A Visitor To The Shop
by Brent Gill
June 5, 2006
On a bright Sunday morning, a visitor to the shop causes a bit of excitement
Life in the country is often full of surprises. Occasionally that surprise has the potential to be less than delightful. One bright Sunday morning I experienced one of those startling, but definitely not delightful, incidents.
My home rests on a hilltop surrounded by the Sierra Nevada foothills, and in the summer, dry pasture land. There are several outbuildings, including a big garage. This is full of tools, supplies, and “stuff”. It’s a country garage, after all.
In earlier postings on this web site, I have related the adventures of the two calves residing in one of the pastures near the house. Their nutrition has been supplemented with some grain-based calf feed and Calf Manna, which is a milk supplement. The Calf Manna is stored in a pair of five gallon white plastic buckets and the bag of calf feed in a galvanized garbage can. This is essential to keep the rabbits and squirrels from eating more than the cattle. They are what attracted my unwelcome visitor.
On the way to a wedding Saturday evening, as is often typical of country living, I stopped at the feed store in town to pick up a bag of each supplement. Because I was in dress clothes, I didn’t unload them when I returned home.
Sunday morning it was time to refill the buckets and put the new bag of calf feed into the garbage can. Both are stored just inside the shop door, for ease of access. The two white buckets were set out of the shop, and the lids removed ready to be filled. Returning to the shop door, the garbage can was next. The bag of calf manna was carried from the car, the tab on the stitching on the bag pulled to open the top and the two buckets were filled. To keep the area neat, the string and paper tab were picked up off the ground and stuffed inside the bag in preparation for throwing them away. Finally, I glanced toward the spot where the buckets rested, one on top of the other, to make sure there was nothing in the way.
It was at this moment that I got a rude awakening. By the side of the spot where the buckets were to be returned, neatly coiled up in the shadow of the hinge end of the door, was a very big pile of rattlesnake. The white buckets had been picked up scant moments before. They must have actually been touching him. I had been standing and working within two feet of him all this time.
Obviously, he was quite content and comfortable. Maybe the sun shining warmly on the red-painted wooden wall had not warmed him sufficiently yet. Or possibly he was just too comfortable. Neither his head nor the rattles could be seen. However, having been around these creatures all my life, the pattern on the skin assured me there was no question what kind of snake lay there.
An opening in the outside garage wall allowed rabbits and squirrels to dart through into the garage. He was patiently lying there, waiting for breakfast to be delivered. That was why his head was facing the opposite way. He was ready to strike at the hole, and had no concern about his rear flank. He had been backed up against the buckets and the wall, so was well protected. He was also in a fine spot to catch his next meal. At least he had been until I moved the buckets.
My Boxer and Chihuahua, Max and Coco, had gone out with me to attend to morning chores. Before dealing with the snake the dogs were quickly put back in the house. I didn’t need any help in this necessary task and didn’t want the dogs in my way . Of course, I certainly didn’t want either of them to get bitten. Max got bit on the lip several years ago. Before his treatments were complete, my pocket was well over $400 lighter!
At this point, my mode of dress is worth noting. A pair of shorts and rubber-soled, nylon strapped sandals did not provide me sufficient protection should the head of the snake get near. However, having done this many times in the past, I knew that if I proceeded carefully all would be well. It might not have been OSHA approved, but it was safe enough.
Back at the shop door, the snake had still not moved. Several tools were in the way: a big scoop shovel, a flat shovel, a couple of pitchforks and a small short-handled shovel for gardening were all leaning in the corner.
The short handled shovel was too small. It would put me too close to the snake. The big scoop had a broken handle and was also too short for practical use. It was also too big and clumsy to move quickly. The pitchforks were definitely not the tools to consider for this job. To compound the problem, the snake was wound around the tines of one of them. Removing that one was going to be tricky.
One thought I promptly discarded, was the 20 gauge shotgun. It has never been my preferred method, for several reasons. However, if the snake had been excited, the risk of proceeding with a shovel would have been too great. There would have been no question about whether to get the gun.
The tool to use was the flat shovel, as it had a comfortably long handle and was seven inches wide. It was small enough to be moved in a nimble fashion, if necessary.
Cautiously, I started the tricky operation of clearing the area. The flat shovel came out first and was leaned in position to be grabbed quickly if the snake decided to move. Slowly and carefully each of the remaining tools were eased out of the corner and placed out of the way. The final one to extract was the second pitchfork, for it was actually down through the coils of the resting snake.
As the pitchfork eased up out of the coils, he picked up his head, but still did not uncoil or move away. That was his final mistake. The flat shovel was brought into play. It was eased up behind his head and … well the rest will be left to your imagination.
Before being criticized for wantonly destroying a wild creature that was not doing anything but looking for breakfast, allow me to explain country life. First, the snake entered into my area. With a wife, two dogs and occasionally a few grandchildren who stay on our hilltop, he simply could not be allowed to remain. From his size and actions, or lack of them, he has probably been around for some time. But, letting him remain, would be a serious risk to all of us. Once the snake was discovered, I could not, nor would not, knowingly endanger people and pets.
Could he have been scooped up on the blade of the shovel and carried out into the pasture? Sure, at some serious risk to myself. A snake will not curl up on the blade of a shovel, then ride quietly and patiently as he is escorted to safety. Even if he did get taken out into the field, only if I walked back speedily enough, might I have been able to get back to the garage before he returned to find his next meal. Dispatching the snake, as humanely and quickly as possible, was the only acceptable alternative.
This creature had certainly not been concerned with my comings and goings. In retrospect, that gives me pause. It would indicate he was “used” to seeing me. Living in the country as I do, and have all my life, I probably have been in all-too-close proximity to similar snakes many times and blissfully never knew it.
A quiet Sunday morning chore became a bit more exciting than peaceful. Life in the foothills is always an adventure.