Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It is late March. Typical to this month of the year it has been one of extremes in weather, at times cold and blustery, and others balmy and bathed in healing sunshine. In between these have been violent rain storms with hail, lightening, and tornado watches, all brought on by the colliding frontal systems that almost weekly push their way thru the state.

The rain and increasing warmth of the daily temps has also brought the world back to life and green again after the winter gray. Trees are beginning to be covered with a bright chartreuse flocking of tiny leaves and flowers and every surface, outside and in, is covered with a sickly pale green powder of the thick sticky pollen from the hordes of the trees around the house. Flowering shrubs are also reawakened and are beginning their spectacular show that southern gardens are famous for. The exploding reemergence of the continuing cycle of life in the world can be felt, heard, and experienced with all the senses.

March brings many things to life and mind and surprisingly there is much alliteration to them; spring (the official start there of), showers, spring break, shedding, sneezes, and snakes. So many folks I know complain about their horribly incapacitating allergies to this plethora of pollen, and walk around with Kleenex, swollen noses, and puffy, runny eyes. The horses are now dropping massive amounts of long fuzz as I groom them daily and I find piles on the ground where they roll trying to scratch the winter coat off. I am fortunate to not be allergic to either, the pollen, nor to the endless amounts of horse hair that finds its way into my nose, eyes, mouth, and which covers my clothes inside and out. As to the snakes, this time of year as their reawakening time, is not my favorite aspect of the season. You can feel when its snake weather. There is just a certain temperature and humidity that feels snaky. That is when they begin to show up in all sorts of places.

Last weekend, Sunday afternoon was spent in the ritual “clean the boat up” session. This traditionally is a group effort, which involves pulling the fishing boat up onto the trailer and up to the house to take all of the rusting fishing lures, empty beer bottles, piles of leaves and acorns, and anything left over from last summer and fall’s excursions out. The boat then gets a good scrubbing and rearranging of all the stuff and everyone feels good and ready for the next adventure. This process was finally finished and as my daughter and I walked to the back door to put away the cleaning stuff, I stepped on the first step and heard her behind me say “SNAKE”. This is a five letter word which always does get my attention and I turned to see what she was referring to. There on the carport, less than two feet away from where I had just stepped, was a fat, coiled up, young copperhead snake, its tongue flickering and tasting.

There is always the “holy shit” moment after finding one of these slithering serpents so close to one’s feet. My heart goes into overdrive in an instant and my mouth starts spitting obscenities that I never knew I knew, and for some strange reason I feel like standing higher on my toes, as if that would save me from a bite from the snake. Copperheads scare the stuffings out of me because their tendencies to be waiting in places like at our back door steps, or under the lawnmower just before I was going to hop on to cut the grass, or even the big sucker that I sat next too on a big granite rock by a quiet trout stream one day. The little ones also have the tendency to look incredibly like a pile of poop made by a small dog, which we have a few of and so have their monuments scattered here and there, and while I do keep eyes sharp to avoid them I don’t always look at them carefully enough to rule out a snake instead of mere poop.

This particular snake met with his demise before he could sink his tiny fangs into any of our feet or into any of the very curious dogs that were milling about, and we all cooled our nerves with a chilly brew. Our daughter and our son in law then needed to head to town for the evening and weren’t thirty seconds down the drive before I heard gun shots. Pow, Pow, Pow,….Pow! My cell phone showed a text “ANOTHER SNAKE” and Mark and I headed out to investigate this second serpent on this sunny Sunday.

This one turned out to be a much larger cotton mouth or moccasin, who had happened to be considering crossing the drive right when they were driving out. This one also met with its demise, but we were all left a bit jumpy about if there were more to be seen for the day. Fortunately we did not. It is a normal and expected part of spring that snakes move around after their dormancy of winter and we understood going into this farm that we would encounter them. They were here long before we built this house and I suspect that they will be here after we are gone. I would just rather understand their being here fills an ecological nitch, but would also rather to not have to come face to fang with them.

I have seen two more since that Sunday, one, an incredibly long black racer that I nearly tripped over in my barn aisle way. Not being a poisonous one I didn’t freak but told the thing to get out of my barn with a “shoo”. This snake was not very impressed with my threat but finally slowly retreated to the door to the barn and went his on way. Then yesterday, when I opened the doors to the trailer I store my hay in, there on the bale in front of me was a kind of interesting colored one, who dropped out of the trailer and slid silently under the trailer. I had to look him up in the field guide to find he was a Speckled King Snake, and while I am not a fan of any serpent I was happy to see this one because the mice who also live in that trailer kill time by chewing on hay ropes and breaking bales open. So I hope this fellow stays and enjoys many of the evil rodents, but just not when I around, a symbiotic relationship of sorts with a slithering serpent.

And so March comes to a close in a few days. Spring in entrenched. Our Purple Martin colony is full and noisily vibrant. The horses are beginning to look like polished marble with their newly emerging coats, and the infamous Jack has eaten nothing to report and stays thankfully away from the vet’s clinic. I have waged war on the overgrown garden, again, and will be planting the summer vegetables soon with wishful hopes for a bountiful crop. I did find a clue yesterday about the mystery of the missing peach crop from last summer…we had stacked a bunch of landscape fabric on the ground in the corner of the garden last year and it had not been moved since we put it there. Well, I did move it yesterday and lo, I found hundreds of peach pits underneath it there. It looked as if a critter had made it a mission to stash the ripe peaches under this cloth, maybe to save for a rainy day? Who knows? I mean, what kind of animal steals peaches and hides them? I will definitely be watching the peach tree more carefully this year and make sure the hot wire keeps the browsing deer out of the garden, if possible. Ah, the simple life on the farm. Not. Still, it is good.

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