The Snake Charmer

Image: Snake
Coluber constrictor - The Black Racer

(Author’s Note: I am re-publishing all of my past writings here on the new Komejo.com. This essay is several years old and refers to my very patient and forgiving ex-wife. Enjoy.)

THERE ARE MANY CHORES that befall a man when he owns a house. Lawn care is traditional in this regard; there are few men who pass up the chance to wander the yard in the company of the lawnmower. In the summer, this task must be performed every two weeks or thereabouts, and it adds still more order to an otherwise well regimented existence. All men know the true meaning of a quietly rhetorical question about the state of the lawn. It means you need to hop to it, man!

It was in such circumstances that I was patiently making the rounds of the palatial Komenda abode one summer. I was mowing, the Wife was in the kitchen, experimenting with new ways to preserve bananas for long term use in future cruel banana nut bread experiments, for which I was to be the subject. (In a later frenzy of cleaning and life-simplification, I was disturbed to discover 5 dozen frozen, black bananas in a chest freezer, a discovery not unlike finding rope, poison and bullets in the glove compartment).

At any rate, as I mowed, a neighbor with whom I had chatted briefly walked into my peripheral vision. He waved to me with a deeply concerned look. I ceased my mowing operations, removed some of my protective gear, and went to talk to him:

Neighbor (nervous): “Hey man, uhh… are you afraid of snakes?”

Myself: “No, I like snakes.”

Neighbor: “Well, that women who lives over there (here he waved at another neighbors house), she has a snake in her yard, and… uhhh… I’m not really sure how you handle a snake.”

Myself: “No problem, let’s have look.”

At this point, I should mention that I do not, in fact, fear snakes. I find them to be beautiful and helpful, as they consume vermin. I find the fact that they co-exist with humans to be a sign of perseverance on their part, since so many people revile them. I walked with the neighbor, and found a small crowd of very nervous homeowners gathered on the sidewalk. As I approached, the woman of the house pointed at the shrubbery and exclaimed:

Woman: “There! There! Under the window! I pinned him with the rake! He surprised me! Is it alive? Be careful!”

She was extremely animated as she said these things. The other people in the galery seemed to share her apprehension regarding reptiles, as they nodded appreciatively at her comments.
I walked into the shrubs, as the neighbor who had originally fetched me melted into the throng of fearful citizens. I cautiously peered behind the bushes (North Carolina has several poisonous snake species) and saw a beautiful black snake, approximately 5 feet long. I identified it as the harmless Black Racer (Coluber constrictor). With great sadness, I saw that the terrified neighbor had mortally wounded the poor animal – though very much alive, one of the tines of the rake had gone clear through the snakes body, about a foot from the head.

I had originally intended to catch and release whatever reptile I found, far in the woods, but I saw that I would simply have to end the poor thing’s suffering. Cursing softly, I deftly grabbed the serpent behind the head. I stood up, pulled it out from behind the bush, while extracting the rake from it’s body.

The effect on the small crowd was dramatic; if I has leapt out with it clinging to my face I could hardly have elicited more excitement and consternation. Several women put their hands to their faces. All shuffled about uncomfortably. This confused me slightly, and I realized they might be alarmed, not knowing the snake was not poisonous.

Myself (holding up the snake): “Don’t worry, it’s harmless. But I have to kill it because it’s injured.”

Here I grabbed the snake with my free hand, and wrung its neck.

If possible, the crowd reacted with even more tumult. One woman screamed. I thought the neighbor to be on the verge of flight. Many looked away. ‘How curious!’, I thought.

At this point, I felt it best to remove the dead animal, and since I did not want to drag a snake through the street, I coiled it up like a lariat. The crowd sensed that the show was over, and after a few hurried thank-you’s melted away into their homes. As I walked back to my house, my heart was heavy with the sadness of this unhappy chore, and my my nose was full of snake smell. ‘I’ll put it in a garbage bag when I get home, so it won’t stink up the trash can permanently’. As I approached the house, however, I recalled that the Wife had previously mentioned a dislike of snakes. Not wanting to walk into the kitchen with such a conspicuous reptile, I held it behind my back and shouted up to the kitchen window:

Myself: “Ho-ney.”

Wife (appearing in the window looking mildly concerned): “Yes?”

Myself: “Could you get me a garbage bag and toss it down to me?”

Wife: (confused and alarmed): “OK.”

Now, what I did not realise at the time, but was patiently informed of later, was this: My wife had heard the lawnmower stop; a few minutes later her husband appears at the window asking for a garbage bag, hiding his hand. Naturally, she presumed that I had cut my hand off, and wanted a bag to put it in. (how I would be holding the severed hand behind my back was never explained).
Eventually, my wife appeared on the back porch with a garbage bag, looking very scared. As it was my intention to not scare her, I was concerned, to say the least. She leaned on the rail, and asked ‘are you all right?’

At this point, I could have simply stated that I found a dead snake, a snake had been caught, etc… However, due to my great concern, I wanted to ensure that she knew I was well. I therefore swung the snake out from behind my back, stating, ‘It’s OK, I just caught a snake’.

I failed to mention that it was now a dead snake, and the act of swinging it around caused the tail to whip around in what must have seemed a very lifelike manner. The change in the wife was profound. All interest in my well-being vanished. I have often read about people changing color, but had never seen it in person. I thought she would faint, or vomit, or both. Her hands gripped the porch rail like it was a boat listing to one side.

Seeing this, I held up my other hand and informed her that all was well, it was dead. She did not hear me, however – she was transfixed by the snake, much like a deer caught in a car’s headlights. I judiciously returned the snake to the position behind my back and repeated the calming statement about it’s demise. At this point, my dearly beloved looked me in the eye and uttered a brief and mildly inarticulate string of profanity, peppered with the words, ‘snake’, ‘f-ing snake’, ‘big f-ing snake’. She then went into the house, no doubt to do research into the various ways a woman might legally be acquitted of homicide in the State of North Carolina.

Sensing that my work here was done, I disposed of the creature, and returned to my lawn care duties. It was with some sense of relief that I saw I had at least an hour of patient lawn care ahead.

~Joe Komenda

[Chapter 3 of The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)]

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