It rained hard. For days. A record, they say. Noah-style. The drought is ended, just like that. When the sun shone down again, all manner of God’s creatures crept forth from their shelters. The neighborhood bunnies, whom I write about often, marched right up to me for raisin bread. They looked hungry and ragged and seemed too tired for shy protocol. They had a “can we just cut to the chase, here, and get something to eat?” kind of look. A resurrection of ants rose right up through my patio, bringing the supporting sand with them. Mosquitoes murmured in gangs, scheming to carry off one of my cats.
I like snakes for their beauty and remarkable construction. I even played with them when I was a kid. They make crawling on one’s belly look easy, but I’ve tried it and it is not. But dammit I hate it when they pop out of my garden unexpectedly. All 5,000,000 years of human evolution kicks in: my adrenaline goes from zero to pegged in a split-second while I jump straight up and scream like a girl. Dammit!
Instincts 1, Brain 0.
I read recently that the fear instinct is built in, but it needs to be triggered. You are wired to be afraid of snakes, but if no one in your upbringing reacts to a snake, you will never know that fear. So sometime around my tenth year of life my dad must have been startled by a snake and screamed like a girl, and man, that’s all it took. My Yikes Reflex was switched on.
On the first sunny day after the rain I enjoyed lunch on the patio. Almost enjoyed, anyway, as I watched ants tear it apart. And of course the patio bricks were soothing, warm and dry, and the garden was chilly and wet, and snakes kept ssssssslithering out towards my bare feet. I tried to relax, be cool, Mr. Snow White, and just read my book, live-and-let-live. But my toes kept yelling to my brain: “Snakes!” I’d flail my arms and they’d scurry off. Then [rustle rustle rustle] out the’d come again. Dammit! I get shivers just writing about it.
Today the temperature is cooler, so snakes must work harder to bask. One shinnied up the stem of a small plant in my butterfly garden. I go up to enjoy the new flower, and–dammit!–big fat snake head bobbing and weaving and grinning and licking in the breeze as if I someone had coaxed him out of a basket with a flute. (If a flute brings them out, is there an instrument to drive them away? Hmmm–bagpipes, maybe.)
Last summer I was reading on my little brick front porch. I glanced down to see a snake head rising out of a crack, close enough that he could creep into my pocket. Dammit! A bag corn chips exploded all over the yard, and the neighbor next door was looking up from her gardening to see where that shrill scream came from, its faint echoes still returning.
Do you think snakes do it on purpose? Do you think they poke each other with their raspy little tails and say, “Carl, watch this guy–it’s hilarious!”