Snakes on the Plains

by Donna Schoenkopf

It was another hot, hot day. The 52nd day of scorching, hellish heat. Half of the trees in the woods on my thirteen beautiful acres were dead or dying. It looked like autumn out there. Except for the long, lush green grass and some pretty sweet wildflowers poking their heads through that grass (thanks to my daily early morning watering), everything was dead and dying.

But I was cool in my little housie. I had just put some water and food out for the dogs on the south deck and had returned to the cool indoors and laid my generous body on my bed to watch Hardball With Chris Matthews, which was firing along at a goodly clip.

As I was watching Chris and guests, I thought I saw some kind of movement on the floor at the foot of my bed. So I turned my head and YIKES! It was a SNAKE! Okay. It wasn’t a rattler or a cottonmouth, which do live in this area. I’ve never seen one of those. It was an eastern garter snake. About five or six inches long. It was sliding clumsily over my newly painted concrete floor in a kind of sideways manner.

I screamed. A high-pitched, very loud, sustained, “Eeeeeeeeeeeek!!”

I hate snakes.

(Oddly enough, I have been getting snake vibes lately. My house is cool, and it’s really hot outside. I had seen the same species of garter snake a couple of times around the house, once on my north deck, a long one, close to three feet, and a smaller one between the sliding glass door and the screen, struggling to get out of its trap. I had opened the sliding glass door a tiny bit and with yard stick in hand, managed to flip it out of its prison and it slithered rapidly away and squeezed itself between the cracks of the deck and disappeared. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Revulsion. Creepy-crawly feeling going up my spine.)

Anyway, now there was a snake in my house. It slithered sideways, like a sidewinder, I guess because it couldn’t get its footing (heh) on the slick, newly painted floor. I jumped up off the bed and it instantly made a beeline toward my wall.

Eastern garter snake
Eastern garter snake

At this point I must tell you about my walls. You know that my house is one big room inside, except for the bathroom. What you don’t know is that the beautifully stuccoed drywall has a quarter inch gap at the bottom because I have never gotten around to putting baseboards there. Because I am lazy. And because I really saw no need for it. And because the baseboards that Peewee had given me for free had been lying outside under the red cedars for almost four years, in the weather, and were not in any shape to be used for baseboards anymore.

The snake saw its opening (heh) and slid across that dry wall until he (she?) found enough of a gap to slither under and disappear.

Oh, my God. There was a snake in my wall.

I hurried to the kitchen and got a pancake spatula and ran it under the wall trying to make the snake uncomfortable enough to leave, all the while thinking that I was hurting it, which I didn’t want to do no matter how much I hated it. That made it dart out, but then back it went into its hiding place. Great. Just great.

I thought about what to do if it ever came out again. I thought about it having babies inside my walls. It had had a little bump in its body. It had either eaten something which wasn’t yet digested or it was pregnant and had a belly full of baby snakes. I was very tense and going through the very creepy thought of dozens of snakes in my walls. But there was nothing I could do about any of it, unless I wanted to rip all the drywall off all my walls, so I sat on the bed, watching Chris Matthews, waiting for something to happen. As I sat there I realized I should make some plans, just in case it ever came out again. I went back to the kitchen and got a pair of kitchen tongs, a plastic bowl, and a stiff file folder. The plan was to either trap the snake under the plastic bowl and slide the file folder underneath and carry it outside or pick it up with the tongs. So, tools at the ready, I sat on the bed, waiting.

Well, Chris Matthews had some exciting guests on, and before you knew it I was beginning to relax, and had kind of forgotten about the damn snake when I sensed movement on the floor. The snake had reappeared.

I moved quickly to cover it with the plastic bowl. I had trapped at least four frogs that way this summer and it had always worked perfectly. But not this time. That little snake knew exactly what I was up to and before I knew it, it was back inside the wall. Crap!

I sat down on the bed and made myself sort of relax and went back to Chris and company.

Sure enough, the snake reappeared. This time, even though I was sure I was not going to be successful because that snake was quick, I got up very slowly, tongs in hand, and moved stealthily toward it. And BAM! Grabbed it with the tongs! I didn’t have a good grasp on it and it writhed away but I was not to be defeated and pounced again and this time I got her. I was worried that I was hurting her as she writhed and twisted to get away, but I wouldn’t let go. Out on the deck I dropped it and saw that I had hurt its side right where the bulge was, and felt sad and sorry for it. It zipped away through the crack in the deck, and that was that.

