The Rat Snake

Any snake photos are from the internet… We didn’t take the time to photograph our visitor….

Photo credit:  ratsnake.org
Photo credit: ratsnake.org

Steve and I have lived in our house for eight years.  I’ve made references before to the odd nature of our neighborhood; what with our suburban subdivision butting up against the country, and some of our adventures that stemmed from these two worlds colliding.  But yesterday…. things got a little too real.

*****

    On this fateful evening, I had plans to go out with some girlfriends while Steve and Carter worked in the yard.  Though Carter loves ‘working’ in the yard, and has an entire array of his own toy implements, he was a little upset that I was going somewhere without him and kept asking if he could come.  In an effort to distract him, I reminded him that we’d not checked on our pumpkins, (we’d planted seeds nearly a week ago and have been searching for sprouts every day since) and suggested we head out to the front garden.  Agreeing, he headed out the garage door with Steve while I poured some water and headed out behind them.

Less than 30 seconds after Steve and Carter were out the door, I had joined them.  My eyes told me right away that we had a problem, but it seemed that the two were oblivious; Steve stood staring into the garden while Carter pretended to weed eat….. LESS THAN 10 FEET AWAY FROM A LARGE SNAKE!

I had trouble processing it.  Though Steve is not known for practical jokes, my first instinct was that he’d found a rubber snake somewhere and thrown it in the yard to scare me… nothing else made sense… they were so close to it, I couldn’t understand how they’d not seen it.  Joke or not, I couldn’t stop the sharp intake of breath.  When Steve looked at me curiously, I merely pointed to the snake.  When he jumped five feet, I had confirmation that it was no joke.  The snake began slithering and hissing.

Where we first saw the snake...
Where we first saw the snake…

I shouted for Carter just as Steve asked me to get Carter away and to bring him the shovel.  Scooping Carter into my arms, I ran to the garage and retrieved the shovel, quickly passing it to Steve.  He stood there, shovel in hand, watching the snake.  We were both at a loss for what to do next.  At that moment one of our neighbors and his teenage son arrived home, and Steve shouted for them to come over.  When the dad learned that we had a large snake (my estimate was 4 feet; Steve’s is 3…. to be fair, he got much closer to the creature than I did) he said he wasn’t coming over, but his son enthusiastically joined us.

“It’s a rat snake,” he said.  “Don’t hurt it!  It’s not going to hurt you, it’s probably just passing through… he’s scared.”

Even as the boy talked, the snake inched closer and closer to our house, climbing the garden pavers and slithering through our would-be pumpkin patch.  Once again he said, “Don’t hurt him, he’s more scared of you than you are of him.  If I had an aquarium, I’d take him home.”  At this, his dad began shouting protests…. from a safe distance, of course.

As the snake squeezed through a gap in the pavers leading to the side of our house, Steve had a brain wave.  As he followed the snake, he asked me to go get our next door neighbor, a police officer who’d told us many stories of responding to 911 calls and removing snakes and other unwanted reptiles from houses.  Recalling that they’d jackhammered their front walkway that morning, I returned to the garage to shove my bare feet into shoes before rushing next door, wading through the rubble, climbing their (currently) stepless porch and ringing the bell.

No answer.

I returned to find the snake heading for our backyard with Steve right behind it.  The snake stopped, raised it’s head, turning to look at Steve.

“There was no answer….” I began, letting my words hang in the air.
Nodding, Steve asked, “Should I kill it?”

I was torn.  On one hand I don’t like the thought of killing animals, even a snake, (though it would be different if it were poisonous or if it were threatening us in some way.)  On the other hand, IT WAS A SNAKE!  “I don’t know,” I responded.

Lowering it’s head, the snake continued determinedly towards our backyard.  “If it goes into the backyard, I’ll have to kill it.  I don’t want it getting into that stuff under the porch.”  Steve was saying these words as the snake passed through the fence into the yard.  We keep our fence locked, and Steve searched his pockets for his keys, coming up with nothing and finally leaping the fence.  With Carter still on my hip, I ran for the garage.  We have a door with a window looking into our backyard, and I believed this would be a safe place to see what came next.  Seeing nothing, I ran back to the fence.  “What’s going on?” I shouted.

