Thursday, October 25, 2007


We share our property with a good number of rat snakes.
Exactly what is a good number? Enough that we no longer make finding one a reason for finding someone else to share it with.
We’ve grown accustomed to finding eggs in the compost pile, hatchlings covering the lawn around the belly of our old hollow sycamore, and an occasional adult crossing the yard.
They’re welcome neighbors in this rural area. Outbuildings and bags of grain mean a steady supply of mice. We’d be up to our ears in the little whiskered critters, were it not for the snakes’ help.
Last week, this hatchling suddenly appeared by the back door in the time it took me to walk down and back from the mailbox. We introduced ourselves, neighbors—apparently he’s just moved in (from the compost pile--to the garage). We exchanged greetings--I relocated him to the rock garden. The stone wall will be a nice place to snuggle into for cool fall days.
In a few years he’ll look just like Fred—long, dark, and handsome.

When we first moved here, from a cooler, northern climate, finding a huge black rat snake on the front lawn was a big deal. And, I, nature-loving, hands-on, perpetual parent that I was, loved making every encounter with wildlife an opportunity for a science lesson.
That was my intention, one afternoon, years ago, when I met Fred. He was magnificent—a sleek, black beauty about 6 feet long.
Rat snakes make great pets because they tame easily (in a few minutes) and handle well—those strong, wave-like constrictions climb your arms as if they were branches—lace your fingers like a shoe.
But, the girls weren’t home just then—maybe at a scout meeting or softball practice for the evening. And I needed a way to contain Fred until they could see him later—such a specimen he was. I grabbed a cast off terrarium from the garage shelf, complete with a wire mesh lid—from a time we’d had hamsters, years before—and tucked Fred inside.
He’d be safe on the kitchen table while I watched TV in the family room. The girls would be home soon.

Fred became more a member of the family, than a neighbor that evening. When I returned to the kitchen to greet the girls as they returned home, the top was off the terrarium, and he was nowhere in sight.
Did he slip inside a cabinet and into the wall behind, or through the gap separating the old and new portions of our house? However he managed it, he’s moved in. In cool weather, we hear him cruising behind the bathroom wall, and on warm afternoons he hangs out from the eaves, right beside the west-facing gutter.
Yep. We’ve got our mouse problem under control. But I say a prayer every time dinner guests spend time, looking out our west-facing window.

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