THE NATURALIST ON HIS OWN GROUND

Last weekend I was up on the roof scraping moss off some shingles while below my wife, Marilynn, plunged into the madly growing plants in our front courtyard.

After a couple hours of this tedium I heard my wife hiss loudly , “A snake!!” Looking down, my thought was, “Oh, that’s cool,” and turned back to scraping. Marilynn had other ideas. She was waving “come here” frantically and pointing into the bushes. Oh, I get it: my job is to scurry down from the roof, find  the serpent, and dispatch it. Our home will never be safe with a snake lurking who-knows-where to visit alarm on us again in the future.

As hastily as possible I descended the ladder and was soon groping through the plants and our ever-expanding mound of bishop’s weed (I know, don’t pity me). I was expecting something a foot-and-a-half or two feet long, so I was startled when I actually spotted my target among the leaves. It was a baby garter snake about 6 in. long and as big around as a fat earthworm.

I delicately picked it up for a look. It looked like maybe it was injured with what appeared to be a gash on its belly. Standing well behind me, my wife said, “Take it a long way away.” This is not, after all, the Tualatin River Refuge.

So out my gate I went with the little devil cupped in my hand and wondering: how far is enough, and what neighbor should I bestow this little gift upon? Half a block away I spotted a healthy growth of juniper bushes. Ah, the perfect refuge for the vulnerable little fellow. I gave the snake one last look before putting it down. I think maybe it is in molt and that’s why it looked damaged, but it sure seemed small for that.

For my wife’s part, she asked me, “If there’s one are there others? Is there a bigger one, the mother?” “Well…I’ll have to look that up,” I said. (Is it unethical for a naturalist to be that evasive?) So I spent the next afternoon clearing away the remaining low growth, the leaf clutter, and hacking back the bishop’s weed. I found no more snakes. However, my wife’s questions linger in my mind: Where did that newborn creature come from?

The picture above is of a garter snake I rescued from the jaws of our cat a couple of years ago. The one that is the subject of this post was much smaller and younger.

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2 thoughts on “THE NATURALIST ON HIS OWN GROUND”

    1. She knows they’re not dangerous; it’s the creep factor. I will say that when I take elementary school kids for a field trip on the TRNWR they are all eager to see and touch whatever we come across: slugs, frogs, pond invertebrates, newts, etc. I see no difference between genders. I think the “Eeek!” factor for girls has largely gone away, fortunately.

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