By Diane Lockspeiser
It was a fine summer day for the Views and Vistas Garden Tour, maybe a little warm to be out in the full sun of our hillside at midday but, still, pleasantly dry and sunny. Many of the inhabitants of our place came out to say “hello” to the guests. One group was greeted by butterflies. A groundhog came waddling across the lawn for another, standing up to look at us before bustling off into the tall meadow grasses. Others were greeted by birds, one by a frog.
The chickens, as expected, mostly hid in the underbrush. That’s where they usually are midday in the summertime. Sometimes they will sprawl out to sun their bellies, usually on the porch (but never when there are people nearby,) or take a dust bath in one of the several dirt holes they have dug out around the yard. One of the younger chickens totally surprised us, however, by deciding to follow a particular guest all around the yard. It was rather strange, but pretty funny, especially because she has never done that before, and hasn’t since. I commented that maybe she knows her from another life.
One of the last visitors of the day nearly jumped out of her skin as a snake slithered along in the grass right next to her. It’s not uncommon to encounter snakes around here, but it seemed an odd coincidence that this one should decide to make an appearance for someone who is terrified of snakes.
Having grown up with brothers who played around with the garter snakes that were common on Long Island when I was a child, I am not particularly afraid of snakes but still like to give them a cautious distance when I can. That’s not always possible around here. The first Spring we lived here, a three-foot-long snake crossed right in front of me as I walked the path through the meadow. I have seen many of all sizes since, especially among the big flat rocks where they like to hide underneath or sun themselves on top.
One day, I noticed two of my chickens fighting like roosters. On closer inspection, they were fighting over a snake which one of them soon triumphantly carried off, dangling from her beak. My dog has killed a couple of snakes also, but not to eat. She just chases them. In the process one snake lost the end of its tail and another got a broken back. They died later and I had to dispose of them. Fortunately, most are usually able to get away unscathed.
The scariest encounter for me was recently one morning while picking asparagus. I mostly paid attention to the position of the snake’s head so as to keep a safe distance as it reared up and wavered back and forth. I was vaguely able to see that this really big one was not striped like the usual garter snakes that I am used to. I saw big brown blotches on a lighter background and the head was flat and triangular. I had read that there are Eastern Rattle Snakes–could this have been one? The only catch was that I did not hear a rattle and, while focusing on its head, I did not see if there even was a rattle on its tail. Further research led me to believe that it was most likely a type of Gopher Snake. I read that this type of snake, when threatened, can flatten and spread out its head to imitate a rattle snake and is often mistaken for one. It may bite, but is not poisonous to people. Phew!
By far the most disgusting encounter I had was a few years ago, while trying to salvage an old flower bed that was being taken over by surrounding evergreens. I have since abandoned the site, moving most of the plants elsewhere – some successfully, some not. That day, barefoot as I usually am, I was focused on what I was working on as I stepped backwards to see how it looked. POP!!! The snake that I had stepped on actually audibly made that sound as it burst open under my foot! So gross!!! I have since made sure to watch where I step in the grass, especially since now there’s chicken poop there as well.~