Pool: Snakes and the perils of nature

A few years ago I read about studies showing that people will deliberately go out of their way to run over fake snakes, turtles, and spiders placed on roadways. These were rubber models monitored by researchers.

About 6% swerve. Snakes were the most commonly hit.

Since then I’ve seen small road-kill alligators and wondered how their inclusion would have altered the results. In all cases, trucks, buses and SUVs were more likely to run over animals than motorcycles and passenger cars.

I remember talking about this phenomenon to a friend. He said he would never hit a turtle, but a snake is a different matter. I was a bit shocked. Why run over a snake on the highway, miles away from your own home? It seemed gratuitous cruelty to me.

Some people think it’s their duty to kill snakes. Others seem actually shocked to learn that snakes come up out of the greenbelt near our neighborhood and into their yard.

An online service allows people to communicate in several adjacent neighborhoods. A few times I’ve seen warnings posted by people who discovered that snakes live in the greenbelt. They felt obliged to tell people to be safe.

While I don’t share the same insouciance as the noted herpetologist I once met who actively goes rummaging through brush piles to uncover snakes, neither am I terribly worried by them.

One summer I was watering the yard in the gathering dusk. I went to turn off the water only to find a brown snake coiled up on the pipe behind the faucet. I had let some ivy grow up in that area and didn’t see it immediately.

I don’t know what kind of snake it was. It could have been a rattler; it could have been a rat snake. I didn’t try to kill it but the next day I took the weed eater to that area and cleared away all the ivy.

Last week, on a warm day between two cold fronts, I noticed a snake crawling near the inside wall of my garage. I followed it to where it curled up in a corner near the overhead door.

I knew it was likely a coral snake, but I wasn’t quite sure. I took a photo and sent it to my exterminator. By the time the reply came back — it was indeed a coral snake — it had slipped away.

It’s not that I couldn’t have handled it safely — I have one of those trash pickers you squeeze to lift things from the ground — but I didn’t. The shovels and hoes are in a shed and not immediately at hand, but I’m certain I could have found means to end its life.

Yet I didn’t. It’s out there eating lizards and rats. I’m kind of partial to toads, though. I would kill a snake to keep it from eating the toads that live in my yard. But toad protection didn’t hop immediately to my mind.

I’ve lost two cats to the greenbelt. I buried the remains of one, killed by coyotes. The other might have been done in by a venomous snake, for he simply vanished.

Our surviving cat has become an indoor-only pet. We sometimes let her into the closed garage in warm weather because she likes the heat. We call it her sauna.

She used to be a great hunter when she was young. I wouldn’t want her to tangle with a coral snake, so until the first freeze she won’t be using the sauna.

The snake got free this time. It shouldn’t press its luck.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School. His column appears Tuesday.

Today's Bible verse

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”

— 1 Samuel 12:24

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