The snake

The woman’s voice was frantic as she called across the yard to me.

I hurried over to her with uncertainly in my steps, not sure what lay in store for me. Having moved into our house just weeks before, I had met the neighbor just once. Our second meeting, and a call of distress.

When I reached her, she poignantly pointed toward the ground. There, at a respectable distance away, lay a two-foot long black snake.

“Do you know what kind it is,” she asked.

I claimed ignorance:  “No, I’m not sure. Maybe a garter?”

She assured me it was not.

“I’ve lived here ten years and have never seen something that size.”

Now she had me worried. The kids were playing on the other side of the forsythia bushes. What if this little fellah was venomous?

Before I knew it, the woman had rushed to her garage and returned with a shovel. She handed it to me without saying a word, as if our joint course of action was both inevitable and mutually agreed upon.

Again, before I knew it, I had the shovel over my head and sent it traveling toward the snake.

“Sorry, buddy,” I lamented as he lay there motionless.

Soon after, I returned home and went to the computer to identify what I had killed. The irony of going to the digital world to identify with the natural one was not lost on me.

I typed in “garter snake.”

The first photo that popped up on the screen confirmed what I already knew in my heart. I had killed a harmless garter snake. The caption to the photo rightfully fueled my guilt:

“Snakes are among the most misunderstood of all animals. As a result, many harmless, beneficial snakes have met untimely deaths at the hands of shovel-wielding humans.”

Guilty as charged.

Regret filled my heart even as the shovel traveled toward the ground, and remorse filled my heart now. What had the snake done but be found?

In a weak moment – one fueled by misunderstanding, ignorance, fear, and a male ego that felt it necessary to fulfill this new neighbor’s wishes – I had killed.

Sadly enough, I believe these are the very same reasons we all kill, nations and individuals alike. Misunderstanding and ignorance, a fear of the unknown, and our collective ego.

It begs the question: who is the snake?


  1. hi, you would not believe how many snakes I’ve rescued from a certain death when I came over and picked the snake up to move him or her to a safer place. Neighbors, friends, all sorts of people have asked me to help them out.

    I’ve worked as a naturalist in the past and have learned to ID some of them. It is always best to ID before being certain but chances are here in MD, that the snake in front of me is harmless, and actually doing good work, keeping the rodent population down.

    My hope is that you might try to ID the next snake that you see, and encourage your neighbor to do the same. And they are easy to pick up just behind the head to scoop them to a safer place.

    I agree with you in your larger questions about who really is the snake. How much are we trying to really understand and get rid of our ignorance. Good questions… thanks for your posting.

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