Thursday, September 5, 2013

Not for the Faint-Hearted

 I had better warn you that what follows is not for the squeamish.  But it might serve as a reality check for my London friends who envy my life in rural Western New York bliss.
  It’s true that, where I once had a balcony and two plant pots, I’ve now got a veritable Garden of Eden – rolling acres with a twinkling mountain stream,  chipmunks  scampering  around,   woodchucks waddling onto the porch, white tail deer lying down to sleep in dappled glades,  wild turkeys  sweetly teaching  their children  to fly from our garden furniture, hummingbirds and fat bumble bees  buzzing  melodiously among the flowers.
  Never mind that the acres are mostly jungle,   the chipmunks and woodchucks have dug a network of tunnels under the lawn worthy of Colditz Castle, the  turkeys  guzzle up all the blueberries,  the deer treat the shrubs like a buffet, the bees have managed to make a nest above the porch and the flowers mostly drown in triffid-like weeds, whose powers of growth and regeneration dwarf those of their counterparts in Britain. Whatever they’re on should be patented by some pharmaceutical company.   Perhaps the flora and fauna are all the more vibrant here because of the shortness of our summer. We’re in a constant battle with nature and nature always wins.  
     And it seems that, every year, nature throws some new delight at me.  Actually, did I say that nature always wins?  Not quite always.   A couple of summers ago, the lad who mows what passes for our lawn, was giving it a  vigorous going-over.   After he’d finished, I discovered a casualty.   A small snake had gone to its just deserts.  I tweaked it with a stick and a shudder,  then did a double take, backed away  and screamed for hubby,
  “Quick! Come here! I think it’s -  it’s - omigosh - I think it’s a rattlesnake!”
Hubby came running and scrutinised the corpse,  “I don’t see a rattle. ”
  “Yes but it’s just been run over by the lawnmower – it’s not exactly in good shape!  The rattle could be, well, anywhere!”
   I went weak at the knees and clutched at hubby’s arm.  I’m used to the snakes around here they call garden snakes. I don’t like them but they’re totally harmless. This one’s markings looked very different.
  I rushed to the internet and with shaking fingers looked up  websites with graphic photos of “Snakes of Western New York”,  the Common Garter Snake, the Black Rat Snake, the Eastern Hognose Snake et al.  Our victim  didn’t look like any of those. Until I got to the photo of, yes, you’ve guessed it, the Timber Rattlesnake.
   “You told me you didn’t have rattlesnakes here!” I howled to hubby, “That was before we were married of course!”
   The poor man shrugged,  “Well I didn’t think we did. I knew there were some in Pennsylvania……”
  “But that’s only half an hour away!”
  “Hang on”,   said hubby,  trying to regain control of the situation. “Look at the map of their territory. See, our bit isn’t shaded..”
  “Snakes can’t read maps!”   
   I must admit,  I was beginning to lose it.  Where there was one rattler, there might be hundreds  more and where had it come from, if not from under our garden shed? I was mentally packing my suitcase for England. Even hubby, for all his bravado,  looked a little green-around-the-gills.  “Maybe”, he suggested, “We could take another look?”
  Gingerly I went and studied the deceased a bit closer. I turned it over. It had a sort of chessboard pattern on its underside, and red blotches  with black lines around them.
   We went back to the internet. Suddenly a flood of relief swept over me. There was a photo I’d missed. “Eastern Milk Snake,” it said,  “Checkerboard pattern on its underside”, it said,  “Red blotches with a black line around them”, it said, “Harmless” it said.
  I told a friend about it afterwards. She fell about laughing. “You thought it was a what?!”
 “Well yes and then it turned out to be..”
“Don’t tell me – a milk snake!”
 “There”, said hubby, “Didn’t I tell you? Nothing to worry about!”  
  “This time,”  I muttered under my breath. 

 Did someone mention the Garden of Eden? 

Watch out. This one's alive.

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