Uncle Gus

One of the things that my mom and dad enjoyed the most during our last few years of visits home to Wisconsin, were outings to local restaurants. Just getting out of the assisted living facility was a real treat. By far, the most memorable of these trips was a visit to a place on Main Street in Cottage Grove called the 1855 Saloon and Grill.

We picked up Mom and Dad for an early dinner to avoid the crowds. It was a new restaurant that had received rave reviews from their neighbors. Mom had grown up in a house just a few blocks down Main Street in Cottage Grove, and we’d be driving right by her family home. Mom had become a little less communicative over the years due to her hearing loss, but as we approached Cottage Grove, Mom became more animated than usual. She identified places that she remembered and marveled at all the changes.

I dropped Mom, Dad, and Rachel off at the restaurant door and parked the car. At the time, Mom was using a walker and Dad a cane. Once seated in our booth, everyone began reading their menus. After a few minutes, Rachel looked up and noticed a large, framed, black and white photograph on the wall across from her seat. Under the frame was a gold plaque. The caption read, “Gus Duckert in his blacksmith shop on 300 East Main Street in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. Photo taken by Clarence Olson for the Capital Times.”

“Duckert. Wasn’t your maiden name, Duckert?” Rachel asked.

Mom looked up at the photo. “Oh my. That’s my Uncle Gus. What’s he doing here?”

Rachel and I laughed. What were the chances of picking this restaurant and being seated right under the photograph of my mom’s Uncle Gus? It was a fascinating photo, capturing an older man, bent over his bench, hard at work blacksmithing. The tools of the trade surrounded him, including hammers, anvils, and an enormous stove. Later I would learn that he spent many years as the town blacksmith and eventually transitioned to repairing cars, specializing in Ford Model T’s.

Gus Duckert in his blacksmith shop in Cottage Grove, WI
Gus Duckert in his blacksmith shop in Cottage Grove, WI

My dad was beside himself with excitement and quickly decided that everyone in the restaurant needed to hear about our connection to the old picture. First, Dad called the waitress over and identified the man in the picture as my mom’s uncle. The waitress tried to appear suitably impressed. Next, Dad insisted that the waitress go find the manager and bring him over to our table. The manager had seated us a few minutes earlier and was a person of small stature. In Dad’s typical, colorful fashion, he demanded that the waitress go find “Shorty” and bring him right over. Once he arrived, Dad continued to refer to him as Shorty, much to the manager’s chagrin. I tried to apologize and explain that Dad was just excited. Within a few minutes, everyone seated within earshot knew all about Uncle Gus. Most smiled and seemed to enjoy Dad’s enthusiasm. As we moved through the restaurant after dinner, Dad completed his mission, inviting patrons in other rooms to go and look at the photo of Uncle Gus.

I think that was the only visit to the 1855 Saloon and Grill with Mom. We returned a few more times with Dad. Each time he would dash ahead of the host or hostess seating us, daring anyone to get in the way of him and his walker, as he sought out the best booth near Uncle Gus. I don’t think that we ever dined together at another restaurant.

Rachel and I spent a relaxing week in the summer of 2019 visiting our home towns of Muscatine, Iowa and Monona, Wisconsin. One pleasant afternoon we took a drive to Cottage Grove and stopped for lunch at the 1855 Saloon. The restaurant was near empty, and I didn’t need to push people out of the way to find seating near Uncle Gus. I even took his picture. He was my grandfather’s uncle. That would make him my Great, Great Uncle Gus.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!

The week of the 4th of July, Rachel and I had a great visit from our kids and grandkids, Laurel, Matt, Emma, and Ian. We took them to explore a variety of sites, including our favorite beaches, parks, and restaurants around Sarasota. Ian saw his first full-length movie (Toy Story 4) and it kept his attention all the way through. He must have some Imhoff movie DNA.

One of the interesting parks that we visited was the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary. This park serves as a sanctuary for a wide variety of animals. The kids enjoyed watching the bears, monkeys, chimpanzees, lions, tigers, and even a giraffe. Some enclosures offered lots of space and others not so much. Rachel and I were surprised to encounter two animals that we had never seen before. We had not even heard of them. And we had visited zoos across the country and even gone on safaris in Africa. We were introduced to the “liger” and “tigon”.

