Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A Fatal Encounter

We almost missed it at first. It was trying to crawl over a low stone wall into a field full of weeds, stone and rubble.

"Snake!" my husband yelled, rolling down the car window. My daughter and I leaned over to look and there it was, long and brown, like a ribbon of flowing mud.

"Brown means poisonous, doesn't it?" my daughter said. We nodded, enthralled as the snake fell back into the road, then coiled to try again.

"It's so beautiful," my husband breathed. We all watched, fascinated, as the snake uncoiled itself slowly, trying to feed its body over the wall. "Watch how it climbs up that wall -- amazing!"

It really was amazing. I've had it explained to me -- how snakes are able to climb straight up walls -- but I still find it magical. Once in Japan, I tried to pry a snake off a wall with a stick. I thought it would be easy to wedge the stick under the snake and send it flying, but it was as though the snake, which continued to slither effortlessly up the wall, was welded to the surface. My friend and I watched as the snake -- all of two feet long -- poured itself up the smooth plaster wall, not even seeming to notice my stick. My friend, whose room the snake had just disappeared into, was less thrilled than I was, though she did agree with me that there would be fewer mice to plague her at night.

The brown snake was little over a foot long and it was having less success with the low stone wall it was trying to negotiate. It made a third, then a fourth attempt, but fell back into the gutter each time.

"We'd better leave it," I said. I'd noticed a man watching us, no doubt wondering what we were all staring at.

But it was too late. The man had spotted the snake and he was walking over to it. We heard him call out in Turkish. He picked up a stick and before we could say anything, began to whack at the snake. The snake recoiled and tried to get away, but the man was too fast for it. We watched in horror as the snake made a vain attempt to escape, wriggling wildly every time the man brought down his stick, then finally lay still.

"It was our fault," my daughter said softly as we drove away. "If we hadn't stopped to look at it, the snake would have made it over the wall and the man wouldn't have seen it."

We felt so sorry for the snake, we could hardly respond to this. True, the snake was poisonous, but it hadn't been in the man's house or even in his garden; it had been minding its own business, heading for the field where it would no doubt have lived to a ripe old snake age, feeding on rodents and bird eggs.

A few weeks later, we saw another brown snake as we drove along a mountain road, past a field of granite in an olive grove surrounded by banks of pastel-yellow mustard flowers. There were no humans around, but we slowed down -- just to be on the safe side -- then watched as the snake poured itself into a large rock, disappearing safely into a deep crevice.

We hope it lives to a ripe old age -- and never meets any people.



Charles Gramlich said...

It's good to see them cross our lives and disappear again into nature.

Bish Denham said...

Poor snake...I don't have a lot of experience with snakes as we don't have them in the islands. (Well, there's a tree boa but they are so rare I've never seen on in the wild!) Anyway, I'm not afraid of them, at least I don't think I am. The very few encounters I've had have all been harmless. Including the time we were boating on the river and came to rest under a tree that had a very large cotton mouth coiled up in a brach a couple of feet over our heads!

Robert the Skeptic said...

I's very easy for me to appreciate snakes having a thorough science education heavily in the biological sciences. Still the reptilian part of MY brain cannot seem to overcome my kill-on-sight revulsion to spiders. Though I do confess I try to make their demise quick and painless.

Carolie said...

Another lovely story morsel -- thank you, Mary. Snakes are fascinating creatures! I owned a Florida King snake in high school, named Lennox. Oddly enough, my mother declined the privilege of feeding him and caring for him when I went off to college, so I had to find him another home. I was always enthralled by the incredible strength sheathed in that shiny smooth skin.

AnneB said...

I have never understood how snakes got a reputation for being slimy. The few I've found (garter snakes) all feel dry when you pick them up. Also hard to hold because they're so wiggly! {makes note to find out why snakes can climb straight up walls...wonders what search terms to enter}

Tabitha said...

That is too cool. I didn't know snakes could climb straight up walls...will have to look that up later. :)

Living in the midwest, the only snakes I've encountered regularly are garter snakes in the garden. And even then, not too often. Now we live in a city where there are no snakes except at the zoo. :)

Charlie said...

The Turkish man probably killed the snake because it was poisonous and he didn't want it to bite anyone. And to, he may have had an aversion to them.

Otherwise, snakes are just another example of beautiful creatures on this planet and have as much right to life as anything else.

laura said...

