Snake Handlers

Our neighbors called yesterday early evening to say a snake was on their porch. We ran across the street to find J using a push-broom to sweep a 3+ foot long brown and yellow snake away from the house. It moved like a wave in front of the broom. J & S hate snakes; S wouldn’t come out of the house. I heard fear more than hatred in J’s voice. I took a couple of photos that turned out blurrier than a hummingbird’s wing. Then I used the broom to sweep the snake away from J & S and towards the street. Certain it wasn’t a rattler, I grabbed it from behind as close to the head as I could. It was strong as it coiled up tight against my arm. But it stopped struggling and stayed like that for the next half hour as we discussed what was best for it. The irony was I had a great photographic subject wrapped around my picture-takin’ arm. So Mer took a few. (J & S will never look at us the same after this.)

In all likelihood, it was a bull snake (or gopher snake). However, it never hissed or struck at anything, so I suspect it might have been an escaped pet — especially since we’ve never seen a snake in our mid-town neighborhood. We have experience handling a python, so we weren’t afraid. (Though I was less comfortable when someone said bull snakes have a strong bite.)

We decided we should release the snake in the foothills, but by then it was too dark. We put the snake in a pillowcase sealed with a couple of clothespins. Then we put the pillowcase in a plastic tub 6 inches deep. This morning, I looked in to see the snake coiled and still quite calm. About a half hour later, I heard a plastic cup fall over on the counter. The snake had moved — pillowcase and all — out of the tub and onto the counter, knocking over the cup. I put it back in the tub.

We drove to the foothills and walked a less-used trail a ways before striking off cross-country a short distance. Mer picked a spot near a big fractured rock with shrubs — lots of places to hide and hunt. My turn to take pictures of Mer with the snake and the city stretching away in the background. She put it on the ground and it moved magically under a shrub and vanished. Perhaps it will starve. Perhaps it will feed that roadrunner with the heavy beak we saw — or an owl, or another snake. With a 20 year lifespan, perhaps it will outlive us. I hope it remembers us, as we will it. Happy 1st day of summer to us all. mjh

MR and bull snake mjh and bull snake bull snake

PPS: I’m struck by the synchronicity of this incident from a few days before our snake encounter. I was spinning the dial and paused briefly to watch Franklin Graham eulogize his mother. He said that as a boy, he and his brothers loved to kill snakes — rattlers, any kind of snake. One particularly good summer, they killed over 70 snakes. He spoke with pride to an appreciative audience that smiled and chuckled. I wondered what kind of religion produces such a man. God bless the atheists.

See Merri’s Save A Snake for Humanity

[mjh: With the help of a friend, I heard from UNM biologist Howard Snell. This is an excerpt from his email.]

It isn’t a good idea to move [snakes] very far as they then encounter areas that they don’t know and often die as a result of not “knowing” where to find water, shelter, and prey.

If you think the snake has been in captivity it is important not to release it in the wild. Snakes in captivity can come down with diseases & parasites (often caught from other individuals in captivity) that can then be transferred to wild snakes upon release of the previous captive.

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One thought on “Snake Handlers”

  1. Thank you for your beautiful piece about snakes. We keep several kinds of snakes, including a gopher snake, and occasionally

    we encounter deep-set prejudice against them when we do educational demonstrations in the community. But I’m happy to say that more and

    more children are expressing wonder when they see and touch a snake for the first time. Children seem to better appreciate the important

    role snakes play in the world, and I credit animal shows on TV for that step forward. I hope this is the beginning of a new attitude

    about these beautiful and fascinating creatures. Thanks again…

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