A Serpent's "Tale"
Was it a rattler or an old friend?
I first spied it as I walked up our gravel driveway. At first it didn't register what I was looking at — that is, until I had walked five paces past it. A snake track!
I quickly doubled back and peered down at my feet; sure enough, there was that familiar side-to-side mark made by a heavy and long snake. I judged this first by the length in-between the marks from one side of the centerline to the other, and also by the way the gravel was compacted by its weight.
First I followed the track down below the drive and into the soft dirt; it ended up going through the fence. Then I went above the drive to see if the critter had headed that way, but I lost the trail. There is no way to know which direction a serpent is traveling unless one of the ways yields a live snake!
The troubling thing was, I didn't know what kind of a snake I was dealing with: Was it a bull snake or had a rattler come onto the property for the first time? If it is a bull (gopher) snake, usually but not always, the tail will be dragged and leave a center mark in the trail. A rattlesnake always holds its fragile tail in the air so as not to damage the rattles.
Since this snake didn't leave a tail drag, and was in close proximity to our garage, yard and house, I was worried. This possibly could be a very large rattler! And my property is fully fenced in so that the dogs and cat can roam at large. Not good.
For the next two days, everywhere I went, I was on the lookout for the snake. On day three, I was hiking on the upper north fence and discovered a snake track either coming or going from the property. Had the critter left?
Three weeks went by and I was driving onto the property on my ATV, when suddenly I spied a large snake in the middle of the driveway. Stopping, I realized that it was a bull snake of about five to six feet in length and it wasn't dragging its tail.
I hopped off of the machine and approached the stretched-out serpent: a beautiful specimen, light yellow-gold in color, with dark brown patterns and the familiar tail stripes that make it resemble a western diamondback rattler. The creamy head was a light yellow.
This critter was most non-aggressive; I got to within three feet and it began to slither off into the large stones next to the gravel.
Mystery solved and I gave a sigh of relief. For the past three years a large bull snake has shown up here and I see it usually once or twice and no more; I'm sure this is the same snake but somewhat larger now.
It usually appeared in August but this year it was in the beginning of June. I believe in past years it was going to its winter den on our property up on a hole-filled bank under thick junipers.
Four years ago I had killed an even larger bull snake by mistake when it rattled its tail in leaves and puffed up its head under the very same junipers. I could have sworn it was a coontail rattler, over six foot long, but when I fetched it up, I was dismayed to discover it was a bull snake.
I prefer to leave gopher snakes alone because they eat rodents. If they don't bother me, I don't bother them!
There is a clinker to everything, however. Three years ago as I left the property, I spied a bull snake on the hard-top and it was coiled around a full-grown cottontail rabbit; it had engulfed the head of the bunny in its mouth. I assume that "my" snake was the same one. Keep this in mind as I go on with the rest of this story.
It was now July 4 as my wife peered out the kitchen window on a rainy afternoon. She said to me, "I think there is a snake curled around the bird-water dish."
Sure enough, there was the bull snake, wrapped completely around the bowl with its head up, waiting for a prey to come for a drink. Jeri didn't like the idea of that critter getting one of "her" birds or squirrels and demanded that I go shoosh it away, which I did.
I used a broom handle to try to pick it up, but it was out of balance and a very heavy snake. It was completely non-aggressive even as I prodded it continuously; it didn't want to leave. It being so docile, I'm sure it was the "driveway" snake.
Finally it took off and, avoiding my best efforts to steer it, made directly for a squirrel hole 10 feet away, where it disappeared. I had the impression that she knew right where that old hole was all along.
I don't know why I felt this critter was a she, but I did.
Now I began to worry again. Remember the bunny? That bunny was nearly as large as my cat, and that got me to cogitatin' over Blue's welfare that night and the next few nights. I kept seeing that danged snake coiled around my tomcat and sucking the life from him. Not good.
Then reason took over. Hadn't that old snake and Blue co-existed for at least three years now?
Blue was on the back porch each and every morning and has been since then. The snake? I haven't seen it since, but we had a population of six ground squirrels in July, now we're down to three. Hmmmm?
On another related note, Blue-the-cat has been a very efficient mouse and rat trap these past eight years on the place. When we first moved here we had mice in the house and in the crawl space. It took him about two years to rid us of every one, but he did it.
He is very good at rat control, too. Every once in a while, to my wife's disgust, he will bring one to the house and deposit it either at the garage or in the driveway near the garage. The remains are always left in the morning for us to see.
If I am around and he is still with his prize, I praise and scratch him for the great job that he does for us, him purring loudly in response.
Seldom does he bring in birds or rabbits to be inspected. In fact, I have often found him lying on the back porch or within five feet of the bird feeder as quail go about eating and neither party seems to care about the other. He does stare and twitch the end of his tail, but that seems to be the extent of it.
He seems to be know that the birds are off limits and are "Jeri's pets." Of course, she has on a number of occasions warned him sternly to leave the birds alone!
Keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may The Forever God bless you too!
When not ramblin' outdoors, Larry Lightner lives in Silver City.