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Possumhaw: The only good snake


Shannon Bardwell



"The innocuous black snake is both brave and impudent. I walked close to a slim ebony beauty with its smooth narrow head high above the grass. My purpose was only to admire at close range ... "  


Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, "Cross Creek" 




"Brumation" describes the hibernation of reptiles and amphibians; it's not exactly deep sleep. Snakes, lizards, turtles or frogs will rouse now and then to sip water or at least inhale moist air to hydrate. Without moisture the creatures will die. Knowing snakes are not completely dormant in the winter is a bit unnerving, even though I've become more accustomed to snakes in the last years. Maybe "aware of snakes" would be a better description. 


As the days warm, awakening creatures move into the warmth of the sunshine; fish jump, insects swarm, birds nest, and well ... snakes do what snakes do. Snakes came to my mind this week as we sighted two snakes emerging after a long winter's nap. 


Sam was down the road working on a neighbor's gate near a cattle gap. The day was chilly, but the sun was out and the pipes of the cattle gap were warm. Sam turned and "saw the last four feet of a snake slithering into the open end of the pipe; a rat snake," he said.  


I asked how he knew it was the last four feet and he said, "Well, I didn't see the head." Then he continued working on the gate. The first sighting of spring's brumating creature. 


The same week I was admiring the trees, flowers and hummingbirds at the feeder when I spotted Harry, the cat, fixated on something in the grass. Like a mother knows a child and a cat-owner knows a cat, I was sure Harry had something. Perhaps a mole, a mouse, hopefully not a bird.  


I spoke to Harry in a congratulatory tone so he wouldn't think I was taking his prey. Then, in a celebratory way, Harry slung a four-foot snake into the air and pawed and picked at it when it landed. It was a most docile snake; it did not coil or strike but only carefully tucked its head slightly under its body. The dark charcoal, smooth and slim snake was almost pretty. Off and on Harry would move a foot or so away and lay down. The snake slowly inched away, only to have Harry follow, lay down next to the snake, flip himself on his back and thrash his legs in the air with glee. I enticed Harry to the greenhouse and when we returned, the snake, a harmless Southern black racer, was gone. 


I looked up products on the market and methods for deterring snakes. There are all kinds of granules to sprinkle to create a barrier. The snake will be confused and irritated by the smell or taste of the substance and move on. There's a humane trap that captures the snake using glue pads. It didn't say how you should release the snake humanely. One product had the ingredients of sulfur, cedar oil, cinnamon oil and clove oil, sounding a lot more like an essential oil spa than snake oil.  


Sam suggested the idea that a .410, a 20-gauge or a 12-gauge shotgun would do the trick.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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