A handsome Tigon showing off his stripes
A handsome Tigon showing off his stripes

A liger is the hybrid offspring of a male lion and female tiger. A tigon is the hybrid offspring of a male tiger and female lion. We saw one of each, and they shared the characteristics of both lions and tigers. We thought the liger looked like a HUGE lion. The tigon had the dramatic stripes of a tiger. The liger is the world’s largest cat, due to “gigantism” during the early growing years. They can grow to a length of 12 feet. None of us could believe the height of the liger we saw, as he stood up on his hind legs to grab a piece of meat from a worker. Tigons are described as being much smaller than their parents. The males of both species are reported to be sterile.

Writings about the liger and tigon date back to the early 19th century. They have always been bred in captivity. It sounded like some breeding occurred by accident when a lion and tiger were allowed to share the same space. Surprise! Other times, the breeding was done on purpose to create the hybrid animals. There are around 30 ligers living in zoos and parks in the U.S. There are around 20 more living in China. The total population across the planet is less than 100, all living in captivity. Tigons are even less common than ligers. What a surprise to encounter these rare animals in a small park in Sarasota, Florida.

Matt, Laurel, Rachel, and I talked about the ligers and tigons throughout the rest of the day. The more we talked, the more my thoughts became muddled about seeing these majestic animals. I had lots of questions. Where had the liger and tigon come from? Where had the lion and tiger that were their parents come from? Were they conceived by accident, or did some mad scientist decide to cross breed two totally different types of animals? Why would someone want to do that? What kind of ethical zoo or animal park would allow that to happen? If scientists have tried to breed lions and tigers, what other kinds of experiments have happened, and how did they turn out?

This did not sound like something that a legitimate, scientific organization would approve of. As a visitor to the park, was I contributing to the exploitation of these special animals? But then, was it that different than the tens of thousand of wild animals, forced to live in captivity in zoos and parks? Was it any worse for the animals than traveling with a circus, entertaining crowds every day?

I did some research about ligers and tigons and came across a quote on the website of an organization called, Big Cat Rescue (www.bigcatrescue.org). Here is what it said.

“The only reason that ligers, tigons, white lions, or white tigers exist at all is because stupid people will pay to see them. They serve no conservation value and breeding them only results in these huge and majestic cats spending 10 to 20 years behind bars.”

I guess I’m still glad that I saw the liger and tigon. However, I do agree with the sentiment of the statement by Big Cat Rescue. Something is not right with this picture.

Lessons from a Civil Rights Pioneer

I finished reading a book recently titled, “All the Way Home”, by Ann Tatlock. It tells the story of two women who experience the challenges of racism and the cruel behaviors that often accompany white nationalism. The first half of the book takes place in California near the beginning of World War Two and depicts the struggle of Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The second half takes place in rural Mississippi in 1965 and paints a stark picture of the treatment of African Americans in the Jim Crow south, especially their struggle to realize the right to vote. It was a good read.

As I was nearing the end of the book the other evening, I turned to my wife, Rachel, and told her that the author had just written about a civil rights icon from rural Mississippi named, Fannie Lou Hamer. Not only was she an actual civil rights leader from the 1960’s and 70’s, but I had spent a week in 1971 staying across the street from her modest home and sitting in her living room every evening, listening to Fannie Lou and her husband, Pap, tell stories about their difficult but amazing lives. There were still bullet holes in the walls facing the street. In 1971, violence directed at civil rights leaders in Mississippi was not something from the distant past. I’ll share more about Fannie Lou Hamer in a bit. But first, I’ll try to explain what brought me to be sitting on her living room floor along with a bunch of other idealistic young people that Spring.

In the Summer of 1970 I was getting ready for my junior year in high school. Richard Nixon was the president. The military draft/lottery was still in full-swing and impacted most families. My brother, Bill, just two years older than me, had enlisted in the Navy and was in basic training in Illinois. He would begin his first tour of duty in Viet Nam a few months later. My brother, Jerry, was working for the Wisconsin National Guard and had trained as an Army nurse. My oldest brother, John, had enlisted in the Air Force following college and was stationed in San Angelo, Texas, learning to use radio equipment. The Air Force had sent him to school to learn Chinese and would eventually send him to Taiwan. His job would be to listen for interesting radio messages being broadcast from mainland China. John reports that there weren’t any.

