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.
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…