Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Snake Ninja

Well, that respite didn't last long.  My winters in this Kansas garden seem long and harsh, but I number among my few blessings that the winters here are also relatively snake-free.  I say relatively because there is always the chance that lifting a rock might expose a hibernating little milk snake.  I actually saw my first snake this year, a small foot-long, pencil-thick, rat snake, about a month ago when I picked up a bag of mulch that had been lying in the yard in the sun for a week.  That one was pretty sluggish on the still-cold ground, although I presume it had taken shelter under the bag because the plastic-bagged mulch was warmed by the sun and beginning to compost.

 Two weeks ago, however, I spotted this rather large common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) stretching out in the open grass while I was out with Bella.  It was interesting that my nose-driven, curious and crazy dog did not notice this snake at all, dancing oblivious within several feet of it before I called her away.   Can dogs not detect the scent of snake?  I've seen Bella follow the exact track of another dog through our yard more than a half hour after the dog ran through it.  But she can't smell a snake several feet away?

If you've read this blog for any long period, you know of my snake phobia.  I hate them, but since I hate rodents more, I don't kill the snakes.  Well at least not the non-poisonous ones and I have yet to run across a poisonous snake in my yard, although I'm sure there are plenty of Copperheads and Rattlesnakes in the vicinity.  Thankfully for my mental stability, I most often find either rat snakes or these pretty orange-black-yellow Common Garters.  This guy is likely an old one.  Wikipedia lists their maximum length as around 54 inches and although he didn't stand still for measurement, he was at least 48 inches nose to tail.  Based on my reading, he may be a Kansas record, but now I'll never know.

As I've noted before, frequent noxious exposure has conditioned me to moderate my response to the sight of a snake and I was calm and collected as I spotted the snake and got the clear picture above.  As I went in for a closer shot of the head, however, the snake moved with ninja-like reptilian swiftness and I found myself looking at a coiled, ready to strike, four foot long snake from about 2 feet away.  Mildly startled, I produced this moderately blurry image from an elevated position of spontaneous levitation.  The snake was not moving, but I certainly was.  Or perhaps the image is just blurred from my heart rate, which went from 60 to 200 faster than an Indy 500 race car.  My primitive brainstem doesn't seem to care that my highly evolved human cerebral cortex knows this snake is nonpoisonous.

Discretion being the better part of valor, I chose at that point to stand still and watch from about 10 feet away while the snake uncoiled and swiftly slithered across the yard and disappeared into the irises, leaving me panting, and at the same time, a little sad.  I had great hopes for the irises this year, but now they'll just have to survive summer as best they can on their own.

1 comment:

  1. Always the bane of the gardener. It is necessary that I live in denial or I would never venture into the garden. I've only seen 2 or 3 in 20 years in this garden, but for 2 weeks or so afterward a sighting, I find every excuse not to tend my plants. I always hope I make enough noise that if any are about, they will scamper before I see them. I love the idea of tight planting for a full, lush look and also to keep weeds at bay, but fear if I can't see the ground, they will be lurking, half hidden under the leaves of my perennials. Thankfully, poisonous snakes are rare where I live, but what's the difference whether you die from venom or from fright?!


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