Grace tiptoed up the garden path. Okay, really, she slogged down the garden path. She had a bucket of grain in one hand and four blocks of hay in the other. She weaved carefully between the beds. It didn’t really become interesting, until she had to precariously balance the hay on the arm of the ‘grain hand’ to free the other to unlatch the gate. I watched as she performed a quick balance-unlatch-rebalance maneuver and prepared to step into the temporary sheep pen. Suddenly, halfway through the gate, with one foot hovering midair, she froze. She only spoke one sentence, but it set off ripples of action all around! “There’s a snake in the cucumbers.”
Rabbit Chasing: When my father was about five, his family was clearing new pasture. The five-year-old boy turned and looked up at the house. Then, he calmly faced his parents and without emphasis said, “The top of the house is on fire.” Since the family was busily cutting brush, his words went unheeded. He repeated, “The top of the house is on fire.” Still not getting their attention, he tried again more loudly (but still calmly), “The Top Of The House Is On Fire.” Conversation and work around him continued uninterrupted. At last, he raised his voice to a volume that couldn’t be ignored and repeated in the same flat tone, “THE. TOP. OF. THE. HOUSE. IS. ON. FIRE.” All heads swiveled to look at the house. It was instantly apparent that the wood burning stove had set the roof ablaze! Needless to say, they all went racing for buckets. (Apparently, a hole the size of the farmhouse dining table was open to the sky that night!)
I know calmness in a crisis can’t really be a matter of genetics. However, whether due to nature or nurture, I ‘m not one of the world’s ‘panickers’. (I work in an ICU, so this is tested regularly.) Liam, apart from occasional fits of redheaded temper, is also fairly unflappable. Grace and Sam seem to have gotten a double dose of this theoretical ‘keep-chill gene’.
Sam is a realist. If, for example, a bear was about to attack you he’d calmly suggest that you play dead and/or pray, quickly. Grace, on the other hand, has been known to seriously under represent potential problems! If the bear had a napkin around its neck, cutlery in its paws, and was sprinkling salt over your head, she’d calmly say, “You might want to move a little faster. There’s something big and furry coming, AND it looks a bit peckish.” She would then pick up the nearest heavy object and give her best attempt at bear force trauma!
Because of this, we all knew there was a REAL snake in the cucumbers. If it had been a cutesy little garter snake, she would simply have caught it to show the boys. No, we knew there was a snake of estimable proportions!
Liam went straight to Grace and looked at the snake. We have four types of poisonous snakes in the area, and they’ve been found in high numbers this year. Liam had a pistol. (Not ideal for snake killing, but if it had been a copperhead, for example, he would’ve used it. Sam went in the house and grabbed a shotgun. He brought it to his dad. Jonah went for a hoe. Hoes are the traditional way to kill snakes in our families, but we use them to move snakes when they are in un-get-attable positions. Me? I called the dogs and kept hold of them. More than 250lbs of dog, huge snakes, and loaded shotguns make a volatile mixture!
Here’s where things went slightly awry. All the weapon deliveries tipped off the snake. It began to slither away. There are lots of hiding places in the garden. Zucchini, tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, and eggplants all make for great snake camouflage. In the end, we suspected it had slipped under the fence and into the backyard. (You know, the yard where the dogs play and the kids swim?!?) Thirty minutes of serpent searching ensued. Eventually, we had to admit that Kaa had escaped.
I looked over at Grace and asked, “How big?” She replied, that the snake was at least five feet long. I looked at Liam and asked, “What kind?” He looked puzzled for a moment, then gave a response that earned incredulous looks from the entire family.
“Well, I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not poisonous.” I swear, even the dogs looked at him like he’d lost his mind. He rubbed his chin, looked at our faces, and continued, “Seriously. It didn’t look like any of the poisonous snakes from ’round here. And…its head wasn’t shaped like a poisonous snake’s.” He glanced around, expecting this pronouncement to put us at ease. In reality, doubtful looks were whizzing around him like a swarm of bees.
Now, I don’t have a problem with snakes in theory. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I don’t have a problem with snakes in the pasture. I know they keep pests under control, contribute to the ecosystem, and all that good stuff. I’m not unfair. In fact, I’m willing to do a deal. I’ll avoid all snakes that avoid my kids, my dogs, my stock, and me. However, if they’re poisonous and I see them…Game Over. If they are caught trying to eat eggs or chicks…Game Over. If they’re near the house or out-buildings and big enough to inflict serious bites…Game Over!
So, five feet of ‘I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t poisonous’ doesn’t really fall within my comfort zone! I had this mental image of wandering out to pick tomatoes, and suddenly finding myself screaming and flailing my left arm! I could see the enormous serpent whipping back and forth, its fangs deeply piercing my flesh! Then, I saw myself slumping to the ground. My breathing slowed and my face changed to a nauseating shade of purple. Finally, I would die, my open eyes staring Agatha Christie style at my husband, who’d shake his head and say, “but, the shape of the head is wrong”.