But, much to my horror, I made another sighting of the same species, if not the same snake, on my north deck a couple of days later. I was doing my daily morning watering and, bingo! There it was. An eastern garter snake. It whipped across the deck as the water from my hose hit it and it slid magically through the cracks of the boards I had put over one of the holes the dogs had dug at the base of my concrete pad to get cool in this hellish heat.

I almost have a heart attack every time I see one of them, but am getting very slightly less freaked out. Even though a huge shiver of fear and creepiness went through me, it wasn’t as all-encompassing as it had been. Am I adapting?

These episodes made me think about snake and frog-proofing my house. The frogs are sure getting in. I find their little mummified bodies, wrapped in spider webs, in the runners of my sliding glass doors. I’ve found five of them so far. I’m thinking I’ll send one to my grandson, Anthony. He’s nine. He’ll like it.

Anyway, if the frogs are getting in, the snakes can’t be far behind. And being Sustainable Donna, I am happy that all the critters are healthy and happy. But, no matter what a nature lover I am, I do not want them in my house, so I tried to think about how they were getting in. I am very careful about leaving doors open. I am pretty sure they aren’t getting in that way. I think it is when I do my laundry.

I use my washer greywater on my east lawn. It takes the load off my septic system (40 to 50 gallons per load) and waters my lawn, which really needs it. I have gone through all kinds of experimenting to find the right kind of detergent to use (I either kill the grass or it gets stunted and yellowish green—and that’s with “all natural” eco-detergents) and am still in the process of trying to find one. I actually thought I would do without soap of any kind, but succumbed to my cultural heritage of “soap equals clean” mentality.

Anyway, in order to get the greywater onto the lawn, I attached a one inch, twenty-five foot long, pliable vinyl washer hose to the back of my washer a couple of years ago. When I do the wash, I uncoil it from the top of the washer, run it over the back of a chair, over the top of my laundry basket, and out the sliding glass door. This leaves a one inch gap to the outside in the sliding glass door. I plugged that hole with socks, but those fell out and left little gaps. Definitely not a foolproof plan to keep critters out.

So, this morning before I started the washing and with the snake episode freshly in mind, I went out to my lumber pile, found the perfect piece of wood, ran the hose out the door, affixed the wooden piece over the hose and wedged it between the runners in the side of the frame of the door, closed the door up to the hose and wood, ran masking tape up the side of the sliding glass door to plug even the teeniest of holes, and stood back and admired my handiwork.

There is no way in hell that anything except microbes can get through that door. I am sitting here now, listening to the washer churning, and feeling safe and snug.

Tomorrow Neighbor Orval is coming over at eight o’clock in the morning with his pickup truck and we are going to Shawnee to pick up chunks of broken concrete left over from when a bunch of water lines exploded from the heat and work crews jackhammered concrete out of the side walks to get to the water mains. (Recycling is my middle name.)

We will carry those chunks back to Chigger Lake. We will put on our gloves (in case of snakes) and lift the boards off the dog holes. We will toss in the concrete rocks. We will shovel gravel over that. That should do it, don’t you think?

I’ll let you know if The Plan works. Keep your fingers crossed.

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.


My first good laugh of the day—thinking about your gift of mummified frog for your grandson.  Forbear—unless he already KNOWS you’re somewhat loopy ...

2011-08-31 by Don

Aw, gee, poor little garter snake, just looking for a froggy snack or a cool place to take a nap.  As for your fear, suppose with SE-type guided imagery type exercizes you might be able to de-sensitize your body’s reaction. You say you haven’t run into rattlers, etc.  Thought there’d be lots of them in Okla? Wonder why Chigger Lake isn’t overrun with them? 

But garter snakes, they’re soooooo cute.

2011-08-31 by Ann Calhoun

Yup. I hate snakes, too, but try to keep a sense of humor about my phobia.

Years ago at the Denver Stock Show I came across a man selling critters encased in epoxy.  He even had a toilet seat with two small sidewinders preserved in the seat - artfully arranged - right there where your cheeks would rest. I was tempted to buy it but thought $200 was too much for a toilet seat.

Three months later my mother-in-law visited. When I told her about that toilet seat, she shuddered and exclaimed that she would NEVER have used it.