It was a turbulent time in Madison, Wisconsin, with protests in the streets and student strikes on campus. In August of that Summer, Sterling Hall, a building on the UW campus that housed the Army Math Research Center, was bombed, killing a graduate student. The bombing was carried out by four college-aged men living in Madison. More than any other time in my young life, it felt like the world was falling apart.

Some of my closest friends at school were from the debate team. About half were in my class and the others, the class next older. We thought of ourselves as worldly intellectuals. We read books and the daily papers. We kept up with happenings at the university and spent lots of our free-time on campus. We attended some meetings of student groups opposed to the war and even tried to organize a student union in the Madison area high schools. Through a summer debate camp (yes, they really did have summer camps for debaters) I got to know several students from Madison West High School. They shared many of my ideas, dreams, and anxieties about the future. And I thought they were very cool. Several of them were involved in an organization called, Young World Development. YWD was a non-profit organization, formed to fight global hunger. It seemed to be led by students, and they were in the beginning stages of organizing a huge fundraiser. Over the course of a few weeks, I attended some meetings, did a bunch of volunteer work, and put my debate and public speaking skills to good use.

The leadership of YWD was made up mostly of students from the west-side high schools. I think they wanted to diversify and expand into some of the east-side schools. They asked me to take on a leadership position for the event. So, at the age of 15, I joined with a young man named, Rick Kreutzer, as the Co-coordinators of the 1970 “Walk for Development”. I had never had a part-time job. I didn’t have a driver’s license. I didn’t have much of an idea of what I was getting myself into. But fighting hunger seemed like a good quest. And I think I mentioned, the people seemed really cool.

Looking back on the experience, I am amazed at what our group of enthusiastic, young volunteers was able to accomplish. There was no “adult” infrastructure or supervision. There were no paid employees. All leadership was provided by high school students, and we operated like a small company. Committees were established to conduct the complex work required to pull off a major fundraising event. These included fund raising, finance, media and public relations, walk mechanics, and community development. The fundraising efforts would put most non-profits to shame, especially in the area of obtaining in-kind donations. A commercial real estate company helped us find donated office space in downtown Madison. The telephone company donated a phone system and multiple lines. Madison Gas and Electric covered all other utilities. Local businesses donated furniture, copying equipment, and office supplies. I should mention that the Chair of the Community Development Committee was a senior from Madison Memorial High School named, Sue Dodge. Some of my friends and readers may know her!

The Walk for Development was a 30-mile fundraising walk. Participants would get monetary pledges for each mile they completed. A route was designed that wound through most Madison-area municipalities. Permits were required by each city, and close cooperation was required with the various police departments. This was essential since our goal was to get 10,000 people to walk. That would be the largest event of this type in Madison’s history.

Over the course of the summer, we interviewed non-profit organizations interested in being the beneficiaries of our hard work. Sometimes organizations would visit our office to make a presentation to our leadership team (all students). Sometimes we traveled to other cities or states to visit and evaluate programs. Our goal was to raise $100,000.00 and divide it between three projects. There would be one local project, one national project, and one international project. In the end, the local project was a Madison food co-op. The international project was helping build a school in Tanzania. The national project chosen was the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Sunflower County was one of the poorest counties in the United States, and the person who started the Freedom Farm Cooperative was Fannie Lou Hamer.

Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer

The Walk for Development was held on a sunny Sunday in October. We reached our goal of 10,000 walkers. The walk started at Breese Stevens Field, a sports stadium on East Washington Avenue in Madison. I had the honor of welcoming the walkers and introducing U.S. Representative Robert Kastenmeier, who said a few words of encouragement and sent us on our way. I walked the 30 miles with a friend, David Clarenbach. Dave was the Chair of the PR Committee and was a natural salesman. He would later become the youngest person ever elected to the Wisconsin State Legislature, and a few years later would make an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives. It took us all day to complete the route. We stopped for a quick bowl of chili at my house in Monona. For years afterward, Mom would talk about fixing lunch for David Clarenbach, before he became famous.

