Important Notice: Do not read this if you are in any way afraid of snakes. Pictures of snakes will follow:
This year I became a snake wrangler. Not a Steve Irwin kind of snake wrangler, I am not that crazy, but your suburban snake-under-my-house kind of wrangler.
We have always had snakes at this house. In our first summer, I found a very long and intact snake skin in my peonies. Even the head was in place, empty holes where the eyes had been. I was so excited I put it in a jar to show everyone who came by.
Last year we had a snake in our garage. It was a pretty big rat snake.
Not poisonous but it can have a bad attitude and try to bite. I removed it by grabbing it with one of those grabber tools and tossing it in a lawn bag. I marched it down to the woods and let it go, singing Born Free. It was easy to catch because it had just eaten, a large lump could be clearly seen halfway down its long body. Apparently when a snake has eaten, they can’t really do anything more than digest.
This year was really a banner year. The snakes were everywhere. The first sign was a snake skin hanging in a bush out back about four feet off the ground. A snake had climbed a tree and shed its skin along the way. That was crazy. I have never seen a snake in a tree here but there was no denying that skin.
One day I was out working in the yard and I noticed what looked like a large black rubber hose in the blueberry bush. I went to check it out and found another very big rat snake, maybe three feet long, that had become entangled in the bird netting I use to protect the blueberries. It was straining against the mesh, its body taut and pulled up, trying to push through. This one had me stumped. I had no idea how I was going to get that snake out of the netting. So I took the snake, netting and all, and put it in a bag. Then I called animal control. They will actually rescue snakes.
A nice young woman came to our house and we showed her the snake in the bag. She pulled the snake right out and started to unravel it. I am pretty sure I would not be able to do this. The snake was writhing all over and trying to wrap itself around her arm.
She just wrestled it, while she worked to cut the mesh away. She was not wearing any gloves. I asked her if she had ever been bit by a rat snake and she said she had. It hurt, she admitted, but no big deal. After about a half hour of cutting and pulling, she finally got the snake free. It lay on the ground a little stunned, then it took off and hid under the grill. We left it alone.
Then came the snakes in the window wells. Our basement has three windows, about two feet below ground, so they are encircled with corrugated steel. I rescue frogs and toads from them all summer long. One spring there were two baby bunnies huddled in the corner.
The cats were beside themselves. They stared at them all day and night until I went out and rescued them with my long handled spaghetti strainer, my go to device for saving animals.
But on this Saturday afternoon, something very different was in the window. A snake head was bobbing back and forth as if a snake charmer was playing a tune.
It appeared to be trying to reach the sun. I looked out into the window, I was very close, and when it sensed I was there, it slithered away into a small drain pipe. I ran outside but it was long gone.
It did not disappear though. A few hours later it was sunning itself again, right on the window ledge. I got a picture of it this time. But I failed to get it out of the well. It eluded my grabbers and slithered into the pipe again. It was a big one, tan and brown patterned. I checked the snake book and it appeared to be a very large Eastern Garter snake.
I thought and thought. How can I catch that thing? I really did not want a snake hanging out that close to my house. I have nightmares that I will open a toilet lid to find a snake staring at me. You laugh, but I have found two frogs in my bathroom on the toiler seat. I am not sure if they think it is a small pond or they just like the atmosphere.
Then I remembered the butterfly net I had bought to use in case I had to catch baby bunnies again.
I kept checking the window wells and sure enough, a few days later, there it was. It had used the drain pipe to travel to the next window, they are all connected, and it had eaten! It had a huge bulge in its mid-section. It probably had munched on a frog or toad. It was a total lump, just like dad on Thanksgiving.
I knew I had it this time. I ran to the garage to grab the butterfly net and the grabber. I coaxed it into the bag and it was caught.
I marched it to the woods and let it go. Thank goodness.
Here is another look. It really was a gorgeous snake:
Except for one small problem. The next day another head had popped up in the window. It had babies! This one was much smaller but it was also drawn to the alluring sunshine.
I grabbed the butterfly net and caught it easily. Down to the woods we went. Okay, that was fine. But if it had babies, how many were there? For the next few days, I checked the window and it did not take long for another small snake appear. He went to the woods, too. Then, after a week of observation, I concluded we had the all clear.
I caught three snakes in one week. I was feeling pretty heady. Am I not a snake wrangler? I said, yahoo. You bet. But the worst encounter was yet to come.
When the exterminator came to work on the ants that seem determined to turn my yard into an any hill, I told him about the snakes, which he is dreadfully afraid of. I tried to explain to him that snakes are our friends. But he really is frightened of them. Which explains why he came running in saying he had seen a snake in the bushes. Could that have been the tree snake I have never seen? He swore it was green and it was staring at him from the rhododendron. I checked my snake book and we do have tree snakes in this area. But I did not see it and it could have been his paranoia.
As he was doing his work, I was doing other things and I did not focus on the fact that he had placed glue traps in my garage. I also have a very big problem with centipedes, which is another story, and I think his intention was to trap them. He caught something alright but it was not a bug.
About a week later I noticed a long, black curled hose in the corner on the glue trap. I was not sure what it was, but I had a bad feeling. A black rat snake had become stuck in the glue trap. I was furious. All of the work I had done all summer to save snakes and here was one dying for no good reason. After all of my lectures about how good snakes are, he put out a trap that would kill them.
I don’t know how long the snake had been there. It was alive, although terribly emaciated. I tried to pull the it off, but the glue was too much and there was no way I would get it loose. It was suffering so I did what I had to do. I pulled down the hatchet, stood over it and in one swing chopped its head off, crying loudly, tears streaming down my face through the entire ordeal. I gave it another chop to be sure it was completely severed. Then I wrapped it up and threw it away.
I cussed at myself for not paying attention to the traps. I cussed at the exterminator and vowed when he returned I was going to give him a good talking to. I have never personally killed an animal to stop it from suffering. I was glad I did it, but it made me sick and I hope I never have to do it again. I lived that moment, swinging that hatchet, for days after.
For now, the window wells are clear, the garage has had no visitors. It is winter and the snakes are hibernating. I am sure I will see them next year.