She knew that she had to grab the snake right at the back of its head. That way it wouldn’t be able to turn and bite her. She knew it was just a garter snake, though her grandma’s calling it a gardener snake still clung to memory if only because the snake was in her garden, her perennial bed. The garden she used as a grounding place and an escape.
This, she thought, must be the same snake that lives under the steps to the three-season porch. She knew she should leave it alone because it was probably hunting the mice that they’d had to work so hard to outwit, finally locating all their trails and putting out Victor mousetraps. How she hated to hear the snap of a trap in the evening as she sat reading, knowing that she’d have to walk the trap to the woods and open its jaws to dump the (hopefully dead and not just dismembered) rodent. But it was better than the mouse bait that had caused a mouse to die inside the wall, creating a stench that had lingered for weeks. Fortunately, that had been during the fall while it was still warm enough to open the windows.
The rodent invasion, she suspected, had been the result of ridding the acreage of the feral cat—another built-in asset of the century home the former owner hadn’t mentioned—when it had scratched their daughter. How could they risk an unknown cat and the possibility of rabies, even though barn cats are rarely rabid? They’d paid to have it trapped and tested. She didn’t tell her daughter that this test meant killing the cat, only that the mewling creature, as large as a spaniel, would no longer peer in through the windows at night.
The flower border lay the width of the plow which that first spring her neighbor had dragged parallel to the road to cut the sinewy half-grass half-weeds of this two-acre lawn. It ran a good twenty feet from the granite boulder at drive’s edge to the property line.
She’d sprouted cuttings, some sedum and catmint gathered unnoticed from public gardens. From unwatched places, she’d dug trout lilies, field daisies, asters, and even a blue flag iris from the lakeshore. Friends had given her the castoff volunteers from their own beds: primroses, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans. For two summers she’d lavishly planted seeds collected from everywhere. In its third year, the swath had become a paisley fabric of intricate shades and textures, a painting alive and always changing with the growing season and weather and whimsy of the rabbits that knew the range of their springer spaniel puppy, always leashed.
Rabbits and snakes are natural enemies. As with the feral cat and the mice and her daughter, choices had to be made. Nibbled flowers, ravaged vegetables in the garden behind the house or—she chose the back of the snake’s head. But she misjudged by a petal’s length. The snake, as it exuded its musty odor in response to her touch, turned and sunk its thorn-like fangs into the top of her hand.
Not poisonous, she reminded herself.
Determined to toss the squirming garter across the road into the woods, she jumped the ditch, only to discover what she hadn’t noticed earlier because it was part of the lawn of her life—the Amish buggy coming at a gravity-accelerated horsepower down the hill toward her. She stepped back and waited, holding her breath and the wriggling snake, the gauge of a burdock stem and the color of old apple bark.
She tried not to but caught the driver’s eye, saw his startled yet amused expression (horses and snakes are natural enemies). Though she couldn’t decipher what he said in German to the other man on the buggy seat, she was sure she’d just become part of the locals’ lore about crazy, snake-tossing Yankee ladies.
With the clatter of horseshoes fading down the hill, she darted into the road. Side-armed she flung the snake in a wide arc. It landed in motion in the grassy ditch on the other side.
As she watched it disappear into the grass and wild pinks, she wondered. Would it go off undulating in its new direction to become part of the paisley of the forest? Or would she be startled again soon by sinister movement in the midst of her bed.