As much as I loved my mother-in-law, I still regret that missed opportunity…

2011-08-31 by Stan

Good article.  I am a snakeophobe myself.  During one previous stretch of drought here in the city of Shawnee, wife Shelby came home to find a pygmy rattler hanging on our garage door.  That was the first time I had seen a serpent anywhere in our housing estate.  Shelby had already inadvertently despatched the poisonous snake by activating the garage door opener before spotting the critter.  But otherwise it could have gotten into the garage and perhaps the house undetected!

2011-08-31 by Fr Clark Shackelford

Thats a good one, Stan:)
Hi Donna,
I think it must be the heat that is driving the creatures toward your place, and I read in the LA Times that Oklahoma is setting all kinds of records for all kinds in weather. Heat, storms, tornados, drought, you name it. I also remember you blogging that your son had said that the middle of the continent gets more severe weather.

The weather has gone mad, theres no doubt about it.

As far as snakes go, I grew up in Arizona, and if you´re worried about snakes, you should wear cowboy boots. The upper parts protect against snake bites.

The gray water issue is worth investigating in internet forums. There has to be an optimal soap to go with gray water. I mean water is the last thing you want to throw away, especially these days.

Today I saw on tv that theres wild fires in Oklahoma, so I hope they’re not close, and youll blog about that.


2011-08-31 by robert hagen

glad to hear your voice today, my little cobra…hope all works out for John…..Remember to have Bekka call me!  And remember how much I love and miss you.
    Please wear cowboy boots.  They are NOT as hot as they look.
Just harvested chard, beans, cilantro, peppers and arugula.  Wish you were coming for dinner.
    My new eyes are FABULOUS!  Weirdly, I sorta miss taking out my contacts every night….24 years is a longtime habit!
    You are the bravest person I know.  Big surprise.  You always have been.
    I am writing a sonata for you on my cello.  It started out as the theme to “Buffy the Vampire slayer” and then morphed into a Donna melody…...
    You can always call me Trinity (another wrestling name), my rabid ranuncula. (sp?)

2011-08-31 by carole

While sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a snake is ever and always a…. Mike

2011-08-31 by Michael McGehee

Oh, a mummified frog is the least of Mom’s gifts! Once she wrapped presents for us with her gall stones (witch teeth!) taped to the top as decoration, if’n I remember correctly (she may have just sent us a box of them). And she gave my son Jimmy a petrified cow bone or somesuch for Christmas, with his name calligraphied on the top.

That said: AIYEEEEE! SNAKES! That’d be it for me. I’D MOVE.

2011-08-31 by rebecca

I bet Anthony will be thrilled with the frog. Send him two if you can, one to dissect and one to keep.  Kenneth killed a pygmy rattlesnake on the deck last week. Our neighbor’s Dad who lives south of Hwy 9 was bitten by one two weeks ago and another neighbor killed one recently too.  They are not lethal but do make you very sick.  Here’s a link to a picture of one so you can avoid them if they are at your place too.  They do not rattle like the big ones before striking, they just make a low buzzing sound, that old hard of hearing folks like me can’t hear.

The Mid-Atlantic is blowing away, New England is flooding, Oklahoma and Texas are burning. We have fires all around us and hard working firemen working all night to keep them at bay.  Then there’s the Tea Party Revolution in the upper Midwest.  I’m not sure which is the scariest.

2011-08-31 by Jo Davis

Eeeeeeeek i hate the varmints.  I was actually gnawed on by a chicken snake as a child.  Gathering eggs at dusk, Thought I was a goner, lol. Daddy saved me and he did kill the damned thing, which I thought was wonderful.  Evil child that I was.
I have two grass snakes in my garden, and I try to stay clear of them.  I just wish they would eat the damned moles that are tearing up my yard and scare the armadillo that visits every two or these nights, yuck.

Stan loved your comment, would have spent twice that much it for one for my ex mother-in-law.

Jo the tea party scares the crap out of this liberal.

Donna you are my sunshine.



Jo the last one is the worst.


2011-09-1 by Janice

Donna, another great read here! I particularly appreciate your candor, vis-a-vis not wanting to harm the snake but understandably not feeling particulary comfortable about having a friendly afternoon chat with it over tea and scones.  I do hope you solve the problem. If nothing seems to work, though, I have an idea…you could try to do a desensitization approach, gradually, until you don’t feel quite so squeamish?  Uh…hmmm…I somehow sense that this is not the ticket…I hope your plan works!

2011-09-6 by Gary Eisenberg

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