Deep, Strange-Scented Shade of the Great Dark

I was outside just now, giving the last of the breadloaf to the birds (oh, who do I kid? to the squirrels, really), when my next-door neighbor B. approached me to give me a most-serious warning: she’d seen “several” snakes in her yard and she wanted us to know to look out for them. Upon inquiry, I learned that they were native black rat snakes. The largest in Virginia, a bit imposing certainly, but still harmless. B. proceeded to tell me of how she kills them when she finds them.

I was reminded of a passage from Lisa Courturier’s essay, “The Hopes of Snakes”:

That the unease over the snake was disproportionate to the actual danger of the creature was not relevant. The concern seemed to be: Who does this snake think it is, venturing out of the trees to travel in the open grasses where stood people just now realizing the snake by their feet was not a child’s toy but an actual live serpent?…our awareness and direct experience of serpents is so limited that what we believe about them functions as a sort of anti-knowledge. In the absence of contact, the snake’s life forms in the human mind as a nightmare of slithering, of fangs, of constriction, of venom, of being swallowed slowly, and in full.

For B., for many people, clearly the very idea of a snake has become much more frightening than the snake itself. So much so that it becomes impossible to consider anything other than that idea, anything that might be closer to truth. Last fall, I opened the attached shed out back to discover a fairly large black rat snake coiled up inside. I guessed that it was seeking shelter from the torrential rains we’d had. I was startled to see it, surprised – especially considering the shed is off the second-floor balcony – but not scared really. And the next day when the rains had cleared, when I took Z. out to see it, it was gone. Last week, we found a tiny dead snake in the road and we all looked at it for a long time.

The snake in the road
The snake in the road, close-up

I explained to B. this morning that as long as I see them in places they’re meant to be – our yards, for example, or even in the shed – I generally just leave them. She gave me a very puzzled look. I realize now on reflection that implicit in her warning was reproach: our yard is the only one in the complex without a small lawn, without grass, the only one that the weekly landscapers know to just leave alone. It is, to her and probably to all the other neighbors, disorderly, unkempt, untamed, with various tall plants and groundcovers and trees. B. claims that she has seen snakes climbing the unruly chocolate vine crawling up the trellis out back too (which would explain the snake in the shed).

Yes, ours is a too-wild place that invites wild snakes.


One thought on “Deep, Strange-Scented Shade of the Great Dark

  1. Pingback: A Battle Over Wild Things « Melanie Dylan Fox

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