We incubated a batch of Bourbon Red Turkeys. The outcome wasn’t terrific. (I blame an incubator malfunction.) When the final results were known, we had three healthy poults. We’d hoped to have extra to sell and to can. However, three is the bare minimum we need for holiday meals. The poults live in a brooder in the shop. We’ve babied and coddled them, and after a month they were feathering out and doing well.
Then, Sam came in during morning chores with news of a missing turkey. It wasn’t one of our breeding trio; it was one of the burgeoning holiday treats that was AWOL. Jonah joined us, saying he thought the turkey had flown out of the brooder. Grace came to help look, and announced that the poults had been trying to fly out of the brooder for several days.
When I asked why the top of the brooder hadn’t been clamped shut, all three kids exchanged looks of chagrin. Apparently, all three had noticed the turkeys trying to make a break, but no one had considered closing the top of the brooder. The kids made a thorough search. Although Grace was sure she heard peeping from a back corner, no tiny Toms were to be found. Since the shop had accidentally been left open the night before, it was unlikely we would see the poult again.
When Liam came home, he was told of the tragic loss. Liam is very fond of farm raised turkey roasted with bacon butter, so he headed out to search the shop himself. Grace mentioned hearing the will’-o’-the-wisp peeping, but the boys rolled doubt-filled eyes. Knowing Grace’s reliability as a witness, Liam began excavating behind the horse tack where she reported hearing the peeping.
Having had enough turkey hunting for one day, I went in to make supper. A few minutes later, the front door opened and both dogs were shoved in unceremoniously. I wondered what was up, but couldn’t leave the kitchen just then. I assumed, that between my husband and three adult-ish kids, they could handle all the trouble one baby turkey could dish out.
Suddenly, the front door burst open and Sam came charging in! He grabbed the shotgun and marched out pausing only long enough to say, “Snake in the shop.” A few minutes later, Grace came in with the day’s eggs and a jubilant expression. She announced, “I CAUGHT IT!” I was confused.
Me: You caught the snake?!?
Grace: No. I caught the turkey.
Me: I thought there was a snake.
Grace: There is. It tried to catch the turkey, but I was faster.
Me: Wait, you found the poult?
Grace: Yes, it was with the snake.
After a ‘tale chasing’ conversation, I finally understood. When Liam and Co. began moving the horse tack, the peeping started again. Working quickly, my family uncovered an attempted murder in progress. The five feet of ‘unknown, but not poisonous’ was desperately trying to reach the poult. The poult was precariously perched on a shelf just out of slithering range.
Grace and Liam used a hoe to move the snake long enough to scoop up the turkey and return it to the (now closed) brooder. Unfortunately, this allowed Kaa to make his second escape. When I asked why they hadn’t dealt with the reptile first, they both looked at me like I was simple-minded and said, “We had to save Christmas!”
You see, we have a rule on the farm. Any animals bred to become food, must either be unnamed or have a food related name. We’ve had Bacon, Bits, Sir Loin, Cacciatore, and Pfeffer to name a few. Apparently, the three turkey poults have been named Thanks(giving), (e)Phiphany, and Christmas. My daughter wrapped her arms around her middle, doubled over, and between peals of laughter said breathlessly, “Don’t you see?!? Daddy and I are the farmers who saved Christmas!!!”
(Yes, I know they’re weird [and a little crazy], but they’re mine and I love them!)
Snake-2; Family-0; Turkey-Non-Starter
“Mama! A snake is in the coop.” I hurried to the coop, and Sam rushed in for the shotgun. (Sam likes guns.) Unfortunately, the gun wasn’t going to help. The snake was curled in two of the nesting boxes. Large oval swellings, like grotesque growths, clearly showed that the snake was in the middle of an illicit eggy meal. Its body ran behind the boxes, so I couldn’t lever it out with the hoe. I also couldn’t shoot into the boxes.
I pinned the snake with a hoe, while considering my options. However, the moment I pinned the snake, it began to try and escape. Finding itself trapped, it decided to lighten its load. The snake began to rhythmically contract its body in an effort to bring up the stolen eggs. The sight of the eggs popping uncracked one at a time from the snake’s huge dis-articulated jaw was equal parts fascinating and horrific!
Sam continued to suggest ways to move the snake and shoot it. Grace looked at me, and I nodded. She ran off and returned a few moments later with the necessary tools. How did we deal with the snake? Well, suffice it to say we treated it like royalty. French royalty to be exact!
After all, it’s either that or ‘Let them eat [omlets]!
Final Score-Family Wins by TKO!!!
In answer to the “what kind of snake” question, Liam stands by his ‘dunno, but not poisonous’ statement and adds, that it was probably a Rat Snake. I disagree. It was an East Texas Egg Sucker! Therefore…
What is your view of slithery things? Do you hug the boa back or hoe, hoe, hoe your snakes? Leave me a comment if you have the time?
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