May 8, 2009
The other day when I got home from work my neighbor called me over. She had a crisis, an emergency, a trauma, a predicament, a pickle, a quandary, a plight, a straight, a hot potato. Well, maybe it wasn’t all that, but it was pretty serious. She had a snake on her patio. Well, next to her patio, but very close to the patio, and coiled up there. She always calls me over when she spots a snake. I’ve never understood why people are afraid of snakes. A fear of weasels and ferrets I can understand because they’re nasty, foul-smelling, worm, hyperactive little beasts, but snakes are generally clean and smooth and laid back. Once as a kid I went to a children’s museum and a group of us got to be photographed with the animal of our choice. I chose the boa constrictor. The woman took the picture and then turned out the lights to develop the picture, and I was left there in a completely dark room with a six-foot boa constrictor around my neck. I’ll admit that I was nervous, but I’m pretty sure the boa constrictor fell asleep. Maybe that’s why I am now the neighborhood snake wrangler. Well, I’m my neighbor’s snake wrangler. I guess technically I’m the wrangler of a single snake that I’m pretty sure is the same one over and over again, which would make snake wrangling a pretty lucrative and easy profession if I could get paid for it. I might even be able to work out some arrangement with the snake.
It was a harmless garter snake, so I grabbed it just behind the head and picked it up. It had milky-white eyes, so I held it out to my neighbor and said, "Look, it’s just about to shed," which caused her to faint. I don’t think it was proximity to the snake that caused her to faint so much as knowing that when a snake sheds that means it’s growing. If she doesn’t know that I won’t tell her, although she does at least know that a milky-eyed snake is about to shed. This change may be what resulted in a myth that snakes go blind during the hottest days of August, which has to be one of the goofiest things I’ve ever heard. What would be the good of going blind during August? They probably want to shed one last time before winter and, let’s face it, during August most of us are shedding anyway. There’s an even goofier myth that snakes milk cows. I don’t know where that one comes from, especially since I don’t know that cows would tolerate being milked by snakes.
I’ve been bitten by snakes several times and, while it was never more than a very tiny pinprick, I suspect it would be a lot more uncomfortable if one bit my nipple. Fortunately that’s never happened to me, although I’ve had snakes in positions where they could. I even had a pet snake once, also a garter snake like the one that enjoys my neighbor’s patio. His name was Slither and he bit me every chance he could get. My father used to enjoy saying he was "mean as a snake", although I’ve never met another snake in my life that was as mean as Slither. I’d feed him earthworms and every time I went to drop one into his tank he’d bite me, which was pretty ungrateful of him. But maybe he was in a bad mood because I overfed him. Slither shed at least twenty-seven times a year, and snakes do get moody and aggressive when they’re shedding. Slither was, I now realize, the ultimate burglar deterrent, although he still would have been even if he’d been as laid back as most other snakes. Once a couple of guys came to do some repairs on the house. These were big, burly construction guys, but as soon as they saw Slither they went to my mother and said, "Lady, if that thing gets out we’re outta here." Slither and I finally decided that the best thing for him would be to let him go. Well, I made the decision and he bit me twelve times as I was taking him out of the cage. I released him on a farm. I wish I could say there was a tearful moment when he raised his head and looked back at me and I said, "Go on, boy, you’re free now," but the truth is I was happy to see him go. And he didn’t look back. He sped right off toward some cows that looked like they needed milking.