“He’s heading past the burn pit,” he called back.

I had no idea snakes could move so fast, but knowing I could see the burn pit from the garage, we headed back.  By this time Steve and the snake were on the other side of the yard.  Once again I ran from the garage, this time appearing on the side of the house closest to where they now stood.  Once again Steve asked me, “Should I kill it?”

Again, I couldn’t commit to an answer.  “I don’t know.”

As we had this conversation, the choice was taken from our hands as the snake disappeared under the privacy fence.  I ran to the neighbor’s fence and watched for the snake to appear on the other side.  He didn’t.  I returned to Steve.  We decided it was time to unleash the secret weapon to scare the snake away once and for all… the wild….the crazy…the one-and-only ICHABOD!

I rushed into the house, shouting, “ICHABOD!!! SNAKE!!! GO!!!” as I wrenched open the backdoor releasing him into the yard.  Mildly interested he took to the back porch, casually sniffed the air, then stopped for a cold drink from his water bowl on the back steps.  Shaking my head in disbelief I recalled the times Ichabod would lose his mind over hearing the siding rustling in the wind; and now I wanted him to unleash the crazy to scare a snake and he couldn’t be bothered.

Refusing to give up, I jogged down the steps and stood by Steve at the fenceline.  Ichabod trotted behind me, before making a sudden turn and heading towards the bird feeder.  Exasperated, I once again shouted, “Ichabod!”

Seeming mildly annoyed, he reluctantly joined us, giving the air a few half-hearted sniffs.

“Did you touch the snake with the shovel?” I asked.  When Steve nodded I added, “Hold it out to him.”  Sniffing the shovel, Ichabod must have found something compelling enough to lead him to also sniff the fence where the snake had disappeared…. but that was it.  No howling, bellowing or crying…. no frenzied digging away at the fence…. after a few placating snuffles, he simply walked away and returned to the bird feeder.

What in the world?

Things calmed down after that.  I ran inside to grab my phone and ask google some questions about rat snakes.  I learned that though they aren’t generally considered a threat to people, they will bite if they feel cornered.  Also, they are great climbers and frequently get into houses. (Ick!) When I read that farmers love them because they keep rodent populations under control [1] I experienced a pang.  I stopped reading and said, “You know I’ve always wanted to live in the country and have goats and donkeys…. this makes me think I’m not cut out for it.”

“We’d have to get you a pistol,” Steve said.  I didn’t respond, but the situation would have to be pretty dire before I’d try to shoot a snake.

Soon the neighbor we’d tried to get for help appeared outside.  It seems he’d been asleep when I knocked (he sometimes works nights) and hadn’t heard.  He was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, having removed so many snakes from houses while at work.  “Rat snakes are no big deal…. now pythons on the other hand…..” he went on, telling us of an emergency call he’d received after someone had released their pet into the wild…. or so they thought.

Believing our snake adventure to be over, Steve and Carter returned to working on the lawn as I headed inside to get ready to meet my friends.  A few minutes later, as I stood trying to decide what to wear, I heard the garage door yanked open followed by “NIC!!!!”  then a slam.

“Yeah?” I hollered back…

Nothing.

The sound of the door being pulled open came again, also with “NIC!!! GET DOWN HERE!!!”

I started to panic, fearing that Carter had been hurt somehow.  I was in the process of getting dressed when the call came, and was suddenly frozen with horror.

“WHAT’S GOING ON?” I shouted back.

“NIC, GET DOWN HERE!!!”

Finally I came clean:  “I’M NOT DRESSED…. WHAT IS IT?”

“GET DOWN HERE!!!”

Finally understanding that was all I would be getting in the way of an explanation, I grabbed for the first pair of shorts I could lay hands to…. but they weren’t the best choice.  They are over a decade old and coming apart… but they are my favorites and I can’t part with them…. but as I ran down the steps while trying to put on the shorts at the same time, my foot got caught in one of the holes and I nearly toppled down the steps.  It was a miracle I managed to avoid a front roll!

