Guard Snake

This “Sand in My Sheets” column ran in a 2004 NorthernIslander. The column is a regular feature of the paper.

Islanders sure do love critters. It’s universally believed that dawns and sunsets are made more beautiful with the cries of the loons overhead. I’ve seen quite a few people who have nearly run off the road to avoid a fatal collision with a squirrel or a chipmunk. If we see a turtle trying to make its way across Donegal Bay Road, many of us pull over and carry the creature to safety.

We put out apples in the winter to help the hungry deer, distribute tons of birdseed to our feathered friends and dutifully clean out the hummingbird feeders every few days. The islanders have taught me a lot about caring for the wild creatures. I’ve even gotten to like snakes…sort of.

It also helps that there are no poisonous snakes on our Emerald Isle – a fact confirmed by Dr. Jim Gillingham at CMU’s Biological Station on the Island. I’ve gone to his Museum week reptile show since God was a boy and encouraged my sons to stroke the creatures on display.
This year a little garter snake decided to take up residence in the rock wall next to our house. My Lab and Golden looked him over, sniffed a bit, and decided to accept him. I got so used to seeing the little guy that my flight reflexes – usually put into overdrive by the approach of a snake or spider – dulled and finally disappeared altogether. Instead of leaping onto high ground when the grass rustled, I’d peer into the greenery, trying to see the feisty little fellow.
Once, while trimming vines along the rock wall, my snake friend came out to investigate what I was doing. As I began to collect the clippings I picked him up by mistake. I put him down quickly, actually apologizing verbally for the error. He looked at me for a long moment to see if I was sincere, then apparently trusting me again, curled up on a nearby stone to continue overseeing my work.

Unfortunately, the runt of my canine clan, a mouthy terrier named Tory, decided the snake was a threat to our household. It kept her occupied – usually she turns he wrath upon the hapless summer visitors who bike past our place. This year she didn’t even give them a feeble yap. But she sure was irritated by the slinky little creature waiting just outside the door.

Each morning Tory would patrol the pathway, growling at suspicious areas where the snake might be hiding. I was sure his aggressive nature would drive the little fellow away. But this snake didn’t care…not one little bit. As the dog would bark and bray and howl, the snake would raise his small head, glare at the loud intrusion on his sunbathing routine, and lay back down, unperturbed.

This, of course, infuriated Tory (who can’t stand to be ignored by man or beast). She would dance around the snake in a Ricki-Ticki-Tavi mongoose dance and occasionally risk a dive at the snake, usually coming up with a mouthful of foliage instead.
The snake usually refused to move for humans as well. My girlfriend encountered the little bugger one day and laughed about how the tiny snake had stood his ground. She’d decided to finally step over him. “I think you should put up a sign,” she told me. “How about ‘Guard Snake’?”

We often talked to Tory about the snake, for when we’d had enough of her barking, we’d order her (in our best command voices), “Leave the snake alone!” I didn’t know that she’d assimilated the noun into her vocabulary until one night we were watching a wildlife show on TV and the adventuresome guide shouted, “Cracky, that snake is a blinger!” Tory awakened from a snooze in full battle mode, ready to take on her adversary.

The summer is waning now. And I suppose our little reptile will soon be off hibernating or whatever snakes do in the colder seasons. I think that Tory will miss all the excitement of having the little snake as a neighbor. And perhaps most surprising of all…I think I’ll miss him, too.