Oh my! You opened a can of worms (or snakes!) with this post. Just this past weekend my mom and I were talking about her 'garden' snake, Charlie. The neighbor wanted to pat him on the head with a shovel but thanks to Mom's intervention, Charlie got his reprieve and can now safely patrol the garden at his leisure.
I also once dated a man who had a pet black snake 'in his house'!!! Before I had the pleasure of experiencing this unusual pet, someone killed it during one of its outside sojourns and my boyfriend was absolutely distraught. I, myself, am terrified of even the smallest of snakes but I do respect them for the wonderfull creatures they are!

Robin said...

We just had a snake crawl into our air conditioning unit and short circuit it, so I'm not feeling super warm and fuzzie about the creatures at this moment. However, even in my current anti-snake mood, I wouldn't bash one's brains out. Sheesh. A little hostile, much?

Suelle said...

Snakes sure are amazing. They scare the crap out of me, but they're amazing!

Carolie said...

Laura, your comment made me snort so loud with laughter that my husband came running in from two rooms away to find out what was wrong!

Your neighbor wanted to "pat him on the head with a shovel..." BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

Vijaya said...

Most people naturally are antagonistic towards snakes, even the harmless garden ones. I like them and even had them wrapped around me ... it's amazing to feel how they move ... so sinous.

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- I agree. The best kind of snake encounter is the fast, painless kind.

Bish -- A cottonmouth in a tree? (Shiver) I grew up around rattlesnakes and I'm definitely afraid of them. If I saw one in my backyard, I'd be tempted to take it out (to protect my kids and cats), but I can't see whacking one trying to climb into a field. Of course I don't know this man's story. Maybe he'd been bitten by a snake or had a child who was...

Robert -- I don't kill spiders! I saw one eating a cockroach ten times its size once and I've been thrilled with them ever since. But when I dispatch cockroaches, I make it fast and painless. I owe them that much.

Last year, we were eating dinner when we heard something make a scratching, scuttling noise: it was a tarantula as big as my fist, walking across the living room, bold as brass. My husband showed him the door, using a dust pan and a stiff piece of cardboard.

Carolie -- Thank you!

I think snakes are beautiful, but I'm not crazy about feeding them myself: it's like the rodent or insect or whatever doesn't have even the tiniest chance. Ideally, I'd have a snake roaming free, perhaps in the garden shed, keeping down my rodent population, living amicably with my cat. (I can't help it: I'm an idealist!)

AnneB -- I think people associate them with fish or eels. Snakes are wonderfully dry, and a marvel of creation with their sleek bodies, intricately patterned skins, and rippling muscles. It's a shame so many people have such an aversion to them.

I'm pretty sure David Attenborough did something about snakes' ability to climb straight up, but I can't remember when. Tell me if you find out!

Tabitha -- Until I tried to pry that snake off its wall, I'd never had any notion how much strength a snake had. The snake might as well have been super-glued, it was that fused to the surface.

It's a little sad not to have any snakes around, but much less so when you have young children or pets :o).

Charlie -- We wondered if the man killed the snake as a favor to us. imagining that we were regarding it with horror. We hoped that wasn't the case. I wonder what he would have done if the snake had been a black (non-poisonous) one. I want to think he would have let that one be, but we'll never know the whole story. I don't think he was an evil guy -- but I don't think the snake was either.

Laura -- Oh, good for you!

A friend of mine killed a snake in her garden when her children were small. She was on her own, had a hoe handy, and didn't want to take any chances. I'm a wimp, but I couldn't blame her for doing this. Nobody wants their kids to get bitten by snakes. But the snake we saw was on his way into a field, a safe distance from human habitation, minding its own business. It seemed unfair for it to get clobbered just because we'd stopped to stare at it.

Robin -- I'd be less than thrilled with a snake in my air-conditioning unit. A friend of ours had a chameleon climb up her drain and was a little shaken by that. I'll tell her your story -- I'm sure she'll think she's lucky!

Suelle -- They scare me too, especially when I'm not sitting safely in a car and I'm not expecting to find them.

Carolie -- (I laughed at that too! And I'm so glad Laura gave that snake a reprieve.)

Mary Witzl said...

Vijaya -- Our posts crossed!

I'm glad you think snakes are beautiful too. I can understand people fearing, even hating snakes and other animals, but if they aren't in our personal space, the least we can do is leave them be.

I might well kill a dangerous snake in my garden (if I had the guts). And I'd absolutely take out one of those tree snakes who spit caustic venom into people's eyes, unprovoked. But if they're not harming anyone, I prefer to let them be -- after admiring their beauty.