During Spring break in 1971, I traveled with a small group of people to Ruleville, in Sunflower County, Mississippi to visit the Freedom Farm Cooperative. We had the chance to see how our donation was being put to use in purchasing farm equipment. We also brought tools of our own and spent a few days helping repair some older homes in the community. We were put up by local residents. The older woman I stayed with lived across the street from Fannie Lou Hamer and her husband, Pap. In the evenings after dinner, we would gather at Fannie Lou’s home and spread out across the braided, living room rug. Fannie Lou would share stories about growing up as the youngest of 20 children, in a sharecropper family on a cotton plantation. She described having to drop out of school at the age of 12 to work in the cotton fields. Fannie talked about her experiences in the early civil rights movement, fighting to register to vote and being shot at, arrested, and beaten because of her activities. We were amazed that she had gone from being denied the basic right to vote in the early 1960’s, to running as a democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, a few years later. We learned about the forming of the Freedom Farm Cooperative and the work to change the economic model and improve the employment opportunities for agricultural workers in the region. For me as a sheltered high school student from a comfortable suburban community, this was an eye-opening experience.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977, at the age of 59.

Rachel and I talk almost every day about the troubled times that we live in. We are bombarded by news stories about climate change, gun violence, racism, white nationalism, and corruption of our nation’s leaders. Sometimes it feels kind of hopeless. What can two people do that will impact on the myriad of problems that we face? But then I think about the accomplishments of a group of idealistic kids from Madison, Wisconsin. There are groups of kids organizing campaigns today to curb gun violence and to protect our planet. Maybe we can help the young people lead!

I also think about the courage, perseverance, and wisdom of a simple woman from rural Mississippi. There is a whole crop of new, progressive political leaders, ready to take up the mantle of civil rights pioneers like Fannie Lou Hamer.

Maybe there is still hope!

We are the champions!

Everyone has their favorite sports memories. They might be memories of being a player, coach, or spectator. I’ll never forget watching with my dad and brothers, as the Green Bay Packers won their first two Super Bowls. Another thrill was watching my son Dan play football in middle school. He was the team’s wide receiver, safety, and punter, and in his spare time, returned kickoffs and punts. They didn’t win many games, but it sure was fun cheering them on. As happens sometimes, Dan tore his ACL twice in eighth grade, ending my hopes for his professional career. I don’t think Dan had really worried much about that.

Rachel and I had a special sports experience recently that I would like to share. For almost a decade, we have been watching the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team when we could catch them on television. Their program has earned a reputation of being among the best in the history of college sports. As I write this, the UConn head coach, Geno Auriemma, has a record of 1055 wins and 138 losses in his 34 seasons at UConn. He holds the records for the most national championships (11) and most undefeated seasons (6) of any college coach.


For the last four years, we have felt a special connection with the team. While working in St. Louis for SSM Health, Rachel hired and supervised a medical practice director named, Sarah Collier. Sarah’s daughter, Napheesa had been the Missouri girl’s basketball player-of-the-year for 2013, 2014, and 2015. She had been recruited by UConn and was about to start her freshman season. For the last four years, we have enjoyed watching Napheesa develop into one of the best players in the country and one of the team’s leaders. Here are a few of her accomplishments.

* 5th on UConn’s all-time scoring list with over 2200 points
* 5th on UConn’s all-time rebounding list with over 1000 rebounds
* To date, a career record at UConn of 138 wins and 4 losses, playing in all games
* Semifinalist for the 2019 Naismith national player-of-the-year award


A few weeks ago, I read in the paper that UConn would be playing their last regular season game in Tampa at the beginning of March. It would be an American Athletic Conference game against the University of South Florida. UConn joined the conference six years ago, and their conference record is 102-0. We had watched UConn play USF earlier in the season, and USF was a competitive team. Many of their players had been recruited from foreign countries. The roster included players from Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and even three from Latvia.

Rachel contacted Sarah and asked if she and her husband would be attending the game. Sarah replied that they were going to wait and see if the girls made it to the NCAA Final Four that would also be played in Tampa in a few weeks. Sarah did offer that Napheesa could arrange for us to receive “player’s family and guest tickets”. We would be able to sit with other player’s families and guests, behind the UConn bench.

On the day of the game, we made the one-hour drive from Sarasota to Tampa, arriving a few hours before the 7:00 game. We checked into our hotel near the USF campus. We walked about a mile to the Yuengling Center, a spacious, dome structure in the center of campus. We were the first in line at the will-call window for player’s family and friends. We were joined by two older gentlemen wearing UConn sweatshirts. They asked which player we were with and we proudly told them that we were guests of Napheesa. One of the men told us that his daughter was Shea Ralph, one of UConn’s assistant coaches. Over the next twenty minutes we learned all about Shea’s basketball accomplishments. She had been the USA Today national player-of-the-year in high school. She played her college ball at UConn and was the captain of the 2000 national championship team. Shea had been an assistant coach under Geno for the last eleven years.

