Friday, May 30, 2008

Fred's friends

I was distracted, sitting cross-legged in the grass just beyond the pasture—sunlight cast upon dewdrops, the finest glassy beads adorning burs…
A perfect picture for the taking, my back turned to the tall grass rimming the barn.

I can’t say exactly what turned my attention to him. For he sat motionless watching me through the tall strands.
A Black Rat snake.
And of good size.
Like Fred, but not Fred.

The day before, I’d found 2 young crossing the lawn, their gray and brown camouflage different from the black back, white belly of the adults. But having the same docile nature—and equally inquisitive climbers.

Warmed by the sun into activity.
Last fall’s hatchlings.
Pretty little things.

Black rat snakes can grow to 8 feet, but we seldom see them reach that. Often hit on the roads in this rural area by drivers that erroneously see their crossings as opportunities to kill a nuisance, they’re great mousers. And on our property with its many outbuildings, well fed.

Within an hour he was accustomed to my touch. Quite an armload at almost 5 feet, he held on tightly as I walked around the yard—strong constrictor muscles from his head to the tip of his tail.

Smelling and exploring this human who seemed to be nothing more than a substitute for a tree. His tail gripping my camera strap. Around and around he went.

Until I stopped at the farm fence—his invitation to dismount—and continued his hunting in the grass.

I hadn't found a snake as magnificent as Fred in 10 years.
We don't hang out together as much as I'd like. Fred takes his work of patrolling the attic space very seriously.
He prefers to hang out with the drainpipe.

spring 2008

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bobbie said...

Snakes are fascinating in the wild. I have photographed a few in their natural environments. But somehow, when they are behind glass in a zoo, I find them repulsive. Don't know why that is.

nina said...

Funny you should say that, Bobbie.
I have a picture of this snake, coiled in a heap--he looks scary that way.
I thought it less so to show him moving around--and not acting threatening toward me.
And there's really no other way to feel their strength!

Anonymous said...

Ahh, Elaphe obsoleta, many people seem to be seeing them around now.

Marvin said...

I have toleration for black snakes, but cannot muster up any affection. It's true they are great mousers and adept at climbing. They evidently have a fantastic sense of smell too. These natural abilities make them equally proficient at finding, climbing up to and emptying the phoebe nests on our porch and window ledges -- bluebird boxes without guards, too. I don't kill them, but I don't have to like them.

Marvin @ Nature in the Ozarks

Sandpiper said...

This is a great post. Snakes don't bother me when I'm out walking. In fact, they rush to hide most of the time.

KatDoc said...

OK, Nina, you win! The best I can do when it comes to handling reptiles is to move box turtles off the road. I don't dislike snakes, and enjoy finding them from time to time, but I don't pick them up and let them coil around my arm and carry them around. That is just too much for me!

~Kathi, who bows to the superior Nature Woman

nina said...

Marvin--no, you don't have to like them. But I would guess that you marvel at their abilities and how they're so well suited for their role in the cycle of life.
They're, without doubt, a predator of birds. And I, too, have watched a mama scream in horror as her nest is emptied. Or felt the disappointment as our barn phoebe tries , yet again, to place her nest out of their reach. But, I've also seen a hawk, snake hanging from her talons, head to her young with nourishment.
And felt sheer accomplishment when the phoebe's determination to raise young succeeds.

Watching it all unfold, tangled as the web may become, is fascinating to me.

And, Kathi--I'd guess I subscribe to the "how do you really know a snake unless you hold one" philosophy.
Obviously not wisely applied in all cases--but in this case, a constrictor, far more than words can describe. Try it some time?

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I rarely see snakes but I love to see them slithering through the garden. I think of all the mice, slugs etc they consume.

Rurality said...

We tried getting a closer look at one of these guys just the other day, but he was having none of it! I like them but haven't worked up the nerve to pick one up just yet. :)

nina said...

Rurality--it just takes patience.
I picked him up in the field (pin him gently, but firmly just behind head) and let him "chill" in a box, for a while in the shade.
Once he got past the "I don't want to be eaten!" phase, and realized, "oh, we're just hangin' out?"--he was fine.
I think once he perceives you as a climbing structure, you're no longer a threat?
And, is he ever STRONG!

Stacey Huston said...

Just got the same kind of photos of our youngest with a (approx) 4ft bull snake here, they aren't poisonous, but they do bite hard, so he had to take extra precautions, after letting it go he came across a 11inch garter snake that I had to talk real fast to make him realize why he couldn't KEEP it and take it home.. Not Fred, but beautiful non the less.. Thanks for sharing Nina

Kathiesbirds said...

I'm actually fond of snakes. yours looks lovely. What a nice encounter you had!

NW Nature Nut said...

I don't encounter snakes very often and am startled when I do. Your post made me want to see them up close with someone like you, who could hold it and show me how. You are a good ambassador to them!

Susan Gets Native said...

Why am I the only commenter to say, "HOLY CRAP!" ?

You da man, Nina.

Bevson said...

I cut a rat snake out of deer netting yesterday. After his initial panic at my touch and the feel of the scissors again his scales, he lay quietly and let me do my thing.

T.R. said...

Nina, the Snake Whisperer - who knew. And I was just getting used to calling you Sally Mander. I love snakes. I used to handle them when I worked in the zoo. I get as close as I can in the wild -- I just don't think I could ever pick one up. I would love to see you do it. I am impressed!