Thursday, July 7, 2011

outside, inside

HGTV features several shows centered around creating living space outdoors.  Essentially the hosts take the inside - outside.  I've watched living areas, kitchens and even bedrooms created in modest backyards.

It seems the outside wants revenge.

For some time now we've had a minor influx of grey, furred streaks of doom.  Field mice.  One or two now and then are not a serious problem - more of an inconvenience.  When families of the cheeky little buggers move in, however, it becomes an issue.  We've been working on eliminating their opportunities for entry and clearing out clutter and have gone through several cans of expand-o-foam and steel wool in our battle against the squeaky vermin.  If they didn't poo everywhere and if they didn't stink and if they weren't so destructive, I wouldn't have such a problem with them.

It seems Momma Nature has decided to supply us with a natural form of pest control.  Enter the snake.  The first one was found several months ago in our little-used guest room.  Peter swiftly removed it and I swiftly re-closed the door and tried very hard to forget that the slithery fellow had invaded our space.  A month or so later, a second encounter - this time I found one as it lay curled along the base of the guest bathroom commode.  Again, Peter came to the rescue.  His technique is flawless - he simply snags the offender by the tail and lifts it up.  This is accomplished while I flee to another room, climb atop furniture and shudder violently.  A few weeks later, we decided to organize the guest room... and in the process Peter discovered and relocated another snake.

I'm all for loving nature and appreciating the cycles of life, but I'd much rather do the appreciating -outside- instead of -inside- and after snake 3 slithered away, I was fairly certain we'd seen the last of them.

Today, we divided our efforts.  I attacked a shelving unit in the living room, while Peter remained in our kitchen tackling a set of wire shelves that had recently become a mouse jungle gym, Peter suddenly paused.

Me: "Can you..."
Peter: "My hands are kind of occupied at the moment.  I've got a snake."
Me: "What?"
Peter: "A snake."
Me: "Can I help?" (while thinking - oh please say 'no')
Peter: "Uhm. Yeah."

I slowly approach and realize that this snake is a bit larger than the others we've encountered thus far.  Snakes 1, 2 and 3 were between 12 and 18 inches long.  Snake 4 is closer to two and a half feet.  Peter has this snake by the tail.  The rest of the snake is curled through the side of the wire shelves and is wrapped almost knot-tight.  He pulls. The snake pulls back.  No ground is gained.  What to do?

This shelf unit is roughly 4' wide by 2' deep and 5' high.  It is constructed of heavy gauge wire and a sturdy metal framework.  In short, it is heavy.  And awkward.  And in order to help I am either going to have to grab the snake or move the unit away from the wall.

I moved the unit.

Peter gave the snake a little slack and it mostly uncoiled.  He released the tail, took a rag to keep from being bitten and switched his hold to behind the snake's head.

The snake promptly wrapped its tail around the wires of the side panel and attempted to tie a knot.  Stubborn fellow.

No amount of pulling would free the snake.  At least not without causing it harm.  We want the thing out of the house, we don't want it hurt.

The position Peter is in will not allow him to reach around the side of the unit to free the snake's tail.  That leaves only one solution.  I'm going to have to touch the snake.

In my head I'm screaming "No. No no no no no. Do Not Want!" on endless loop.  Yet, somehow, I walk over and tap the snake on the tail with one finger.  Sort of a "Come on, fella, you don't want me to touch you any more than I want to touch you, so why not just let go?"

The snake held tight.

Another tap.

The snake opened its mouth and made menacing undulations.

Yes, I know they were menacing.  Because I was menaced!

I hooked my finger, gave the tail a tiny pull and quickly jerked my hand away, hoping it would do the trick.

I think the snake just got tired of being messed with... he unwound his tail and let Peter lift him free of the shelves.

It was at this point that I took a closer look at the snake.

Me: "Uhm.  I see pits.  On his head.  Are you -sure- this thing isn't venomous?"
Peter: "Where?"
I point, from a safe distance... of about four feet... vaguely toward the head.
Me: "There.  Behind the eyes.  Maybe we should look it up?"

And thus begins our journey through an interesting "ID that snake" database provided by the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Is the snake striped? No. Go to question #2.

Is the snake blotched? Yes. Go to question #13.

Snout upturned, head and neck flattened and spread when frightened? No. Go to question #15. (Wait a minute - frightened? The snake?  The snake isn't frightened.  The snake is pissed.  And is starting to wrap around Peter's arm and shake its little rattle-less tail.)

On to question 15.

Which doesn't match our snake at all.  For either option.  Well, other than the checkerboard belly bit.  But it isn't orange or reddish, if anything it's grey/brown with blotches... but that option only has a non-checkerboard belly.

It is at this point when we begin to suspect that this ID system is not all-inclusive.

It is also at this point when snake has had more than enough of the silly human antics and is trying much harder to free itself from Peter's grasp and/or bite his hand off.

We decide to do the sensible thing - I stay inside looking at snake pictures while Peter goes outside to release the snake.  Wisely, we do not permit the dogs to follow him out.

He returns in a few moments, unharmed.

The snake was last seen slithering rapidly away... toward the house next door.

Back to identification.

The question-and-answer page tries to tell us that the snake is something that looks nothing like what we have, so I start going through all the snake photographs.  These include non-native species as well as those common to our area.  At this point, I'm interested only in whether or not this thing was lethal.

We narrowed it down to the Southern Florida Mole Kingsnake or the Gray Rat Snake.  Both of these snakes fall nicely into the "mostly harmless" category, so I can breathe a little easier.

Meanwhile, we're clearing out more stuff... getting rid of everything that isn't useful or loved or doesn't bring joy into our lives.  It is a slow process, made more so by my current physical limitations, but we are making progress.  And once the house is no longer mouse-friendly, they -and the snakes- will depart.

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