It began just like any other day, every day, in the Fairegarden. It was late spring. I was wearing the standard gardening attire of long knit pants tucked into knee socks, sloggers, an old long sleeved dress shirt of The Financier’s buttoned up to the neck with collar standing up to discourage mosquitoes, and gloves. There was weeding, walking around, bending down looking for buds, more weeding, moving this here and that there.
Suddenly there was a cacaphony of screeching birds. There are many types of birds around here, and most of them were on their second nesting of the season. The first instinct was to check for our male gray cat, Kitty. He is outside sometimes and has been known to cause a ruckus with the parental bird units. But he was asleep on the deck, totally innocent of any wrongdoing. Maybe one of the neighborhood cats was causing trouble. Gardener to the rescue. The noise seemed to be coming from behind the arborvitae hedge that grows along the back property line backing the walled veggie bed. The main screechers were robins, who were darting and diving at a wildling mulberry tree behind the arborvitae. But it was not just robins in attack mode. Catbirds, cardinals and chickadees were flying around and making the most noise I have ever heard the birds make, cats around or no. What was the cause of this hubbub?
I stood on the wall in front of the tomato cages to see what or who was the cause of the upset. It was frantic activity, with birds swooping and diving and making the loudest possible, scariest noises ever. My heart nearly stopped in my chest when I saw the culprit. There, in a large messy nest, probably a robin’s building design, coiled like a garden hose was a snake. A big one. Oh no oh no oh no. I hate snakes, all snakes, I don’t care if they are poisonous or not. I don’t care if they help rid the garden of rodents like mice and rats. I hate them. And the larger they are, the more I hate, make that am terrified of them.
What to do, think. This is happening in the neighbor’s property, not mine. There is a fence under a gazillion types of vines between the evergreen hedge and the disaster playing out before my eyes. It is almost assuredly too late to save the eggs, or baby birds, or whatever was in that nest. This is a huge snake, several feet easily, most likely the rat snake I have seen around here twice before, always at the edge of the property, near the brushpiles. I walk away, without a destination, trying to put the thought of this perfectly normal act of nature out of my mind. This is the way nature works. It is called the food chain and baby birds are pretty low on it. Go back to your gardening and ignore it. Fat chance.
The bird brigade is still at it, squawking and diving at the intruding murderer. What to do, think. What can I do? I can’t even get to the little tree where the attack is taking place at this very moment! Anyway, it is a snake, a big one, and I wouldn’t even go near it with a ten foot pole. The old saw comes to mind like a flash. A ten foot pole. I have a ten foot pole, two of them in fact, that are hanging along the bottom of the garage deck, put there to hang the orchids on. There is nothing hanging on them now, it turned out to be too sunny a spot for the orchids that spend their summers outside. They are silvery metal stainless steel poles, for electrical wiring to run through, I think. They are long and strong. Like a medieval jouster’s weapon of choice. I am walking towards the poles thinking of an armored knight astride a mighty steed riding to save the day.
I grab the pole, being careful not to break a window as the rock steps are reclimbed to go to the scene of the crime still taking place. Question number one: Will the pole reach the snake? Question number two: What to do if the snake slides down the pole towards me? I am there now, be still my heart, for it is about to jump out of my body with the beats per minute totally out of control. The pole reaches the tightly coiled snake. I give him a hard poke. Nothing. Another harder poke. Nothing. He has his tail wrapped around the limb, no stupid snake, this one. Maybe I can stick the pole through a loop of his long body and pull him out. After several tries, the pole is positioned in a coil. We give a tug to the left, all the while the birds are still at it and the pole is sticking though an opening in the vine covered wire fence. Not much room to manuever the pole to the side. The snake is an immovable object, strong, very strong. And scary. We lift the pole above the vines and fence and try once again to get a loop of reptilian skin. He knows we are here and looks backwards, at me. This is too much. It’s now or never. I place my feet wider apart to not fall off the wall, bend my knees, say a little prayer and give a push of the pole to the left with every fibre of my being. It worked! The snake falls to the ground with the hard thump. I drop the pole and take off down the rock steps, leaping, make that flying like Michael Jordan over half of them and run into the house.
Why I have not had a heart attack at this point, who knows? I need to call someone, anyone, tell them what has just happened. Talk it out, calm down by telling the story. I go through the address book of family members on my cell phone. All four offspring are unavailable. Rats. One more person to try before calling The Financier at work, my good friend Gail. Praise be she answers. I spurt out the words of what just happened. It hardly seems real. Was this a dream? The telling of the tale and her intelligent responses and questions help get me back into a normal frame of mind, if not a happy one. I am ever so thankful for meeting this wonderful, kind person at the first Garden Blogger Spring Fling in Austin, Texas, 2008.
The birds are quiet now. I go back up to the little sad tree. The nest is a shambles, some of it must have fallen to the ground with the snake. There are twigs and bits of straw and pine needles on the ground. All that remains of potential orange breasted friends. No sign of the snake either. He is not dead, a good thing I suppose, for there has been enough death for one day.
The offspring start calling, why had I called, they asked. I told them the snake story, remembering the vivid vision of it clearly, cementing it in my mind with each telling. I was calm now, and sort of tired. You should blog about this, said one. Oh no, it is too terrible. I can’t. Not now. Maybe not ever. The blog is for happy stories and pretty flowers.
It has been several months since that day. The ten foot pole is hanging back on the garage deck. The birds are still all over, the babies are all grown up. A robin family was at the birdbath outside the master bedroom sliders yesterday. The juvenile has brown spots on his chest below the beginning of orange feathers going down from his neck. Is this the same family involved in the tragic attack? I can’t help but think of the snake and where he might be. A large snakeskin was found in the depths of the rotting carcass of the red maple Ferngully. Does that mean he has outgrown that skin and is even larger now? I think whenever that area of the garden is getting attention, the knee high muckboots might be worn, no matter the temperature of the day.
This is a true story. It was decided that the time was right to share the tale on the blog. Like a cleansing. A purging. Things that I have learned from this experience are that nature can be cruel as well as wonderful. And it is a good idea to have a ten foot pole or two hanging around. Just in case.
An edited version of this story was submitted to Fine Gardening magazine for publishing on the last page, where a personal narrative is normally shared with the readers. After no contact by that organization for several weeks, it was decided that the tale would be told on the blog. For free.
Added: To see an illustration of the battle, click here. Thanks so much Shady!
Added: The next day after this story was posted an email was received from Fine Gardening saying thanks but no thanks for the article that had been submitted two months before. Funny how the timing of that response worked.