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.






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