The Gopher Snake
The gopher snake lived in one of the old horse stalls in the corner of the barn in a pile of lumber, broken cinder blocks, straw, and other dust-covered debris. When we converted the old barn into our offices and a library, we cleaned out the debris and the gopher snake had to move. As there were several mouse nests in the same pile of debris, the snake probably wasn’t pleased with having to relocate.
After that I seemed to see the snake about once a year, usually in the autumn or in the spring, crossing a trail or sunning himself in a clearing. I was always glad to see the snake, both because we have a lot of gophers and just that I was glad he was still alive. We also have king snakes, and I once watched a large king snake swallow a gopher snake nearly as big as himself, kind of like telescoping the radio antenna on a car. We also have rattlesnakes, of course, but that’s another story.
On the first of September I was walking through a clearing on my way to the apple trees to give them some water, when my snake alarm sounded. I keep my snake alarm on high because of the rattlesnakes, and, as a consequence, often spook at pine twigs and hoses and other long and slender forms. But this time it was indeed a snake. Or part of a snake. Part of a gopher snake: about eighteen or twenty inches of a gopher snake—the rear part. The front part was in a hole, a hole in which it appeared the snake was a snug fit.
Mystified, I crouched down to inspect this half-of-a-snake more closely. I wondered if it was alive, so I touched it. It was cold and it didn’t move. I wondered if it had climbed into the gopher hole, swallowed a gopher, and hadn’t been able to get back out—like the way they say one can trap a monkey. To trap a monkey, I’ve heard, one puts an orange into a heavy glass vase, an orange that will just fit through the neck of the vase. The monkey reaches in and grabs the orange, but than can’t get his hand back out and won’t let go of the orange.
I went and found Laura and we both looked. I poked the snake some more, and then again, and then the snake started to move, slowly backing himself out of the hole. It took him a while. When the snake was about out of the hole I stood up and stepped back a pace. As soon as the snake had his head out of the hole he coiled up, opened his mouth, and hissed us. Loudly. It wasn’t a threatening hiss—the snake was looking up at us five feet above him—it was a hiss of hatred and distain. In snake language, it was cursing. Like, “Bug the hell off. Go mind your own business, whatever business a creature as ugly and unmannered as yourself might pretend to have.”
Then the snake crawled away. It moved off about twelve feet and disappeared into the thick brush, until its whole body was hidden in the thicket. We were just standing there looking at the brush, still thinking of the way we’d been hissed at, when the snake came back out. Evidently he wasn’t finished. He eyed us again and then hissed again—even louder than the first time:
“And that’s for your mother!”
I like gopher snakes a lot.
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