Monday, July 3, 2006

Not So Nice To Come Home To

Monday, July 3, 2006
Late on Saturday night, after our gig, and after Steve and I had enhanced our cholesterol levels with a late night visit to (urp!) Shoney's, I pulled into the driveway at our farm, ready to put the van away and hit the hay. I realized I did not have my garage door opener, a casualty of exchanging vehicles with my parents for their trip to North Dakota. I would have to open the garage door by another means, which entailed getting out of the van.

I had Julie's garage door opener with me, so I punched the button, the door opened and I walked into the dark garage, between her vehicle and the recycling containers, to the button for my garage door. As I reached the regular garage door and the nearby light switch, I saw a dark U-shaped object on the floor of the garage, sticking out from under the side door. I almost bent down to pick it up, thinking it was a plastic handle from a seed bag that had gone astray. Instead I switched on the overhead lights and saw that the plastic handle had morphed into a copperhead! And it was eight inches from the succulent pink toes sticking out of my sandals.
"I've been waiting for you! Step closer! Closer!"

I leapt in the air, the snake made a feinting strike, though nowhere near to my rapidly pumping feet. I ran from the garage. Catching my breath, I pulled the van into my bay and exited the garage as the door shut behind me. As I walked toward the house, giving wide berth to the snake/door area, I saw that I'd left the inside garage light on.

I might have said "Oh bother!" like Winnie the Pooh does. But I think I said something less gentle than that.

Back into the garage I went (still had Julie's garage door opener in my hand for some reason). The snake was still there, half under the door we normally use to enter the side of the garage. When my shadow passed over him, he hissed and disappeared out from under the door, headed outside into the darkness. He moved so fast, I barely saw him go. This made me thank my lucky stars that I had not bent down to pick up the "plastic handle."

We've always had copperheads here on our farm. Julie has been bitten by one on the finger, while weeding her lavender. She went to the hospital, they watched her finger swell up then go back down and they sent her home. I have found lots of copperheads here, but have not been bitten by one yet. I do not mind snakes, but I HATE being surprised by them (and I suspect they feel the same). You can get the whole, really cool story about Julie's copperhead bite in her forthcoming book, "Letters From Eden" due out this fall.

We don't kill the snakes. We catch them and move them elsewhere. We now have a handy snake-grabbing unit on hand for this type of situation. We do not wish ill upon our reptilian friends, but nor do we want the kids or Chet Baker to be bitten. So when July rolls around and the days get long and hot, we go on snake alert. We open the garage door slowly and look before we step in. We do not weed flower beds without gloves and without looking beneath the plants. We probably see 10 black snakes for every copperhead we encounter here. The black snakes we leave alone, the copperheads we catch and transport.

Fortunately most of the copperheads we find are very docile. I told Julie about my late-night snake encounter on Sunday morning as I was preparing to leave for my jazz gig. I knew she'd want to know about it. The conversation started because she saw that I was bleary from lack of sleep. I'd had snake nightmares all night long..... Nothing like a little fight or flight adrenaline just before bedtime!

Sure enough, as I was driving to my gig, when Julie called me.
"I caught your copperhead!"

She'd gone into the garage to get some bird seed and saw him coiled up in the corner behind the door, right where he'd been the night before. Using the snake tongs, she grabbed the copperhead and dropped him into a large joint-compound bucket. Mr. Copperhead, beautiful and small but full of venom, went for a drive in the country. Zick is definitely The Copperhead Hunter. I can do it, but she's calmer and more businesslike about it.

Poisonous snakes--it's just part of life in the country. Nature lets us live, and in return, we try to let nature live, too.
Mr. Copperhead, ready to travel. He's so beautiful, especially when appreciated from a safe distance.


On July 3, 2006 at 3:58 PM Sue Ann Floyd said...

We, too, have our copperheads on our land, and we always take them off to release them. Our son, a grown man & naturalist in his own right, actually created a "snake haven" deeper in our woods where he placed boards just so & where we can take said snakes & deposit them, safe & sound. We have found most of ours are docile and rather sweet! And, as I try to convince others, "there has never been a recorded death from the bite of a copperhead". Unfortunately, most folks cannot be convinced & seem hesitant to pay us a visit!

On July 3, 2006 at 6:08 PM Anonymous said...

Living in the western half of the PNW, a copperhead is an exotic species, one I have not had the pleasure. I did have a lovely garter snake in the garage the other day. Not sure that would be anything to write home about. Thanks Bill, I love your blogging!!

On July 3, 2006 at 6:14 PM Wisteria said...

I wish ya'll would deposit a few snakes here. I have been trying to increase my snake population to re-balance nature since I moved back to Mississippi 10 years ago, but there are so many scaredy-cat snake haters here that snakes don't have much of a chance. If people don't shoot them, they poison their food sources.

I wish I could have a few scares, then I would know I was doing a good job getting things back to normal in my little piece of heaven.

On July 3, 2006 at 6:15 PM Anonymous said...

Cool snake...eight inches is too close! Your lucky charms must've been working for you...
S. Free

On July 3, 2006 at 7:11 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Believe me, if it were legal and doable, we'd happily share our copperheads with y'all.

I had an acquaintance tell me once that we could make lots of money selling the snakes either to the pet trade or for "religious" uses.

Ummm. No thanks!

On July 4, 2006 at 8:52 AM KatDoc said...

SE Ohio must be a mecca for copperheads - in 1 year in Marietta, I treated 2 dogs for copperhead bites and referred a third victim to our office in Parkersburg (they called in the middle of a blackout.) I have only seen one other case in 19 years working in the rest of Ohio. All dogs survived, but they were pretty miserable for a while.

That IS a beautiful snake (in a bucket, in a photo, on the Internet.) I don't think I would fnid him so beautiful in person, in my garden or garage. I get plenty of garter snakes and the occasional black snake here, but no copperheads, thank goodness!


On July 4, 2006 at 9:26 AM Bill said...

BT3....You have one powerfully wonderful woman there! Not only does she wash your socks, play in your band, rehab critters, hostess garden show gatherings, weed the gardens, hunt down smashed beavers.....BUT SHE REMOVES YOUR POISNESS SNAKES TOO!
I'm sharing this blog with my wife who sits around reading the paper eating bon bons!
(OK...OK...dear...just kidding!)

On July 4, 2006 at 9:32 AM Rondeau Ric said...

Perhaps you shouldn't be so keen to wear your Keens in snake country.

We have no poisonous snakes near us. There are Massassuga rattlers in tall grass prairie reserve in Windsor, you know, near Detroit and the blue tunnel.

I'm not sure I envy you your farm quite as much as I used to.

Protect those toes amigo.

On July 5, 2006 at 10:00 PM Ben Warner said...

Whoa, that would be a surprise. One I wish I could have!! I know I'm a sick snake freak, in addition to being a Bird freak. Thank you for not killing the snakes, they are gorgeous, and fascinating animals, not to mention important. But you know all that, but thanks for sharing the cool photo's!!!!

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