Saturday, July 02, 2005

A day of wildlife encounters.

My wife is afraid of just about anything that creeps, crawls, hops, etc. I've been summoned to the driveway to remove a toad so she could get out of her car and called home to deal with a large spider that kept her and my daughter at bay. Fortuntely, as I've often reassured her, we live too high on a hill and too far from any sort of water for any snake to venture here. We have lots of deer and lots of rabbits, but the thought of a snake making the trek here seems remote at best.

Spent the day working in the yard, performing a myriad of tasks that I've been putting off. You really have to admire insects. They have lightening reflexes and can respond to stimuli in a thousandth of a second. As I'm shoveling some dirt I dragged my hand across my shirt at one point and became simultaneously aware of two things: Something was crawling on my shirt and that something had already responded defensively to my hand.

Fortunately I contained myself to "Ouch". Last time I got stung in the presence of three-year old junior I expanded his vocabulary significantly. He later had a conversation with my wife that went like this: "Daddy said a bad word". "Well, he was hurt and upset". "Ok, well, if I get stung can I say 'sh*t', too?"

Turns out my wildlife encounter wasn't over.

Later I went to begin a long overdue task. My wife purchased a liner for an ornamental pond some time ago. I put it where she wanted it installed, turned it upside down so it wouldn't fill with rainwater and left it there. The area is lush with a somewhat neglected herb garden and a constantly overflowing bucket into which the air conditioners empty the water they squeeze out of the air. We use the water for flowers, but the level of humidity here ensures more water than we need, hence the constant overflow.

It was time to start digging, so I waded into the herbs, grabbed the pond liner and lifted it to move it out of the way. No sooner had I lifted it than Jake himself, in the form of a large and rather aggressive Eastern garter snake emerged. I said "Wow" and shoved the liner aside. Jake took off toward the house (we were maybe five feet from the house) and I hear "'Wow', what?....AAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!". The wife abandoned the scene with a sound reminiscent of the rustling of wings, accompanied by a shriek as though emitted by all of the lost souls in hell. Normally not a fast mover, within seconds she was two floors above me, leaning out the window and screaming "Shoot it!".

At this point I was trying to corral the thing. It was extremely aggressive and actually charged me twice. I'm not afraid of snakes, and certainly not garter snakes, but venom or not they can and do bite. To this day I have a faintly visible scar where one bit me when I was a teenager. Like a snapping turtle, it has no teeth or venom, but it wouldn't let go. I finally threw my hand out and it ripped free. So, having said that, I'm not afraid, but neither do I care to get bitten. As aggressive (and terrified) as it was, making a grab for it was difficult. I tried trapping its head with a piece of felixible pipe I had at hand, but couldn't get it. I had every intention of taking it in the house to "display" to the wife before I drove down the hill with it to let it go. All this time the wife is telling me to shoot it. I told her no way I was going to shoot the thing three feet from the side of the house. The woman who gets upset when our son bounces a tennis ball off of the house told me to go ahead.

At one point I lost it and it actually got around behind me and was headed to get under the pond liner again. It was a weird feeling to get outflanked by a snake.

In the end it got up under the deck and under some boxes I keep camping equipment in. I figured I could spend all day chasing the thing, or I could go back to digging a hole for the pond and let the fact that it was still loose keep the wife in the house and out of my hair.

Worked like a charm. She wouldn't even eat supper on the deck with the thought of the thing five feet beneath.

The part about 'displaying' Jake for my wife is a bit mean, I admit, but it's an old childhood memory. My mom hated snakes every bit as passionately as my wife, but she was a bit more aggressive. While the wife flees, my mom would stand her ground and mince any serpent that had the misfortune to cross her path. As a kid I caught snakes pretty regularly for no particular reason. It was just something to do. That's how I managed to end up with one latched to my finger. Anyway, I once caught one and innocently brought it in the house to display my prowess to my mom and she actually levitated. I've always wanted to see that feat performed again...

Had one last encounter that's a continuing mystery. One side of the house is heavily planted with wildflowers. Every time I poke in there to cut some for the table, something rushes back and forth. Happened again today. It's probably a chipmunk, but it's one hell of a big chipmunk if that's what it is. The flowers are so thick that I've never been able to catch sight of it. Maybe a small bunny. It's one or the other, but after a half dozen encounters I have yet to figure out what it is. Damndest thing...

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