Thursday, May 17, 2012

Snake tales...

 An overdue battle    Once steady rock slab stairs still climb the two steep terraces of Mom’s back yard. For years, she planted and pruned, trekked up and down. Eventually, succulents and periwinkle, azalaeas and dogwoods grew to crowd into each other. Once looming red dirt banks had been transformed; for a long while, her back yard looked to be a well-planned Eden.

Years after reaching its Home and Gardens pinnacle, troublesome changes took place. Rock stairs, though picturesque, tilted downwards, grew to be worn and slick. Wooden posts rotted; their rope hand rails became unreliable, dangerously so. Few climbed to the very top to harvest quince; the stone bench there colapsed and had to be removed.

Undeterred ivy claimed the heights and sides of the terraces. It marched and infiltrated, threaded through perwinkle, climbed oaks and dogwoods like an army of agile children. It joined forces with untrained ivy in neighbors’ yards from both sides. As if caught in a war with natural forces, there seemed a pincer movement staged for a final attack.

 Weeks ago, that’s what I found following early spring’s brilliant azalea and dogwood display on the first terrace, and after watching robins and their hatchlings in a shoulder high nest in a pot of hen and chickens set in an iron trellis nailed to the wooden frame of Mom’s screened-in porch. She and Betty, her saintly helper, watched the young birds grow feathers, then fly away.

That’s when the ivy charged. Or so it seemed. It had even crossed into the front yard where it hid under boxwoods that had long guarded the front of Mom’s house from intruders. Time had come; it had to be removed.

Underlying fears surfaced. Years ago, a friend and retired special forces operative had shared stories about Mom’s ivy covered neighborhood. “Snakes,” he said, “love to nest in ivy banks.” For many years, he had been the man to call when snakes had become a nuisance.

What that meant was always unclear until my friend was bitten. Although he’d been bitten before, perhaps because he’d survived with an unenviable scar on his right hand, he told me not to worry. He said that from his bed at our local hospital.

I visited him a few days before his son called to say he’d passed away.

Staring at Mom’s ominous ivy, I flashed back to the last conversation my friend and I had had. Although, at the onset, ivy had been a useful ground cover, it had become a liability. It had to be removed.

In earnest, that process began last week. Following a rainy weekend, it continued. What had to be done was clear. After a headstart of at least twenty years, the ivy had become persistent and invasive, an enemy, as it were, to be dealt with.

Helping me was Jimmy Carter, an untiring hard worker and a gentle man with the strength of a Samson.

I felt his strong hand grab my shoulder yesterday, just as I was about to saw a low lying branch on the first terrace. “Watch out!” he yelled, as he guided me backwards, out of what he thought was harm’s way.

“Didn’t you see it?” he asked, his eyes focused on me and fearful, as if shouting a belated warning.

My hand had been inches away from a snake that was resting in an azalea, near the branch I was reaching for. I hadn’t seen the snake. However, according to Jimmy, it had seen me.

Jimmy was terrified.

I was unsettled, but curious. Closer to the snake, I saw its whitish under belly; it seemed to be two to three feet long. Although it reminded me of harmless black snakes on top, it wasn’t as shiny. Its pale bottom was a clue, but one I didn’t recognize. Indeed, the snake seemed a part of the ivy attack.

What happened next was scary. In short, I caught the snake with a rusty long handled clipper, then killed it. There may have been good reason for that. [please see: Black Rat Snake The Black Rat Snake is the largest snake in Virginia, growing up to eight feet long . son was bitten by a black snake with a white belly ( probably 5, 2010 – The snake you have described is a Black Rat Snake. They are black with white under the neck and a light colored underbelly. The have a very ...]

At least Jimmy and I thought so. Although I was shaken, I knew not to seem afraid if Jimmy and I were to complete our work. So we waded back into the ivy with a fury that might have seemed improbable to anyone who knew the whole story, who had seen it firsthand.

We’ll be back again in the morning.


                                             B. Koplen 5/17/12

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