I came out to the barn where I work at about ten o'clock this morning. So what if it's Memorial Day? Writers work when they need to, and I had two blog posts to write. Past the gorgeously blooming hibiscus plant that props open the door, up the stairs past my son's Hess trucks and a painting I did once of the moon, as it looked every day for a month, past color printouts of my work-in-progress, an illustrated book about my dives in the submarine Alvin... I hit the button on the radio, preset to WFUV, and I set my glass of water on my desk.
That's when a five-foot garter snake uncoiled itself from somewhere, scooted across my desk toward me (I leapt back. Duh.), slid down the front of my file cabinet, and skedaddled into the dark corner beside the desk, where it found safety amid two open canvas boxes of files.
Holy BATS. Hell's bells. Crikey! Why me, why this, why now? Lord, don't you know I'm BUSY?
Okay, okay. I have resources. My friend Tucker is nineteen, studies zoology, and is known for his extreme joy upon discovering a fer-de-lance snake in the boot of a bunkmate during a stay in Costa Rica. I knew Tucker would come over and get the snake out for me. But Tucker's mother tells me he is away for the weekend, saying sadly, "He'll be so sorry to miss this opportunity." Uh-huh.
I get my park ranger friend Noonie on the phone at her house in Pennsylvania. Noonie is famous among my family for having introduced them to several fine examples of snakes, including Harry, her Burmese python; a water snake at our swimming hole; and a couple of mating snakes that made beautiful music -- well, if you want that story I'm going to post it on The Doodling Desk under Good Little Snakes.
Noonie suggests I construct a barricade using bed sheets, planks. and blankets and, having created a channel for the snake to run along, begin to remove the files boxes and other stuff that is shielding the snake. Then I can just pick it up if it doesn't go in the right direction and take it out. "It's going to try to bite you, but just remember you're not small enough to fit inside its mouth." From the background, her partner Steve shouts, "Wear gloves!" All this is the kind of advice I find difficult to follow, and besides I have WORK TO DO, did I mention that? At last Noon admits that just leaving the snake behind the desk is definitely an option.
So I do, for now. Yes, I do have work to do, but this situation has presented me with a different approach to that work. The earlier idea for the blog post has gone straight out the window (where I wish the snake would also go) and an interest born of necessity has overcome it -- not just the necessity to feel comfortable in my work place, but a fascination with learning enough about this situation to write about it. Yes indeed -- step into my office! Digging around for individuals, advice, and information -- and then writing and drawing about it -- is what I love to do.
Next I'm on line looking for a regional wildlife center Tucker's mother mentioned, and before long I'm talking to Pete Reid, who actually works in publishing (he writes about the beer industry) and moonlights as a "naturalist by vocation." His wife, Dara Reid, is a wildlife biologist who directs Wildlife in Crisis in nearby Weston, Connecticut. Wildlife in Crisis was organized in this area in 1989 to assist with the situations that arise, as one has in my barn this morning, when people and animals live in proximity. They know what to do if an animal is hurt and needs rehabilitation, if baby birds fall out of their nest, or if a coyote takes up residence under your shed.
Pete knows about every animal that lives in our area, whether it's native or introduced, and how it's doing. It seems that Connecticut is seeing strong numbers of beavers (I saw one walking down the street recently), fisher cats, otters, coyotes, and many more. And snakes are doing dandy as well. My garter snake, a mild-mannered type, most likely came into the barn intentionally, says Pete, and does not need my help to get back out. "He's there probably because there are insects and crickets or something else attractive in the barn. He'll slither around and find a gap, going out the way he came in." In the meantime, Pete suggests I wear closed-toed shoes and keep a broom handy so I can sweep the snake out the door if I see it again.
Pete tells me some other snake stories, confirming the existence of the state's legendary copperheads -- of which I've heard many stories but seen no evidence -- and which have been a topic of heated debate among some of my friends. And he reassures me that the garter snake behind my desk is "just part of the natural order of things in the barn."
I hang up the phone, determined to be philosophical about my deskmate. By now I've been sitting here working in near proximity to a snake for some four hours, with nary a slither or other sign of life from the dark corner. I admit that my feet aren't on the ground; I've propped them up on the handles of my file cabinets. I'm kind of jumpy, too. But I've also learned a lot, done an interesting drawing (I'm going to try another snake another day, but for now here's what I've got, see above), talked to some great people, and heard about different approaches to the situation that started my day. Not bad for a day at the office.