As promised, our seats were behind the UConn bench, six rows up from courtside. Everyone around us was dressed in UConn navy blue. We laughed that most looked to be grandparent-aged rather than parent-aged. This was Florida, after all. It was fun to watch the players warm up. We were disappointed to see that one of the two seniors, Katie Lou Samuelson, was not dressed for the game. She had experienced back spasms following a collision with another player in her last game. At least she was there with her teammates, providing encouragement.

The game started in an unusual way. I had asked Rachel to try to take a picture of Napheesa jumping for the opening tip-off. As we watched, Napheesa got in her stance to jump for the toss, but when the ball went up, only the USF player left the ground. Napheesa just watched. A USF player caught the ball and ran down for an easy lay-up. The UConn players seemed to be moving in slow motion. The fans around us seemed confused, and some were complaining about the lackadaisical defense. A moment later, Crystal Dangerfield, a UConn guard, dribbled the length of the court and made an uncontested lay-up. This time, the USF players seemed to be standing around watching.


We learned later that Geno Auriemma and USF’s coach, Jose Fernandez had conspired to arrange a final basket for a sidelined USF senior. Laura Ferreira had been diagnosed with a heart rhythm disorder in January, a career ending event. She scored the final basket of her USF career on Senior Night, the final home game of the season. Since both teams scored uncontested baskets, the game would commence on an even basis.

The game was fun to watch, with many lead changes. UConn started slowly and was down by as many as eleven points in the first half. The USF fans were loud and enthusiastic, watching their Bulls take the lead from the number two team in the country. At the half UConn was behind by five points.

Sitting close to the team afforded an interesting view of the game. I was struck by the way the players and coaches communicated with each other. During time-outs, players huddled around Geno, who sat in the center of the circle on a folding chair. With a clipboard in his hand, he went over plays and strategies. He remained calm, but focused. During play, he sometimes showed frustration when a player missed an easy basket, or a referee called a foul that he didn’t see. Most of the time, frustration was directed at the other coaches, not the players. Once, after a questionable call, Geno walked down the bench, past all of the players and coaches. He stood alone, staring away from the game. He looked like he was trying to keep his emotions in check.



Emotional support and motivation came more from the players than the coaches. Player huddles happened not just between quarters, but at most every break in play. Older, more experienced players coached the younger players. The younger players were attentive and appeared eager for the guidance. Katie Lou Samuelson took on the role of a player/coach. She was the clear leader in the player huddles, sometimes with the starting five and sometimes with the entire team. She frequently jumped out of her chair to yell instructions. The referees had to cue her a few times to sit back down.

Despite shooting only 37% from the floor and 76% from the free throw line, the UConn women pulled it out at the end. A surge of 10 points in the fourth quarter by a freshman, Christyn Williams, led to a 57 to 47 win. Napheesa ended the game with 16 points and four rebounds, a so-so performance for her. I joked with Rachel that if she had made most of her field goal attempts, she would have scored at least 50 points. With Katie Lou stuck on the bench, Napheesa had a lot of weight on her shoulders.

This was the final game of the regular season, and UConn ended with a 28 and 2 record. They were ranked number two in the country going into post-season play. With Katie Lou back in the line-up, they should be in a good position going into the AAC and NCAA tournaments. If they make the final four in April, maybe Rachel and I will make a return trip to Tampa to cheer them on in the women’s college championship!

Addendum, April 11, 2019

UConn went on to win the AAC Conference Championship. Katie Lou did not play in the series because of her back. Napheesa was named conference Player-of-the-Year and to the All-American First Team. In the NCAA Tournament, UConn made it to the national semi-final game, where they lost to Notre Dame, 81 to 76. On April 10, 2019 Napheesa was selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx. Katie Lou Samuelson was selected in the first round by the Chicago Sky. The two UConn leaders will face each other on the court for the first time in May.

Addendum, September 17, 2019

On September 16, 2019 Napheesa was named WNBA Rookie of the Year for 2019. She was a unanimous selection to the All-Rookie Team. In the regular season she averaged 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.9 steals. Napheesa started all 34 regular season games.