The shorts that nearly took me down.
The shorts that nearly took me down.

“WHAT?” I shouted, as I entered the kitchen.

Still standing in the garage, Steve shoved Carter in towards me while saying, “The snake is back.”

Relief flooded me as I registered that Carter was fine.  “OK.” I said, pulling Carter towards me.

“Go out the front door and get (here Steve said our policeman neighbor’s name.  For his privacy, I’m leaving it out.)

Nodding, I pulled Carter up into my arms and headed for the front door.  Once on our front path, I remembered the busted up walkway.  I turned towards the garage to grab a pair of shoes…. if I’d been thinking clearly, I would have registered that it was odd for Steve to ask me to go out the front door, we almost never open it and exclusively use the garage… but I wasn’t thinking.  As I entered the garage, Steve began shouting at me to leave the garage.  Startled, I froze as he continued yelling, GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!!”  Then he pointed to my left, and I looked over to see the snake under Carter’s wagon…. about a yard away from my bare feet!

Screaming at the top of my lungs I ran from the garage, just as another neighbor, the one with the teenage son, came to investigate the screams.  “CAN YOU RING THEIR DOORBELL?”  I asked, pointing to the police officer’s house.  “Their walkway is all torn up and my shoes are in the garage with the snake.”

He didn’t say anything.  He stood, frozen, staring at me as I stared at him.  Steve, standing right next to the snake shouted, “SOMEBODY GET HIM OR I’LL HAVE TO KILL THE SNAKE!”

Since this man was still frozen to the spot, I kept heading towards the neighbor’s house, deciding to go into their open garage and knock on the door leading into the house.  Behind me, I heard the neighbor shouting, “I’LL SHOOT THE SNAKE FOR YOU, BUT I DON’T WANT TO GET NEAR IT!”

Um… Ok.

Rushing into the garage, I pounded on the door, before my neighbor glanced out.

“I’m sorry to come into your garage, but the snake is in ours, and Steve wanted me to see if you could come help him.”

“Oh, sure,” he said casually, grabbing a pair of gloves before heading past me towards our house.

Keeping my distance, I watched as he reached down, picking up the snake, all while the other neighbor kept repeating, “I’ll shoot the snake… but I don’t want to get near it.”

Straightening with the serpent clutched in both gloved hands, he said, “This guy is strong.”  Then he headed between our houses and towards the woods, with Steve walking with him.

The fence where the snake disappeared and the woods where he was eventually released.
The fence where the snake disappeared and the woods where he was eventually released.

When they’d disappeared behind the house, I returned to the garage to look out the back window, watching as they headed into the woods to release the snake.  As though in a stupor, the other neighbor continued to repeat, “I’ll shoot it for you…. but I don’t want to touch it.”

“What are you talking about?”  I quipped.  “Your boy said he wanted this thing for his room…. you’ve had time to make it to PetSmart and back with an aquarium by now!”

“Yeah, right,” he said.  Apparently the spell had been broken.

In a moment Steve and our neighbor returned.  We both thanked him for getting rid of it for us because neither of us wanted Steve to kill the snake.  And now everything is back to normal…. or is it?  I know it will be a long time before I go anywhere around here, either the garage or the yard, without my radar on.

I still can’t explain Ichabod’s lack of outrage.  For a while now he’s been behaving a bit strangely in the backyard; walking and sniffing the fence around the bird feeder and the privacy fence…. seeming interested, but not crazed, though he’s wanted to go out more and more frequently.  The other day I posted a picture of him on facebook with the question:  “Do you ever look at your dog and think ‘this guy has secrets?’”  I’m starting to wonder if Ichabod’s secret is that he has a snake-friend.  That would be so very un-beagle-like…..

…But who can say?

Ichabod, having secrets...
Ichabod, having secrets…
.... and keeping them.
…. and keeping them.
Photo credit:  srehlerp.uga.edu
Photo credit: srehlerp.uga.edu

 

Reference:

[1] ratsnake.org