Saturday, March 20, 2010

Snakes in the Grass

According to the Department of Natural Resources, there are 16 species of snake indigenous to Minnesota. I have only encountered one: the humble, harmless, very common garter snake.

Garter snakes are the most widely distributed genus of reptile in the United States, Wikipedia says. As anyone who has ever read a horticultural magazine knows, garter snakes are beneficial in the garden, as they consume large quantities of insects, slugs, rodents and other pests. Many books and websites offer helpful hints for how you can attract garter snakes to your yard. After all, Mr. Garter Snake is a gardener’s best friend.

How I hate him.

Living on the margin of our small town, surrounded until fairly recently by wetlands, meadows and fields, I have encountered snakes in the backyard my whole life. Yet though we cohabit the same half-acre of land, and both appreciate my gardens in our separate ways, Mr. Garter Snake and I will never be friends.

However, I am a confirmed pacifist. Since I can’t bring myself to kill even a snake, I have tried by other means to discourage them from setting up housekeeping in my flower beds. Mothballs, pepper spray, even a rather expensive commercial application called Snake-B-Gone – all have been employed to no effect. My mother, who does not share my scruples about snake assassination, favors stronger deterrents. Waging vigorous chemical warfare, she has encircled the perimeter with lime, lye, ammonia and even oven cleaner. I believe our property could accurately be declared a toxic waste dump. Though 83-years-old, she is not averse to hand-to-snake combat; I have seen her wield a hoe against a garter snake with a frenzied blood-lust that would impress a Viking. Many a reptile has met a grisly fate at her hands. But there are always others to take their place.

As the weather warms, my pulse quickens. Snake season is nigh. Though I can hope this winter was at least as hard on the snakes as it was on the human population, I have no real hope of a snake-free summer. Perhaps God places a serpent in every Eden to remind us that, however we may seek to remake our environment to suit ourselves, in the end Mother Nature always wins.

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