A Surprise at the Doctor’s Office

Following our move, I have been getting set up with a new set of doctors in Sarasota. Yesterday I had my “get to know you” appointment with my new primary care doctor. He went to medical school at the University of Nebraska. They are in the Big Ten now, so I figured we would hit it off. I guessed that he would be young. He joined the Sarasota Memorial practice in 2018, after completing his residency.

Doctor S. knocked at the exam room door and came in the room. He looked younger than my children, but at least he had facial hair. He settled himself in front of the computer screen and keyboard and began going through my new patient questionnaire. He had to enter the information into the template of the electronic medical record. He went through my medical history. A medical assistant had taken my blood pressure and weighed me. The doctor looked into my ears and mouth, and listened to my breathing.

After the brief exam, Doctor S. sat back and told me that everything looked pretty good. They would monitor my cholesterol. I wasn’t due for a colonoscopy until next year. My vaccines were up to date. The only thing he was going to put on the problem list was, “obesity”. I paused and looked over at him. “Obesity?”

Doctor S. proceeded to explain the Body Mass Index System (BMI) and how it did a calculation based on your height and weight. The results would classify you as underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese. He calmly reported that my results put me in the obese category. I was shocked. I was embarrassed. How could I not have noticed that I had become obese? I wanted to challenge him, but I felt overwhelmed. I meekly asked, “How much did I weigh?” He looked at the screen and replied, “163”. Wow, I didn’t remember ever weighing that much, so maybe he was right.

I left the office holding a sheet of paper I was to take to the lab for a blood draw. They test lots of different things in the blood to make sure the patient is healthy. On the paper, in black and white, it said, “Diagnosis: obesity, unspecified”. I imagined that now I would always carry that label.

Rachel listened to me that evening and did her best to console me. Then she powered up her computer and did a Google-search for BMI. Rachel entered my height and weight into a BMI calculator. Low and behold, it came up with a BMI of 23. That was right in the middle of the healthy category. I felt my anxiety reduce. Maybe there had been some kind of mistake.

The next morning I set up a “patient portal” on the hospital’s website. I could now review my records and communicate with my doctor via email. I took a look at the report from my visit with Doctor S. There it was. “Weight: 163. Height: 60 inches”. I did a quick calculation. I was taller than 60 inches. By gosh, I was at least 70 inches! That must be the cause of the confusion, a simple data entry error. I sent Doctor S. a message, alerting him to the error. The site says that I will get a response within three days. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to live with my new label.

So it goes.

I looked for an appropriate picture to go with this story. I didn’t find a good one of me, but I did find one that seemed to fit the topic of Body Mass Index. I took the photo at a naked bike ride in Seattle a few years ago. Thanks, brother John!


“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”

So, I have a question. What scares you more than anything else? What makes your skin crawl, the hair on your arms and neck stand straight up, and your heart race? I’m with Indiana Jones, the lead character in Raiders of the Lost Arc, a great film released in 1981. “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”

I had a close encounter of the slithering kind this week, and it hit too close to home. Rachel and I had encountered snakes around our property in St. Louis. Our house was surrounded by woods and open spaces on three sides, and we shared the environment with a variety of critters. We saw snakes from time to time sunning themselves on the lower patio or on the walkways. I had a terrifying adventure with a large black snake in our garage. When we decided to move to Sarasota, we knew that snakes were part of the ecosystem. I had commented to a neighbor recently that after six months I had yet to see a snake, even though I had spent considerable time outdoors working on our landscaping. The neighbor counseled me to not let my guard down and reminded me that encounters with dangerous snakes were commonplace and usually did not end well.

During our first month in Sarasota, a small alligator took up residence for a week or so, in the lake adjoining our back yard. We would see him floating in the lake and sometimes sunning himself on the bank in our yard. I watched the hunter from the Fish and Game Department capture him one Saturday morning. I remember feeling more curious than afraid as I watched him, and he was five or six feet long. Maybe it was the screen door that separated us that made me feel only a bit uneasy.

Gator 2-24-2018

Back to snakes! On Tuesday morning I spent about three hours working on the landscaping. I spread mulch, trimmed bushes, and pulled weeds. I spent time standing, sitting, squatting, and kneeling. I saw several small lizards, a few squirrels, and a variety of birds. By the time I was finished, my clothes were filthy and soaked with sweat. I kicked off my garden shoes in the garage, walked through the house to the master bedroom and undressed, leaving my wet clothes in my walk-in closet. I’d wash them later in the morning. I walked back to our lanai (pool enclosure) and took a refreshing dip in the pool. Nothing feels better after exertion in the hot Florida sun.

