the sounds of revelry down the street. It was just after midnight, and someone took their party outside to shout “happy new year” to the neighborhood and blow those horrible party horns that sound like duck calls. Of course, we are living in the South, so they might have actually been duck calls. The noise only lasted about 10 minutes, but once I was awake I found it difficult to go back to sleep. I began thinking about history and past generations, which led me to remember Solomon’s quote. “There is nothing new under the sun.” How much sooner might mankind have arrived at this technological point if the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans hadn’t been lost for centuries during the Dark Ages? The Romans had in-door plumbing and sewer systems. Things that did not return to the everyday life of the common man until a mere century ago. Then, I considered my own generation, Generation X, as we are called. We are the children of the Baby Boomers and the grandchildren of The Greatest Generation. We are what I like to call “the In-Between” generation.

I say “in-between” because we are caught between the old and the new. I got to know my great-grandmothers, who saw the end of one century and the beginning of another, as have I. They saw telephones go from being at the country store to being in everyone’s homes, and my grandmothers, born in the Twenties, got to see phones go into everyone’s hands. They saw air travel go from minutes at Kitty Hawk to world wide travel on airlines to space shuttles. They quite possibly witnessed the most accelerated technological advancements in human history occur in their lifetimes.

Then, I started thinking of all the changes I’ve witnessed in less than 40 years of life. The first family car that I remember my parents owning had an eight track player. My sister, who is 13 years younger than me, had a CD player in her first family car. My youngest child’s first family car had a USB port. When I was a kid, I played my music on records on my parents’stereo system. The first time I saw a CD someone at my dad’s company Christmas party  had given me the new Bruce Springsteen album. I was maybe 13. I didn’t know how to play it. It was another three years or more before I got a CD player, and now, here I am downloading songs off the internet onto my phone. And I don’t even have to be at home to do it! It’s like living in the future, man! For a woman whose first home phone was a rotary, and you dialed zero for an operator, on close inspection the changes can be a bit frightening, but I feel privileged to have lived the past as well as the future. My grandmothers taught me how shell peas, snap beans, how to can, and how to quilt. I learned things from them that could sustain my family should the need ever arise. I’ve seen television go from an antenna on top of your house that you had to periodically turn to receive all four channels to streaming movies off the internet, and I’ve experienced everything in- between…the first VCR (ours was a Beta), cable, satellite, DVD’s, blue-ray, which wasn’t as big a hit as everyone thought it was going to be.

Our society, culture, or whatever you want to call it has changed drastically since I was a kid, too. I remember a girl in my class who got pregnant our senior year of high school. She stayed out for about a month, and when she came back, she and the boy were married. They entered an accelerated program where they took extra classes at the community college and graduated early. He got a job at the local tire factory and supported his new family. My sophomore year of college, a girl I knew got pregnant, and she and the boy immediately got married. They took part time jobs, and their families helped them financially so they could both finish school. This was the societal and familial expectation. You got pregnant; you got married. Today, couples get pregnant out of wedlock on purpose, and society doesn’t bat an eye. Marriage has almost become superfluous, and yet, we just this past year, added a new legality to it.

I find all of this confusing. Sometimes, if I think about how fast things are changing: the increase in violence, the changes in societal norms, the resurgence of incurable diseases, I get a little scared. I wonder what kind of world my children will inherit. Are we actually moving in retrograde? Are we, like the Romans, headed for a technological and cultural plateau that will eventually catapult us back into the Dark Ages? Are we destined to constantly lose and regain knowledge? After all, as King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Happy New Year, everyone.