Falak said...

Poor snake... I can't stand snakes but I would never kill one for just being there... And also because my first reaction would be to run away from there as fast as I can.

Kit said...

It's the same here. People kill snakes whether they're poisonous or not, just in case. As a result we get explosions in the mole and rodent populations and then have to do the job of killing them ourselves...
We have a policy of re-locating any snakes that come into our houses and otherwise leave them alone, but the kids have to be reminded every spring not to go running through the bushes, in case of cobras, or worse the puff-adder.

adrienne said...

Poor snake. My daughter and I would have probably cried at that sight.
I've never seen one go up a wall that way - but I've seen them hanging out in trees, and never wondered too much how they got there!

Anonymous said...

I've never seen a snake climb a wall. I'll try to find a video of that.

Jacqui said...

I used to have a snake in a classroom pet. It would climb the glass walls of its tank and still have enough power to try to lift the lid of the tank and the children's dictionary on top of it. It was so amazing that sometimes the whole class (including me) would get distracted and just stare.

I like how you put it, Charles.

Mary Witzl said...

Falak -- It really was minding its own business, making its way to a field. I might not want to snuggle up to it, but the attack was unprovoked and excessive.

Kit -- Puff adders and cobras -- how do you cope? If a cobra or puff adder came into my house, I'd relocate it with a shovel, even if my house was teeming with rodents.

When we were kids, we knew which snakes, insects, and spiders were harmless and which ones weren't. Here, people just seem to whack them indiscriminately. I'm sure that a harmless black snake would have been as unwelcome as the poisonous one.

Adrienne -- The thought of snakes hanging out in trees makes me a little nervous for my cat. Otherwise -- how cool! And I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt sorry for the snake.

Medeia -- It is just so amazing -- it seems to defy physics. No arms, no legs, a shiny-slick body, and yet they can climb straight up a smooth wall. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes and personally tried to pry the snake off, I would never have believed it.

Jacqui -- I hope you added a couple of dictionaries!

My father used to work in an arboretum that kept a lot of reptiles. As kids, we loved watching him clean out the snake cages. He could reach in and lift the sleeping rattlesnakes right out when they were cold without the least bit of danger, but it still thrilled us no end.

debra said...

The thing about snakes is the surprise. I never expect to see them and there. they. are. Of course, we don't have too many toxic ones here.

Pat said...

I saw one on a country road in Malta but when i tried to tell any one local they didn't want to know.
These days I don't feel I want to kill any living thing in case it's an old friend in another guise.

Carolie said...

In the U.S., there are only four kinds of native poisonous snakes -- and they're pretty easy to recognize.

My roommate several years ago flipped out when he realized we had a pair of black snakes living near our veranda. I had to sit him down and be very forceful explaining that black snakes were harmless to humans, and they hunted rats and copperheads, and that I wantedthe pair to stay!

He finally decided they weren't as bad as the alternatives...but from that point, every time he went out on the veranda, he would stomp his way through the house and across the paving stones, singing loudly "Oh little SNAAAAAAAY-KEEEES! Please don't come NEEEEEEEAR meeeee..."

Angela said...

I hope so, too!

Mary Witzl said...

Debra -- When I was a kid, we lived in an area full of rattlesnakes. One day, my older sister stepped on a twig that a rattlesnake was sitting on, resulting in great surprise for both girl and snake. You're not supposed to run away from snakes, but you should have seen her fly when the snake started rattling.

Pat -- I'm smiling to think of which of my friends and acquaintances might reincarnate as snakes. Karma would hold it to be the ones who clobber the snakes in their path, but who knows...

Carolie -- Better a couple of harmless snakes than a house full of rodents, and unlike my cat, the snakes would eat every bite and not leave me any presents! My father always made sure we knew the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes.

The black snakes here are harmless too, but people still kill them. Whenever I see this or hear about it, I wish a plague of rodents on the undiscriminating snake killers! Good for you enlightening your roommate -- and good for him for being brave. I can't say I'd enjoy encountering a pair of snakes on foot -- unless I had a few moments to prepare myself.

Angela -- In most snake-human encounters, I can't help thinking the snakes usually come off worse.

Marcia said...

Wow, Mary, your stories are so effective. You totally won my sympathy for a poisonous snake!

Mary Witzl said...

Marcia -- :o) Just don't let one try to sell you on an apple...

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