After the swim I returned to the master bedroom to take a shower. As I was entering the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned and looked down at the brown laminate floor. The lighting was not very good at this spot. A small, dark brown snake was moving slowly out of my closet and into the entryway shared with the bathroom. He was about the same shade of brown as the floor. I likely would not have noticed him if he had not been moving. He was pencil-thin and about eight inches long. But even a small, slithering snake scares the crap out of me, especially when taken by surprise.

My response was sheer terror. I could sense changes in my heart-rate and breathing. I had worked with patients at Sarasota Memorial Hospital who had suffered heart attacks while trying to capture snakes in their homes. Now I understood how that could happen! I stood still, staring at him. He looked like he was doing the same to me. Time sort of froze. I was naked. I had minimal tools at my disposal. I had no plan. I could run to the garage to find something to help corral him or whack him. But what if he disappeared while I was gone? That could drag this nightmare out for hours. I imagined calling Rachel. “Oh hi, Sweetie. I thought I’d mention that there is a snake loose somewhere in the house. He’s either somewhere in the bedroom, or maybe in your closet. Have a nice day!” Not seeing anything else to grab, I picked up a medium-sized bath towel and threw it on top of him. I tried to pick it and him up, but he slithered out onto the floor. I needed a better plan.

The snake made his way to a corner, under a vanity and stayed still for a minute. I needed some kind of better tool, so I took a risk. I ran to the kitchen and pulled two large plastic glasses from the cupboard. I ran back to the bedroom and was relieved to see that he was still where I left him. Without hesitation, I knelt down in front of the beast and scooped him into one of the plastic cups. I felt quite brave. I used the second cup to cover the first. It was a challenge to keep the edges sealed. I ran to the front door which was the closest point of egress. With careful effort I disengaged the deadbolt and opened one of the front doors. I ran out on the front sidewalk and tossed him into the front lawn. As I look back on it, it did not even cross my mind that I was naked. I don’t think any of the neighbors were outside to witness my crazy antics.

Before I did anything else, I did a quick inspection of the bedroom, bathroom, and closets. I did not find any other intruders. Later, I settled down at the computer and did a search for, “What do you do if you find a snake in your home?” The first piece of advice from the experts was that it was critical to determine whether the intruder was a poisonous snake. If it was, you were advised to leave it alone, close the door to the room to contain it, and call a professional. If you were unsure, the advice was to treat it as if it was poisonous. Even bites by little poisonous snakes were possibly dangerous.

The articles listed a variety of household tools that could prove helpful if you were planning to go on a game hunt in your home. The first suggestion was to simply sweep it out the nearest door with a regular broom. Another idea was to sweep the snake into a plastic bin and place the top on during transport. An even simpler strategy was to just place the bin on top of the snake and weigh it down with a heavy object. That way the varmint is secured while you call for help.

I did a search through our closets and garage and identified several tools for future snake roundups. I pulled out a large plastic bin and a sturdy paper box, both with tight-fitting lids. I found brooms of different lengths, including a pool broom that extended to 20 feet or more, in case I wanted to keep my distance. To add to my arsenal I did a search on amazon.com for sturdy nets, designed to catch insects, birds, and fish. The one I selected said that it was good for garter snakes as well.

One of the internet articles discussed how snakes sneak into your house. The author shared his opinion that they rarely come in the house, hiding in packages, clothing, or grocery bags. He said that most of the time they are quite small and come in through holes and cracks in the foundation or around windows and doors. Even with that information, my best guess is still that I brought my unwanted guest in myself. I had spent several hours working outside in his habitat. I bet he fell from a branch or crawled in a pocket. From now on I’ll be more observant when coming in from working in the yard. Maybe I’ll strip naked and shake out my clothes before entering the house. That should make me popular with the Home Owner’s Association! As an extra precaution I carefully examined every window and door and put duct tape over any suspicious cracks and openings.

As I am writing this story, I find my pulse is still racing, just telling about the snake in our house. I really hate snakes! For a minute, I wished that I had taken his picture to share. I think I’m just as glad that my mind was somewhere else. Instead, here is a calming picture of this morning’s sunrise over our back yard and lake. Deep breaths… calming peaceful thoughts…

sunrise Sept 12