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
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.