How to kill a snake

(suburban style)

How to kill a snake

In honor of spring, gardens, and snakes that look like garden hoses and bungee cords, I’m reposting a well-loved blog about how an ordinary woman like me kills a snake. This is really helpful information for experienced and inexperienced snake killers alike.

I am a snake-killer. Well, I was one time. Here’s how it went down.

It’s a beautiful spring day in central Virginia. No humidity (a cause for celebration in itself), bright blue skies, a light breeze, and the strong smell of freshly-cut grass, still soaked with dew. A faint smell of wisteria and lilac float in the air. My azaleas and clematis are blooming in bright pinks and purples. Somewhere, new mulch is being laid. I’m aching to dig a little outside and revel in nature’s living room.

I open my shed doors to stand among the piles of clippers, gas cans, and soccer chairs laying hap-hazzardly across bins of tennis racquets and baseball bats. I really should re-organize this. But not today. I’m on a mission. The May air is calling to me. The dirt in my flower beds longs to be turned over. There’s a spade and some gloves somewhere on a shelf filled with unrelated shed items–hiking boots, power tools, moldy footballs, orange cones. A mass of tangled bungee cords loops through the shelving. I stretch out my hand.

One of the bungees moves.

A tan and brown-speckled snake lifts its head; little diamond-shapes run along its back. It’s small, but I quickly retract my hand. A rush of thoughts crowd my consciousness.

It’s a baby.

It is poisonous?

It looks like a small copperhead.

Is the head a triangle? It seems triangular to me. How can you tell on so small a snake?

What should I do? I take a step backwards, outside, and close the shed door. I’m astounded at the dramatic thumping of my heart.

Should I let him go–let him slither back home and out of my shed? Will he leave?

If it’s a baby copperhead, it ‘s highly venomous. Plus, it will get a lot bigger.

I can’t have a poisonous snake living in my yard. What if it bites one of us?

I recall the trauma of a neighbor child being bitten by a baby copperhead one summer–how his arm turned black and the ER doctors argued over whether to give him the anti-serum. How his parents watched in anguish, waiting for their child to survive or go into cardiac arrest. How they brought him home, and two months later, he was bitten again by another copperhead.

I open the door again. He’s still there. Head up, tongue flicking in and out.

Should I kill it? How do you kill a poisonous snake without getting bit?

I have no weapons. What kind of weapon do you use against a snake?

Memories of Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” flood my mind, and I wish I had a mongoose.

What if this is only a rat snake, come to my garden to eat the mice that squeeze into my basement during the winter? Or those pesky voles who eat my tulip bulbs?

And what if his nice vermin-eating mother is curled up at home, waiting for his return, and he never comes home?

No, snakes don’t take care of their young. He doesn’t have a mother.

All of this has transpired in less than 5 seconds. The snake slithers to the ground, and I obligingly side-step safely inside the shed, watching it. It occurs to me that I am now trapped in the shed with a possibly poisonous snake guarding the doorway.

It’s got to die. I can’t risk it.

I grab a red plastic gas can and place it on top of the snake while I look for a weapon. The can wiggles.

I glance around frantically. A hiking boot! I grasp it by the ankle with my right hand and lift the gas can off the snake with my left. The little reptile snaps into a rigid coil and lifts its angry head. Its jaws open, revealing a small, white diamond-shaped mouth. He hisses at me.

Does it have fangs? I don’t know. As it makes a little lunge, I slam the ball of the boot down on its somewhat triangular head. Wham! He flips sideways, twitching, trying to crawl into the safety of my day lily patch. Oh, no you don’t. You don’t fake a strike at me and get away with it!

Wham! Wham! Wham! It leaps lightly into the air with every forceful pounding of the boot. The twitching ceases. Wham!

I look at him triumphantly. The head is definitely not a triangle now. It’s a big, flat circle.

I have joined the ranks of those unafraid to kill vipers. I declare myself a hero.

My heart thumps wildly inside of my chest, and feel faint and jittery.

I’m alive!

I view the poor, threadlike reptile, looking infantile next to a gigantic oak leaf. There are probably worms longer than this little guy.

Nature seems raw and harsh now, but perhaps I’m the one who is. I steal swiftly into my sealed house and close the door tightly behind me. No flower beds for me today. I will enjoy their colors from behind safe window panes and stale air.

If I could send a standard apology to all the non-venomous snakes in Virginia, I would, just in case my violence was unnecessary.

It’s not personal. You’re just scarey. And I’m a wimp. But at least I’m a strong wimp.

Thank you for your contribution to the circle of garden life. Just don’t lunge at me if you want to live.

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