One day on Long Island a neighbor dashed into our driveway, screaming she had seen a viper! a viper! in her yard. Her husband heroically shouldered a hoe and before we could stop him, chopped a harmless terrified Garter Snake* into pieces. Needless to say, there are no vipers on Long Island, no poisonous snakes of any sort, and this was my first exposure to the ignorant animosity people hold towards snakes.
A more amusing story: a girl at camp decided to smuggle home a Green Snake very much against her mother’s wishes. No, she said, there were no snakes in her backpack, her duffle bag, her sleeping bag… She might have gotten away with it, too, but that the snake poked its inquisitive nose out between the buttons of her blouse. The snake went back to the grass, and the bra may have been burned.
I know Milk Snakes are not-uncommon here, but I rarely see them unless they’ve been run over. This morning, though, I saw something in the road — a branch? No, it was a big dark milk snake, as long as my arm, lying still. I thought at first it had been hit, but no, it just didn’t want to be disturbed. My usual tactic, stomping my feet nearby, only seemed to annoy it and it coiled up and made a few open-mouthed strikes in my direction. I was casting about for a stick to move it — they’re not venomous but it was big enough to give a painful bite — when a car stopped and the driver jumped out shouting, “Lady, that’s a rattlesnake!”
“No, sir, it’s a milk snake. They’re not venomous and they eat a lot of mice. Good neighbors to have!” He didn’t look convinced yet, but I think my calm demeanour and the way I prodded the snake with a stick only a foot long seemed to take the edge off his nervousness. “There are rattlesnakes in the Catskills and some in the Adirondacks, but not right around here. Almost any snake you see is harmless, and it’s doing you a favor eating ants and grubs and mice.” The snake finally uncoiled, stretched to its full impressive length, and undulated into the undergrowth.
So I saved a snake today, and just maybe I made one person think twice before running over the next ‘viper’.
*Garter Snake. Gar. Ter. Not ‘garden’. Even the NYTimes has gotten this wrong. Grrr.