There’s a snake in the barn

“Uh Mom, there’s a snake in the barn.”

Not what you want to hear on a busy Saturday afternoon. Truthfully not something you want to hear anytime ever. But at my house this sort of thing isn’t all that unusual.

So on a hot summer afternoon Dman and I dutifully trudged into the barn, hoping for a mistake. Snake in the BarnAfter all, there are a lot of things that could be mistaken for a snake. A length of rope or a hose. I’ve even seen a stray vine find a way in and grow a few inches. Luck however was not with us and there, coiled up on the skinny side of a 2 x 4 was this…

Yup, that’s a snake alright!

After a good long discussion (because when you have people standing around everyone has an opinion on how to handle the crisis) during which the snake stuck around, tongue flickering in and out, watching us watch him, the suggestions were as follows:

1. Ignore it

2. Kill it

3. Keep it for a pet

4. Relocate it

Number 1:   I think we can all agree it’s really hard to ignore a snake, even a small one. I’m not an expert and we couldn’t figure out what type it was. It looked like a python. If it was an exotic, that’s a problem. Granted it wouldn’t survive our winter but it meant someone was careless. They might lose something else, something a lot more dangerous.

Number 2:   I don’t have a problem killing an animal if I need to, but it was really hard to justify this one. Without knowing what it was, I couldn’t do it.

Number 3:   No, just..no. I’m looking at you Ryan. No.

Number 4:   When you run out of other options, you go with what’s left.

Before we could implement this grand scheme, we had to catch and confine the snake without hurting it or ourselves and before releasing, we had to identify it. With one brave soul to help me, we moved equipment out of the way, found a large bucket and gingerly positioned it under the snake’s perch. A nudge of the tail with the handle of a hoe livened things up immediately.

Snakes move very fast. It’s kinda scary. Lesson learned.

Snake bundledAfter a bad moment where it looked like the snake might escape, I nudged it again and it wrapped its tail around the handle. That gave me the leverage I needed to manuever it into the bucket. From there it was easy to slip it into a pillowcase, proving once and for all that my obsessive watching of Animal Planet has paid off.

Dman drove me down to the local pet supply store, staffed by people who know their stuff. A quick peek into the bag revealed the identity of my guest, Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum, an Eastern milk snake. Adults range 3 to as much as 5 feet long. An expert climber (obviously) often ascending porches and vines, they will enter houses looking for mice.

Milk snakes are considered beneficial, superior hunters of mice and rats. Living with “good” snakes is difficult to contemplate, although like spiders they often slip away before you see them. They Milk Snake close upalso have a big strike against them for me. Larger adults will eat eggs and attack chickens. Anything going after my chickens has to confront Mr. Roo. At 12 pounds with solid two inch spurs, he’s a formidable opponent and very protective of the Ladies. Add in three large dogs, frustrated by the daily taunting and daring escapes of our local squirrel tribe, and it’s not going to go well for the snake. So off we went to a nearby conservation area, where we released it.

That is the last I saw of it, and I’m good with that.

I must pay homage to my stalwart helper in this escapade. Miss Vicki, who stands about 5 foot nothing and weighs 98 pounds soaking wet with a brick in each back pocket, was fearless. She volunteered to hold the bucket under the snake and never flinched, even during the more dicey moments.

Today is her birthday and so, in addition to wishing her a happy one, I’m giving her the “Balls of Steel” award.

Display it proudly, you earned girl!

Balls of Steel

 

Mints, Toads and Spiders, oh my!

Ah, June. I love this time of year, the garden is starting to come in, my herbs are already beginning to yield. In addition to the usual veggies, I’m growing basil, cilantro, chives, comfrey, thyme, lemon balm and of course, mint. I am limiting myself to only three types of mint this year. Be gentle, this is hard for me.

 

3 MintsThe plant on the far left is Mentha x piperita ‘Citrata’, more commonly known as Orange Mint. In the middle is Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’, or Chocolate Mint and on the right, Mentha x piperita, a variety called Twist of Peppermint. Aside from being beautiful, tasty and naturally grown medicine, mints are among the easiest garden herbs to grow. You do have to make a determined effort to control their spread, hence the reason I always plant them in containers. If you want to try your hand at gardening, start with herbs and mints in particular. These guys will make you feel like a wise old hobbit…or at least a competent human.

 

My day begins with letting loose the hounds, Bigs first, Littles second. No sooner were the Bigs out when there was a commotion by the shed. I figured they’d spotted one of the chipmunks who live underneath, or a squirrel hesitated before sprinting for the trees but it quickly became obvious it was something inside that had their interest. Tossing a couple of balls in the other direction (like some men, dogs are easily distracted) I opened up and glanced around. Word to the wise here: what you see as a tool shed, Nature sees as a multi-story condo with no fees and a built in buffet, a.k.a your garden. If you even think something is in there, proceed SLOWLY. I’ve run into more critters than I care to think about. Literally.

 

This time I found a beautiful specimen of Bufo a. americanus, or American toad. She seems to be a healthy female, so I set her up in a small apartment under the pumpkin with her own pool. It only took a few minutes, just set a clay pot in the ground, toss some dirt and damp grass in, and add a water source nearby. Since one toad can eat up to 1000 insects each day, I’m hoping she’ll find her digs acceptable and stick around. Click on the image and you’ll see her inside.

 

Toad in house2

 

Morning chores and rescue of the day accomplished, I sat down to write. About two minutes in… it hit, that creepy vibe that slithers over me whenever something I utterly detest invades my personal space. I’m not talking about the “18 People You’re Scared of on Facebook” kind of creepy. This is more like Ripley knows an alien is close, by the way the hair on her arms stands up and the skin on the back of her neck crawls. Eventually I had nowhere else to look but up… and there it was. A freakin spider…

Right over my head people!

Now I’m pretty tolerant, especially when it comes to all creatures great and small HOWEVER…there are notable exceptions. Spiders are one of those.

 

I know they are good for the garden. I know it’s not their fault they have all those legs and that jerky walk, but neither is it my fault I find them terrifying. I tolerate them outside, but in my house? Sorry but no. Since there wasn’t anyone else around, and dogs are utterly useless against arachnids, I had limited options here. Waiting for a hero to come along was not one of them. Like Ripley, I was left to save myself.

 

So that was how I found myself kneeling precariously on a drafting stool, maneuvering into position for the kill. One hand holding a rolled up newspaper, the other maintaining a death grip on the backrest all while muttering “Please don’t fall on me” under my breath. After a thrilling round of “what if I miss?” the battle began. Naturally my first strike missed and equally naturally, the spider opted for the best defense, which as we all know is a good offense. It rappelled to the floor like a little Special Ops ninja spider, looked up with all eight eyes and said…”Let’s Dance Woman!”

SpiderWall

Picture if you will… a woman in red checked pjs and faded AC/DC “Highway to Hell” top, swatting madly at a spider on the floor darting in 13 directions simultaneously, hopping around in a vain attempt to keep both bare feet off said floor, set to the shrill baying of two small dogs who have, oh so helpfully, joined in the chase.

Really guys??

This will not go down as one of my fonder memories. On the other hand, it’s moments like that where I have to admit I am grateful not to be famous.

Can you imagine that shot on the front page of the National Enquirer?

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