Thursday, October 14, 2010

For What It’s Worth by Rosemary Wallinger

Martha note: Rosemary wrote this while taking a JMU Lifelong Learning Institute class on essay writing that I taught. I loved it and thought you might as well.
I stood in the late October chill, scissors gripped in one hand, four and a half feet of pissed off rat snake tangled up in nylon netting swinging from the other.

There was a time when the sight of a snake made me gasp like a grounded trout and run for high ground. One suddenly noticed at close range can still make me jump.

Living surrounded by forest and field in a farmhouse with stone foundations, means living with the knowledge that there’s no such thing as “snake proof.”

There’s no such thing as “mouse proof” either.

Google “house mouse and the diseases it carries” and what comes up reads like The Pied Piper of Hamelin set to the soundtrack from Jaws. They can have between 4-16 in a litter, 7-8 litters per year, and the young reach sexual maturity at 8-12 weeks. They are known to carry Salmonella, Hantavirus and Lyme disease.

I flinch just doing the math.

Google “rat snake and the diseases it carries” and what comes up is mostly treatises on why rat snakes are so beneficial, followed by instructions on how to safely deter or relocate them from purple martin and bluebird houses. Since I Googled “rat snake” right after “house mouse”, that they eat mice, rats and voles seemed fair enough. That there’s evidence they deter poisonous snakes - which could account for why in 38 years we’ve never seen one –strikes me as downright superfluous.

In short, my rat snakes would be justified in negotiating for pay. Unsettling as they sometimes are, I value their role in my safety. Perhaps, after today, at least one of them values mine.

I spied the netting on my way to the barn with tools I’d collected for winter storage. It was laying where I’d stashed and then forgotten it, tangled up with weeds, dried leaves and when I lifted it, one of my larger rat snakes.

My husband thinks nothing of looping a snake around his neck as he hauls it to our meadow chock full of mice and moles. Handling one scares me silly.

I hadn’t any options. As I grabbed my gloves and the only scissors I keep in my garden bucket, I laughed out loud. I doubt the folks at Hello Kitty, who designed these hot pink children’s scissors with their kitten logo, had this task in mind. Because they aren’t pointed they were perfect.

With my heart pounding against my ribcage, I gripped the snake just behind his head, then lifted. In places, strands were so tight I had trouble getting the scissors beneath to clip. He must have been caught up for days, if not weeks. Once freed from the netting, I stroked along the length of him to restore circulation, then carried him to a patch of sunlit grass, stretched him out, jumped back and waited.

And waited.

Slowly, he raised his head and sidled his way toward the barn. Then picking up speed he turned, and turned again, heading down toward my house and basement where he and I have both agreed the mice are free for the taking.

Martha reminder: The number to call to support WMRA during our Festive Fall On-air Fundraiser is 1-800-677-9672. Or, you can support on-line, as well.

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