Thursday, June 11, 2009

Death in the Garden

Not a pretty picture! And a sickening surprise. I was digging with a shovel to prepare a space for flowers. The clay soil was compacted, but I spotted a couple of half-dollar-sized black holes that on some primitive level I surmised might be gopher holes. But when I plunged the blade into the soil, this poor harmless snake came writhing and roiling through rocks and dirt clumps to the surface. It's more than 3 feet long and was, I'm sure, snoozing in its den when I speared it. It scared the crap out of me. I'd mortally wounded it. Maybe you can see the dent in its body about a foot from its head. I walked around with the shovel for awhile as the poor snake writhed, trying to escape, but it was partially paralyzed. The portion below the dent just quivered.

I decided to finish the job. Do I really want to talk about this? I hope it never happens again, but this experience taught me something. I aimed the shovel blade to cut off its head and came down with as much force as I could muster. But my effort only made it worse for the snake! Snakes die hard. Probably all things die hard, but I haven't really participated before. (Except for that time years ago when I killed one of our chickens for dinner. Never mind!)

In this photo, the snake is flailing. I walked around the garden again, sick at heart. Then went to the garage for the pruning shears. With pounding heart, I positioned the blades behind the snake's head, closed my eyes and chopped. The snake quit moving. Thank you. But even then, its head remained attached, if just by a strip of reptilian hide. At least it was dead. I picked it up with the potato fork and buried it in a shallow grave near the climbing rose.

I'll never look at apparent "gopher holes" again with such indifference. And if, for some reason, I'm ever forced to dispatch an injured reptile again, I'll go straight for the pruning shears.

I would never have killed this snake if it wasn't dying a horrible death right before my eyes that I was completely my fault. Snakes in the garden are beneficial. Not that I enjoy seeing them, as it is always startling, and I invariably let out a screech that's sure to alarm the neighbors. But I appreciate snakes' place in the world. This one, a harmless bull or gopher snake, has rattler-like looks but eats pests that we'd like to purge.

I never did plant those flowers, but I'm going back with the shovel today and will poke around first to scare away any nocturnal creature that might be hiding down there.

Sorry, snake. Damn.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another day, another storm

For country living, this was a big day. We went to the local mulch seller for a load of bark. The loader operator couldn't believe I was taking his photo. He asked, "Are you trying to photograph the engine?" (or, the unasked question, are you trying to photograph me?) I told him I take pictures of everything, trying to figure out what life is about, mine in particular. Then he shut off the machine and launched into a story about when he took an art class and tripped around Idaho with a camera and how much he loved it. One thing I know; people love to tell their own stories. And everybody has one - or one thousand.

The sky continued to darken as we lurched home with our heavy load of wet bark, trying to beat the coming storm. It stormed big time Sunday evening, too. Here's how the curtains of rain looked from the back porch. (Damn! I can't get the photos lined up with the text! Can I kill the computer? )

And then the downpour from the rain gutter that flattened a pepper plant and washed mud onto the pavers. So it rained like hell, a true deluge. Both days the rain encouraged the slugs to arise from the grasses and advance on the garden. Paul advanced on the slugs with salt. I stayed inside washing mud from chard and lettuce, which we then consumed in great quantities for dinner. The other day we had spinach, asparagus and spring onion soup. Such luxury!